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beatles sgt pepper's lonely hearts club band

“It’s wonderful to be here, it’s certainly a thrill….”

31 May 2017 Blog The Queen Street Observer

Trundling my way along through the hallowed halls of TCRfm the other week I was accosted by the station’s head of social media, the Supremo himself. “Oi CK, have you got a blog post for me, for the website?” he asked. “Yes, yes of course I do. It’ll be in your email inbox by the weekend, or soon-ish at any rate.”

Of course I hadn’t a word of it written. What I did have was the germ of an idea. The idea is all I usually need and then I’m away, unable to stop writing. What do you do though, when the big idea relates to a band you wrote about just eight or nine months ago? Well in the absence of anything else it’s The Beatles again I’m afraid, the reason being the 50th anniversary release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (May 26th if you didn’t already know).

On the off chance that you’ve been on tour in the outer reaches of the galaxy and you’ve just arrived back to the baggage carousel and haven’t a clue what’s going on this is the deal. There’ll be a 2CD set with the second disc consisting of alternative takes of each track on the album and if that’s not enough then there’s the super deluxe 4CD set with DVD, glossy book and a mind boggling number of out-takes and other bits and pieces. In Beatles world this is profoundly exciting stuff I can tell you, particularly given Apple’s reputation for never getting re-released material quite right.

Me, I’m leaning towards picking up the 2CD set whilst counting my lucky stars that I somehow never bought a copy of Sgt. Pepper years ago. That’s an odd admission isn’t it? A Beatles nut who never owned one of their most revered works. My explanation is that when I was inclined to do so I was put off by reports that the CD pressings were of poor quality, full of tape hiss from the original analogue recordings, which is an accusation levelled against many first generation CD releases from the 1980s. Best to bide my time for the inevitable anniversary release or some such event, I thought. Mind you, my CD copy of Abbey Road is precisely one of those early CD issues and sounds perfectly fine so maybe I was mistaken or just over-thinking the thing. Who knows?

Early reports have been very positive. Various journalists invited into the inner sanctum of Abbey Road Studios for listening parties have vouched for the astonishing quality of the remixes, although I would say I was pleased to hear that ‘When I’m sixty four’ is the one track least affected by the remixing process. No need to alter that one, it’s perfect as is and always has been, yet another example of Paul McCartney’s ear for a wonderful melody. Speaking of Macca I read a piece a few weeks ago, it may have been an interview with Ken Scott who engineered many sessions fro the Beatles where he recalled Paul’s thought processes. He told of how the band would be going through a take of a song and about half way through McCartney on piano would veer off into a seemingly unrelated tune. Scott’s point? Well, that Macca had moved on and was already thinking of a new arrangement, a new and maybe better way to approach the song. Ken Scott did put it more succinctly than I have (I wish I could find the exact quote) but it’s a telling insight into how his mind worked.

This kind of anecdote just goes to confirm my long-held view that McCartney was the driving force behind the Beatles, not just his obvious song writing strength but also his inventiveness and willingness to experiment and be open to new ideas. The Sgt. Pepper concept was his idea after all, the premise being that if they could get away from being the world’s most famous band and assume alter egos it would free them and allow them to broaden their musical horizons. One piece of news which leapt out at me was Giles Martin’s interview on BBC Radio 6 where he hinted that 1968’s White Album may well be the next to get the deluxe treatment. Giles of course is the son of the late Sir George and I must say I like the sense of continuity, of these projects being overseen by a member of the Beatles inner circle.

Anyway, regarding the White Album this raises the intriguing prospect of the Kinfawn Tapes getting an official release as part of the package. These tapes are recordings of songwriting sessions and rehearsals at George Harrison’s house, parts of which have been available over the years but never the recordings in full. Think of it as a kind of White Album unplugged if you like, which is one big reason to be excited by what Martin said. The White Album did get me into a minor amount of grief a couple of years ago, nothing major just a bit of a ticking off. I was on a Beatles fan forum (these places can often be bear pits) where I had the temerity to offer the opinion that the record could have been trimmed down from a double to a single album, you know, take out some of what seemed like filler.

Sure enough I was put in my place but amid the scorn there was one bit of advice I did find helpful. That was to view the album as expressing the four distinct personalities within the band, warts and all. Using this mindset I subsequently ‘got’ the record like I hadn’t before…. with the exception of ‘Revolution #9’ that is. That’s just unlistenable. Funnily enough McCartney himself did once address the White Album-as-single-disc issue in the Beatles Anthology TV series. Needless to say he was dismissive of the idea, his answer to the question being something to the effect of ‘We Are The Beatles’, which I took to mean as ‘We’ll do as we please’ which is fair enough.

On a personal level the release I’m holding out for is the ‘Let It Be’ movie. The story is well known by now. Cameras capture them rehearsing for an album during what became known as the winter of discontent. Because it doesn’t necessarily show them in the best light it’s rumoured that McCartney and Yoko Ono are holding up any possible release. Whatever, me being a fan of late era Beatles I love this film and the thought of it being digitally restored and expanded with previously unseen outtakes PLUS the soundtrack album floats my boat in a big way. It could be a long wait though for the reasons I’ve just stated so it’s probably best for now to just sit back and enjoy Sgt. Pepper as I trust you will too.

More ramblings next month, talk to you then!!

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