BACK in 2004, Rob Fennah of Pulse Records Limited, Alternative Radio and Buster talked about his then new project of turning Helen Forrester’s Twopence To Cross The Mersey into the acclaimed musical it went on to become.
Later, Rob mentioned he was working on another project involving John Lennon’s mum, Julia, teaching The Beatles legend how to play rock’n’roll on her banjo; an instrument now lost but highly sought after by Beatles buffs the world over.
A ‘Holy Grail’ of rock memorabilia if ever there was one.
Now following the publication of a novel both Rob and Helen A. Jones wrote in 2013 called Julia’s Banjo, the book’s stage adaptation Lennon’s Banjo is set to open – somewhat ironically, at The Epstein Theatre – on April 24, featuring a stellar cast of familiar Liverpool faces and (for some performances) a real-life Beatle!
“It’s a relief to get it on stage, yes, but if we take it all the way back, the original idea was for it to be a screenplay for either film or television,” the former Buster rhythm guitarist explained.”There were a lot of filmy people interested too, but then came the big recession of 2009 and all the cash dried up.”That’s when Helen and I decided to write the novel, as a sort of stop gap.”The book got some really good reviews and kept the idea of a film adaptation of Julia’s Banjo very much alive.”The tale tells of how a Beatles tour guide finds a clue to the possible whereabouts of the said banjo … and its estimated monetary worth: £5,000,000.”However, a Texan dealer has got wind of this information and is hell bent on grabbing the instrument by the fretboard and making a dash for the cash.”Over the years since its publication lots of people were asking: ‘whatever happened to that film idea?’
“So a couple of years ago, I decided to adapt the novel myself into a stage play, another stepping stone if you like towards the making of a feature film.”I changed the name to Lennon’s Banjo to appeal to a wider audience, but otherwise kept the structure of the story the same. “In this stage production, we have eight actors playing twenty odd parts, so it’s a pretty big deal.”And with it also being a brand new play, myself and co-producer, Bill Elms, have put our heads on the block in order to get it on.”But because the story is such a fascinating one and weaved around real historical events, we feel it’s a risk well worth taking.”We’re confident people are going to leave the theatre intrigued by the very real possibility that somewhere out there, probably in Liverpool, perhaps in their own attic, is a banjo worth five million quid!”
So, it may have been a long and winding road to get there, something of a mystery tour in its own right, but perseverance very often pays off and there’s a huge cast joining the bus too.
“We’ve got a lot of familiar faces like Mark Moraghan, Eric Potts and Jake Abraham.
“Then there’s Lynn Francis, Stephanie Dooley, Danny O’Brien, Roy Carruthers and Alan Stocks.
“And the icing on the cake has been to get Pete Best involved.
“How that happened was by virtue of the fact he really liked the book.
“When the idea for the play came about, I took it upon myself to ask him whether he could do something and he said yes, wow!
“What Pete particularly liked was the accuracy of the historical facts within the novel.”We didn’t stint on the research for the book and it paid off, now having a real-life Beatle giving it the thumbs up.”Set in present day Liverpool, Pete Best will be playing himself; but for only three performances due to other commitments.”Alan Stocks will be playing the part on other occasions.”I have to say though, the rest of the cast are getting a real kick out of being on stage with an original Beatle! “Pete’s such an integral part of the group’s history, with thirteen of the songs he played on, such as Love Me Do and PS: I Love You, all featuring on the Beatles Anthology.
“He’s very much a part of the band’s story and it’s a real pleasure to have Pete involved.
“I’m sure audiences will be very excited about it too.”
When John Lennon needed a regular bass player behind him to replace the cute Beatle from Liverpool, his choice was Gary Van Scyoc. Gary joined John and Yoko with his Elephant’s Memory, newly christened as Plastic Ono Elephant’s Memory Band. The street-wise political group were no corner buskers, and had a Gold Record to their credit for their contributions to the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack. They would back John and Yoko on records, concerts, and television programs. Gary Van Scyoc called upon his elephant’s memory to have a look back at these wild times with the first couple of rock and roll.
