FIFTY years ago, John, Paul, George and Ringo went their separate ways.
Pop’s biggest sensations, The Beatles, were driven apart by business issues, Lennon’s obsession with Yoko Ono and what one observer called “hostile lethargy.” Or so the story goes.
But maybe their final year-and-a-half together wasn’t quite as acrimonious as we’ve been led to believe.
Maybe there’s a different picture emerging . . . of goofing around in the studio, scintillating performance and gallows humour.
Maybe being in a giant goldfish bowl didn’t quite descend into the Fab Four’s total desperation to get away from it all and each other.
Yesterday, film-maker Peter Jackson, best known for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and First World War documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, offered us a “sneak preview” of his latest project.
The New Zealander showed a five-minute YouTube glimpse of The Beatles: Get Back, intended for 2020 but delayed, like so many things, by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jackson said: “We’ve got 56 hours of never-before-seen Beatles footage. It’s great stuff.
“It gives you a sense of the spirit of the film that we’re making. Hopefully it’ll put a smile on your face in these rather bleak times.”
In a previous statement, he described being, “relieved to discover the reality is very different to the myth. Sure, there are moments of drama — but none of the discord this project has long been associated with”.
The footage was shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for a multimedia assault, instigated by McCartney, which became the Let It Be album and fly-on-the-wall film.
In the original, tensions rise to the surface when it seems that Harrison is criticised for a guitar part on I’ve Got A Feeling.
“I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to,” he tells McCartney.
But Jackson’s preview begins with cheeky chappy drummer Ringo Starr, who has a big grin on his face and a fag on the go.
“Morning . . . morning everybody, another bright day. Morning camera,” he says cheerily, as the band arrives at the newly finished Apple Studio in the basement of the band’s HQ in Savile Row, London.
Then arch-mimic Lennon reads from a newspaper in his best newsreader voice from a single-column story under the headline “Beatle George may face French jail.”
“Harrison is accused of assaulting a photographer last May as he and Beatle Ringo Starr left a nightclub,” he cries out, as the subject of the article looks on, bemused.
Then John and Paul can be seen singing lines from new song Two Of Us through clenched teeth like ventriloquists. It’s a laugh-out-loud moment.
But the main event is audio combined with a visual montage for the immortal Get Back, even if it gets off to a false start when someone in the control room breaks in.
“Don’t interrupt stars when we’re recording,” Lennon jokingly sneers, exaggerating his Liverpool accent. “We’re bloody stars you know!”
He introduces the restart with: “And now your hosts for this evening, The Bottles!” Even then, it stops again when McCartney implores every one to “go faster.”
You notice how close Yoko is to the band, perched on a chair right in front of her partner, but you also see her laughing and looking relaxed with Linda McCartney.
You see Linda’s seven-year-old daughter Heather, adopted by Paul, carried around on his shoulders.
Most of the band have a go on the drums, much tea is drunk, George does air guitar, Ringo throws his sticks in the air and everyone is smiling.
Pianist Billy Preston brings verve to proceedings with his playing and dancing. Producer George Martin is there looking dapper as ever in a white polo neck.
You see John and Paul, two men who are supposed to be at each other’s throats by now, jiving their socks off together.
And you catch The Beatles’ legendary last live performance on the roof of their Savile Row building, three years after their last proper gig at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
I gather the 42-minute show from January 30, 1969, is the new film’s centrepiece, showcasing dazzling, intuitive interplay as they tackle Get Back, Don’t Let Me Down, I’ve Got A Feeling, One After 909 and Dig A Pony.
Hopefully, it will include the brief jams, God Save The Queen and I Want You (She’s So Heavy), played while sound engineer Alan Parsons changed tapes.
McCartney is thrilled that Jackson’s efforts have corrected some of the mythology around the storied ill-feeling.
“I’m really happy that Peter has delved into our archives to show the truth about The Beatles recording together,” he said when the documentary was first announced.
And in a recent interview to promote his new lockdown album, McCartney III, he had this to say about the old clips: “They’re so reaffirming for me. Because they prove my main memory of The Beatles was the joy and the skill.
“I bought into the dark side of The Beatles breaking up and thought, ‘Oh God, I’m to blame’.
“There’s a great photo Linda took, which is my favourite, of me and John working on a song, glowing with joy. This footage is the same. All four of us having a ball.”
Starr echoed the sentiment of his old bandmate: “There was hours and hours of us just laughing and playing music. There was a lot of joy.”
Most of the filming and recording for Jackson’s documentary was shot in early 1969, a period that produced haunting swansong The Long And Winding Road.
The resulting album, Let It Be, controversially mixed by Phil “Wall Of Sound” Spector, didn’t appear until May, 1970, AFTER the sessions for and the release of Abbey Road.
Spector’s involvement irked “Fifth Beatle” producer, the late Sir George Martin, who was involved in the initial recordings as well as every other album and single since 1962’s debut Love Me Do.
In recent years, his son Giles has become a loving curator of The Beatles’ back catalogue, master minding expanded reissues of the iconic albums.
“There was some jealousy from my father when they did Let It Be,” he explained. He used to say, ‘Produced by George Martin, overproduced by Phil Spector’.”
Giles is working on the Peter Jackson film, which means sifting through 150 hours of previously unreleased audio.
Last year, I talked to him about all things Beatles and he told me: “Peter’s proved himself with what he did on the First World War.
For this (Get Back), we talked about how we can make people feel as though they’re in the room with the band.”
The 51-year-old Giles also shed light on the big break-up half a century ago, saying: “Paul refers to The Beatles as a square with four corners and if you take away one of The Beatles, there’s no longer a square.”
This refers to when McCartney announced his departure on April 10, 1970, a month before the Let It Be album appeared.
He subsequently filed a suit for the band’s dissolution on December 31 later that year.
“And John did a famous interview where he slagged off The Beatles, slagged off Paul and slagged off my dad,” added Giles.
“Dad went to see him in 1980, a month before John died. Yoko went out and left the two of them to have an afternoon and dinner together at the Dakota Building in New York.
“Dad told him, ‘You said a lot of things that really hurt me, John’ and he replied, ‘I was high’.
“Now I get from Yoko the idea that, by the end, he was really proud of everything The Beatles did.
“And as Paul says, ‘There were only the four of us and no one can ever change it’. That’s it, like it or not.
“Someone asked me, ‘Did they obey your dad?’ They never obeyed him. The best my dad could do was slightly nudge them in a different direction without getting his hand bitten off!”
Finally, let’s, er, get back to that iconic rooftop performance. It ended with Lennon saying: “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group. I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
They passed with flying colours and then some, proving what an amazing festival or stadium band they would have been if they’d carried on.
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It’s sad to think that The Beatles never played live again, despite giving us singalongs like She Loves You, A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, All You Need Is Love, Yesterday, Come Together, Here Comes The Sun and Hey Jude.
At least on August 27 next year, when it receives a cinema release, The Beatles: Get Back will remind us of Britain and the world’s greatest ever group.
Maybe they were disintegrating but they did it with smiles on their faces.
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