June '24 issue #185


Paul was the Walrus, but who was the Egg Man?
Mike's Pith & Wind
The Beatles in Chch 
Until quite recently, I thought that, as I was born in 1945, I was unquestionably part of the Baby Boomer generation. I can’t remember when or what undermined that assumption, but I looked it up and it seems I’m actually part of the Silent Generation. (1925 – 1945) 
Whatever, I’m
bloody old, but I and my fellow ancient hipsters believe that we’ve lived through some special and likely unrepeatable times, so I thought I might recount the following fable by way of illustrating that assertion..
I’m not quite certain what motivated our mother Lois to take my brother and me to see The Beatles when they so sensationally whistled through Christchurch back in June of 1964. It may’ve been by way of a birthday present to me - I turned nineteen that June - or, as she was also a June baby, it may’ve been a birthday present to herself.
Anyway, I can say unequivocally that it wasn’t sustained agitation from either my brother Richard or me - for mostly financial reasons we would never have thought it possible to attend such an event. I’m incredibly glad she did, if only because I can answer the standard interview or small-talk question, ‘what was the first concert you went to?’ with the killer response ‘our mum took us to see The Beatles in 1964’.

I was absolutely thrilled to be able to attend such a hot ticket event. Like most of the New Zealand public I’d been captivated by The Beatles for so many reasons, but I found their songs and particularly the sound of their voices in harmony were beguiling, to the point that when I and some schoolmates tackled some Beatles songs (acapella), I’d thought it important to try to mimic their Liverpudlian accents.  
My brother and I were both first year art students at Christchurch’s Ilam School of Fine Arts and, because I had the requisite long hair and was notoriously invested in pop music (at the expense of my Art studies it has to be said), there I was on the Art School float, as part of the annual University of Canterbury ‘Procesh’ (procession) during Capping Week. The float was naturally dedicated to our heroes, The Fab Four, and there I was on conspicuous display, singing my hirsute head off.  
Incidentally, as a graphic art student The Beatles’ logo with the famous drop ‘T’ on Ringo’s bass drum always interested me. How the design came about is quite mundane but, as with everything that came into the Beatles’ orbit, it became compulsorily recognised as ‘genius’
But, let’s see what I can remember of the so-called Beatles show at Christchurch‘s art-deco Majestic Theatre (demolished after the earthquakes) on June 27th 1964.  
Well, Beatles’ shows in fact, because there was an afternoon matinee followed by an evening session, which was apparently de rigueur for this one-off Australasian tour. 
I didn’t remember there were two shows, let alone which of the two shows we saw, but I’ve since asked Richard and he says it was definitely the evening show, which also happened to be The Beatles’ last show of the New Zealand tour. 
And ‘so-called’ Beatles tour because Australian entrepreneur, Kenn Brodziak, had booked The Beatles and Sounds Unlimited to tour Australasia as part of a speculative package a couple of years before The Beatles had become international stars. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had typically honoured the original contract and so here they were playing the last two gigs of a frenetic New Zealand tour in the depths of a Southern Hemisphere winter.  
Lois and her two unworldly teen-age boys had seats upstairs in the circle with a great view of the stage. The theatre undoubtedly had its own sound system, but it looked like it had been supplemented by every available PA in town. I think The Beatles’ trademark VOX guitar amplifiers might’ve been 100-watt beasts for this tour, but nothing was going to override the unrelenting screaming of the girls in the room, which had to be heard to be believed.  
They say The Beatles played the same eleven song set throughout the tour, so they probably didn’t need to hear themselves all that well, but from what I did manage to hear they were singing in tune and playing in time.  
In time with RINGO! For entirely obsessive reasons I was relieved that we had the original band lineup. Part of the Australian leg was Ringo-less and replacement drummer Jimmie Nicol, who couldn’t get the mop-top quite right, had thankfully returned to obscurity in the UK after Ringo had recovered from his appendix operation, so we had the original, lovable Ringo back on his kit centre-stage atop the commanding drum riser.  
But first we had to endure the plethora of support acts that fleshed out the show. Australia’s The Phantom Band backed New Zealand's own Johnny Devlin (who I was quite interested in seeing as I was a fan of his early records) as well as the Australian singer Johnny Chester - and I think they might’ve performed a song on their own with their gimmicky painted-on skeletons being highlighted by ultra-violet lights.  
I was quite impressed with Sounds Incorporated. They wore the typical uniform suits, (a pervasive '50s and '60s thing that Epstein was apparently keen on) and the lineup featured two or three baritone saxes, bass, guitar, drums and occasional keyboards and played punchy instrumentals with equally punchy steps. The horn players actually featured on the track Good Morning Good Morning on the Sergeant Pepper’s album.  