Beatles Magazine: The Mike Douglas week was certainly a barn-burner, especially with Chuck Berry there. What was that like for you? Gary Van Scyoc: An amazing experience to be there when John met Chuck (his Idol) for the very first time. Chuck was barely through the door and after the usual pleasantries like shaking hands and embracing, Chuck blurts out to John “where are all my royalties from the covers your band did?” It turns out chuck in 1972 had not yet become a millionaire. I was impressed by how John handled himself and it wasn’t too long before the tension was gone and it was party on! Again!
Beatles Magazine: Any memories of playing with John live, or in the studio that stand out? Gary Van Scyoc: John and I had a moment during the final take of “Woman is the ****** of the World. That special eye contact during a magical moment that musicians share. A treasure for me.
Beatles Magazine: John was limited in his ability to work in the USA due to his citizenship problems, how did that hamper things in working with you?
Gary VanScyoc: Well I would be a whole lot better off financially if we would have actually went out on the world tour that he dropped over a $100,000 in gear and road cases in preparation for. He really wanted to go out and thought of the MSG concert as a rehearsal. He even says that during the show. John could only do benefits and TV shows. Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett and the Jerry Lewis Telethon to name a few. A couple years later we parted ways when he got kicked out of the house and went to LA. He was great about it as far as the Elephants were concerned. I received a wonderful letter from John and we kept all the gear.
Beatles Magazine: Can you tell us about some work you had done with Yoko in the studio?
Gary Van Scyoc: Yoko’s “Approximately Infinite Universe” is my favorite from any work I have ever done with any other artist! Period. My favorite playing is on it personally and Elephants wise our best work. I played trumpet on the LP which was a personal triumph.
Beatles Magazine: Did you have any occasion to see if John and Paul were still quite close, or was the split ugly from your vantage point?
Gary Van Scyoc: No I have several recollections of Paul calling the Record Plant while we were recording SomeTime in NYC. Feb 1972 and they would talk for hours when we were on break. Sounded like a family conversation to me. But what do I know? Wait..I was there.
Beatles Magazine: POEM was quite political, as was John at that time. How pressured was he for speaking up against the war? Did any of that spill over onto you all?
Gary Van Scyoc: The other way around. We were the political band in NYC at that time. And in the Country. We performed at May Day demonstration in Washington that year. John came to us because of similar affiliations musically and politically. No one pressured John Lennon about ANYTHING!
Beatles Magazine: John and Yoko came to your studio, and you were jamming as they waited. Can you describe John’s white suit, and other happenings that evening?
Gary Van Scyoc: Looked like the suit from Abbey Road to me and my jaw dropped. We kept them waiting outside our studio for quite a while before bring them in. I think they felt like they were the ones auditioning.
Beatles Magazine: The Elephants were well known on their own,and had established themselves quite solidly. What stands out in your mind in regards to that?
Gary Van Scyoc: We have a gold album for the soundtrack to the movie Midnight Cowboy a few year prior. You are correct Sir!
Beatles Magazine: Some equate the group with David Peel, who was a wonderful character. As far as being players, that would be quite a mistake. Can you describe the level of musicianship you played at to the fans?
Gary Van Scyoc: David Peel was a wonderful guy. I actually spoke to him by phone before he passed and we were able to reminisce a little. But we were on another planet musically. Were were not a street band. Every one of our band members were with other famous band/artists around this same time myself with Neil Sedaka and Howard Tate, Tex Gabriel with Mitch Rider, Adam Ippolito with the Allessi Bros and Stan Bronstein with Tito Puente and sax for Aerosmith.
Beatles Magazine: Can you describe Plastic Ono Elephants Memory to us, and what they were doing prior to meeting John & Yoko Ono?
