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Kenneth Womack - Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans

  by Eoghan Lyng

published: 5 / 12 / 2023

Kenneth Womack - Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans


Eoghan Lyng assesses Kenneth Womack's latest book about Beatles road manager Mal Evans.

1963 is one of the most extraordinary years in British music - the moment when adults accepted rock music as a medium of communication, and after which nothing would ever be the same again. Of course we're talking about The Beatles, a quartet of Northern moptops, first by delivering quips to the presses, and then through their music, most of it written by guitarists John Lennon and Paul McCartney. By then George Harrison, the youngest member at a cherub-like twenty, privately set about writing his own compositions, both for artistic and financial reasons, in a last-ditch effort to illustrate his importance, after a torturous gestation from singer to singer-songwriter in which he exemplified his more yearning qualities in 'Don't Bother Me' and 'You Know What To Do'. Ringo Starr, however, was creatively obdurate, preferring to produce his artistry through drum fills and backbeats. And yet without his cymbal play, early Lennon-McCartney compositions 'She Loves You' and 'From Me, To You' would have sounded empty, their declarations of intent plodding over directionless guitars and wayward harmonies. The Beatles dissertation was crafted and hard-earned, proving their originality and independent thought in an industry that was slowly becoming embroidered in hackneyed sentiment and deliberation. Mal Evans was one of the first people to recognise their potential, and his answer to their prodigious nature was to provide muscle and stature. He recalled: "The place was smoky and these guys were doing a very good set of rock, maybe like Elvis music..I could sit there for three hours and think maybe 10 minutes had gone by..They were very high pitched and there was harmony..I fell in love with them." Today, Evans' influence is recognised by a select few, the documentary series 'Get Back' providing form to what has traditionally been a shadow to a juggernaut, but author Ken Womack takes it further, providing colour to the canvas. Occasionally, 'Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans' veers into the hagiographic, but the impression I got from this 592 page tome was one of tremendous research, showcasing the practicalities that enabled The Beatles finetune their songwriting acumen and stage performance. Womack is well equipped to write such an ambitious book, having penned a two-part volume on the life of Beatle producer George Martin, and co-written a book on Eric Clapton's working relationship with Harrison, but this might be his most impressive publication yet, peering into the mechanics of the musical operation. The action of the book, famously, stems from Evans' unpublished archives, which pieced together with hundreds of new interviews, offers a definite look at the giant road manager who served as one of the band's closest allies during their all-too brief tenure. By the mid-point of the book, Evans has moved on to other pastures, which includes a stint producing Badfinger's 'No Matter What', the band's most impressive, and arguably most enduring, rock number. The connection to Liverpool (Evans' hometown, as well as The Beatles), cements the work, and Evans demonstrated a modus operandi which was industrious, incisive and impressively Northern in its resolve. Harrison, not always the warmest of people, adored Evans, and keenly remembered his impressively tall pal- Evans loomed over the band at 6'6 - for his uncomplaining persistence. "If he didn’t have it, he’d get it very quickly," Harrison remembered. "He was one of those people who loved what he was doing and didn’t have any problem about service.” The Beatles, especially McCartney, are said to have been difficult, but the reality is that they were young musicians pushing the boundaries of pop with the limited hardware available to them at the time. McCartney's dexterous melodies rivalled Brian Wilson's, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of chords and harmonic progressions, were put to good use in 1967 as he pieced together Baroque numbers 'Penny Lane' and 'A Day In The Life'. In one of the book's more droll anecdotes, Evans was tasked with collating as many pianos as he could find for the frenzied final chord on 'A Day In The Life', ending up as one of the pianists on the finished piece. As it happens, Evans was involved with the construction of 'Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' favourite 'Fixing A Hole', but lamented he received neither credit nor royalties for doing so. His post-Beatle trajectory is almost as interesting, and what followed was an absorbing character journey that tragically ended in 1976 when Evans was shot dead by three police officers. For instance, Evans took turns with producer Ken Scott recording vocals for 'It Don't Come Easy', a jangly country-rocker that wound up being Ringo Starr's signature number. (“I have no idea whatever happened to those mixes,” Scott remembered, “but I’m pretty sure no one will bootleg them, luckily for all.”) To those who worked with the solo Beatles- which tended to be Lennon, Harrison and Starr, as McCartney generally worked on his own - Evans was as important a fixture to the recording process as the musicians were. By some calculations, there are no fewer than thirty musicians on Harrison's genuinely superb 'All Things Must Pass', their details notated by Evans with some difficulty, considering the freewheeling nature of the recording sessions. Evans, similarly, witnessed Lennon record some of his more explosive vocals on 'Plastic Ono Band'. Considering the chaotic themes found in the lyrics, Lennon relied on Evans for "tea and sympathy", which were offered instantly and without judgement. 'Plastic Ono Band' stands as one of the most important albums of the 1970s, a palimpsest of Lennon's pain committed to tape. And yet without Evans' unconditional attention and kindness, there is an excellent chance that the album would have been consigned to the writer's drawers; withering over time. In addition, Evans was one of a select few to join McCartney on his wedding day, ensuring that the day was a blissful for the man who would enjoy the most profitable and creative career during the 1970s.

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