Through The Door At Apple Corps (Episode 2)

Paul McCartney. Height of The Beatles. In your village, Sunday afternoon. Ooh, got a new song. Let’s all go down the pub. Hey Jude…..

This is my favourite Beatles story, which I first heard from my friend Alan Smith.

Alan was a Liverpool journalist who journeyed south in the wake of The Beatles. He went on to become an iconic editor of NME. He took it from a 16-page weekly, struggling to sell 50,000 copies to a veritable door-stopper that topped out at 272,000 copies a week. He achieved this stunning turnaround in 18 months. He also hired Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons.

Anyway, he told me the story about the day in 1968 he had been driven up to Yorkshire with Paul McCartney and Derek Taylor. Derek is often referred to as The Beatles’ publicist, but he was so much more than that. We’ll get to Derek.

Up in Yorkshire, McCartney was producing Thingumybob by the Black Dyke Mills Band.

On the way back down the A1 (it might have been the M1, but this isn’t a Monty Python sketch) Paul asked for the road map. They needed a break, maybe some food. He looked through the names of nearby towns and villages. Decided he really liked the sound of Harrold, in Bedfordshire.

They went to Harrold.

According to Alan Smith (and I later read in Derek’s book, As Time Goes By) Paul strolled through the village, chatting to the locals who were doing their weekend chores – clipping hedges, mowing lawns, washing cars.

They all ended up down the pub, and McCartney sang – for the first time to an audience – Hey Jude. What would you give to have been in the Oakley Arms, Harrold, on June 30, 1968? To know that you were the first people in the world to sing along at the end – “Na na na nana na na”?

Alan’s first wife, Mavis, worked at Apple. She was a tiny, beautiful girl who could be quite fierce, but also vulnerable. She it was who named Hot Chocolate, whose first recordings were released on Apple.

There’s Errol Brown and his chums, in a crowded office. Someone says, “Name this band.”


“Hot Chocolate!” says the secretary on the middle desk.

Done. And a 40-year career is launched.

And at the centre of this chaos was Derek Taylor. His office at 3 Savile Row was always what used to be called a ‘scene’.

But Derek appeared calm, above it all, languidly, wittily having his way with the world.

One time a bunch of us were just passing time. Derek was having fun with one of the writers from Disc magazine who had described Apple’s offices, in print, as “swish”.

“Well,” says Derek, “you do know what ‘swish’ means in America?” Always sardonic. “As long as you think you know what you’re doing……”

And before he can finish the thought, in walks George Harrison, trailed by a ragged band of colourful folk.

John and Paul were smaller than their publicity (I wrote about that here). George was even shorter. But the charisma emanated from him like testosterone from a prize fighter. By his side, Phil Spector seemed insignificant.

“Derek, I don’t know if you’ve met Phil Spector?”

So much musical history in that one sentence. Here was Phil Spector, in town at Allen Klein’s behest (if you believe Allen Klein) or George’s and John Lennon’s (if you believe Wikipedia) to rescue the Get Back tapes from a locked cupboard and turn them into the album that became Let It Be.

Later, Spector would produce George’s stunning solo debut, All Things Must Pass, and then John Lennon’s first two solo albums. Although Ringo remembers it rather differently, commenting that he barely witnessed any input from ‘Phil’ on the Lennon sessions. No such doubts with All Things. Spector was all over it.

So, this was the world that whirled around Derek Taylor. A difficult man to describe. Urbane, witty, charming – but none of that will get you close to the experience of his use of the English language. Almost poetry on the hoof.

There are rare instances of him caught on YouTube. But nothing gives you the flavour of a man who could make even a mundane statement sound like Edward Lear thinking out loud.

Once, confronted with a transatlantic telephone call from a radio station ‘checking that Paul was dead’, Derek pointed out that “the best possible proof of Paul McCartney still being alive is that he is, in fact, still alive.”

And no, he didn’t believe Paul talking to the station in America would prove anything. People would just say it wasn’t Paul.

“The only proof we need that Paul is alive is that he is. You don’t have to produce yourself, or appear on television, or speak. You just have to be alive.”

With this kind of directness of tone, but also a beautiful lyricism, Derek wrote a memoir, As Time Goes By, which is about more than his time with the Beatles. This is a guy who came down from Liverpool – where he was an experienced and established journalist, eight or so years older than John and Paul – and ended up working not only with The Beatles, but in America with the Byrds, The Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson and, one of his own favourite moments, The Monterey Pop Festival of 1967.

From the age of about 30, his entire life was like that day in Harrold in 1968. If you like this story, there are plenty more like it in It Was 20 Years Ago Today and As Time Goes By, both available from Amazon. Put them on your Christmas list. They’re not cheap, but well within stocking filler range.

Meanwhile, all this talk of the 60s made me nostalgic, so I made this cover version of one of my favourite pre-Beatles songs. It’s made with loops of electronic chill music. But my guitar and vocals drag it back from contemporary to slightly cheesy. Hope you find it an interesting version.


Mick Jagger! Keith Richards! Phil Spector! Fight, Fight!

I spent an afternoon with Phil Spector in his suite at London’s Dorchester Hotel. Spector was always, to put it mildly, eccentric. But he could also be charming and lucid. I came away with at least four great tales (you’re reading them here for the first time).

I was there because Apple Records, the Beatles’ label, was reissuing A Christmas Gift For You, Spector’s fabulous 1963 album which I had bought on day of release, aged 14. Now, here I was, nine years later, in the room with the man himself.

