Saturday 27 November 2021

Get Back Part 1

I was introduced to The Beatles Let It Be album as a teenager. i distinctly remember buying the cassette from Impulse Records in Hamilton and playing it on the way back to Carluke in the car with my Mum. 

It's not the best Beatles record, it's not my favourite, but I love it. The rawness, the guitar sounds, Lennon singing everybody had a wet dream, a mention for Matt Busby, McCartney pouring his heart out ... and then I'd learn of the rooftop gig. One of my favourite Beatles moments.

And I learned of how the album came about, of how the film that documented recording was essentially a documentary of The Beatles breaking up on screen.

And then came the trailer for Peter Jackson's new version of the documentary that promised the band playing together, joking and looking like a band.

Who is right? The legions of fans who had watched bootleg footage over the years? Or Jackson?

Only one way to find out.

Part 1

At one point in Part 1 of the Get Back documentary George Harrison says that The Beatles have 'been in the doldrums for at least 18-months' and it shows. It's January 1969 and they are sitting around in a cavernous studio with dates circled in the calendar for a rehearsal and a show.

Over cups of tea and toast, a glum faced Ringo, scowling Harrison and spaced out Lennon with Yoko by his side (often knitting) and a couple of George's Hare Krishna mates sitting cross legged in the background, The Beatles look a little lost. Paul McCartney, in contrast, looks like he has had a double espresso, raring to go.

Trusty sidekick Mal Evans is there, a very cool looking Glyn Johns who looks like he should be in a band himself and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, almost permanently smoking fat cigars, are trying to cajole them into action.

The trouble is, they have very little new material ready to go. There are immediately bug bears - Lindsay-Hogg constantly goes on about filming the performance in far away places that none of them have the desire to go to, while straight away Harrison is moaning about the sound and lack of equipment. Eventually George's own recording machine 'careful with that, that was £10,000' is wheeled in out the back of an Apple branded truck.

Lennon has Don't Let Me Down, McCartney has Two Of Us and that is about it. They play endlessly with Don't Let Me Down, McCartney adding backing vocals and ad libbing endlessly to try and generate some energy.

His friend Lennon produces some outrageous rock n roll vocals, even while sitting down, but the energy isn't there. Lennon and Ono were heavily rumoured to be in a heroin haze around this time.

Harrison plays All Things Must Pass, but in almost the same breath he says he's not sure he wants any of his songs used. Lennon has the bones of Gimme Some Truth that the band jam through.

George speaks in awe of his friend Eric Clapton, the band play I'm So Tired looking bleary eyed / bored / stoned and Lennon nods off. 

At one point during this stage McCartney was beginning to annoy me, as well as Lennon and Harrison, as he attempted to find something in Don't Let Me Down. Eventually Glyn Johns steps in to offer his own solution and things thankfully move on. 

Paul talks about something being too complicated, needing to be simplified, then complicated, but it's complicated enough ... I'm surprised George didn't down tools and walk off at this point!

'I'm trying to help you, but I always feel as if I am annoying you.' Paul

McCartney is the one that downs his bass, frustrated by the pressure of leading the band after the death of Brian Epstein. 

You could cut the air with a knife, the tension is palpable. This is when George says his famous line about playing whatever Paul wants him to play, or he'll not play at all. This is only day 3.

On day 4, in the face of adversity McCartney starts jamming Get Back. Harrison, despite yawning at the start, realises he is on to something. The footage is remarkable, Paul finding the melody, improvising lyrics, George joining in on guitar. And then Paul finds the hook get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged. Ringo sings it with him. Lennon has yet to turn up!

Lennon rocks up wearing the same clothes as the day before, Lindsey-Hogg goes back to talking about going away, and the good vibe is lost.

At one point McCartney gets frustrated from the lack of enthusiasm, Harrison says that a lot will come out of it if we get the enthusiasm. McCartney says he wants to do a show but doesn't feel a lot of support. It leads to The Beatles default leader saying this will be the last. We either go home, or we do it.

Maybe we have a divorce, says George. Well I said that at the last meeting, says Paul. Who'll get the children, jokes John.

You think things can't go any lower ... then McCartney introduces the band to Maxwell's Silver Hammer! Mal Evans even bangs a hammer! Lennon's eyes have no spark at all. 

On to 8th January Harrison introduces I Me Mine, allegedly about McCartney. If Paul, realises, he hides it well, probably just delighted that George has something to offer. Paul then has a conversation with John to say they are facing a crisis. Lennon offers him the reassurance that he comes up with the goods when he has his back to the wall.

There is a great moment when John and Paul share a microphone, standing up to sing Two Of Us. But then they are back to Maxwell's Silver Hammer!

Then, as The Beatles are all off in different corners of the room, with Lennon discussing a potential amphitheatre show,  McCartney is seated at a piano, playing Let It Be, working on the song lyrics and structure. Starr looks on wistfully and comments to someone that he could watch Paul play piano all day long.

Tension is everywhere though and the people involved in filming and recording notice it. Lindsey-Hogg says to John - Paul and you are not getting on as well as you did. The distraction of not knowing where the actual performance will be filmed takes up a lot of time and discussion. Ranging from hiring boats to Africa, to dance halls, to the Tower of London. George is mightily pissed off at this point.

Day 6, Paul shows up with a fresh faced Linda McCartney looking beautiful and cool. As if to show off to Linda, Paul immediately goes to the piano to play Another Day. Mal Evans leans against the piano and Paul begins to play The Long And Winding Road, Mal writing down lyrics and giving his opinion

Mal's face is lovely, just smiling at his friend displaying his immense creative talent. Linda looks on adoringly. What an absolute joy to see this footage - McCartney totally in the zone, he then plays Golden Slumbers as Linda takes pictures. George arrives and Paul then plays Carry That Weight, his idea for a song for Ringo.

George plays For You Blue, Lennon and Yoko arrive with John still wearing what he describes as his continuity clothes, with moss growing under my arms

Harrison plays a Dylan song, maybe a sign of where he was at, or where he wanted to be. John and Paul re in a jokey mood, George clearly isn't in on the joke.

The footage is remarkable, the four play Let It Be, all of them recognising the beauty in the song. Yoko and Linda chat, laughing and smiling together. For a brief moment, everything seems harmonious.

Day 7 - George does not look happy! Paul and John seem to be interacting well, McCartney is leading on conversation and direction. He is always facing John though, Harrison sits quietly smoking on his amp and is shot down when he attempts to join the conversation. 

McCartney talks about some chords being fashionable or unfashionable, and vamping! Harrison's scowl intensifies as Paul bounces Get Back off John for help with the lyrics. The old partnership is still there. Harrison, is sidelined. It's noticeable he remains seated even when Lennon and McCartney are standing to play Two Of Us.

It's ironic the song the band are playing is titled Two Of Us as Harrison gets up for lunch to announce.

I think I'm leaving the band now. Now. get a placemenmt, write into the NME.

Post lunch, the remaining Beatles appear to have a nervous breakdown on film with Yoko howling as the Paul, John and Ringo create heavy metal noise and feedback. 

What will happen in part 2?

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