Prince vs The Beatles: when the entourage hit town

It was 1985 when I got my first glimpse of where pop stars were headed. I was at the Brits (before they became ‘The Brits’) and Prince turned up to collect an award.

He came through the back of the room, a tiny figure, surrounded by seven or eight really big guys who – in the absence of any prior experience of such a thing – we had to assume were ‘bodyguards’. It looked and felt utterly ridiculous.

I’m a big admirer of Prince. In my iTunes library he ranks fifth for number of tracks, after The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Stones and…..John Howard,  about whom I wrote last week.

But it is still beyond me why he felt the need for this show of muscle at an industry event. Only music industry people were present (back then, the public was not allowed in). And it was held in a London Hotel (not Earls Court or the 02). Prince was literally showing off.

Nevertheless, he showed us where things were going. No-one is surprised today when even the most minor pop tarts turn up with an entourage and a list of demands.

The last time I saw Paul McCartney was about four years ago in London’s Denmark  Street. He got out of a car (admittedly driven by someone else), and went alone into  a shop that specialises in bass guitars. He emerged about an hour later, happily chatting to the guitar-maker, stood on the pavement for a while and got back into his car.

(I was there by chance: at the time, I was importing guitars from America and they were being sold from one of the shops in the street. I was visiting my instruments.)

Between him getting out of the car and getting back in, everyone in the street had been tipped off that “McCartney’s on the street!”. But no-one bothered him; no-one approached him; no-one hassled him.

You might think that at the height of Beatlemania, things would have been a little different.

The first time I saw Paul McCartney in the flesh was when my sister insisted we had to go to Wimpole Street where we might catch a glimpse of him. We were on holiday in London, and I had no idea how she knew where a Beatle lived.

But sure enough, we stood on a corner looking up Wimpole Street, and in no time at all, a Mini pulled up, and out got McCartney and Jane Asher. This was probably 1964, definitely after I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and around the time A Hard Day’s Night came out.

It’s only looking back that I can see, comparing today’s pampered and protected celebrities, how almost ‘normal’ The Beatles lives were. One night in 1967, sometime after Sgt Pepper’s release, I was walking into the Bag O’Nails club, and coming towards me were John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They were deep in conversation, heads almost touching. At the time I thought, “Wow, they’re much smaller than I imagined”. (Publicity had led us to believe they were both 5ft 11in, while George was 5ft 10 and Ringo was 5ft 8. You could probably knock two or three inches off all of those).

It didn’t feel weird or unusual at the time. But looking back, how amazing. No entourage, no security, no surging crowds. Just two of the most famous people on the planet, strolling, oblivious to everything but each other.

At this time, and for at least another 20 years, the only person I saw surrounded by an entourage was Janis Joplin. At an event to publicise Cheap Thrills, instead of mingling and chatting to journalists – as was expected – she sat on the floor, bottle of Southern Comfort in hand, surrounded by a circle of a dozen or so hippies. She looked sour and unhappy, cutting herself off from the record company executives and journalists who were there to help her sell albums.

Contrast that with the night in 1969 when, finding myself in the company of Les Perrin – a man you might enjoy Googling – he insisted we stop off at the Albert Hall. With no challenge from anyone, we walked through the stage door, and made our way to the dressing rooms where Jimi Hendrix was preparing to go onstage.

With about three minutes to go before he walked up the tunnel to the stage, Hendrix emerged from the toilet, zipping up his crushed velvet pants. He smiled broadly when he saw Les, clearly pleased to see the man. Les said: “Jimi, this is Paul Phillips from Music Week”. He turned to me with another dazzling smile. “Oh, hey man, good to meet you” and he shook my hand, apologised for keeping it short, and off he ambled to play his now legendary gig.

Things have changed phenomenally. We can’t, of course, forget the fact that because John Lennon was used to walking around unprotected it was easy for Mark Chapman to murder him.

But the pop star who lives in my house is going to have a very different life from those of my era. And I can’t help thinking it’s a shame. Fame today means being cut off from anything remotely normal. Did you see the One Direction film? One of the mothers has a cardboard cutout of her own son in her house, because she has rarely seen him since the 2010 X Factor final in which, let us not forget, 1D came third.

All of which provides a very tenuous link to this week’s song, More Like That. Yes, I do wish that some things were a bit more like that, a bit more like they used to be. But that’s not what this song is about.

It’s about a day I spent with an old friend on the coast after a very unpleasant divorce (is there any other sort?).

Her kindness that day, listening to me babble about all my problems, prompted me to write a song in which I wished that my ex could have been “more like that”.

But all’s well. Events of that day are the reason I now live on the coast, and how come there’s a pop star that lives in my house. And things are, now, more like that; more like they should be.

3 Comments

  1. I do think the fact that pop ‘stars’ of today live a ‘star’s life’, i.e. the likes of Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and all the Cowell-pampered troupe, trying to inhabit a Hollywood myth of stardom, has detached them from their audience. Meanwhile top sports names and athletes often are much more in touch, physically and emotionally and empathetically, with young kids, that sport and its leading names have become the Pop Music and its stars of the 21st century. As you say, Paul, The Beatles were global stars but one never felt they were out of reach – see how they tried to break down the Big Business barrier with Apple, they failed but at least they tried – but the rot started before Prince and his ludicrous posturing at The Brits, or The BPI Awards as they were known then. It began in the ’70s when Bowie travelled everywhere in limousines and mixed with those he felt would up his ante – Lou Reed, Jagger, Faithfull – already pop stars in their own right – and Ferry surrounded himself with the beautiful glitterati of fashion, Elton removed himself into a luxurious lifestyle where vases of expensive flowers were changed every morning. Into the ’80s with Duran Duran displaying gorgeous expensive tans on millionaires’ yachts and Wham cavorting around millionaires’ pools. These were STARS, blinding their fans with the riches they were supposedly amassing, well beyond most pop fans’ dreams or expectations, that’s when Pop said “We’re special, we’re bigger and better, we’re rich and famous. Look at us! Look but do not touch”. What’s a kid’s main ambition now? To be famous. At least with the burgeoning sports stars kids will see physical achievement as a goal, rather than languishing in a mansion in Bel Air while your minders sprinkle pink petals before you as you go to the loo.

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