published: 29 /
Nick Dent-Robinson gives a thumbs-up to Annie Nightingale’s ‘Hey Hi Hello’ – a 'rewarding read' which includes 'fascinating back-stories spanning her five decades of interaction with the biggest names in music and culture.'
I was asked to review Annie Nightingale's recent biography ‘Hey Hi Hello’- which is a good read...funny, candid and warm with some fascinating insights from Annie's 50+ years on BBC Radio One including never previously revealed encounters with Bob Marley, The Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Marc Bolan, Primal Scream and Billy Eilish.
Reading Annie's tales of her many interactions with music icons over the decades reminded me of a few of the gems I had learned from past interviews and conversations.
There was the long discussion with George Harrison about the widespread myth that The Beatles had been referring to the drug, LSD, when writing the song, ‘Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds,’ which first appeared on the ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album – a record made in 1967 when The Beatles were at the peak of their psychedelic phase. George told me that, at the time, Paul McCartney was so concerned and irritated about this suggestion that he frantically went right back through all The Beatles' previous songs to ensure none of the titles could be construed as referring to any legal substances.
As George explained to me, the truth about ‘Lucy...’ was more prosaic yet delightful, too. John Lennon had penned the song. He was living in upmarket Weybridge, Surrey at the time and his son Julian, then aged four, attended a rather expensive nursery school locally. One day Julian had come home with a painting which he proudly showed his parents. “It's Lucy,” he said - “In the sky, with diamonds.”
John, ever quick to spot a magical-sounding phrase, immediately knew this would be a great song title. Julian went on to say that he had painted the picture for his best school friend, Lucy. In fact, there were two versions of the picture, one that he had given her and the other that he'd brought home. They were almost identical.
Over the years many artists covered the song and Elton John's version of it was an international number one for him. And, increasingly, as George Harrison told me with a grin, people were demanding to know who Lucy was, if John Lennon's version of the song's origin was to be believed. They wanted proof that Julian had had a schoolfriend called Lucy, otherwise they remained convinced that the song was really an anthem to LSD!
Well, Annie Nightingale (as she relates in ‘Hey Hi Hello’), was to play a part in the search for the real ‘Diamond Lucy’- as Annie called her. In the 1980s, Annie checked out the school Julian had attended from 1966 to 1967. It was called Heath House and was in the posh Port more Park area of Weybridge, run by two sisters, Miss Delta and Miss Sylvia. But by the 1980s, the school buildings were demolished and the school, which was founded in the late 1940s, had long been closed. So, there was no possibility of finding Lucy from the school's records. Annie therefore decided to use her role presenting at BBC Radio One to launch an appeal for the real ‘Diamond Lucy’ to come forward. As George Harrison commented, when the three remaining Beatles (John Lennon had died in 1980) heard of this, they thought it was crazy, they knew the response would be huge.
Which was exactly how it turned out to be. Hundreds of women claimed to be the Lucy who inspired the song. Some lived in Japan or the USA yet concocted stories showing how it was definitely they who had somehow - by telepathy or other means - persuaded the young Julian to paint his picture. At this stage Julian, now in his early twenties, was himself an accomplished songwriter and performer with a successful album ‘Valotte’ to his name and a big hit single in the USA called ‘Too Late for Goodbyes.’ He had toured the USA and was due to play at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1984. When he heard about the BBC Radio One search for ‘Diamond Lucy,’ Julian was not enthusiastic, fearing - correctly - that a lot of “cranks and imposters” would be unleashed.
Then, a little while after the craziness following the Radio One search for ‘Diamond Lucy.’ had peaked, a woman called Lucy O'Donnell contacted Annie Nightingdale. Her mother was a Weybridge GP and her father, Michael O'Donnell, was a writer and broadcaster. She said she had definitely been at Heath House school with Julian; they sat next to each other. She had been infuriated by all the other women falsely claiming to be the muse for John Lennon's song and, though she was not remotely seeking the limelight, she had been persuaded by her sister, Fran, to come forward just to put the matter to rest.
Annie Nightingdale met this Lucy and was immediately convinced. Annie describes her as, “A lovely, vibrant young woman with beautiful flaxen hair and expressive brown eyes” ...and obviously not someone looking to make any name for themselves. Lucy's sister Fran said to Annie, “The family has always known my sister was the Lucy in the song. We had the record at home and remember the picture, too. We have always been irritated when people doubted this. And especially annoyed when Beatles fans insisted the song was about drugs. It wasn't. It was about Julian's painting of my sister.”
