I nearly missed it, but yesterday was George Harrison’s 80th birthday. He passed away just over twenty years ago, but he’s still out there somewhere, he’s George Harrison. I love George Harrison. I’m a massive Beatles nerd; Paul was always my favourite, massive fan of John, I adore Ringo, but I always had a huge love for quiet George and his dark eyes, even if one of my earliest memories of George was when Nick Cotton off Eastenders played him in Birth of the Beatles. So last night to celebrate, I rewatched the Scorsese documentary “Living in the Material World” (my wife couldn’t believe his brother was called ‘Harry Harrison’; I tried to convince her that John had a brother called Lenny Lennon, and that Mike McCartney’s middle name was ‘Arnie’), played some ukulele, and listened to the All Things Must Pass triple album while drawing my old copy of the All Things Must Pass triple album. I must admit, I listened to it streamed on my iPod rather than on the record player, because it would mean getting the record player out of the cupboard and I was too tired to deal with that. It tends to play the records a bit too fast anyway. But I love this old album. I don’t love all of it (really not into “Johnny’s Birthday”, although ironically tomorrow is my brother’s birthday and his name is Johnny) but the whole thing is a slide guitar soundscape, and listening to it on streaming means I didn’t have to keep getting up to change the record over (triple albums, really?). It was nice drawing this while I listened to it. I love the songs “All Things Must Pass” and “Isn’t it a Pity”. I wanted to get this posted though in tribute. Happy Birthday George, wherever you are in the cosmos.
shake it up baby
Time for some more Beatles story. This is an old EP (“extended play” for you modern kids, not an album or “LP” – long play – and not a single, but it’s the size of a single, and it has four songs on it instead of two. A bit like you would get on a CD single in the 90s) from 1963, “Twist and Shout”. It’s an original copy, with the yellow-lettered Parlophone, and I’ve had it since about 1989, when I would go around second-hand shops and car-boot sales looking for old Beatles records to add to the collection that my uncle Billy started me off with. As you can see it still has the little two quid sticker on it. I forgot I still had this, sitting in my cupboard, so when I came across it again I thought that would be a good opening page for my new Moleskine sketchbook. A sketchbook that I have now closed, and started a new one (I’m very far behind posting). Still, with the rekindling of my life long Beatles obsession with the release of both the “Get Back” film and Paul McCartney’s “The Lyrics” book at the end of 2021, now’s a good time to post this. Macca just turned 80 over a week ago, so I’ve been gorging on Paul’s songs lately, but Twist and Shout – perhaps the Beatles’ most famous cover song, recorded in a single take and an absolute belter musically – is very much about John and his ripped-to-shreds voice. I bloody love it, I love the “aaaah….aaaah…aaaah” harmonies, the call and response with George and Paul, I love the leather-jacketed guitar riff which feels it has bounced straight off the sweaty walls of the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, I love Ringo’s excited drumming, I love that this is the sound of a band that absolutely loved playing music and gave it their all. It’s also got “A Taste of Honey”, “Do You Want To Know A Secret” (I quite like that one) and “There’s A Place” on it, but after the raw energy of Twist and Shout, these are like cups of tea to help you calm down.
I still have most of my old Beatles records, the ones I either got my uncle when I was 12 or 13, or ones I picked up in second hand shops and car boot sales around the same time, a mixture of originals, imports or old reissues, or new (new for 1988) reissues given to me as Christmas presents, like my beloved and much-played copy of the White Album. I never had a big record collection, but it was decent and full of personal memories. I don’t even play records any more; I have a small record player here now that my wife got me ages ago, but it plays records a bit too fast, and the sound comes out of a little built-in speaker on the back, not out of two big speakers in wooden boxes perched on top of my wardrobe like in the olden days. The sound of records couldn’t be beaten, that crackle of the vinyl, the realness of it. Sure CDs came along and suddenly we could hear it all, but the vinyl experience was something special. In Beatles albums especially there was usually a distinct side 1 and side 2 feel that is lost in modern albums which are – or were? – one-side constructions for CDs, now for download albums. There was a reason the ‘Ringo song’ was sometimes track 1 of side 2, it made it easier to skip it when you flipped the disc over, now it’s in the middle of the album and catches you out. Ah, I’ve learned not to mind “What Goes On”.
