Demolition · Pubs

The Horseshoe, Gorgie Road

Horseshoe Inn Gorgie Road

The latest edition of CAMRA’s Pints of View magazine reports that The Horseshoe is due for demolition.

This is very unfortunate.  Not only is it a great pub with McEwan’s 70 shilling, it is cheap and has a vibrant beer garden.  Worse, this is allegedly Gorgie’s oldest building (opposite the soon-to-be renovated Saughton rose gardens;) say what you like about the pub, as lots of people do, often, but I think it’s a handsome building which will be a loss.

Horseshoe Inn Gorgie

Just a bit along the road is this building; it was the Roxy Cinema until 1963, then a bingo hall, you can see that the art deco frontage has been retained. John Lennon allegedly used to go there when he visited his uncle in Edinburgh. I guess it’s possible, but there must have been easier cinemas to get to from Murrayfield.

Old Roxy Cinema Gorgie


Sgt. Pepper in 2017

A little over fifty years ago, 1st June 1967, The Beatles released one of their masterpieces, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

To commemorate the anniversary, Giles Martin has completed a new stereo mix of the album.  It is gorgeous and a fitting addition to The Beatles’ legend.

This is not to say that the new stereo mix challenges the sovereignty of the mono mix of Pepper – that will remain the real version of the album.  Martin has acknowledged this in saying that the new stereo mix is in effect a stereo version of the mono version; the mono mix was what The Beatles signed off in 1967, Martin has simply tried to update the music for modern ears; the performances and versions of the new stereo mix are all the same as the mono mix.

It’s always struck me as a stunning anomaly that the version of Pepper that most people are familiar with is the frankly shabby 1967 stereo mix.  At the time, The Beatles had no interest in mixing their work in stereo, which was a modern gimmick not really used in pop music (in the UK at least).  So the stereo mix of Pepper was left to the staff of EMI Studios to knock off, which they did.

The first time I heard Pepper was in about 1971.  My cousin had a tape recording which her late father (an enthusiast of photography and tape recording) had made.  We listened to it few times, but I can’t remember if it was the mono or stereo mix.  It was not great quality anyway.

The first time I heard Pepper properly was probably later that same year.

Growing up in Hermand Street in Edinburgh, which at the time comprised of two tenements facing a printer’s works, the only other child of a similar age was my friend Linda.  So we would spend a fair amount of time together and would share toys and games as we grew up.

Linda had an older cousin who was a student; this was a species quite unknown in our social background and could have been seen as a wee bit exotic.  The Student had got his girlfriend into trouble but was going to do the right thing by her (if you understand these idioms, you are probably Scottish and about my age).  The expectant couple had had a party, which I guess was a “goodbye to freedom” party, and being a bit short of cash and facilities, had asked to borrow Linda’s Dansette record player.

When they returned the record player, The Student also loaned Linda about a dozen LPs, which she took no interest in and passed them on to me.  It’s hard to imagine now, but getting my hands on about a dozen contemporary records for a couple of weeks was a huge feast – people used to save up to buy LPs, which were relatively expensive.  If you didn’t like the LP you had saved up to buy, you would play it until you did…

I’ve forgotten what most of the records were.  There was the second Wishbone Ash album (sample song title “Jail Bait,”) and a record by Ten Years After that was awful.  Of the only other two I remember, one was John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which administered a thoroughly enjoyable psychic beating, from which, happily, I have never recovered.  I got my own copy in about 1976, it’s still my favourite album, if that can ever be a sensible appellation (it can change every other day.)

The other one of The Student’s benison which I played a lot was The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  I was of course familiar with it from my cousin’s tape, but this format sounded a lot better.  I don’t know if it was the stereo or the mono mix (and I would never have thought to look at that age,) but on my dad’s radiogram, a fine piece of furniture in possession of a bakelite record player and one eight-inch speaker, everything came out as mono anyway.  (All TV was black-and-white until about 1980 as well).

John and Yoko

(Trainee John and Yoko…)

Anyway, Pepper was played a lot over the couple of weeks before The Student wanted his records back and was well loved.

I got my own copy in about 1974 or 1975, from Sweet Inspiration in Edinburgh, a record shop spun off from a mobile disco business and sited in the same building as the cinema where the The Beatles had played all their Edinburgh shows.  I took it home and played it on my little Phillips stereo and something wasn’t right.  But I couldn’t say what was wrong either.

It was clear this was not the record I had previously enjoyed so much.  But what was wrong?  It looked the same, the songs were the same.  Why did it sound so crap?  This was meant to be the greatest album of all time, after all.  The NME had said so.

As I gradually picked up over the years, the problem was that the record was in stereo, the very mix which had been knocked off in EMI Studios after The Beatles had signed off on the mono mix and gone on to their next adventure.

