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Take Four Northern Men...

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
...from a provincial city on the slide since the mid-1950s, a dirty city hammered by Hitler's bombers and then side-stepped in the post-war reconstruction. Liverpool, once a great seaport, was losing trade incrementally to container terminals and air traffic, its infrastructure was crumbling (the overhead railway and the corporation tram network were both closed down in 1957), unemployment was rising sharply, and opportunities were few - a situation which reached its nadir with the Toxteth riots of 1981, prompting leading government ministers to urge Margaret Thatcher to commit Merseycide, to abandon the working class of Liverpool to a fate of "managed decline" rather than waste taxpayers' money on the "stony ground" of the north-west! Scousers have a lot to hate the Tories for, but at least at that critical period on the city's timeline, Thatcher dispatched one of her party's more sympathetic politicians northwards to understand and address the problems of urban decay and disaffection. It was a turning point in the fortunes of the area. A quarter century later, Liverpool would be named European City of Culture for 2008 and millions of tourists would visit it annually - partly because of what Heseltine's intervention kick-started, but largely because of those four  Northern Men  of the blog's title: John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Here they are, pictured below with their wives, girlfriends and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, at a transcendental meditation week-end retreat in north Wales in the summer of 1967.  Ponder the scene for a minute. It's a seriously atypical undertaking for a bunch of Northern Men, don't you think? Bucking a stereotype, wouldn't you say? Take Four Northern Men...
What it doesn't show (off-page, 200 miles away) is their real guru, Brian Epstein, dying of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills mixed with alcohol that same week-end.. Some wheels were about to come off. As John Lennon reflected on Epstein's demise: "I knew that we were in trouble then. I was scared. I thought 'We've fucking had it!'"
Of course they hadn't, because they'd already made it in ways unimaginable to most northern men. They were about to embark on a magical mystery tour through the western counties, then on a sojourn to Rishikesh in India which would prove one of their most fruitful exercises, allowing them to write a wealth of new songs that would appear on albums nearly (but not) called 'Music From A Doll's House', 'Everest' and 'Get Back'. And even after they had renounced their Beatlehood at the end of the 1960s, they went on to cement a reputation as the biggest, the best, the most influential, most loved and most missed worldwide musical phenomenon of the 20th century (and maybe much of the 21st as well). It's quite extraordinary. So how and why did something so utterly transformative come out of a dour, done and dusted northern city? Well, all was not as stereotypical as it seemed...
Yes, this band of musical brothers were Northern Men, but dour, inarticulate, uncultured proto-beings, (a view of Northerners still held by many well into the 1980s per the views of Tory magnates outlined above), they certainly were not. Neither were they the four scruffy working-class lads from Liverpool of popular press fiction. 
Two of them (Lennon and McCartney) came from what would be considered middle-class backgrounds, from aspirational families living on green suburban streets, albeit families touched with grief, for both of their mothers died young while the boys were still in their teens. In an age before TV, they read books, they wrote poetry. Three of the four (Harrison among them) went to Liverpool grammar schools and one of the three (McCartney) even briefly toyed with the idea of going to university and becoming a teacher.  
But Liverpool had something no other English city (not even London) had in the late 1950s, an umbilical sea-link to the USA, the home of blues, country, jazz and rock'n'roll - and our four Northern Men lived for that music, brought over on 78s and 45s from across the Atlantic by the seamen of the city. They weren't alone. Liverpool, always a musical hotbed because of its large Irish immigrant community (Harrison, Lennon and McCartney all had ancestors across the Irish Sea), was full of young men swapping reading for listening to rock'n'roll, neglecting their studies, blagging cheap instruments from their parents, forming skiffle bands, playing at house parties. Some even forewent writing poetry and prose for writing songs - and that was what first set Lennon and McCartney and their Beatle brothers apart from all the other wannabees on Merseyside, that and their tenacious desire to follow in the footsteps of their American idols, to live the dream of becoming musicians rather than dockers, milkmen, plumbers or teachers.

That they had to quit Liverpool to complete their apprenticeship and forge their magic, in a city and a country still regarded with deep hostility by many in the UK, was an irony that should not be overlooked, and another significant bucking of stereotypes. Between August 1960 and December 1962 the Beatles played over 250 nights in the music clubs of Hamburg, sometimes turning in several sets a night. Their time in Germany was the making of them, for on their return to Liverpool they were not just streets but miles ahead of the competition and ready to take the sedate UK music scene by storm (and then the world).The next step was not so easy, getting a recording contract, for all the record labels were in London and their executives had a collectively dismissive attitude to anywhere north of Watford. However, the persistence of another atypical northerner, their business manager Brian Epstein, eventually found them a home on EMI's comedy label Parlophone Records - and the rest really is history, just desserts for the Beatles, whose articulate wit, energy, lyricism, belief in equality and social change, endless creativity in song, on film, in books, saw them dismantle just about every prejudice concerning Northern Man that there was. They were at the forefront of a cultural shift in the 1960s, talismans of a post-war technicolour renaissance that saw no boundaries, that embraced experimentation, that exposed every stereotype for the lazy characterization it was. We still have so much to thank them for. 
I've no new poem to add to this week's blog, though 'Before And After Beatles' is germinating somewhere in the compost of the imaginarium; and an earlier poem, 'Beatlemania Was Born In Blackpool', remains the most read of all Dead Good Blogs. You can link to that one: here
Instead, I leave you with a musical footnote, a link to the song Lennon wrote about the Maharishi on that Indian sojourn. Just click on the title: Sexy Sadie (2018 remaster)

Take Four Northern Men...

Thanks for reading. Keep bucking stereotypes, S ;-) Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook

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