Ho hum - and then, at last, it was The Beatles.  
Time seemed to slow down as they sauntered on stage (Paul might’ve skipped) and so I had time to drink in the trademark black-collar, silver-grey suits, the Beatle boots (!) the Beatle guitars, the Beatle guitar leads etc. I was slightly shocked that their hair was much longer than I was used to seeing in the pop magazines. 
I don't remember there being any roadies. No fold-back wedges either - but hardly anybody in NZ had heard of fold-back in those days.  Paul was the ever-cheerful spokesman, but unsurprisingly he didn’t try and say a lot, other than to briefly introduce the songs.  
And so it began.  
I Saw Her Standing There, I Want To Hold Your Hand, You Can't Do That, Till There Was You, All My Loving, Boys, (welcome back Ringo!), She Loves You, Roll Over Beethoven, Can't Buy Me Love, This Girl, Long Tall Sally and finally an angry Twist & Shout.  
At a tour standard twenty-five minutes duration, The Beatles' set was pretty short anyway, but I think the Christchurch shows might hold the record for the shortest twenty-five minute sets on the tour by a good two or three minutes. I suspect that there was more than a little anger smouldering in John Lennon’s corner, due to the events earlier in the day at the Clarendon Hotel, when the regulation balcony appearance by the boys to the thousands of worshipful fans in the street below was interrupted by some unruly and churlish young men throwing ‘raw eggs’ at our Fab Four, possibly the first such time this type of behaviour had been directed at the band.  
But, back to the show. Paul sang the most songs and, by contrast with John, George and Ringo, was clearly enjoying himself for the entire performance – and I reckon that he could be quite a percussive player of his famous left-handed
Höfner violin bass when he got excited.
The second-last song of the set was Long Tall Sally, a Little Richard song and so a bit of a screamer in a high register - in other words, meat and potatoes for Paul. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I suddenly became aware there was something hanging from the neck of Paul’s guitar. 
I didn't have binoculars, but I eventually I was certain it was a bass string. Paul had broken a bass string! 
I saw no expression of dismay on McCartney's cherubic face and, although Long Tall Sally has quite a busy bassline, he effortlessly winged it through both Long Tall Sally and Twist & Shout with only three strings.   
It was towards the end of the show when the screamers had begun to lose their voices that they found a variation on the theme to display their ecstasy at The Beatles actually being here in our little English tribute town 12,000 miles from Liverpool. 
It was The Stomp. 
This rhythmic thumping was not only ominously loud, but it started having a discernible effect on the structure of the theatre and the circle was swaying up and down like a concrete trampoline.  
Richard and I looked at each other wondering if our first concert was also going to be our last, but our mother Lois remained blissfully serene, maybe because she’d seen it all before, or perhaps she was busy planning another exotic dish to impress the guests at the next party at our Cashmere Hills' home.
Sixty years on I honestly can’t say if experiencing The Beatles live in concert made any difference to the trajectory my life was already taking. It possibly confirmed my then undefined compulsion to follow a musical path, because, although I was enjoying my first year at Art School, the various streams of the visual arts didn’t appeal to me in the same visceral way as did the listening to and the bashing away at pop music.
There was the obstacle of ‘the bursary’, a modest stipend that would support me for the projected four years at Art School but would demand of me four years plus of teaching to reimburse the government their investment. 
Whoa! That’s a large slice of my younger years doing something I only agreed to do because I couldn’t think of anything else.  
Luckily for me my maternal grandmother intervened, and when I failed to return to Art School for my third year, it was she, sweet Granyips, that paid back my debt to the government. 
My distinctly amateur band, just recently branded The Chants, didn’t have many gigs under its belt, but had temporarily acquired the services of a very professional bass-player in Pete Hansen, (also a former Christ’s College student), who had a regular gig at The Plainsman Club and was looking for something to do in his spare time.
The Battle of the Bands was taking place at the Addington Showgrounds and, with Pete’s expert guidance and encouragement, The Chants entered the competition - and won!  
I’m sure we played a sprinkling of Beatle songs on that day too, but the scene had already begun to change and we were starting to tackle material from the Rolling Stones and other blues-influenced UK groups, while also grappling with songs from US soul artists like James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding.
The Chants' first single, recorded at 3YA, the local Classical radio station, reflected this naively random eclecticism. The A side was an Otis Redding song, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, backed with a wildly derivative Chants’ original, I Want Her.
The Chants were on our way somewhere, but we had no idea where.
We were young and were living in the moment, but we hadn't envisaged having to leave our residency at Mod-Central at the Stage Door in Hereford Lane.
Events, however, have a habit of overtaking young dreamers with no plans and those events were soon to take us a long way out of our comfort zone.