Now Annie was determined to introduce Lucy O'Donnell to Julian Lennon. Julian was very reluctant but was eventually persuaded to meet Annie and Lucy “just for two minutes” backstage when he played the Royal Albert Hall. Given Julian's cynicism, Annie was concerned at the huge let-down it would be for Lucy O’Donnell, should Julian not be convinced she was genuine. Yet she pressed ahead and, some weeks later, having both watched Julian's sell-out concert, Annie and Lucy headed backstage at the Royal Albert Hall. There was no immediate recognition from Julian who appeared impatient and uneasy. Then Lucy said, “Do you remember that teacher with Dr. Spock ears?”
Julian's eyes lit up. “I do,” he replied. His memory was triggered and he immediately knew this was the authentic, genuine Lucy. The rest of the meeting - which lasted far longer than two minutes! - was a very happy affair with many shared recollections of their time together at kindergarten. Lucy felt exonerated and content that, at last, she had finally been recognised as the muse for a timeless Beatles classic.
That should have been the happy conclusion to the story. But, as George's son Dhani Harrison related to me quite recently, in 2004 Lucy became ill with lupus, a serious autoimmune illness. By now, Julian was living in Monaco and had a new personal assistant Annie Fowler who, like Julian, had been raised in the Weybridge area. Annie was a friend of Lucy's sister Fran O'Donnell and she told Julian that Lucy was very ill. Julian sent a series of garden-related gifts to Lucy (who was now married). Lucy was very unwell and spending most of the time in a chair in her garden and, like Julian, was a keen collector of plants and shrubs. Sadly, her condition deteriorated and lupus took Lucy's life in 2009. She was 46. Although they were in touch throughout her illness, Lucy never met Julian again after their Albert Hall reunion.
But the story didn't quite end there. For Julian's then-recording partner James Scott Cook, wrote a song called ‘Lucy’ which Julian recorded as a digital single. He released it soon after Lucy's death and 50% of the proceeds were donated by Julian to the Lupus Trust of America. Lucy had inspired Julian to paint her; the painting had inspired John Lennon to pen the famous Beatles track – and now she had inspired Julian to record another song. The cover art on the ‘Lucy’ single was a reproduction of Julian's original picture, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’
Julian had mentioned to Dhani Harrison that the original picture his parents had been given had been lost years ago and he'd learned from Fran that the virtually identical version of the picture he had given to Lucy had been kept by her for years but after she'd left home it had been passed by her parents to a collector. Subsequently it had appeared at auction and was rumoured to have been bought by Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd who had outbid an anonymous American millionaire to retain the picture here in the UK. Images of it have appeared on Google, a charming, ethereal picture. Today, Dave Gilmour laughs when asked if he owns the picture and he smiles broadly when reminded that the Pink Floyd song ‘Let There Be More Light’ from ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ in 1968 refers to ‘Lucy in the Sky.’ Declining to confirm that he still owns the original picture (which he almost certainly does), Dave Gilmour simply grinned and said, “What did those original lyrics say? - 'Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes…and she's gone.’’
Annie Nightingale's book briefly touches on a couple more tales that George Harrison used to like to tell - The time when Bob Dylan came over to London to work on an album with the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, and Bob arrived by taxi in Crouch End, North London and knocked on the front door of - the wrong house. A woman answered the door and Dylan asked if Dave was in. The woman replied that he wasn't but would be back within the hour. Mr. Dylan was welcome to come in and wait. This Dylan did, sitting quietly while tea and digestive biscuits were served. But, gradually, it dawned on him that he'd made an error. He made his apologies and left (when he mentioned the name, it was explained to him that Dave Stewart lived several doors up the road).
Twenty minutes later the Dave (a huge fan of Bob Dylan) who lived in the Crouch End house, returned home. The woman who lived there said casually, “By the way, Bob Dylan came round earlier, looking for you.” Dave's reaction can only be imagined.
George Harrison also used to like to recount the story of Bob Dylan arriving early at George's Henley-on-Thames home for a Travelling Wilburys’ practice session. At the suggestion of George's wife, Olivia, Dylan went for a stroll down into the little market town while he was waiting. After an hour or more, Dylan had not returned and Jools Holland, who was also sitting in on the session, went with singer/songwriter Sam Brown to find him.
