Thursday, December 12, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With the Beatles

There is no shortage of books on The Beatles written by those who interacted with them, and these people can range from people who were close to them, such as ex-wives, friends, family members, and colleague, to those who had barely any contact with them. Some of the books have been worthwhile (ie Cynthia Lennon's "John," Pattie Boyd's "Wonderful Tonight," to name two) and some have been fraudulent hatchet jobs (Peter Brown's "The Love You Make," to name but one). Tony Bramwell, who was a childhood friend of George Harrison and Paul McCartney, and knew all of the Beatles growing up in Liverpool, falls into the first category. 

***Special thanks to Komal at Anova Books and Tony Bramwell himself for sending me a copy of this book to review!***

The subtitle of this book is "My Life With the Beatles," and while this is at its core Bramwell's memoir, it heavily features the Fab Four in it, which is understandable given his lifelong friendship with them and the fact that he worked for them from the very beginning of their career all the way into their solo years. The book is written in a very direct and warm manner and the author's tone is very pleasing to read. As far as the way the book is set up, it's arranged in a straightforward, chronological manner and split into sections, beginning with the author's birth and childhood in Liverpool and progressing from there. 

Starting with his adventures playing around in post-war Liverpool, Bramwell describes his first meetings with George Harrison and Paul McCartney when they were all young schoolboys, as well as the rest of their gang of boys and what fun they got up to growing up. Eventually, the Quarrymen, and later the Beatles, form and begin their rise to worldwide fame and fortune. Tony is able to get into the gigs for free by helping carry some of the gear and it's really special to read about all of the pivotal moments in the development of the band's early career that he was witness to; he makes it feel as if you're there in that very moment, with all of the excitement and anticipation that the boys must have felt all those years ago. From those earliest gigs in and around Liverpool, the north of England, Scotland, and Wales, Bramwell was eventually asked by manager Brian Epstein to come work for him at NEMS, pending the approval of the author's mother given his relatively young age! Tony took a job at NEMS and worked for the Beatles throughout their career in the 1960s, first as a "do anything" who did everything from delivering their pay packets to organizing the logistics of arrival, set up, and departure from concerts, radio and TV appearances, and interviews. When the entire operation moved to London in 1963, so too did the author, who then began overseeing their film companies (initially Suba Films and later on, Apple Films) as well as running the day-to-day operations of Epstein's Saville Theater, putting on concert by The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and other giants of that era.  In working for the Beatles, Bramwell did indeed, in his own words, "TCB (take care of business)" in just about every way. He didn't have a set job like most of the other NEMS employees, but rather had a hand in multiple projects within the company. In the wake of Brian Epstein's death in August of 1967 and upon the arrival of Allen Klein in 1969, Tony was one of the lucky few who were immune from the mass house cleaning Klein undertook at Apple as a way to consolidate his power.  He helped run Apple Records until, like so many who hated Klein, he eventually quit and began a second career in record promotion. His career continued to be interesting and substantial in record promotion in the 1970s, not least of which his role in helping to launch the career of Bruce Springsteen, who to this day is a close friend of Tony's.


Along the way, the author gives personal reminiscences and insights into the Beatles, both their personalities as well as the inner workings of their enterprise. As he rightly mentions, they were breaking new ground and charting unknown virgin territory at every step of the way, and because of this there were some missteps and lessons learned the hard way. In particular, while he is clearly fond of Brian Epstein (as were the Beatles), it's nice that he doesn't shy away from some of the failures of Epstein's stewardship, such as the merchandising rights fiasco in 1964 or how the company was structured such that the Beatles were still being paid 40-pound-a-week wage packets in 1967 when they each had millions in the bank! Bramwell also gives insight into the insanity of the entire Apple madhouse, although he seems to have weathered the storm alright by staying away from most of the craziness.  However, during the later years of the Beatles' career, the author really shares his opinions on probably the most divisive person in the entire story, Yoko One. As a personal disclaimer, I'll make it be known that I am no fan of Yoko at all. While I don't think she was *the* reason the band broke up, I definitely think she was *a* reason, and a big one at that. Much of it was down to John necessitating her presence everywhere, most irritatingly (to the other three Beatles and George Martin) in the studio, where there had always been an unwritten rule that girlfriends and wives were never to hang around there. Paul even had a quote in later years, stating that the band being in the studio was "like miners going down the pits, and the women stayed at home." However, the majority of the blame lies with Yoko herself, who was rude, pushy, and  quite willingly inserted herself as a wedge within the band and most purposely, between John and Paul. That being said, the level of vitriol the author has for her is beyond anything I or any other fan could feel. This is only natural given he had firsthand contact with her and was witness to many situations that beggar belief. I have no problem with his descriptions of her and her behaviors (and to be fair, he also slags John off for his part in the whole thing). Bramwell does not call her names or use any derogatory terms, but he is still able to make clear his absolute disdain for her and her behavior, and anyone who is interested in some of the more interpersonal aspects of the breakup will appreciate some of his insights.

Finally, as it's clear that the author has had an extraordinary career in the music business, he includes several little anecdotes about the various people he's met over the years, everyone from musicians (Hendrix, Clapton, Jagger, Dylan, Springsteen, etc) to actors and actresses (Taylor, Burton, Hoffman, etc). Additionally, some chance encounters (for instance, he dated Christine Keeler without knowing who she was until a friend casually mentioned it to him) show that Tony Bramwell led a truly Forrest Gump-like life, in terms of being at so many historically significant events with historically significant people, except that Tony's life was real and it really happened!

Overall, while the Beatles feature heavily in this book given the author's long personal friendship and association with them dating back to childhood, this doesn't feel like a cash-in by someone who is using that association for any personal gain. It's a warm, frank, and enjoyable memoir by someone who has led a remarkable life and was a firsthand witness to so many moments and so much history that was made at a pivotal and exciting time. While I do have some minor quibbles, such as a few incorrect facts (he mentions Abracadabra was the working title for Rubber Soul when it was actually for Revolver; ditto for Everest which was the working title for Abbey Road, not the White Album) or a few digressions that didn't seem to add too much to the narrative, overall this is a really nice read that any Beatles fan would be better off having gone through.

MY RATING: 8.5/10


***Tony Bramwell has agreed to an interview with me for my site, so stay tuned for that!***

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