Gary Van Scyoc: We were playing mostly political benefits trying to get the voting age to 18 at NYU and Columbia University
Also promoting our singles on Metromedia records at that time. Before we signed with Apple.
by Bob Wilson
Gary Van Scyoc will be performing one show, a really special gig on June 2nd, 2018. For more details, visit Here
Epstein Theatre hosts world premiere of new comedy
Special guest appearances by The Beatles original drummer Pete Best
The four-week countdown is now on until audiences in Liverpool can experience a brand new stage comedy telling the fascinating story of John Lennon’s missing childhood banjo.
An intriguing mix of fact and fiction, Lennon’s Banjo is set in present day Liverpool and features an all-star cast.
It makes its world stage premiere at the city’s Epstein Theatre on Tuesday 24 April, continuing through until Saturday 5 May. Tickets are already selling fast!
The Beatles original drummer Pete Best, will play himself in three special performances of the show’s two-week run.
Pete joins an exciting all-start cast featuring a whole host of familiar faces – Eric Potts, Mark Moraghan, Jake Abraham, Lynn Francis, Danny O’Brien, Stephanie Dooley, Alan Stocks, and Roy Carruthers. Pete Best will appear as himself, with Alan Stocks portraying Pete Best in all other performances.
The quest is on to find the holy grail of pop memorabilia – the missing banjo on which John Lennon was first taught to play music by his mother Julia Lennon, who first introduced the youngster to rock and roll.
Mysteriously, the banjo went missing shortly after Julia’s death. One thing is certain though, if it did resurface it is estimated to be worth in the region of five million pounds.
When Beatles tour guide Barry Seddon (Eric Potts) finds a letter written by John Lennon, he unearths a clue to solving the greatest mystery in pop history – the whereabouts of Lennon’s first musical instrument which has been missing for 60 years. But Barry’s loose tongue alerts Texan dealer Travis Lawson (Danny O’Brien) to the priceless relic.
In an attempt to get his hands on the letter and the clues, he persuades his wife Cheryl (Stephanie Dooley) to befriend the hapless tour guide and win his affections. The race to find Lennon’s Banjo is on!
Co-producer Bill Elms said: “Rob Fennah has created a wonderful comedy play which has a big heart, some great characters and all based around this factual and fascinating storyline. It’s so true to life that the audience will leave the theatre secretly wanting to solve the mystery for themselves. It’s The Beatles meet the Da Vinci Code, an hilarious treasure hunt romp through Beatledom.”
Julia Baird is John Lennon’s half sister – and vividly remembers watching their mother teach John how to play. Julia fully supports the new play.
Julia takes up the story: “The banjo was my grandfather’s and he brought it back from sea, possibly from America, and he could play it really well. He taught my mother how to play it, and then my mother taught John how to play it – she was extremely artistically talented. John inherited it, definitely. The banjo was the first stringed instrument John played.”
Lennon’s Banjo is based on the 2012 novel Julia’s Banjo written by Rob Fennah and Helen A Jones. The play is produced by Rob Fennah and Pulse Records Ltd in association with Bill Elms and directed by Mark Heller.
The race to find the holy grail of pop memorabilia is on! The Salvation Army’s Strawberry Field project is the official charity partner of Lennon’s Banjo.
Lennon’s Banjo’s are delighted to be working with its Fab Four Production Partners who are The Cavern Club Liverpool, The Beatles Story, Hard Days Night Hotel, and The Beatles Shop.