As they approached the Waitrose store they spotted Henley resident and Hollies guitarist Tony Hicks coming out of the door with his weekly shopping.
“Hi! - We're looking for Bob Dylan,” Jools Holland casually greeted Tony. “Oh, yes? Well, Jools, there's someone very like him in the fruit and veg section, just kind of standing there, looking into space.”
Tony replied. “But I had a cart full of shopping, I didn't like to bother him” - and Tony went on his way. And, sure enough, Jools and Sam spotted the music icon just standing at the end of Waitrose's fruit and veg aisle, quietly observing Henley's grocery shoppers as they queued to pay for their weekly purchases.
“Man, this place is just so fascinating,” Dylan exclaimed as he was rescued. “I rarely get the chance to just observe like this; I've been here an hour. People are so interesting and it is great just to be ignored! Do we have to rush right back? It's like tranquil here.”
Anne Nightingale also alludes to the early rivalries between the top rock groups of the Sixties. Again, Dhani Harrison had a different take on things. Dhani, himself an award-winning instrumentalist, record producer and sought-after and award-winning film composer - with his writing partner Paul Hicks, son of Tony Hicks - has toured the USA and Europe with Eric Clapton and with Jeff Lynne's ELO. He has learned a lot about 1960s band rivalries.
“The Beatles and Rolling Stones were never really adversaries,” Dhani says. “In the early days, The Beatles were established just before the Stones. In fact, my dad, George, played a key role in getting the Stones their first recording contract. He was in Liverpool and sitting on the panel for a music talent contest. Also, on the panel was Dick Rowe of Decca Records, the man famous for turning down The Beatles. This was the first time my dad had seen him since The Beatles' unsuccessful audition at Decca and Dick was very apologetic, saying he had been kicking himself ever since. my dad's initial caustic comment back - typically - was, 'Well, we are all hoping you kick yourself to death,’ but after that my dad did say he didn't blame Dick Rowe at all, really, as the band had played very poorly at the audition and hadn't deserved to be signed that day. They became good friends by the end of the talent show.
“Unfortunately, the quality of contestants at the show was really bad and when Dick Rowe and my dad went off for a drink together afterwards, Dick said how disappointed he'd been by the contest as he really needed to sign some good acts urgently for Decca. Immediately, my dad told him about the Rolling Stones who were playing pubs in South West London and who, my dad thought, really had something special. Within three days of returning to London, Dick Rowe had been to see the Stones, had then auditioned them formally and signed them up to the Decca label. And, thanks to Mick Jagger's shrewd business sense, they were signed on far more generous terms than Brian Epstein ever achieved for The Beatles. Brian Jones and Mick Jagger were both hugely grateful to my dad – and sent a Thank You card to him.
“Not long after, Brian, Mick and Keith Richards were in touch with Paul and John and pleading with them for a Lennon-McCartney song they could record. It was agreed they could have ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ and that became the Stones’ second single and biggest hit, so far. Paul and John also recommended the Stones use Andrew Loog Oldham (a former Beatles publicist who was only 19) as their manager and of course he became a big part of the early success of the Stones.
“So, far from looking on the Rolling Stones as serious rivals, in those early days, all of The Beatles saw them as up-and-coming but junior competitors. Oldham's style was to create a supposed rivalry between the Stones and other bands - just as a way of fostering loyalty with the fans and bigger sales. But I don't think The Beatles ever seriously worried that the Rolling Stones would undermine their appeal or commercial success.
“The band The Beatles did see as major rivals later on was The Beach Boys. Paul, John and my dad were very impressed by the Beach Boys' ‘Pet Sounds’ album in 1966 and Paul has always said ‘God Only Knows’ is his favourite song of all time. It was ‘Pet Sounds’ that spurred on The Beatles to produce their ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album in 1967 – and there was interplay and creative competition between the two bands which continued until The Beatles broke up in 1970. So, it was always The Beach Boys and never the Stones who The Beatles saw as their rivals.”
Annie Nightingale's ‘Hey Hi Hello’ is a rewarding read. Not only are there fascinating back-stories spanning her five decades of interaction with the biggest names in music and culture but there is intriguing advice for anyone seeking a career in entertainment. Published by White Rabbit, ‘Hey, Hi Hello’ is a hard book to put down.
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