We Are The Beatles

After Learning…With The Beatles

After Geography, their decision to stop touring, and After Math, the necessity to look after their own business affairs, for The Beatles it was also After School; time to be mature and make their own business decisions. They might have appeared like omnipotent masters to their fans, but from late 1967 they had to take all the decisions about their ever-expanding business affairs without Brian Epstein’s support; and work out how to realise their increasingly complex approach to music-making into something marketable. Read the rest of this entry »

1968 – A Bite of The Apple

The White Tiger

“The History of the World is the history of a 10,000 year war of brains between the rich and poor; the poor win a few battles but of course the rich have won that war for ten thousand years. That is why some wise men have left the poor some signs and symbols which appear to be about Roses and pretty girls and things like that, but when understood correctly spell out secrets that allow the poorest man on earth to conclude the brain war on favourable terms…”

(Aravind Adiga; The White Tiger, p254),

Perhaps modern poets leave secret sounds; cymbals and signs. Perhaps their origin lies with the multi-cultural White Teeth of a Bengal Tiger, perhaps White Noise is the sound of change, perhaps a White Album is filled with blank stamps of open permissions… Read the rest of this entry »

All You Need is Heutagogy

There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.

No one you can save that can’t be saved.

Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you (It’s easy)

1! 2!! 3!!! 4!!!! was replaced by a woozy “a-one, a-two, a-three, a-four!” and the bass that inspired The Jam’s best track kicks in. The Beatles had replaced the urgent intro to the faux live show of Please Please Me with the lazy faux ambience of their studio recording. Presence, the Holy Grail of recording since Edison in 1888, was to be replaced with artifice. Revolver, what goes around, was to come around again, this time at the bidding of the artisans.

“It was like letting the workmen take over the factory,” said McCartney about Revolver two years before May 68, five years before Lennon supported the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in and ten years before the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards alternative Corporate Plan. But before they could run their own factory they needed yet another Fifth Beatle, the golden-eared wunder-kid Geoff Emerick who, as a nineteen year old studio engineer was promoted to work on Revolver. A fan, young and imbued with the shape-shifting sixties spirit, Emerick was to set up Abbey Road for recording in ways that were forbidden by EMI, but demanded by the Beatles. He miked McCartney’s bass with a loudspeaker on Taxman and told the stuffy classical string players on Eleanor Rigby to play loud.

Despite their productivity tending to support McCartney’s industrial assertion, The Beatles in fact turned Abbey Road into an Art School not a factory. A musical research lab for their creativity, just before Arts Labs, from which David Bowie would emerge, gained popular currency, along with the mid-sixties fad for multi-media happenings and various forms of experimental art. McCartney befriended the emerging leading lights of London counter-culture, Hopkins, Miles, Dunbar, supported the Indica Gallery and it, engaging with various tropes of the English counter-culture. Lennon, of course, was ready to Howl on a Daily basis if he could throw a Spaniard in The Works. So let’s get inside The Beatles creativity like Vpmatt on the Beatles most “experimental” track.   Read the rest of this entry »

Learning…With The Beatles USA

The United States of Andragogy

Whilst Hard Days Night represented the peak of the “pedagogic” phase of the Beatles development, many factors were already in place that would help them move to a more andragogic, or collaborative, phase in their writing and recording. George Martin would shift from taskmaster to facilitator to collaborator (from Yesterday onwards) and the Beatles would shift from producers of Merseybeat hit singles, to learning from their new peers, such as Bob Dylan and David Crosby, to becoming complex album artists.

The key to this was collaboration. They already liked writers to “hang with them” and spend time in their company, both Hard Days Night and Love Me Do, the first book about them, came from this welcoming openness. At the time much was made about who was the “Fifth Beatle“; when they arrived in New York in February 1964 the New York DJ Murray the K created this appellation and claimed the title, and it is an enduring debate with many contenders to be that magical fifth element. Last week we argued that the Beatles critically benefitted from More Able Partners who solved problems for them, like Epstein, or provided support, like Martin. In this andragogic phase, through until Rubber Soul at the end of 1965, the critical developmental factor was the range of “Fifth” Beatles who emerged to stretch and challenge them.

George Martin also went through a sophisticated, and critical, change of role. Whereas “in the early stages there was a certain lack of communication and we had to find common ground to talk about music” they developed “a rapport (where we) could talk to each other,” during this post-Beatlemania phase. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning…With The Beatles

John, Paul, George and Ringo were musically self-taught but received detailed instruction in the arts of popular music, were completely ignored yet extravagantly supported, were outright copyists and extraordinarily original. They brought everything they had learnt to The Beatles and kept on learning.

They re-invented authentic pop music after “the day the music died” (Feb 3rd 1959) and went on to create a new template, what Rolling Stone called the “self-contained band“, which has dominated popular music ever since with little variation. Even in 2007, the digital age, when Radiohead elected to make In Rainbows freely available to download it was as an album; an art work still in the shadow of Sgt Pepper. Arguably Radiohead were trying to solve a business problem that The Beatles had failed to solve with Apple.

Analysing the break up of the Beatles in his book You Never Give Me Your Money, Peter Doggett writes that “together and alone, at odds and at one, the Beatles somehow managed to create and preserve music that is as enduring as their myth, perfectly encapsulating their own time and enriching every time to come”. My stories have been about encapsulating that time, the sixties, and now I want to propose a fresh understanding of that musical creativity to enrich our time.

The way the Beatles developed and grew both defined and liberated the decade for those who, like me, lived through it and grew up within its sashaying lineaments. They provided the ambient hooks of its soundtrack and were its standard bearers, surfacing a range of artistic, cultural, philosophical and political issues for us to engage with. Unlike the Rolling Stones, say, they made the sixties comprehensible for all, creating a fresh national sense of identity in the UK that helped us to both survive a decade-long Blitz of social change, and read the signs of the times; not least as they often wrote them.

I don’t think they were preternaturally talented, let alone gods descending upon us, which some American writing about the Beatles can seem to imply, nor do I think it tragic that they split up. They emerged at just the right time, lasted as long as they needed to and then split up at The End; sounding perfect forever.

I do think they were gifted, made the most of their abilities, learnt their craft together and, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, emerged historically at just the time when they could. I am less interested in who was the most talented Beatle, rather more in how their history exemplifies Brian Eno’s observation that ‘perhaps every group of musicians should have written above them “This group is a musical instrument; treat it as such“.’ I think it is as such a group, a wonderfully creative group, that we can learn from them. Read the rest of this entry »