Tony Bramwell - The Beatles' Right-Hand Man Jun 13, 2009 21:11:10 GMT -5
Post by yerblues1968 on Jun 13, 2009 21:11:10 GMT -5
Tony Bramwell with fans at the Beatlesfest
in Chicago, Illinois in 2005.
MY YEARS AS THE BEATLES RIGHT-HAND MAN
Friday, June 12, 2009, 10:43
ON December 27, 1960, Liverpudlian Tony Bramwell caught the number 81 bus to go an see a little known group billed as The Beatles!
Taking a seat at the front of the top floor, to his surprise, was his old friend George Harrison.
Tony, who now lives in Totnes, hadn't seen him for a while, the last time was when he was a delivery boy for a local butchers.
George was also going to the gig and Tony offered to carry his guitar.
It was as simple as that.
Having grown up with George, and also Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Tony was accepted into the team and given a key to one of the tightest-knit groups in musical history.
He was there, right from the start on that cold December day, and right through to their split. Friends still when John was killed.
And he had no idea, not the slightest clue, what lay just around the corner.
"There hadn't been anything like the Beatles before," he said.
"Gerry and the Pacemakers were the best group in Liverpool and that was because they took a different line to others.
"George was a mate of mine and he was happy for me to carry his guitar to get in for free.
"When The Beatles came on stage they played all manner of material, mostly rhythm and blues, a bit of Little Richard and some B-sides. They sang some German, too, and some strange version of show tunes (Tony sings 'falling in love again').
"It was exciting and brilliant. They were leaping about and doing silly poses.
"They were smoking and eating on stage, too — that was different.
"But that first gig wasn't packed. The first time they played there was only 60 people in the audience.
"The following week the buzz had gone around and there was about 200 people.
"Quite quickly they started playing bigger ballrooms around Liverpool. Everywhere was packed out."
The time between that gig and when Tony left school in the summer of 1962 was a mixed bag for the group.
There was the all-important signing with Brian Epstein, lots of disappointment and setbacks with record contacts, before a deal was finally done.
Tony said apart from John, who 'had been convinced since birth that he was destined for fame', it was only Brian who saw their true potential and what possibly lay ahead.
He assembled a very small 'loyal team' to get behind the group, which remarkably, was to take Tony away from his job at Ford and into a new era of music, the likes of which the world had never seen before.
"Ford were paying my five guineas a week which was a lot of money for a youngster.
"Brian asked me if I would work for him and be an extra pair of hands. He said he'd pay me 10 guineas a week. I asked me mum.
"He also said that, if it didn't work out, he'd give a job managing one of the record shops. I'd love to have been a manager of a record shop.
"I didn't think I would be involved with the group any more than a year or two.
"I thought The Beatles' bubble would burst."
But the bubble didn't burst, it simmered quite gently before going supersonic.
"We had a van," he said. "There was me and Neil (Aspinall). Neil did the driving and I'd be in the front navigating.
Neil Aspinall helps Ringo Starr with his boot during the 1964 Christmas show.
"The Beatles would be in the back, them behind all the equipment.
"They'd write songs while we were driving.
"We toured for about a year doing it that way. It was wonderful fun. We did break down a lot, mind you."
They performed around the country, up to four sets a night going to different ballrooms.
And Torquay played its role in supporting their rise to fame.
"We had that wonderful summer of 1963, Brian asked us to do the holiday resorts," he said.
"They did a week in Southport and a week in Blackpool, the same in Weston-super-Mare, it was just wonderful, staying in the best hotels.
"It was like an extended holiday.
"One day, we finished in Llandudno and drove down in the morning to Birmingham, recorded two versions of the television show Thank Your Lucky Stars, then came to Torquay and did two sets at the Princess Theatre.
"Then we stayed at the Imperial Hotel and John got absolutely wrecked in there. It was the Admiral's Club on the top floor.
"Then we had to go to Great Yarmouth and stop off in between in London and do a radio show. Then it was off to Aberdeen.
"It was just a van load of equipment and five people.
"They had a wonderful work ethic, being Northern lads. You worked 50 weeks of the year and had two weeks' holiday.
"They weren't big enough to have exotic times off. It was just a laugh."
Despite their increasing fame, Tony joked that his main role was still the same as when he first saw the group in December, 1960 — 'I just ended up carrying all the equipment'.
"They only had three guitars, three amps and a set of drums," he said.
"Two trips to the van and I was done. We never had a sound system or lighting. They would use microphones, if they had any at the venue. Right from day one up until the break up of The Beatles, we didn't we have any technical equipment of our own."
The Beatles with their van at the Cavern Club on Matthew Street.
Beatlemania grew and so did Brian Epstein's portfolio of acts.
Tony's loyalty was rewarded with more responsibility, making more use of his hidden talents.
"When Brian expanded the bands I used to go on the road with Cilla (Black) and Gerry (and the Pacemakers) and help their shows," he said.
"I used to help put together their stage act, recommend songs, that type of thing.
"I also had a lot of friends working for television and they let me have a go at directing a few shows like Take Your Pick with Michael Miles.
"He let me do a couple of episodes of Ready, Steady, Go.
"It was a Friday night ritual and was just like a party down there.
"At one stage The Beatles were so huge they couldn't go into the BBC or anywhere because of security, so we decided to make our own little videos.
"I used to make those for them, We Can Work It Out, Help, Ticket To Ride, I Feel Fine, the lot.
"In America, pop shows increased because of the success of The Beatles.