Epstein Theatre Liverpool
Tuesday 24 April – Saturday 5 May 2018
Evenings 7.30pm | Wed & Sat Mats 2.30pm | Sun 29th April 5pm
Preview Performance 24th April and 25th April matinee – ALL SEATS £16
Group Rates Available
HOW TO BOOK
CALL: 0844 888 4411
IN PERSON: Hanover Street, Liverpool, L1 3DZ | Mon-Thu 2pm-6pm, Fri & Sat 12pm-6pm
CALL: 0844 8000 410
IN PERSON: Echo Arena Box Office, Kings Dock, Liverpool, L3 4FP |
12noon on Echo Arena event days, and from 9am – 6pm on Fridays
Beatles Magazine set out to get the backstory for Alan G. Parker’s wonderful documentary, It Was Fifty Years Ago Today: Sgt. Pepper & Beyond. Parker has given us a fine list of credits including, Monty Python: Almost The Truth, Hello Quo!, Who Killed Nancy?, and Rebel Truce: The History of the Clash. Parker mixes a keenly developed filmmaker’s eye with the heart of a fan. Unseen footage and first hand accounts mesh together for a fun and enlightening account. If you love the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and sixties culture, you are in for a delightful viewing.
BM: Can you describe when you first became aware of the Beatles? What effect did they have on you?
Alan Parker: I think looking back I’d been waiting for The Beatles or something like them to happen for a while, a band that would be bigger than just a band, that would include friendship, travel, all kinds of possibilities. I was born and raised in Blackburn, Lancashire, so Liverpool was pretty close. Once I started to travel there regularly I also started to meet new people and get involved more. It’s quite hard to believe looking at me now, but I was badly bullied as a young kid, and The Beatles/Lennon were kind of like my safety blanket. ‘4000 Holes in Blackburn, Lancashire wasn’t lost on me, and at one point I thought ‘Nowhere Man’ was written about me.
BM: Events that transpired touring in the Philippines and in America’s South took a heavy toll on the group. Can you describe what happened that was displayed in the documentary’s footage?
Alan Parker: They got a rough ride in the Philippines, no two ways about that, they (or in reality some of Brian Epstein’s staff) turned down a lunch with Marcos and everything else escalated around that! None of it was their fault at all, but they paid big for it, they even lost their gig fees! In the movie we were lucky enough to find some unseen press footage, where John actually says he’d never go back again. With touring taking a heavy toll on them I think it was the straw that broke the camels back.
BM: How revolutionary was it for a band like the Beatles to cease touring? How did this effect what they were doing in the studio?
Alan Parker: By the time they hit late summer 1966 they couldn’t hear a thing on stage, nor could they be heard. As Ringo said later “People came to see The Beatles” I think they felt a bit like exhibits A, B, C & D… And that can never be good for a creative situation, walking away was a big step, but I think they were savvy enough to know that even if they lost some of their core audience they were big enough to stand that, and of course a change in direction musically would pick up new fans along the way too.
BM: Brian Epstein has often been overlooked in telling the story of the Beatles. Can you tell us a little bit about Brian’s life, and his impact in the Beatles?
Alan Parker: A number of years ago here in the UK a BBC programme called ARENA did a really good documentary on Brian, but it seems to be his only really well researched visual legacy, this is the guy who both discovered and made The Beatles, his theatrical savvy put them two or three steps in front of a lot of the competition in the early days. I knew when we started our movie that we would be focused on a huge chunk of 1967, and I always felt that ‘Beatles Anthology’ as good as it is, almost skipped over Brian’s death. So we went out of our way to give him the recognition he deserves, and to overstep a few myths about his last days, or what may or may not have happened. I think, and a few fans have told me, that hopefully we managed to do that.
BM: Simon Napier-Bell speaks of phone message recording Brian Epstein left to him. What does his account tell us about Brian’s demise?
Alan Parker: I think it adds some honesty to it, from what might have been said before. Like a lot of big groups The Beatles are no strangers to re-writing history when they need or want to, so going down the unofficial documentary path gave us the freedom to just tell our story. With total honesty if you like. When I was doing my UK press tour I’d jokingly say on certain days that most Directors normally get about 2 or 3 months to research a project, I was lucky in that I got 43 years to research this one! But it’s not far from the truth, a lot of the stories that made the final cut are stories I heard years ago via various people, now they just needed to be put
onto camera for the world to see. And the Simon Napier-Bell story was among those.