And for many years, this was what anyone buying or hearing Pepper got; a dull, turgid mix of something which (as we eventually found out) was originally conceived and born in glorious mono.  But if you went and bought a copy of Pepper on LP, tape or eventually CD, you heard this clumsy, uncomfortable and discomforting mix.  I can’t think of any other instance where a work of art has been so badly misrepresented in such huge quantities to the public, where one thing has been passed off as another until generations of listeners think of the stereo mix as being Pepper.  And it still happens – I heard a trail on BBC Radio 2 the other day for a Pepper documentary by Howard Goodall, which was tailed by the old stereo mix of “She’s Leaving Home,” one of the worst casualties of the original stereo mix when compared to the mono.

It was Twenty Years Ago Today ...

(1987 promo poster for reissue on CD for the first time.)

It beggars belief that at no point in the eighties, nineties or beyond did McCartney, Harrison, Starr or George Martin speak up and make sure the situation was fixed (“fixing a hole” indeed – the whole being that one between the speakers).  I was first aware if hearing the mono mix of Pepper (again?) in the nineties on a cassette copy a friend gave me of his mum’s original LP.  I still remember hearing the spaceship taking off on the last chorus of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, which just doesn’t happen in stereo…

Eventually, I learned the story behind the superiority of The Beatles’ mono mixes and was delighted with the release of The Beatles in Mono box set in 2009 – until then, I’d had to be content with bootleg copies of the mono mixes, usually mastered from vinyl or open-reel copies of the original albums.

So, what I’m getting at is that Giles Martin did not have a difficult target if he was trying to improve the 1967 stereo mix of Pepper.  It’s true you can’t polish a turd, although you can roll one around in glitter a bit and sometimes that happens.  Thankfully, what Martin has done is to go back to the master tapes and create a true stereo mix based on the vibe of the 1967 mono mix, trying to do what The Beatles would have done if they had been interested enough (and had the tools) to do a proper stereo mix.  And I believe he has been very successful in that quest.

Remember - Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band IS the Beatles in 2017

(2017 press advert for reissue.  “Remember Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is The Beatles.”  Whit?  It made sense in the original 1967 ads, but maybe not now…)

So how is this different and why is it an important addition to the canon?

Generally, in Giles’ stereo mix of the mono version, he has emphasised the drums (in a proper stereo soundstage for the first time) and clarified the bass.  In short, he has made the sound of Pepper contemporary, so that I doubt if anyone listening to the album for the first time would be able to date is as fifty years old from the sonic evidence.

For those of us listening definitely not for the first time though, there’s loads more; a percussive whomp of harmonium at the start of “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite” and a carousel effect over the stereo sound stage in the instrumental section of the track (giving it an even greater sense of menace;) “She’s Leaving Home” in proper stereo at the correct pitch and with the gorgeous nimbus of reverb around McCartney’s voice; we can hear the piano that plinks out a G throughout the chorus of “Getting Better” – I’d never heard that before.  “Lovely Rita” was never a sweeter meter maid…a hugely rewarding experience.

The bean-counters at EMI have unfortunately realised what Dylan’s people realised a good few iterations of The Bootleg Series ago; by including an expensively produced book in a deluxe edition which includes a couple of CDs of outtakes and working versions, you can effectively charge loads of money for niche market stuff because the people who have to have it will pay for it, however grudgingly.  The actual music in the deluxe version should cost about £20 tops, but in fact it comes in around £100.  The DVD material is disappointing, being mostly a very old documentary about the making of the album which has been around for years and heavily excerpted for the Anthology series – but if you want all the outtakes, you’re buying it, along with an identical Blu Ray version.

This is the sleeve of the entry-level edition, which is only the new stereo mix – I’ve no idea why they would screw up the classic cover image with the strip down the left hand side…

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band Anniversary Edition

…but they did it before with these classic sleeves…

The desecration of The White Album’s minimalism is particularly jarring.

White Album by The Beatles

But these aren’t much better…

Let it Be / Abbey Road - Beatles anniversary

Giles Martin has already mentioned that he will be remixing The White Album for the next big anniversary release, which is strange – to my ears, there is nothing wrong with either the mono or stereo mixes of that beast. But I guess that the cash cow has now been sighted and there will be more and more lavish reissues with any vaguely believable anniversary. Sigh.

Books · Music

From Stan Freberg to The Wedding Album

In the Extended Special Edition of Mark Lewisohn’s “All These Years – Volume 1:Tune In,” he mentions how much John and Paul enjoyed Stan Freberg’s “John and Marsha,” from 1951, but not released in England until 1956.
It still sounds great today, to me.

In a sly footnote (on page 765, not even near the end of the first volume of “All These Years – it runs to more than 1600 pages over two volumes,) he made me laugh out loud where he writes “…John would parody [John and Marsha] on record in 1969…”
He can only mean this, from 1969’s The Wedding Album;

Did John really think he was parodying a comedy record at this peak point of the Lennono avant garde adventure? I doubt it and I bet at that point he would have failed to see the humour in the suggestion. But you can’t not hear “John and Marsha…”

Books · Music

Oh no, not another Beatles book!

