Paul McCartney in Saltaire, John Lennon in New York and Martha My Dear: Colin Hall and 'Whispering' Bob Harris present The Songs The Beatles Gave Away
It was early on Sunday, June 30, 1968, and the man who may have been the most famous in the world was recording with Black Dyke Mills Band.
Tasked with producing Thingumybob, which he had penned for the television sitcom of the same name, the Fab Four bassist chauffeured up in his Rolls Royce to The Midland Hotel in Bradford the night before.
Brass band lover McCartney - Sir Paul from 1997 - wanted to use the best in the land, so with an entourage including his beloved Old English Sheepdog, Martha (immortalised in The White Album’s Martha My Dear), came up to God’s Own Country.
But time was of the essence - Black Dyke, conducted by Geoffrey Brand (who arranged the single), had a concert to get to at Thorne Park near Doncaster - so having decided the sound indoors was too “roomy” they took to the open air of Exhibition Road.
“Of course, word had got around by then and there was a big group of kids and their parents outside,” says Colin Hall, a Merseyside-born expert on The Beatles and former custodian of John Lennon’s childhood home.
They also recorded a version of Yellow Submarine for the Thingumybob single’s B-side and McCartney harnessed the youngsters’ enthusiasm by getting them to shout towards the end of the piece - with their contribution making the final recording.
Hall, 74, says: “He was canny, Paul, and he knew how to engage the kids so that they would stay quiet.”
Martha, he says, had already been taken out of Victoria Hall because she too had been a bit noisy.
This is one of the many lovely anecdotes Hall has at his disposal - in this instance from a conversation with flugelhorn player John Clay who performed on the day - from The Songs The Beatles Gave Away, his book published last year by Bradford’s own Great Northern Books.
It was written after a BBC Radio 2 documentary of the same name he made with music broadcasting legend ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris.
Now, both men are taking the concept on the road with a stage show, appearing at a number of Yorkshire locations from this evening.
Hall says: “There was this cache of songs that John, Paul, and later George (Harrison), wrote for other artists that The Beatles didn't actually record and release commercially themselves.
“So we made that into a documentary and it was very well received. I always thought, this is a book. Because people write about the Beatles continuously - you know, there's never not a new book on The Beatles - but one story that's always overlooked is the story of this selection of songs that were written for other artists but never covered by the Beatles. So that's what the stage show is about.”
McCartney, for example, wrote Love of the Loved by Cilla Black, From A Window performed by Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas, and Tommy Quickly’s Tip of My Tongue.
The stage show includes parts of interviews with relevant artists, as well as of songs or demos, while the pair also share stories from their years in the industry.
Hall says: “It is not all not the same every night. Obviously it's got a theme but it's two gentlemen who are well-versed in rock and pop music, talking about the songs The Beatles gave away. Of course, Bob Harris is a legend of the British popular music scene, so he's got stories galore anyway - they kind of drop out of his pocket when he’s not noticing.”
The feeling is mutual for Harris, who is well known from his time on The Old Grey Whistle Test in the 1970s and continues to promote new music on The Country Show for BBC Radio 2.
Harris reckons there are few people “who know more about The Beatles than Colin,” he tells The Yorkshire Post.
Much like Hall, a young Harris “experienced the success of The Beatles in real time, because I was a teenager when they burst onto the charts”.
He later interviewed individual members, including a sit-down with John Lennon in Manhattan in 1975, catching the complicated icon in relaxed, generous form.
It happened after Harris bumped into his friend Elton John at a showcase for the release of Labelle’s Lady Marmalade. The Rocket Man mentioned that Lennon might soon be joining him on stage at Madison Square Garden, so the presenter asked him to pass on that he would love to interview the ex-Beatle.
He says: “I was sat in the office at Television Centre a few days later and the phone rings and it's John Lennon. And he phones up to say: ‘I've been talking to Elton, I know you want to do something for Whistle Test, why don't you come over?’”
Sure enough, Harris and the show’s producer Mike Appleton flew to New York, spending a few days with Lennon, who even offered to record versions of Slippin’ and Slidin’ and Stand By Me.
Harris, 77, of Oxfordshire, says: “It just completely transcended the idea that he was this activist ex-Beatle and I was the guy from The Old Grey Whistle Test within moments - we just instantly realised we got on really, really well. And a lot of people have said to me that they think that's one of the most relaxed interviews that John ever did, and I think that's probably true.”
The presenter met Hall some 20 years ago at the Cambridge Folk Festival, and later they worked together on The Day John Met Paul. The BBC radio documentary in 2007 explored the occasion when John Lennon, then 16, and Paul McCartney, 15, met for the first time at St Peter’s Annual Church Fete in Woolton, Liverpool on July 6, 1957.
Local boy Hall was actually there on that sunny day - one which would change the world - but, being a few years younger than Lennon and McCartney, can’t so much remember the skiffle music, though does recall the police dog and horse performance.
A former teacher, after taking earlier retirement Hall was managing a couple of artists - including Liam Bailey, who co-wrote the Chase and Status song Blind Faith - when a chance came up to become the custodian of Lennon’s childhood home of 251 Menlove Avenue in Woolton, known as The Mendips.
“Somebody said: ‘There’s a job going with the National Trust where you grew up as a little boy, they want somebody to look after John's house. You've been boring us for 50 years with stories of The Beatles - you can be paid to do it’. I applied for it, I didn't really expect anything, you know, but I got the job and 20 years later, here I am being paid to continue to talk to people about the Beatles.”
Hall did the job from 2004 until May this year, while his wife Sylvia was for many years the custodian of 20 Forthlin Road, Sir Paul’s former home.
In 2017, the couple won Liverpool City Region’s ‘Tourism Stars of the Year’ and, last year, were part of the National Trust team named ‘Experience of the Year’.
Hall decided to go out on a high. After all, it was not only awards that allowed him to enjoy some pretty lofty moments in the job.
“You'd get Bob Dylan standing in John's bedroom talking to me about John, asking me where John would write songs, where he played guitar and to be suddenly in that tiny space, talking with someone like Bob Dylan…well, for me, that was just one of the most exciting moments in my life,” he says.
Among the many notable visitors, including Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, was singer-songwriter James Taylor.
Hall says: “James came on a date when the house was closed and I was living in the house, so I said: ‘Why don't you come over?’ So I went and picked him up in my Fiat Punto. What a lovely man he is. We sat on the back lawn, drinking tea and just talking, and again that's another pinch me moment.”
That kind of sensation wasn’t exactly rare, though. For instance, it could happen at the start of the day, standing in Lennon’s childhood room, complete with a Gallotone Champion guitar.
“Nearly every morning I would look at that guitar and I'd look at John's bed and I would say ‘Good morning, John’. And I would always think, wow, yeah, I'm opening the curtains in John Lennon's bedroom. How fortunate, how privileged am I? I just can't explain, really, what a special moment that would be, and it never failed to make me feel that sense of wonder.”
- The Songs The Beatles Gave Away stage show with Colin Hall and Bob Harris heads to Malton’s Milton Rooms (tonight), Hull’s Wrecking Ball Arts Centre (tomorrow, October 7), Hebden Bridge Trades Club (October 8), Selby Town Hall (December 15), Otley Courthouse (December 16), Whitby Pavilion (December 17) and Reeth's Swaledale Festival (May 1). For details, visit: bobharris.org