I’ve got a million things to say about the Beatles and they’ll always be my comfort blanket to escape back into, same as for many people, but right now I’m just enjoying the post-Get Back world and spending time with the guitar again, which I’d not done in years, even messing around on the keyboard, and of course the ukulele. I recently bought my first new guitar in 16 years, and last week got my son his first ever guitar, so there’s a bit more music back in the Scully household again.
back to where you once belonged
I bloody loved Get Back. Peter Jackson has done an amazing job with all that old footage from the Let It Be sessions, it really was like getting the Beatles back for a little while. I have so many things to say about it that I can’t even say them, so I continue to re-watch it, to listen to other Beatles buffs talks about it, and then re-watch it again. It’s an absolute joy, compelling to watch. To say that it has re-sparked my life-long love of the Beatles is an understatement. At the same time, I was also recently given the massive new Paul McCartney book The Lyrics for Christmas, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating and listening to Macca interviews about it for the past few months. So I’ve not only been listening to all the old Beatles stuff but many of my old Wings and solo Macca stuff, which I loved so much when I was a kid. On top of that, I have pulled the old electric guitar out from under the bed, the one I bought in 2006 and haven’t played since about 2009, it has been locked away in its hard case under the bed like a spaceman in stasis. It’s an Ibanez Art-Core AFS-75, in black. It has been nice catching up.
The Beatles were the band that made me first pick up a guitar in the first place, back in the 80s. My friend and fellow Beatles-nut Ralph had a guitar, so I got one for a fiver at a car-boot, but it was a pretty crap acoustic, so on my 14th birthday my brother got me an electric guitar, a Westone Concord II. I need to finally bring that old thing back from England at some point and fix it up, give it new pick-ups, make it a project. That’s what I actually learned to play on, though I was never very good and couldn’t do anything fancy, just play chords and do the the odd bit of finger-picking. It was easy to play though, easier than my Ibanez, which might look and sound better but never felt completely right. I think I’m a bit intimidated by this one. I would write songs, so many songs, it was always about trying to create, come up with new tunes. Anyway in 1996 while working at Thorntons chocolate shop in Oxford Street I went out on my break and bought a Hohner acoustic guitar at Macari’s on Charing Cross Road, which from day one had a beautiful warm sound, and it still has. I have brought that with me, to Belgium, France and over here to California, and it’s my favourite guitar. I got the Ibanez after moving to the US – my second Ibanez, actually. The first one, a black electro-acoustic I bought in Cotati a week or so after my arrival, broke when it fell over softly onto the carpet. So I went out and got this one as a much flashier replacement. I enjoyed it a lot and even recorded a few new pieces with it. I love playing with music, even if it isn’t exactly sophisticated, I just love it. And then I stopped, for some reason I just stopped playing entirely, and wouldn’t even pick up my acoustic. This lasted for years, and I was off guitars. I wasn’t any good, so that was that. I got a ukulele a few years ago after our first trip to Hawaii and loved it, so for the past few years I’ve been playing that off and on, and I love it, the gentle sound. I’m still learning but it’s already one of my favourite things. So I started getting my acoustic out a bit more, but not wanting to disturb, played quietly or when people weren’t home. After watching Get Back, my old Beatles love made me want to just be strumming, all the time, so I was on the uke or the acoustic as much as I could. Certainly on our trip to Hawaii I played a lot of ‘Here Comes The Sun’, which was optimistic given all the rain we had. Then last week I remembered my electric guitar, hidden away under the bed like a secret. I dragged out its heavy hard case, unhooked the clasps, and released it from its plush blue bed. Now the next bit should be, “and then the years fell away as I played a melodic solo, my hairs standing on end, I was back.” But that would be completely false because I was never that good a player, and the truth is I never felt comfortable with this guitar. It was nice playing it again, but it still felt like it could never be fully in tune when playing open chords (I felt the same back in 2006), I’m mentally used to the fretboard on my old electric, and I’m still sounding beginner-level clunky when it comes to riffs and scales. I feel a bit unworthy of such a fancy looking guitar. I think I’d hidden it away for so long because I thought, well I might just sell it. But then, you know what, I found that I could do a few things, and why not learn, why not take this time to improve? So that’s what I’m going to do, play it more often, try things I wasn’t able to do before, see what comes out. I got some new strings, I’m going to put them on this weekend. It feels like a new guitar, to the point that I feel surprised when I listen to the old recordings from 06-07, I did actually play it more than I thought. And I even drew it back then – see below, along with the chords of a tune I wrote called ‘Angry Words’ (ironically I didn’t write any words to that one, the tune was all in the lead riff). So now ‘m watching a lot of YouTube videos on doing this and that, and it feels like starting over, like an absolute beginner. Just like a sketchbook and pen, I loved having a guitar in my hands when I was growing up, it made me feel that little bit safer.