BM: How were Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields left off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band? How does their inclusion on the recent re-release change the record?
Alan Parker: In the first instance they were left off because EMI were pushing George Martin for a Christmas 1966 single, that never happened of course, but continued pressure meant a single release in early 1967, which was of course ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ b/w ‘Penny Lane’ in my opinion at least, the greatest rock n’ roll single ever released on this planet we call home! Had those two songs been on ‘Sgt Pepper’ originally I think it would have been instantly hailed the greatest album ever made in a heartbeat, but released as it was with no commercial single attached to it, some critics found it hard to cope with, it’s hard to believe now in 2018, but there are reviews from 1967 that actually attack ‘Sgt Pepper’. Last year of course all that changed and the two songs were added to the album for it’s 50th Anniversary release. That whole release, especially the box set, was just perfect for me.
BM: Some have said that Sgt. Pepper captures a moment in time? Can you please describe this moment for us?
Alan Parker: Oh, a big question is that one. I guess it would be different for everyone.
For me I know that it’s a right of passage album, it came into my life at the time I’d hit a huge turning point and I guess it opened the doors that got me up to where I am now.
I guess for me it’s bigger than just an album in many ways.
BM: The record cover for Pepper is quite ornate, and a story in itself. When you think of it, what comes to your mind?
Alan Parker: I remember first seeing it, and being utterly fascinated by it, I think a full 40 minutes had gone by before I actually put the vinyl onto the turntable! At first I thought are we supposed to know all these people? Or are we being tested? Is it all part of the journey. It was the first album
cover to contain the lyrics also, and that was quite special in itself, they stood up as stories, without the music. Even the candy stripped inner sleeve looked like it belonged more in a sweet shop than a record store!
BM: It was interesting in the film how Pepper’s cover was so complex, and the ‘White Album’ cover was so simple. Was this by design, and what are your thoughts regarding this?
Alan Parker: There is a cover knocking around somewhere for ‘The White Album’ which lest we forget is actually called ‘The Beatles’, which features their collective heads carved into the white cliffs of Dover, and a boat sailing in to shore, very Mount Rushmore. But I think by the time the album came along The Beatles had become much more a part of the avant guard art scene in London, so plain white was pretty cool. There is a story that Paul McCartney went to see Peter Blake to ask his advice on the cover of the new Beatles album, and that Blake said quietly “Keep it simple!”
BM: You have an interesting section in the film on Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, and it runs into Paul speaking about psychedelics to a reporter. Might John have learned from Paul, and disguised what the song was really about?
Alan Parker: I think the Lucy story is endless in someways, Julian’s drawing does exist. We have previously unseen pictures of Julian with Lucy O’Donnell in the movie. Yet, as a number of our interviewees said, the fact that the initials of the song spell out LSD can’t have been lost on John! Maybe, it was just a bit of good press, who knows.
BM: Was Within You, Without You put on ‘Pepper’ at a particular place for a reason?
Alan Parker: It’s at the start of Side 2 on the album because people might have wanted to skip it! George’s original offering for ‘Sgt Pepper’ had been ‘Only A Northern Song’ which George Martin deemed to be not good enough (it later turned up on the ‘Yellow Submarine’ album) for such a big project. So George came back with this much more Indian flavoured number, which Jenny Boyd tells the full story of in our movie. I think of all The Beatles George was possibly the furthest away from ‘Sgt Pepper’ as a lot of other things were occupying his time in 1967.
BM: How has this recording remained so popular this far down the road?
Alan Parker: There is no question that it’s a good song, but it’s possibly just not too ‘Sgt Pepper’ friendly. I’ve always thought it could have worked on ‘The White Album’ or indeed as part of the original ‘Yellow Submarine’ album.
BM: In the film, you showed a photo of Paul’s father Jim, and his band. This may have been an inspiration in part for the Sgt. Pepper cover, can you please tell us about this?
