Gary James' Interview With The Authority On All Things Beatles
From the earliest days in Liverpool, England, Tony Bramwell knew John, Paul and George. He worked for Brian Epstein. He is the author of the book Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles. And in fact he is known as "The Authority" on all things Beatles. As Paul McCartney once said, "If you want to know anything about The Beatles, ask Tony Bramwell." And so we did.
Q - Tony, how did you get this title, "The Authority" on all things Beatles?
A - Somebody probably said it some time. I was there at the beginning and I'm still alive now, (2016) where nearly everybody else is dead. And Paul once said, "If you want to know anything about The Beatles, ask Tony Bramwell. He remembers more than we do." And I do. I still remember a lot. It's beginning to fade now 'cause I'm getting old, but I'm still around and people ask me the most bizarre questions.
Q - Did you live in the neighborhood where John, Paul and George lived? Is that how you got to know them?
A - I lived in the neighborhood, but when I was about seven years old and Paul was about eight years old, George was my best friend. We used to play cowboys and Indians and Robin Hood, silly games together like kids did in those days, occasionally on the weekends, 'cause Paul lived nearby he and his brother played with us as well. They might not remember it at the time, but there was a little gang of kids that did those things as we grew up. I have two older brothers who started buying records in the early Rock 'n' Roll days, early Elvis, Bill Haley days. George's older brothers were getting records. So we got sort of hooked on Rock 'n' Roll and George had started to learn to play the guitar. He was about ten years old, eleven years old, something like that. He had guitar lessons so he used to come 'round to my house with his guitar and listen to records, Elvis, Gene Vincent, whatever. Then he'd borrow my records and he'd bring his records. He had some Carl Perkins, Everly Brothers maybe.
Q - Would you ever see the records again that George would borrow?
A - We'd just swap them. It was like file sharing in those days. We lent records to one another. I won a competition in 1957 to meet Buddy Holly when he played in Liverpool. So I met Buddy Holly. I went to the show and everyone was jealous 'cause they hadn't been to the show and I met Buddy Holly. That's when I really met Paul at that time 'cause he was really like jealous 'cause I met the guy he idolized, this school teacher looking chap. (laughs)
Q - What kind of competition was it that you entered?
A - It was just a competition in a music paper, something like the next top three records or something like that, and I won. Then in the meantime we had this local juvenile delinquent, John Lennon, and everyone said stay away from him. He's a bad boy. He's trouble. But my mom knew John's Aunt Mimi. They were friends. So Aunt Mimi approved of me and my mom vaguely approved of John and put up with John. He was an occasional friend. Then I lost touch with them. They were in different schools than me, except George. He went to our local butcher shop on Saturdays. He would come around on his bicycle, delivering the meat around there in the village. So, I still had contact with George.
Q - That kind of friendship would've definitely helped if you were to go on to become The Beatles Tour Manager. And that is what you became, is it not?
A - Tour Manager didn't exist in those days. What happened was my next door neighbor was a girl called Pauline. Her boyfriend was a guy called Gerry Marsden. He had a band called Gerry Marsden And The Mars Guys, who became Gerry And The Pacemakers. He was like the top band in Liverpool. When they played gigs I would meet them and go with him and carry his guitar in to get in for free to venues, even though it cost only half a dollar to get in, in those days. A good chunk of your pocket money. So, I did that for a year or two. And then they were booked to play in Hamburg and it was in a local paper, "Appearing Direct From Germany, The Beatles." So I said that must be a German group. So, I got on the bus to see them. And there was George sitting with his guitar. They were playing at the Litherland Town Hall. I said "Great!" I carried a guitar to get in free. So, I did that. Suddenly I see five guys on stage and they were The Beatles. It was just completely different from anything else they they were playing and different from the Rock 'n' Roll we listened to. A sort of different Rock style. Gerry And The Pacemakers played Country 'n' Western with a bit of Rock. The other Liverpool groups were a little bit like a show band thing, step routines. Things like that. Not actually brilliant. But suddenly there were five guys on stage, bloody brilliant, playing hard, in real terms, real Rock 'n' Roll.
Q - The Beatles were four guys. You said there was five. Who was the other guy?
A - Stuart (Sutcliffe).
Q - You saw them when?
A - It was their first gig in Liverpool as The Beatles.
Q - Did you ever see The Beatles in Hamburg?
A - Eventually, yes. It was a few years later.
Q - What was that like to see them in Hamburg? Were they this wild Rock group?
A - No. They'd settled into being a solid Rock band by then. The Beatles progressed from being a solid Rock band into being just a great Rock band. There were a few quirky things. They'd smoke on stage, drink Coca-Cola and eat hot dogs. But they looked great in the black leather and cowboy boats and blue caps. They jut looked like a great band. Their first gig in Liverpool was probably for about sixty people, but it very quickly built up 'til they got two hundred people everywhere they played. The same two hundred would turn up and see them. It's nonsense when you hear how many people went to see them at The Cavern. It was the same two hundred people every time! (laughs) They knew them all by name. You get a million people say, "I saw The Beatles at The Cavern" and of course they didn't. It only held three hundred.