"I used to set up an outside broadcast unit on the Thames and shoot The Small Faces, Sandie Shaw, The Moody Blues, Freddie and the Dreamers, The Yardbirds and Herman's Hermits, whoever they liked and wanted a two-take video of.
"It became quite a profitable businesses for Brian.
"I also ran Brian's theatre and put on Sunday pop concerts."
Tony's eye for detail and skill with a camera eventually brought him back to South Devon.
"Brian had two bands here. The Rustics were from Brixham and Paignton and I used to come down in the days when the train went all the way to Brixham.
"I used to rehearse them at the Scala Hall.
"They won a TV competition to be managed by Brian and tour with The Beatles.
"They actually went with them on their last UK tour along with the Moody Blues.
"There was another band from Totnes called The Silkie, who John and Paul produced. They were the first band to do an album of all Bob Dylan covers.
"Bob was so proud that someone would want to do a cover of his songs and poems.
"So when he came to a concert and met up with Paul and John, all he wanted to talk about was this Totnes band called the Silkies.
"We had all forgotten them by then, but Dylan was really impressed.
"I still see Sylvia (Tatler) from Silkie occasionally in the supermarket."
Tony went on to run the UK's first independent record label and head up Brian's film unit.
He was the head of Apple Films and co-head of Apple Records at the time of The Beatles split.
Tony puts the split firmly at the feet of Yoko Ono.
"The Allen Klein saga wasn't too bad (controversial American businessman and record label executive), but it was the Yoko situation that just got unbearable for the other three.
"It was just a huge pressure upon them.
"They just couldn't work with John and John didn't want to work with them because of Yoko.
"It was just so sad for all the people that loved The Beatles' songs, the hundreds of millions of them.
"You just have to feel so sad for them that this thing that they loved and adored had been flushed down the pan — just because someone else had joined that school gang."
Tony kept in close contact with Paul but said he struggled sometimes with John because of the relationship with Yoko.
Just before he died, John called him but because of switchboard error, he missed it.
"I was running Polydor Records at the time and I think the call was to ask if 'Poly' would put out his fantasy album.
"It didn't have a record deal at the time. It might have been something else.
"I had been in New York not so long before and had met up with Bruce Springsteen, who was a mate of mine.
"He said that he would love to meet John. I tried to pair them up but the message came back from Yoko that John was busy. This was a couple of weeks later.
"In New York, I had heard that John was doing things in the studios so, when I got back to England, I wrote to him straight away and asked if he was looking for a record deal.
"It was never replied to so I'm guessing that that's what was the call was about. I'll never really know."
Tony is doing publicity for his book Magical Mystery Tours which is a superb insight into the band.
It's an important document, if for no other reason than because he was so close to such a tight circle of people at one of the most important moments of British musical history.
And being so close, but not actually a member of the group, meant he saw the bigger picture.
"The Beatles were like a school gang. Nobody got into their inner circle, even the wives didn't.
"They were married to each other. I don't think they really knew what was going on around them. If they asked for a barrel of apples, a barrel of apples would appear. At the time I don't think they fully understood the big machine around them that did everything.
"They had a wonderful relationship with the press. The press weren't like they are today, we had good friends on the entertainment desks. Nothing rotten appeared. They band behaved really well anyway and never really fell on their faces in public."
Tony lives happily and fairly quietly in Totnes, but his friend list is still the envy of many modern 'celebrities' today.
He recalls tales of being friends with Bruce Springsteen, looking through the life's work of Phil Spector at his house (which he kept in his larder) like he's talking about the bloke next door.
He still keeps in touch with Paul.
"If he's doing a gig I will go along and have a drink.
"If he has a party he tends to invite me.
"He's a great guy. The Paul you see is the Paul you get. Unless you cross him badly, he is thumbs up, Paul. 'Alright mate, alright wack'."
Tony was behind the recent explosion of Eva Cassidy, via Radio 2, and had one of the most envious record collections in the business until he sold his house to Queen's Brian May and left them in the loft as part of the deal.
The stories are endless.
As such, he still pulls in crowds of 60,000 when he speaks about The Beatles conventions in America.
On Tuesday, he's appearing in Torbay at a rare bijou gig as part in Independent Booksellers' Week.
"I just love doing them, it's great fun," he said.
"Beatles fans are so nice. They are still either in the John or Paul camp.
"Not many love Yoko, I'm on fairly safe territory."
Talking to Tony about life from that cold December night that changed his life to amazing encounters still going on today, one story sticks out.
It's the fact that many people may also have also sat next to one of The Beatles.
And rather than change their life, too, they probably don't even know it.
"They went out all the time," he said.
"If they wanted to go out and do something they would disguise themselves and get on the bus.
"People would often give them a strange look, but I suppose passengers would never have expected to be sat on the number 12 bus next to a Beatle, so it worked.
"John especially used to travel around on the tube a lot.
"He did it to be naughty and have fun and escape."
Tony Bramwell appears at Oldway Mansion, Paignton, on Tuesday at 7.30pm as part of a host of events organised by Torbay Bookshop to mark Independent Booksellers' Week. Events include an evening with Willie Harcourt-Cooze, of Channel Four's Willie's Chocolate Factory, on Monday at South Devon College at 6pm. Tickets to see Tony are on sale at Backtrax record shop in Totnes and Torbay Bookshop in Paignton.
For more information, log on to www.torbaybookshop.co.uk or call 01803 522011.