Monday, April 28, 2008

Farewell to one of Rock's Great ROCKIN' Managers, Neil Aspinall of The Beatles


(above) The Beatles outside the Cavern Club, Liverpool, in early 1962, in front
of the Commer van driven by their young road manager, Neil Aspinall
(above) Neil Aspinall, top right
(above) Neil Aspinall (middle, with guitar) standing in for an ill George Harrison,
at the rehearsal for the Ed Sullivan Show, 1964

(above) Beginning in 1963, Mal Evans (left) became the regular driver of The Van
(above) Neil Aspinall (left) with Mal Evans (right);
photo by Linda Eastman who became Paul McCartney's wife
(above and below) examples of the birds at Beatles' shows in 1963;
Neil and Mal (and Derek Taylor) chose which female fans went backstage
(above two) These photos are from a filming at a 1963 concert in Manchester
(above) Neil Aspinall, once their road manager, always their confidant and fixer,
before he became the Managing Director who'd protect and grow their legacy

Neil Aspinall, "the fifth Beatle," died March 24, 2008 at age 67. For more than forty years he was their de-facto Chief Executive--for-Life, but wore many hats during that time, beginning with driver, then road manager upon the Beatles' return to Liverpool from their first extended stay in Germany. Much has been written about his passing, and here I'll provide some of the best remembrances, with a nod to the automotive aspects as that's the focus of this rock and cars blog. Note that as with all great folk history, each remembrance offers up just a slightly different set of facts.
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Edited from his long obit in The Economist, April 3rd:
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"He was brighter than they were. He had eight O-levels, where they mustered hardly any between them. He was richer: by January, 1961 he was earning two and a half pounds a week as a trainee accountant in Liverpool, enough to have saved up for a second-hand van, while they had to scrape the fare for the #81 bus across town, lugging their guitars up to the top deck. In certain lights, with enough Brylcreem on his hair and enough tight black leather on his limbs, he was as handsome as they were too, like a young Tom Courtenay.
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"Yet there seemed to be not one jealous bone in Neil Aspinall's body, which was why, for almost half a century, he was factotum, doorkeeper, and man-of-all-work for his four best friends. From driving the battered old Commer van he purchased, with its hard benches back and in the middle and his charges sleeping among the amps, he progressed to hiring the larger tour-type buses and then the chauffeured limousines with blacked-out windows, forcing their way through crowds of weeping teenage girls.
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"He could have told stories if he'd wanted to. Of getting lost one New Years night in the snow near Wolverhampton as he drove the band to their first big audition with Decca (which they subsequently failed). Of picking girls for them from the giggling, screaming candidates who milled at the stage doors, or forging hundreds of signatures on record sleeves and photos.
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"In the vans, buses, and hotel rooms, bits of paper piled up like confetti, carrying scraps of songs . . . and more scraps were stuffed in the pockets of the trousers Mr. Aspinall carried to the clearner's. He did not keep the scraps. His interest was not exploitation, but service. He was a handy man with a portable iron, and his job was to smooth out the creases in their story.
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"Paul and George he knew from school: Paul in [their] Art and English classes, George as a furtive fellow Woodbine-[cigarette] puffer behind the air-raid shelters. [Lennon's school adjoined theirs]. In a sense they were always members of the "Mad Lad" gang, larking together, or hurtling together down a back street as the Teds came after them. And for all the dazzle of the London Palladium or the Ed Sullivan Show, there was perhaps no more evocative venue for Mr. Aspinall than the Casbah Club in the basement of his lover-landlady's house, where behind the rhododendron hedges the Silver Beetles--as they were then--would play on Saturday nights. He had bought the benches and the luminous purple paint that glowed on the walls, and after the show he would guard the equipment. When [his best friend] drummer Pete Best was ditched by the group in favour of Ringo--the most painful test of Mr. Aspinall's loyalty--he ended his affair with Pete's mother, moved out, [and continued ferrying the boys in the van to their next show in Chester, and to the next shows after that].
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Edited from the obit in The Guardian:
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"Lennon invited McCartney and Harrison to join his skiffle group, the Quarry Men, which eventually mutated into Johnny and the Moondogs, the Silver Beetles, and finally, in 1960, the Beatles. But in the autumn of 1959 the group played an engagement at Mona Best's cellar Casbah Club, in West Derby, and Aspinall moved in with the Best's. In August, 1960, Best auditioned and became their drummer. Upon their return to Liverpool, the Beatles made the important move from traveling to gigs on public transport to piling into Aspinall's Commer van. Neil was asked to become their driver and roadie just before Christmas. Scarcely a year later, on New Year's Eve, 1961, he drove them down to London for their audition with Decca, famously getting lost first, arriving at 10 pm that night after a ten-hour journey through the snow."