Q - The Beatles played lunch time sessions at The Cavern. How many people were they drawing then?
A - It was the same people all the time. The same girls. The same guys. Every lunch time. It hardly changed. Their last gig at The Cavern was 1963.
Q - You worked for NEMS. What was your job there?
A - When The Beatles got their recording contract, "Love Me Do" had just come out. Brian Epstein said, "Will you come work for me?" All I was doing was meeting them (The Beatles) at gigs and carrying their guitars to get in free. Neil (Aspinall) had just gotten a van. So we would take the amplifiers and the drum kit. I'd meet up with Neil and we'd do that. I don't think the name "roadies" was invented then. Anyway, Brian said, "I'll pay you to do this." So I was paid to do that and see The Beatles for free. So that's what I did and I worked with him in the office in the daytime. We suddenly got serious about booking hotels and travel arrangements. We became Gerry And The Pacemakers' managers and Billy J. Kramer and Cilla Black and a lot of other acts. So, I did that in the day time and in the night time went off to wherever people were playing.
Q - What kind of a boss was Brian Epstein?
A - He was lovely. He was like a friendly school teacher. He was just a good guy. He was learning at the same time we were learning about this show business thing. He used to stand in his record shop and listen in the booths to records. So, he knew it all in a strange ways. You hear about Alan Williams, but he and other people didn't have any vision. They were just involved in The Beatles' lives to make a quick buck, a quick five bob. (laughs) Brian could see beyond that. He pictured The Beatles being a big, national treasure. He eventually turned them into (that). Without Brian, The Beatles would just have been in obscurity.
Q - I always say he could have given up at any time and the world would never have heard of The Beatles.
A - Indeed.
Q - As The Beatles were climbing the ladder of Rock 'n' Roll success, did they ever say what their dreams were? Did they want a series of number one records or albums?
A - No. It was just one record to the next. It was just, "This could be the last one," until it became obvious it was not going to stop.
Q - Why did Ringo get the nod to join The Beatles and Pete Best was ousted? Any idea?
A - Ringo was a Beatle. He had a Beatle attitude. After we did gigs we'd go to an all night club or a late night club, restaurant. Pete used to go home to his girlfriend. He didn't socialize. Ringo was around at that time and he fitted in with that personality, where Pete did not have that Beatle personality. He was a good-looking guy, but he didn't have that Beatleness.
Q - Is the Saville Theatre, Brian Epstein's theatre, still called the Saville?
A - No. I managed the Saville, booked all the shows, ran the lighting and the sound for two or three years. After Brian died, NEMS just got rid of it. It never made money. It was just a nice place for people to play. It only held twelve hundred people and they only charged a Pound at a time when it cost a fortune to run it. So it barely made money.
Q - Why did the Saville become known as the Epstein Theatre?
A - Because it was a proper theatre. It was a proper London theatre being there for two hundred years. It was a famous place really in London show business, like The Palladium theatre or the Vaudeville theatre. The Saville Theatre is a famous theatre name.
Q - As the booking agent for The Saville, you saw all the Rock giants come through, didn't you?
A - Yeah. Hendrix, Cream, The Who, Traffic, Bee Gees, Chuck Berry, Georgie Fame.
Q - At one point, I don't know if this was before your Saville Theatre job or after, you were the head of Apple Films. What films did Apple release?
A - None. (laughs) Yellow Submarine. (laughs)
Q - You were also the CEO of Apple Records. That must've been a dream job!
A - There were other things in-between. (laughs) I was at Apple Films. There were all these little television videos of I Feel Fine, We Can Work It Out and and Help! and I produced those and Rain and Paperback Writer and Hello Goodbye and Hey Jude, Hey Bulldog, Lady Madonna. I produced all of those little things. Apple Films. But because of the sort of disaster of Magical Mystery Tour we couldn't actually get the backing of any big film companies like United Artists to allow us to make the films. We had three or four films in the planning situation.
Q - Magical Mystery Tour wasn't that bad of a film.
A - It wasn't that bad. In England they didn't have color television then and it was shown in black and white. It got dreadful press. (laughs) Absolutely dreadful press. In color it was enjoyable because it was colorful. In black and white it was dull and not amusing. It was a bit avant garde, so none of those films ever got made. And then it carried on until Allan Klein got rid of everybody at Apple and I was the only one left. There was just me left.
Q - Why didn't The Beatles record their albums in the U.S.? Why did they record at Abbey Road Studios?