But that, as they say in the classics, is another story. 

back to the top
Dick's Toolbox
Episode IV – a New Hope
The worn grey hood shaded his narrowed eyes against the brilliant high noon sun of the Moroccan landscape standing in for Tatooine. His hands rested easily on the worn pearl handles of the ancient word processor nestled comfortably in its oiled holsters of an ancient PC.
‘It’s been a long time,’ he said,
I don’t know why Dick’s Toolbox dribbled to a halt five years ago, but it most certainly did. Probably it was a sign of the times as the audience aged and faded away, and as inertia, procrastination and difficult technology overcame both my brother and me. People stopped reading as much and turned to podcasts, alcohol, and the deep intellectual drugs of social media. Of course, the uproar was tremendous as nobody noticed that roughly a thousand words of wisdom and erudition were no longer decorating Spectrum’s web site every month and that the world was now a slightly greater intellectual desert.
And, to paraphrase Hamlet’s last words, ‘The rest was silence’.   
As the curtain fell on the Toolbox the stage was littered with more than twelve years of essays both shallow and wide. Over one hundred literary corpses remained stacked on the stage, waiting for the cleaners to body bag them, throw them in the van and take them to the morgue to stay there unclaimed for eternity. A tag on the toe of a literary corpse in the pathologist’s freezer. A Revengers Tragedy that nobody understood. Eventually a pauper’s grave in a cemetery ringed by dark pencil pines, where dry grass withers in the summer heat   …..  and no flowers bloom.
But probably Mike said not to bother. It was so long ago that I can no longer remember. It was so long ago that I can’t remember that I can’t remember.
To keep up with the times it is entirely possible that I could record this essay with added sound effects and theme music - the latter would probably be ‘The Romance from the Gadfly’ by Shostakovich to which I hope to exit this world. Those with a vast memory may recall that it better known as the theme music to ‘Reilly, Ace of Spies’ where Reilly was played by our Christ’s College schoolmate Sam (Nigel) Neill. Sidney Reilly was a real person, a Russian-born adventurer and secret agent employed by Scotland Yard's Special Branch and later by the Foreign Section of the British Secret Service Bureau. He was not quite as good looking as Sam. Where the family will get a symphony orchestra from is beyond me, but I will be beyond caring at that stage. Alternatively, I could film this whole Toolbox and wander in esoteric landscapes like the wonderful art historian Simon Schama. Simon’s autobiography is aptly titled ‘Wordy’ an appropriate title given the size and number of the volumes that he has penned.  I might be wrapped romantically in black, reading my lines from a cue-card or, even more unlikely, from memory. Clutching a spanner of course. There are always nuts that need tightening.
Maybe the answer is in AI. I could just ask Copilot to write a thousand words in the style of Joseph Conrad, the writer who sailed, on the subject of contemporary politics. Given that he no respect for either socialism or capitalism he would despair of global politics and nearly all governments. What happened to the world, he would wonder, that it could seem even worse than the world after the First World War. His deep cynicism and blanket incredulity of humankind would be reinforced. 
So what’s happened over the past five years in my world? Apart from friends and family being diminished in number the highlight would be another grandson, Theodore (Teddy) Richard, who is now four going on five and powered by some everlasting battery system that means he only stops for Bluey and Peppa Pig. I had a friend who said that if he had known how nice grandchildren were he would have had them first. Not true, but grandchildren are an easier proposition as they are a part-time pre-occupation and not 24/7. He and his two-year older brother Lachlan are a very large part of our lives and, with his parents give us some hope that the future is worth saving. He and his brother’s name have already been round the moon on a memory stick on the Artemis program so we hope that the wonder of knowing who and where we are will mean something as they grow older. I say this as without them I might think that homo sapiens is an evolutionary mistake whose demise should not be prevented. Perhaps even expedited. Of course there are others, such as Professor Brian Cox who believe that without us the universe would not be aware of its own existence.
“Life, just like the stars, the planets and the galaxies, is just a temporary structure on the long road from order to disorder. But that doesn't make us insignificant, because we are the Cosmos made conscious. Life is the means by which the universe understands itself. And for me, our true significance lies in our ability to understand and explore this beautiful universe.”
This is a quandary. How can a world that gave us Bach, Monet and Einstein also give us Putin, Netanyahu and Scott Morrison (acting as a surrogate for Trump because that would be too obvious a trope). On a galactic scale all of humanities travails are infinitesimal, but on a local scale momentously important. Young Teddy’s life and happiness is unimportant compared to the billions of galaxies out there and the light years between them but, to me, there is nothing much more important. He and Lachlan deserve better than this inanity. 
back to the top
© 2018