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Edited from Darin Murphy's remembrance in The Huffington Post:
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"The Beatles really were a six-member team. You'll rarely hear their names mentioned and even more rarely see their faces, but Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans [who took over the driving in 1963] were the dynamic duo without which John, Paul, George, and Ringo could not have survived. Manager Brian Epstein was the well-known marketing genius; producer George Martin is credited on the albums; and Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best are Beatles folk legends. But Neil and Mal were everywhere the group was at all times, doing everything that a 10-man crew does today. They drove the van; ushered the boys through the screaming masses; carried their luggage, instruments, and amps; and set up and broke down their backline at every gig, studio session, TV appearance, radio appearance, film shoot, photo shoot, and rehearsal. They forged Beatle autographs on thousands of photos, record sleeves and other souvenirs; went out for food and drinks; procured equipment, instruments, and supplies; changed out their guitar strings and drum heads; and sometimes [aided by the band's late publicist Derek Taylor] even picked out the groupies. They both helped create the cover of the Sgt. Pepper album, without credit. In addition, they also had to bear the brunt of the group's hostility during the most nerve-racking times, listen to them argue amongst themselves, and occasionally bear full responsibility for lost or damaged gear (Mal had to buy John a new Gibson acoustic guitar after his was stolen, and almost lost his job over one of George's Gretsch guitars that fell off the van and was run over by a following truck). Due to their miraculous ability to be four or five places at once, Neil and Mal managed to form a sort of force field around the Beatles, shielding them--for the most part--from the chaotic hurricane surrounding the relatively peaceful eye in which they moved."
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Edited from the obit in The Telegraph:
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"Aspinall's involvement with the Beatles dated from December, 1960 when Pete Best asked him to become their driver, persuading him to combine his day job as a trainee accountant with driving a dilapidated Commer van which Aspinall would purchase, at night for ten shippings a week. Aspinall in short due course would cut a deal with the band by which he charged each of them five shippings per concert plus gasoline expense, as he was now responsible for driving them both days and nights. Although he was shocked when Best (his closest friend) was replaced by Ringo on August 16, 1962, he remained solidly with the band, and when a brawny Cavern Club bouncer named Mal Evans was taken on in 1963 to hump their instruments in and out of their battered Commer van, Aspinall then found himself in the role of personal assistant. As such, he became the Beatles' gatekeeper, guardian of their privacy, security, secrets, and eventually the group's fortunes, over which, as Managing Director of Apple from January, 1968 to midway through 2007, he exercised a shrewd stewardship. A quietly-spoken but tough negotiator, he was credited with having--single handedly--turned the Beatles into the world's highest-earning band, and, by extension, one of rock's biggest brands. "It was an unattractive life," he admitted later [in one of his few interviews], "and it went on for years. But at least I could go out. They were trapped."
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Edited from the New York Times' obit:
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"Of all the people in the Beatles' orbit, Aspinall had the most durable relationship with the group. When the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, George Harrison made a point of saying that Aspinall should be considered the fifth Beatle. When an American manager, Allen Klein, was brought in to sort out the Beatles' finances after their breakup, Klein fired much of the staff but was told by John Lennon, "Don't touch Neil and Mal, they're ours.""
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Edited from Wikipedia:
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"The Beatles played at the opening of the Casbah Coffee Club on August 29, 1959, which was in the cellar of Mona Best's house. Aspinall soon rented a room in the house and became best pal with Pete Best. Having morphed into The Beatles by August, 1960, the band had previously used public transport to get to local gigs, but by the end of December they were playing two or three concerts on the same day or night, at different locations, and needed someone to drive them. Best asked Aspinall to be the driver, and, effectively, their part-time road manager, so Aspinall bought an "old, grey and maroon Commer van" for 80 pounds and charged each of the group five shillings per concert. When the Beatles returned from their second trip to Hamburg, Germany in July, 1961, Aspinall left his day job as an assistant accountant to become their full-time road manager. After Best was sacked by Brian Epstein in mid-August, Aspinall was waiting downstairs in Epstein's NEMS record shop and was the first one to talk to the (then) ex-Beatle in The Grapes pub, across from The Cavern Club where the Beatles were now regularly playing. Aspinall was furious and said he would stop working for the band as well, but Best strongly advised him not to. But at the next gig, Aspinall did ask McCartney and Lennon why they'd fired Best, and was told, by Lennon, "It's got nothing to do with you. You're only the driver." Aspinall from that point forward worked closely with Epstein, who provided weekly notes and payments for him to give to the group. The Beatles, at that stage in their career, had no choice but to travel in Aspinall's van along with their equipment, uncomfortably, as the British roads then were notoriously pot-holed and slow to navigate. Ringo Starr remembered being ceaselessly driven up and down Great Britain with one of the group in the passenger seat [a coveted, rotating position] and the other three on a hard bench seat in the back."
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Edited from the obit in The Independent:
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"When Mona Best opened her basement to create a teenage club, The Casbah, Aspinall helped to get it up and running. In August, 1960, her eldest son, Pete, joined the Beatles on drums for an extended first engagement in Hamburg. By the time they returned in December, they had transformed their sound and were fully dedicated to playing music. Aspinall would watch them play and sometimes drive them in a Ford van he'd just secured. As the bookings increased, Neil was asked, in July, 1961, to become their first full-time road manager. Aspinall's affair with Mona Best led to a son, Roag, born in July, 1962, but this did not ruin his relationship with Pete, and they remained friends until Aspinall's death. But, that friendship was tested in August, 1962, when Best was sacked by the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein. Best discussed the issue with Aspinall, and was surprised to hear that Neil was prepared to take the group to Chester that night, "as they haven't sacked me." When Neil asked the group why Best had been sacked, Lennon replied, "It's nothing to do with you. You're only the driver." Aspinall was a tough, authoritative figure who could control a situation without hitting anyone, although he must have come close that day with Lennon."
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Edited from the obit in the Yorkshire Evening Post:
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"Aspinall once said: "People used to say to me then, 'What do you do?' I'd stopped being an accountant, or pretending to be one by this time, and I said back, 'I drive the band around,' and they'd say, 'Yeah, I know that, but what do you do for a living?' Two years later, the same people were saying, 'You lucky git, Neil.'"
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Edited from the obit in the Daily Mirror:
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"In 1964, when Beatlemania swept the UK, ex-Cavern Club bouncer and newly-crowned roadie Mal Evans took over as driver and Neil became the road manager. It involved far more than ensuring the dressing rooms were up to scratch. Ringo, looking back, said, "Neil and Mal were all we had. Throughout our fame, we had just two guys looking after us." Even as the van became a bus and the bus became a limousine, the constant touring took its toll. Neil said, in a rare interview, "Our life was just going from one box to another, in the end. You'd be on an aeroplane, which was a box, and get into a limousine, which was another box, and drive to a hotel, another box." The band's late publicist Derek Taylor once described the enduring link between Neil and the Beatles as the "ultimate complementary relationship. They had no O-levels, he had lots. They had big egos, he had none." And that is the key to one of the most successful partnerships in musical history."
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In the blog that follows, I'll cover more of the Beatles' early automotive career, including showing you photos of the van which they took to their first gigs in Germany, and recall a few of the band's van-travel stories from those early days. Also, you'll se a remarkable photo of the Quarry Men playing a very early gig atop a coal lorry parked on the sidewalk.
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RIP Neil Aspinall. It was a wonderful ride, yes? You were an esteemed and caring manager and such good friends with the lads. You'll be missed but never forgotten. My thoughts are with several of your friends, Dell and Kym Furano from Signatures Network, and Jim McCullough, who were privileged to work with you on many projects and licenses involving the Beatles.
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FYI, to see Beatlemania in the UK in full hysteria, check out a 1963 filmclip "The Beatles Come to Town," from a gig in Manchester, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0191CFOCo04.

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Mucks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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