The mothers who made The Beatles: One couldn’t bear their mop tops, another called the fans ‘disgusting’ and a third let groupies lie moaning on Ringo’s empty bed (Not forgetting the dad who warned Paul to steer clear of John!)
During the Beatles’ rise to fame in the early 1960s, they had little time and even less inclination to do much letter-writing.
Not so their parents, who were of a generation to whom it was second nature to ‘drop someone a line’.
Now a trove of correspondence from George Harrison’s mother, Louise, auctioned last weekend, suggests that watching her son reach stratospheric stardom was at times thoroughly disheartening.
In a letter to one of George’s young, female fans after a Beatles show in Manchester in November 1963 (which sold for £760), Louise reported being ‘disgusted’ by the mindless shrieks that drowned out his painstakingly crafted guitar solos along with the rest of the band. ‘Nobody with any sense would pay and queue for a ticket just to stand on a seat and scream and not hear any sound from the stage,’ she goes on. ‘I was ashamed that I was a female.’
However, such tetchiness was wholly untypical of Louise Harrison, who would almost certainly have been the only Beatle parent or guardian to have travelled from Liverpool to Manchester to support them.
During the Beatles’ rise to fame in the early 1960s, they had little time and even less inclination to do much letter-writing. Not so their parents, who were of a generation to whom it was second nature to ‘drop someone a line’
‘That woman loved every second of my life,’ Ringo Star said of his mother Elsie Starkey. ‘And she remembered every second of it.’ Ringo is pictured dancing with his mother at the London Pavilion in July 1964
Louise was the total opposite of George, the ‘quiet Beatle’, and of his placid bus-driver father, Harold.
Half-Irish, half-Scouser, she was energetic and sociable, always ready for a laugh, a song or a party.
When, as a 14-year-old, George taught himself to play guitar by copying pop records on the radio, his mother would sit up with him into the small hours until he had mastered whatever riff or chord he had set his heart on.
Later, she used a generous slice of the family food budget to buy him a guitar impressive enough to get him into the Quarrymen, the pre-Beatles skiffle group started by John Lennon.
Noisy fans apart, Louise revelled in George’s mega-celebrity, placing a life-size photographic blow-up of him, Beatle-suited and booted, at the top of her hall stairs where no visitor could fail to see it.
She and Harold allowed their home to become a slush-pile of myriad gifts sent to George: the giant teddy-bears; sagging ‘WE LOVE GEORGE’ banners and tons of Jelly Babies sweets, since he’d rashly told a journalist he liked them.
The couple also answered his vast fan-mail by hand, with personal notes to each correspondent. Often Louise’s reply would include a souvenir, such as a wisp of George’s hair or a scrap of cloth from one of his suits. Many of these fans were to become her regular pen-pals for years, even decades.
Long after the Beatles’ break-up, George would be approached by women he’d never met and told: ‘I used to write to your mum’.
JOHN’S SNOBBISH AUNT MIMI
John’s family background couldn’t have differed more from George’s with his happily married parents and three older siblings, all of whom got on well together.
While George’s people were working-class, John’s were aspiring middle-class — a disparity of huge importance in the 1950s.
And while John was privileged, often downright spoiled, he had a timeless ache around the heart.
His seafaring father, Alfred Lennon, had disappeared overseas, presumed dead, at the beginning of World War II and his mother, Julia, who was unable to cope with single motherhood, had given her son to her brisk sister, Mimi, to raise, though she continued to live nearby.
From Aunt Mimi, selfless though she was in caring for John Lennon, there was to be zero encouragement of his fast-developing musical talent.A social snob, she considered rock ‘n’ roll unforgivably ‘common’, a passing trend that was certain to blow over. Mimi Smith and John Lennon are pictured together
George Harrison’s mother Louise was the total opposite of her son, the ‘quiet Beatle’, and of his placid bus-driver father, Harold. Louise is pictured giving George a kiss on the cheek
Julia, an accomplished singer and musician, not only bought John his first guitar but taught him to play it, albeit banjo-style with only three fingers. But when John was 17, and just getting to appreciate her, Julia was tragically killed by a speeding motorist a few yards from Mimi’s front gate.
Her death would haunt John for the rest of his life. The sense of having lost her twice over was the source of his bottomless insecurity and the inspiration for post-Beatles songs including Mother and Julia, in which he tried to exorcise his rage and pain.
From Aunt Mimi, selfless though she was in caring for John, there was to be zero encouragement of his fast-developing musical talent.A social snob, she considered rock ‘n’ roll unforgivably ‘common’, a passing trend that was certain to blow over.
Though she eventually yielded to John’s pleas to buy him a better guitar, it came with a stern warning: ‘The guitar’s all very well but you’ll never make a living from it.’
Yet in 1964, by which time John was 28 and had long left home, Mimi found herself drawn into correspondence with a 13-year-old John-worshipper named Jane Wirgman, who’d sent her a copy of John’s collected nonsense poems and drawings, In His Own Write, hoping he’d autograph it.
Mimi’s letters to Jane enabled her to let off steam about the nephew she still regarded as hopelessly wayward, in particular the Beatle haircut that half the young men and women in the Western world had copied.
‘I was staying with John for a few days before he went away,’ Mimi — who had an eccentric way with capital letters — wrote to Jane on March 3, 1965. ‘He wants me to live nearer to him but He Can’t Come And See me until he does Something with that ‘Mop’ and I Mean it.
‘He said he would have it cut on the [Help!] film set. I asked him if he was trying to look like a Yorkshire terrier. Now Jane, you must agree. Those ‘Mops’ are getting out of hand.’