A - It's E.M.I. Recording Studios. It became Abbey Road Studios after the album was called "Abbey Road". (laughs) They didn't record in the U.S. because of union problems. In 1965 the American AFTRA and the British musicians union had a big fallout because American artists were coming over to England and appearing on television and miming to their records without using British musicians. And of course quite a lot of British artists were going to America and appearing on... this was one of the reasons I started making promotion films. English artists were appearing on Where The Action Is and Shindig! and those television shows, and just miming and putting American musicians out of work. So the two unions banned this from happening. They said if you're going to come over to England, you're going to have to work and do gigs and concerts using English musicians. Gene Pitney cannot just turn up in the country and do TV shows miming to his records and go back to America without using English musicians. AFTRA said in that case your Beatles can't come over to America! Mind you, The Beatles didn't mime on American TV. That's when I started making promotion films, so I could just send the films to Where The Action Is, Shindig! and Ed Sullivan. The Beatles had plans to record at Stax Studios I think it was, in Memphis, and the group that was going to come over to England, to record in England, were The Nazz, Todd Rundgren. Anyway, the whole thing fell out of sync 'cause of the unions. It never happened. The unions in those days were just strangling everything.
Q - Did you discover James Taylor and Queen?
A - No. Peter Asher discovered James Taylor. I was there when we discovered him. Peter sort of knew him, but when he came into the Apple office and sort of sat on the floor and sang "Something In The Way She Moves" and "Carolina On My Mind", I was there when it happened. It was just like, "Wow!" Queen were just friends of mine who I quite liked and I'd seen. They were managed by Trident Studios where we'd just recorded "Hey Jude". So I heard all their early recordings, but I liked 'em. John had completely lost interest in signing anybody to Apple. He just said "No." He also said no to David Bowie. About three years later he said, "Why aren't we signing acts like David Bowie?" (laughs) It was like, "Excuse me John. You said no." (laughs)
Q - Had he signed Queen and David Bowie, John Lennon would have been a music mogul.
A - He was in a bad state at the time.
Q - Did Brian Epstein ever meet Yoko Ono?
A - Well yes, 'cause we had her over at the Saville Theatre.
Q - What did he think of her? Did he ever say?
A - He said nothing. She was somebody we put on 'cause she was an avant garde artist.
Q - Was she John's girlfriend at the time?
A - No. I don't think they'd ever met. It might've been just at the time they met at Indica (Gallery).
Q - Had Brian Epstein not managed The Beatles, would the world ever heard of them?
A - I'd say probably not 'cause he was the only person in Liverpool who could see beyond keeping them playing in those grutty clubs and halls like those other people were doing. He got them the record contract and moved them out of Liverpool and moved them out of London to an international stage.
Q - I always say there was no one on the horizon at that time who could have managed The Beatles. Do you see it that way as well?
A - I don't think anybody else could. It was just a solid co-operation they had between them all. Brian did it. Everybody says he screwed up on the merchandising. Well, he didn't actually screw up on the merchandising. Nobody really knew what merchandising was. The only bloody thing to merchandise was Charlie Chaplin and Mickey Mouse. Nobody knew you could sell the million t-shirts with The Beatles' picture on it.
Q - It was Brian's lawyer who negotiated that deal of 90% for the merchandiser, 10% for The Beatles, which was an awful deal.
A - At the time it seemed pretty fair because it was roughly what the record deal was, 90% for the record company, 10% for The Beatles. It was roughly the same thing. We weren't involved in any of the costs of manufacturing of talcum powder or noddy dolls or lunch boxes. They made them, sold them, and gave us 10%. (laughs) It wasn't like hard work to do that. It wasn't until Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin started doing it the other way around, give us 90%! (laughs) And they didn't sell that many Led Zeppelin lunch boxes as they did Beatles lunch boxes. In a way it was a good deal. It was a great deal in fact. So, Walt Disney didn't get much more than 10% of all the Mickey Mouse dolls sold in the world or Charlie Chaplin. There weren't many images being marketed. Maybe Elvis. They had a big merchandising thing. The Colonel wasn't telling anybody what the deal was. The Colonel used to stand there at the gigs, selling t-shirts or pens. That was all the Colonel did. Brian Epstein was not going to stand at Shea Stadium selling Beatles posters.
Q - You're right about that. Brian Epstein was above that. With Elvis, and I'm guessing here, the merchandising deal would probably have been 50 / 50.
A - Who knows? 50 / 50 in the Colonels's favor. (laughs)
Q - How many times did you see The Beatles at The Cavern?
A - About 280. Maybe I missed half a dozen. I was on holiday, something like that.
Q - How different would The Beatles' story have been had Brian Epstein lived?
A - He might have carried on for a few more years. John was intent on stopping it once he and the Japanese one got together. It made it irreparable in a way. There was no way that George and Paul would carry on with what they were doing and her anymore. John didn't turn up at George's Bangladesh Concert 'cause he didn't want her there.
Q - Everybody's friends now, aren't they?
A - Sure. Oh, yeah. (laughs) For business meetings. They have to. She is of course a partner, as is Olivia (Harrison). The Beatles now are Paul and Ringo and the two wives.
Q - And Ron Howard is putting out a new film on The Beatles' touring years.
A - I helped put a lot of it together.
Q - Is it a good film?
A - If you're really into Beatles trivia and you want to see arrivals and departures and press conferences and the few concerts that have probably been seen before but not seen recently, yeah, it's good.
Official Website: www.TonyBramwell.com
© Gary James. All rights reserved.