Mark Lewisohn The Beatles Tune In

I’ve just finished Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Tune In, over nine hundred pages of Beatles goodness, the latest version of the greatest story ever told.  Hard to put down, but pleasant to take time over.  The first of three instalments of a series of Beatles books called All These Years, Tune In takes us up to the end of 1962, so at a rough guess, the trilogy will weigh in at about three thousand pages.

Do we really need all this information?  Are there not enough Beatles books out there already?  Obviously yes, obviously no, respectively.

Lewisohn has used his position as the Beatles historian to undertake painstaking research about the story we all know; in Tune In, the overfamiliar characters are presented with new and fresh depth, the result of Lewisohn’s extensive interviews with as many of the supporting cast, bit players and supernumeraries as he could speak with; document research also fills in the prehistory of each of the key players and we get a strong feeling of how their family backgrounds informed attitudes and creativity.

He is also a fine writer; an undertaking of this nature could have been dry and dusty, but Lewisohn’s narrative skill makes for a frequently touching, often humourous read, for example, the paragraphs describing McCartney having, then being taken over by, the idea for “I Saw Her Standing There;” one bravura chapter shows us the parallel and separate developments of the young Brian Epstein and the young George Martin outside of how they would come to be defined by their parts in The Beatles success, an invigorating approach.

There are loads of previously unknown (or under-known) facts in the book, which I won’t spoil by relating; more excitingly, Lewisohn puts all the “well known” parts of The Beatles’ story into perspective so that frequently the received version is not as simple as was always thought; for example, he points out how outlandish it was that The Beatles would be courted to make an LP after one successful single – in 1961, only the most well established pop acts would maybe be considered worthy of the chance to make more than singles, yet here was George Martin offering to make an LP of mostly Lennon/McCartney originals…

I can’t not share one nugget though… Jurgen Vollmer’s picture of John Lennon in Hamburg’s Jager-Passage in 1961 was of course used by John for the cover of Rock’n’Roll in 1975 – what I hadn’t come across before is the fact that the blurred figures in the foreground are Paul, Stuart and George.  Without anyone realising, Lennon picked a Beatles group shot for a solo album…

John Lennon rock 'n' roll

So, thank you Mr Lewisohn for the time and the trouble.  I eagerly await the next volumes and hope I live long enough that he’ll tell me who the woman in the picture below is!


The Beatles on Abbey Road with unknown woman
Who is this woman with The Beatles on Abbey Road?


Music · Travel

New Year’s Day in NYC

John Lennon Gibson Guitars New York

On New Year’s day 2011 I was in New York City, waking in the Chelsea Hotel (I was actually resident there, it’s not just where I happened to have fallen asleep…) Nice work if you can get it and you can get it if your girlfriend tries…
I recently wrote about John Lennon in Edinburgh and the vibrations that can hit you around my home town. So of course I was going to go to the Dakota building when in NYC.
I was on several tour buses in New York and when I go back, the rule of thumb will be to look for the gayest tour guide, because they will be the most interesting. The guy this particular morning pointed out the site of Studio 54, umpteen defunct theatres, loads of movie references, the Leonard Bernstein centre…anyway, you know what I’m saying.
As we approached the area around Central Park where the Dakota building is, he pointed out a pub called Malachy’s, which was unusual because a) it was a pub in a upper-dupper class residential area and b) it looked like a cowp. He claimed that this was where John Lennon would go for a drink of an evening after he’d got Sean down.
The tour bus drops you off outside Central Park near the Strawberry Fields memorial park, which is pretty disappointing. On this day, someone had formed a banana mandala on the memorial itself, which was puzzling, as I did not know John was a particular fan of the fruit…there are signs enjoining visitors to be silent and respectful, but that hadn’t put off the busker playing Sting songs (Sting has an apartment in the area…) A bit of a dump really.


Strawberry Fields memorial New York John Lennon Imagine

Walking over to the Dakota was emotional. I thought of John’s last walk home – what was he thinking, was he going to nick out for a pint later that night?
The Dakota building is tourist central (I raise my hand,) a roundabout of people posing for pictures, as I of course did. Must be a bit annoying for actual residents (Lauren Bacall still lives there) but there’s no way round that; the psychic pull will be there for the next few hundred years.

Dakota Building New York

We walked down to the pub pointed out by the tour guide. Although I was still jangly from the previous night’s celebration, it seemed mandatory that we should have a drink in John Lennon’s local (I had already bought the story.)
But it was shut. We looked longingly at the frontage, with its Bass sign and realised that it was only about 11 in the morning. Our diligence at rising early to make the most of our few days in the city that never sleeps had beaten us…

Malachy's bar New York