Even attending the Royal premiere of Help! didn’t greatly impress Mimi. ‘So you liked the film,’ she wrote in reply to a letter from Jane. ‘Well, I didn’t, although the Colour was very good.
‘It was like a mad house at the Show. I sat immediately behind P[rincess] Margaret & when the Beatles came on… the girls in the top balcony yelled & leaned over the edge &… one of them nearly went over.’
The same sceptical eye was turned on the film’s after-party at the Dorchester hotel. ‘One thing I’ll always remember was the sight of a woman, 80 if she was a day, yellow wig on, low-cut dress, face a mask under heavy make-up, mass of wrinkles, doing the rumba.
‘Ah well, funny people these days to be Seen — and John Says I’m funny-looking. So there you are.’
PAUL’S GRIEF FOR HIS MUM
Music was part of life in the McCartney household. Paul’s father, Jim, had led a small amateur group, Jim Mac’s Jazz Band, in the 1920s and 1930s, and still liked nothing more than to bang away on the keys of an old upright piano.
Jim passed on his musicality to Paul, encouraging him from an early age to play the piano — so that he’d be ‘popular at parties’ — and introducing him to the Broadway show tunes, brass bands and Anglican hymns that one day would suffuse the songs he wrote for the Beatles.
When Paul was 14, his mother, Mary, died from breast cancer. Their common loss would create a bond between John and Paul, and the reference to ‘Mother Mary’ became an almost-divine presence in Let It Be.
Jim McCartney had to be both mother and father to the teenage Paul and his younger brother, Michael, backed up by a circle of loving and supportive aunts.
As a commercial traveller for Liverpool’s still-flourishing cotton trade, Jim never earned more than about £12 per week. Yet he instilled values which ensured that even as the world’s most famous and feted entertainer, his son would remain an essentially decent human being.
Music was part of life in the McCartney household. Paul’s father, Jim, had led a small amateur group, Jim Mac’s Jazz Band, in the 1920s and 1930s, and still liked nothing more than to bang away on the keys of an old upright piano. Jim passed on his musicality to Paul. The pair are pictured together in 1967
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star are pictured golfing in the 60s
If Jim had been as controlling as Aunt Mimi, history’s most successful and prolific songwriting partnership might never have got under way.
For John had a reputation as a local hoodlum and Jim dutifully warned the law-abiding Paul: ‘He’ll only get you into trouble, son’.
Thus the pair’s writing sessions at the McCartneys’ house had to be during the afternoon when Jim was at work and the collaborators were ‘sagging off’ from art college and school respectively.
They would sit in armchairs facing each other in the tiny front room with their right- and left-handed guitars. Though utterly different characters, they discovered a creative symbiosis that enabled one to start a new song, the other to finish it.
The only one of the parents known to have contributed to a Beatles song was Louise Harrison, who suggested a line in George’s Piggies on the White Album.
The self-effacing Jim McCartney’s only attempt to influence the band’s lyrics — after the release of She Loves You, with its chart-busting ‘Yeah yeah, yeah!’ — came to naught.
As Paul’s mother had taught her son to speak correctly, Jim felt he and the others should have sung ‘She loves you, yes, yes, yes.’
RINGO’S HEROIC SINGLE MOTHER
The most heroic, though unsung, Beatle parent was Ringo’s mother, Elsie Starkey, who had raised her only child, then known as Richard, through near-Dickensian suffering and solitude.
Before John, Paul and George found him, the sad-faced, stoical ‘Ritchie’ suffered recurrent bouts of serious illness, including tuberculosis and peritonitis, that shut him away in hospitals and convalescent homes for years and left his stomach permanently weakened.
After his feckless namesake father walked out on her, Elsie could make ends meet only by taking several low-paid jobs at once, working in a shop and pub and scrubbing her neighbours’ front doorsteps.
On three occasions, Ritchie’s doctors told her he was dying.
She refused to accept it, and he must have inherited some of her implacable resolution.
As a teenager, his lot greatly improved with Elsie’s marriage to Londoner Harry Graves.
Graves proved a good stepfather, who introduced Ritchie to jazz and swing music and bought him his first set of drums.
Elsie, too, unknowingly influenced his musical education.
Ringo’s first solo album after the Beatles’ break-up, Sentimental Journey, included many of the ‘standards’ she loved best.
His childhood home in Dingle, one of Liverpool’s poorest areas, was ill-prepared to become a Beatlemaniacs’ shrine.
‘The girls used to climb over the backyard fence,’ Elsie recalled. ‘And they used to sleep in the street for days. They were physical wrecks, all of them.’
The Beatles perform on bagpipes and marching drum outdoors to promote their concerts in Glasgow, Scotland
With true Liverpudlian hospitality, she’d invite them in, show them round and feed them sandwiches. ‘They’d say ‘Which is his chair?’ They always wanted to see his bed as well. They’d lie on it, moaning.’
One of fame’s worst penalties for Ringo was having his own family start to treat him with deference, even his mother.
For example, rather than ask him for souvenirs of his whirlwind daily life, Elsie quietly took a selection from the pockets of his jackets hanging in the wardrobe — here a running-order from a Royal Variety Show, there a note from the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein — and kept them in a box whose existence Ringo didn’t discover until after her death in 1986.
‘That woman loved every second of my life,’ he said, with tears glistening. ‘And she remembered every second of it.’
George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle by Philip Norman will be published by Simon & Schuster on October 24.
Source: Read Full Article