Going off on a bit of a tangent, here’s an insight into the mind of a tabloid journalist. Also in the room was the Daily Express ‘music columnist’. Believe me, this person knew nothing about music. She was an embarrassment. (I was chatting to Harry Nilsson one day, when this buffoon cut across me with: “So, Nilsson, how did you come to write Without You?” Very quietly, Harry replied: “I didn’t.” And for her, the ‘journalist’, that was the story: Number One Hit Man Didn’t Write Song).

So, back at the Dorchester, Phil Spector has decided to put us all at ease by telling a funny story. The previous evening he and a couple of Rolling Stones (Jagger and Richards) and friends had gone for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Some American diners had taken exception to these long haired, dirty rock and rollers in their midst and made their feelings known both to the maître d’ and to the dirty rock and rollers themselves.

The Stones, according to Phil, were British manners personified. Keith Richards tried to mollify the tourists, showing how civilised he was by attempting humour to defuse the situation. But the Yanks stayed angry, and eventually stormed out, refusing to pay.

Now, here’s the tabloid mind for you: before he even finished the story, your Daily Express correspondent asked Spector if she could use the phone in his suite. Right there in front of us, she dialled out and demanded, “Give me the news desk”. Then she started to dictate her story: “Rolling Stones and American Producer in posh restaurant fight”.

Right there in front of us! No shame, no hint of embarrassment.

Spector walked over, took the phone out of her hand and replaced it on the stand. He put his hand on her shoulder, politely guided her to the door saying, “Please do that outside” and showed her out.

Unphased, Spector continued to be the perfect host, before excusing himself to make a phone call. I wasn’t taking much notice until I heard him say: “Get me Muhammad Ali.” Ali – possibly my biggest hero – was fighting that night in America and Phil wanted tickets to a cinema relay of the fight in London.

“Hey, Muhammad, how are you, Champ? Listen, can you arrange some tickets for me to see the fight in London? Great, yeah I know you’re busy. Go get ’em Champ.”

I was so naive I believed it. It was years before I realised that this was a perfect piece of Spector grandstanding. The idea that a man preparing himself for a fight, and on his way to regaining the World Heavyweight Title, could be got on the phone in a couple of minutes of 1970s transatlantic telephony – well, you get my drift.

But that’s the kind of chutzpah that got the young genius into the hit-making business in the first place.

Later, I told him I was a songwriter and had been an admirer ever since I made the connection between Zip A Dee Doo Dah (by Bob. B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans) and Da Doo Ron Ron (by the Crystals). By the time the Ronettes’ Be My Baby arrived I was completely hooked on Spector’s Wall Of Sound.

I don’t even remember how I knew he was the guy behind these records. The concept of ‘the producer’ was unknown to the public pre-Spector. But in 1963, within three records I knew who Phil Spector was, and I excitedly bought his Christmas Album totally on faith.

So, naturally, I asked him to divulge some secrets. Well, he said, one of his tricks was to record, say, the drums. Then he would feed them back out into the studio and put microphones in strategic places to get that big, bouncy echo.

It took me just two years to discover he was snowing me. I was at AIR Studios with Mott The Hoople and they wanted the Spector sound. Their engineer Bill Price was explaining how it could be achieved. I said, “No, Bill. This is how he did it”. We argued back and forth and finally, exasperated, I said: “Look Bill, I didn’t want to have to say this, but Phil Spector himself told me this is how he did it!”

He looked at me like a hole had just opened up in his world. “But he told me he did it THIS way!”

I’d love to be able to report that we both fell about laughing. In fact I felt deeply embarrassed. I’d thought I was in possession of a magical piece of knowledge, but the Wizard of Phil had just made up different stuff to keep his secrets safe.

I should have known better, because Spector did tell me one very obvious tall story at The Dorchester. At the end of the Christmas album is a sweet, string-laden Silent Night over which he speaks a little homily to Christmas. “The union called a strike just before that session,” he told me, “so I had to go into the studio and overdub 16 violin parts, one at a time.”

It’s just as well I have never subscribed to the idea that my heroes should live up to my personal expectations. But at least he sent a handwritten note, in a handwritten envelope – what more could you ask?

The handwritten note

The handwritten note

The handwritten envelope

The handwritten envelope

In truth, all I ask of my heroes is that they thrill me from time to time with their genius. And Phil Spector was a genius in the limited sphere that is pop music.

Which brings me to this week’s song, a cover version.

There are almost as many reasons for making a cover version as there are cover versions. You do it because you love the song as written; or because you think it will be a hit; or because you’ve seen something in it that no-one has seen before.

Phil Spector’s You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling (co-written with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill) is a song that’s been covered countless times, a dramatic song that singers use to show off their power and range. I’ve never had much power as a singer, and my range has gone with the wind in the past two decades.

But what a song! And I’ve always loved singing it. So I challenged myself to approach it in a way where my limitations wouldn’t be an issue. What I came up with was: ‘How would Norah Jones do it?’ And my answer was: she would remove all the drama and simply rely on the song to tell its own story.

So that’s what I tried to do. And guess what? It’s impossible. The drama is all there, in the writing. It’s really, really hard to sing it low-key. I manage it, through an act of will. You’ll hear that I barely raise my voice. But even Norah Jones, the most understated singer I can think of, would struggle to remove all the drama. Have a listen and let me know, please, what you think.

And for the aspiring songwriters and producers out there, here’s a second version with the drums and reverb removed.

You’ll hear that it begins to feel even more intimate, but still no less dramatic. For a similar (but infinitely better) example of the low key approach to a dramatic song, have a look at Katie Melua singing Diamonds Are Forever, just her and her guitar. Whether you like her or not, this is a stunning performance.