The Fab Four's festive releases present an alternative history of the group
Maurice Cole, the young Liverpudlian who rose to broadcasting infamy as Kenny Everett, was once a shy and retiring creature. When he accompanied The Beatles on their ’66 US tour (with a view to his presenting nightly Beatle radio programmes by phone), his bosses at Radio London feared young Kenny would get drowned out among the loud voices, sport coats and pork pie hats of the US DJs also on the tour plane, and come back with nothing. Tony Barrow received a phone call: “Do look after the lad.”
As it turned out, Radio London’s fears were justified, and on the tour plane, Kenny got nothing. But The Beatles’ empathy for a fellow Liverpudlian meant that they went out of their way to accommodate him on their own time. “He got an in that the others didn’t,” remembers Tony Barrow. “When The Beatles were relaxing, I’d be taking Kenny along to their hotel suites, where he would have them to himself for an hour or until he had what he needed – that in turn fostered a closer relationship between him and The Beatles. And they all shared a, how can I put it, an appetite for substances.”
Everett’s intimacy with The Beatles and his talent for tape collage made him the only candidate to put together the band’s last two Christmas singles. With Epstein dead, NEMS a fading administrative adjunct to Apple, and bandmembers piloting divergent courses, The Beatles were increasingly separate entities that needed help to be stuck together. In this instance, literally. “Kenny did a very fine editing job on them, at a time when it was hard to get four Beatles in a room for a commercial recording, never mind a fan club Christmas record,” says Tony Barrow. “What he did was a marvellous jigsaw job with what he’d collected from them individually.”
What’s most remarkable about the last two Christmas singles isn’t their changed tone, which can veer from stiff upper lip (Paul), deadpan approaching bitter (George) to manic and jokey (John), but that they exist at all. Their new company Apple was an escape hatch through which The Beatles might abscond from being The Beatles. Yet still the records emerged through the fan club – tacitly honouring the fans, the policy of a previous administration, and their former selves. “They weren’t goody-goodies but they did care for their fans and that proved it,” says Freda Kelly. “That’s why when I closed the fan club, the leaving present [to the fans] was the LP with all the Christmas singles on it.”
“They gave more than the average pop star of the 1960s,” says Tony Barrow. “The whole team of us, with a few exceptions, was exiled Liverpudlians and we all stood together. We all got a kick out of it.
“Caring about their fans was the way they’d been brought up, I think,” Barrow continues. “There was quite a logistical difference between what they did at the Cavern and what they did at Shea Stadium – but whether it was half an hour at Shea or three hours at the Cavern, they were still trying to communicate more closely with their fans. In the Cavern that meant taking a ciggie from a girl in the front row. At Shea that meant projecting themselves across this great divide. It was still communication.”
The Christmas singles compilation that Freda Kelly sent out to the fans in 1970 was called The Beatles’ Christmas Album, but the LP also bore a punning subtitle: From Then To You. It was a memorial for an era, and a reminder of how much had changed, of course. But it also served to remind how much about The Beatles had stayed the same.
The Beatles’ Christmas records are collected as coloured 7″s in a new box, out now
The January 2018 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – with Bruce Springsteen on the cover. We also celebrate the best of the last 12 months with our Ultimate Review Of 2017 – featuring the best albums, reissues, films and books of the year. Elsewhere in the issue, there are new interviews with LCD Soundsystem, Bjork, The Weather Station, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Mavis Staples and more. Our free 15 track-CD celebrates the best music from 2017.
Uncut: the past, present and future of great music.