Alan Parker: The picture of Jim Mac’s Band was from a Liverpool newspaper in 1922, it’s main similarity is that they are all stood around a big bass drum, but there is also a young girl sprawled across one side, a little like the doll on the chair to the right of the ‘Sgt Pepper’ sleeve. According to a few of our interviewees Paul had a framed copy of this picture at his house. So I guess you never know.
BM: Where can fans go to view the film, and what can we expect from you in the future?
Alan Parker: The movie ‘It Was Fifty Years Ago Today!’ is currently on Netflix, or they can get 4 hours and 30 minutes of extra footage by purchasing the DVD or Blu-Ray versions. We always believe in good value regarding the extras. As regards what’s next, well there are currently a number of things being looked at, last I heard we have 6 projects moving forwards. So just keep your eyes open on Facebook and Twitter, plus in the press.
Oisin Leech and his musical sibling Mark McCausland comprise The Lost Brothers. They are touring in support of their critically acclaimed new release, ‘Halfway Towards A Healing’. The recoding was produced by Gabriel Sullivan, and it stands on the basics.
When your harmonies flow with such beauty as naturally as the wind, the simple can become quite complex. The duo is smart enough to know where their bread is buttered. The harmonies stand as strong as the Rock of Gibraltar, and they require no fanciful adornment. They sing like a beautiful woman who needs no make-up.
Beatles Magazine caught up with Brother Mark McCausland on the tour trail, and we picked his brain on Halfway Towards A Healing, the tour, and the Fab Lads from Liverpool. The Brothers promised to check back in after the extensive tour is completed.
Beatles Magazine: Please tell us about the new release, and where fans can find it?
Mark McCausland: The new album is called Halfway Towards a Healing. We recorded it in Tucson Arizona with our good friends, Howe Gelb and Gabriel Sullivan. You can buy the vinyl or cd directly from us on our website, www.thelostbrothersband.com, or you can buy the digital format from all the usual on-line outlets.
BM: What are the inspirations behind your harmony, maybe a little John and Paul?
Mark: I learned anything I know about harmony by growing up singing along to the Beatles records. But rather than the melody, I always found myself singing the harmony parts, my ear was just drawn to them. But to me it’s not really a harmony part, it’s more like a double melody. Take the middle section in songs like Try to See It My Way, or Ticket to Ride. Which part is the melody and which part is the harmony? It’s the same as the Everly Brothers, or the Louvin Brothers or even Simon and Garfunkel. Where each part is as important as the other. Two melodies that are made to fit each other.
BM: Who is your favorite Beatle, and why?
Mark: It’s impossible to pick. As Paul says, they are like four corners of a square. Without any one of those corners, it all falls apart. Solo-wise, I adore McCartney’s first two albums, McCartney and Ram.
BM: Which Beatle songs are your favorite, and might you be doing any covers of the lads?
Mark: We cover In Spite of all the danger. We recorded it on a mini album of ours called “The Bird Dog Tapes”, where we cover some of our favourite tracks. This song is unique as it is the only composition ever written by McCartney and Harrison, when they were about 16!
BM: Do you remember when you first heard the lads, and what was your reaction?
Mark: I first heard them as a toddler. My uncle used to play Strawberry Fields for me and my brothers. Then many many years later as a teenager, I heard it again and it was like a dream. From that moment on I was a Beatles fanatic!
BM: Where will the upcoming gigs be, and where can fans follow your comings and goings?
Next up is New York, Texas and Tucson Arizona, followed by Australia and then a bunch of festivals in the summer.
We have just come back from a tour around the uk and Ireland which went really well. We were actually back in Liverpool, where we used to live. I had a flat just around the corner from Arnold Grove, where George used to live. Oisin and myself would write songs in my place then go and sing them outside George’s house, to let the songs soak in some of the magic. Liverpool has a mystical magic to it that reawakens the soul. It still feels like home to us, probably the only place that ever will.
By Bob Wilson
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