Magical History Tour: The Beatles In MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Magical History Tour: The Beatles In MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

Chris Morley rolls up...

After The Beatles second cinematic venture Help!, it was time for Paul McCartney to step up & lead the band to a degree of independence, in both on screen and recording terms. Having sketched out the basic ideas behind what would eventually become Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the first fruits of a decision to move away from touring & focus on studio recording, having become sick of struggling to hear themselves play over the screams of hordes of fans practically drowning out their music, McCartney also provided the impetus for a group-led smaller screen filmed effort inspired by his own early attempts at home movies & the good old British coach trip.

Much of what was to become Magical Mystery Tour was improvised, the only instruction given for starters being "be on the coach on Monday morning". What would anyone who boarded find themselves part of? Ringo Starr would later recall...
"Paul had a great piece of paper – just a blank piece of white paper with a circle on it. The plan was: 'We start here, and we’ve got to do something here …' We filled it in as we went along."
The “somethings” that happen along the way were the work of five magicians, consisting of the band plus roadie Mal Evans.

Perhaps their most remarkable trick was that in just two weeks of shooting The Beatles managed to get nearly ten hours of footage!

Most of the tour itself wound through Devon & Cornwall, though this footage ultimately went unused. As no London studio was available at short notice the majority of the film ended up being shot in Kent, in & around RAF West Malling, a decommissioned airfield. The ballroom sequence for the Your Mother Should Know section was actually inside an aircraft hanger.

The Magical Mystery Tour threatened to get out of hand as members of the public followed the spectacle in their own cars just to get a glimpse of what was going on, causing a massive traffic jam & an irate John Lennon to rip the Magical Mystery Tour logo off the side of the coach in frustration! While he may not have appreciated the interruption of their day's unorthodox motor racing, a section based on a dream of his did make it into the finished film despite an editing marathon to reduce it from ten hours to around 52 minutes for broadcast on the BBC.

Telling the others about a dream he had in which he was a waiter compulsively piling spaghetti onto a female diner's plate, it was restaged with Jessie Robins, playing Ringo's Aunt Jessie, as the diner and Lennon as a waiter named Pirandello. Jessie also gets something of a romantic subplot with coach conductor Buster Bloodvessel, as played by Scottish comedian, poet & singer/songwriter Ivor Cutler.

Magical Mystery Tour also gave something of a leg-up to the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band who performed Death Cab For Cutie. A year later they bagged themselves a Beatle as producer of their I'm The Urban Spaceman single, Paul McCartney sharing duties with Gus Dudgeon under the collective pseudonym Apollo C Vermouth on Neil Innes' composition.

Recording on the soundtrack for Magical Mystery Tour began as far back as April 25th 1967 prior to a band meeting on September 1st of that year and a vote to continue with the project after the death of manager Brian Epstein (the news had reached The Beatles while they were attending a Transcendental Meditation retreat in Wales). George Harrison, nonetheless, was more eager to carry on immersing himself in Indian spirituality, though he did at least contribute Blue Jay Way as a sole solo composition for the film having been persuaded aboard.

Blue Jay Way itself is named for a Los Angeles street, the song telling the story of Harrison's wait for publicist Derek Taylor to find the place where he was staying during a Stateside visit.
There's a fog upon L.A.
And my friends have lost their way
We'll be over soon they said
Now they've lost themselves instead

Please don't be long
Please don't you be very long
Please don't be long
Or I may be asleep............

Lennon's own solo contribution was the Lewis Carroll-indebted I Am The Walrus, with its roots in a rhyme he & childhood friend Pete Shotton sang in the school playground.
Yellow matter custard, green slop pie,
All mixed together with a dead dog's eye,
Slap it on a butty, ten-foot thick,
Then wash it all down with a cup of cold sick
Add in a splash of Through The Looking Glass...
"I like the Walrus best," said Alice: "because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters."
"He ate more than the Carpenter, though," said Tweedledee. "You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn't count how many he took: contrariwise."

"That was mean!" Alice said indignantly. "Then I like the Carpenter best—if he didn't eat so many as the Walrus."#

"But he ate as many as he could get," said Tweedledum.

This was a puzzler. After a pause, Alice began, "Well! They were both very unpleasant characters—“
Goo goo goo joob, indeed!

The walrus is taken by some to be Carroll's manifestation of death itself, and John was later unable to resist feeding the Paul Is Dead myth a little further on the White Album's Glass Onion with the cryptic hint that the Walrus was Paul, the song also directly musically quoting The Fool On The Hill from Magical Mystery Tour - a section shot by McCartney in France.

Magical Mystery Tour also includes a notable first for a Beatles song, one which is credited to all four together - an instrumental originally titled Aerial Tour Instrumental before being shortened to Flying.

Originally put to tape on September 8th 1967, Flying is based on a standard twelve-bar blues and contains Mellotron, tape loops, guitar, bass, drums & maracas, the addition of John & Ringo's original attempts at tape manipulation giving it a length of nine minutes & thirty-eight seconds before being cut to two minutes & seventeen. Though some of what was cut was later reused as The Bus, a short recurring motif heard at several points throughout the film.

As for that 'bus', the Bedford VAL, then-new to travel company Fox of Hayes circa 1967 coach the Fab Four & their guests traveled in got itself something of a second life. It was bought & refurbished by the Hard Rock Café around ten years later after surviving being put through a race around West Malling's track driven by Ringo Starr himself!

Broadcast on Boxing Day 1967 on BBC1 in black-and-white, with a colour transmission following on BBC2 on 5th January 1968, Magical Mystery Tour was poorly received by critics and audiences, although its accompanying soundtrack was a commercial and critical success.

As a result of the poor reception, networks in the US declined to show Magical Mystery Tour there, with a proper theatrical release not coming until 1974. The band’s new manager Peter Brown squarely blamed Paul McCartney for the failure of the project, claiming that during a private screening the reaction had been "unanimous ... it was awful", yet McCartney was convinced that it would be warmly received and ignored Brown's advice to scrap the filmt and save the band from embarrassment.

On 27th December, Paul McCartney appeared on The David Frost Programme to defend Magical Mystery Tour. Frost introduced him as the "man most responsible" for the film. Hunter Davies, the Beatles' official biographer at the time, said that "It was the first time in memory that any artist felt obliged to make a public apology for his work." McCartney later spoke to the press, saying:
"We don't say it was a good film. It was our first attempt. If we goofed, then we goofed. It was a challenge and it didn't come off. We'll know better next time."
Did they know better next time? We'll find out as we switch from flights of fancy to the Beatles being almost entirely absent for the following year's Yellow Submarine, a diversion into animation. Sky of blue & sea of green, we'll all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine - at least for a bit. Full speed ahead!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad