Friday, 26 December 2014

The Beatles Decca Tapes are finally released

The controversial tapes that Beatles fans have waited 50 years to hear are now available on Coda Vinyl.
The Beatles' audition for Decca Records is the most controversial recording session in the history of popular music.  On the strength of the tape produced during this session Decca Records took the infamous decision not to sign the Beatles.  The explanation offered at the time was that the performances were poor. Despite the subsequent clamour from Beatles fans to be allowed to hear the tapes, ten of the fifteen tracks recorded for Decca Tapes have obstinately remained un-released. Now that 50 years have elapsed, these previously unreleased tracks have at last be made available for the first time; so everyone can finally judge for themselves.
This long awaited album also contains the only known recording of the lost Lennon/McCartney composition ‘Loved’ which has never before been released on record. Also featured on the album are the best of the historic Polydor Beatles recordings with Pete Best on drums plus the original mono version of Love Me Do, the Beatles first single, which controversially was recorded with three drummers, Pete Best, Ringo Starr and session man Andy White all taking turns on the drum stool.  There’s also a rare opportunity to compare and contrast the Pete Best line up’s versions of Beatles classics Money (That’s What I Want ) and Till There Was You with the Decca demos.

What makes this release extra special is the album contains an exclusive in-depth interviews with Pete Best and the late Norman Smith who engineered the later E.M.I sessions. The ‘Lost Decca sessions contains the only in-depth interview with both Pete Best and Andy White on the controversial Decca session and the furore surrounding the recording of Love Me Do.

This authoritative release paints a powerful picture of a unique and turbulent chapter in Beatles history and is a must have for every fan of the band. Track List : Side 1 The Decca Tapes 1.Money (That's What I Want) 2.Till There Was You 3.Love Of The Loved 3. To Know Her is To Love Her 4. Besame Mucho 5. Memphis Tenessee 6. Sure To Fall (In Love With You ) 7. Crying Waiting Hoping 8. September In the Rain 9.Take Good Care of My Baby 10.Love Of The Loved  Side 2 1.Ain't She Sweet 2.  Interview with Pete Best on the Decca sessions. 3. Love Me Do 4. Interview with Pete Best and Andy White on love Me Do 5.Money That’s What I want (Live at Palladium 1964)6. Till There Was You ( Ed Sullivan live) 5. P.S I love You 6.. Cry For A shadow.

The Beatles had been spotted by the Decca label's A&R representative Mike Smith who had seen the Beatles at a Cavern performance on 13th December 1961. The Beatles' performance that night hadn't been strong enough to secure them a record deal, but the label was willing to offer them a session in the Decca studios at 165 Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, London. That session took place in London on New Year's Day in 1962.

Although the Beatles didn't perform at their best, all four members and Brian Epstein were confident that the session would inevitably lead to a contract. It was perhaps this sense of overconfidence which led the Beatles to prepare for the session in a thoroughly unprofessional manner . They had attended the previous night’s celebration at Trafalgar Square and according to Pete Best had arrived at the studio somewhat the worse for wear. Unknown to the Beatles team, the label was inclining towards signing Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, who had also auditioned that morning and were ahead of the Beatles in the label’s estimation . As head of A&R Dick Rowe carried the can but he has always maintained the actual decision was made in conjunction with Mike Smith:
‘I told Mike he'd have to decide between them. It was up to him - The Beatles or Brian Poole and the Tremeoloes. He said, 'They're both good, but one's a local group, the other comes from Liverpool. We decided it was better to take the local group. We could work with them more easily and stay closer in touch as they came from Dagenham.'
The official reason given to Epstein was the now notorious line ‘guitar groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein’. These words would soon become notorious, and as a result  Dick Rowe was universally  known as ‘the man who turned down The Beatles’. In mitigation it should be remembered that he did, nonetheless, sign The Rolling Stones albeit on the recommendation of George Harrison.
The group was annoyed that Mike Smith turned up late, and Smith further unsettled the group by insisting they use Decca's amplifiers, having judged The Beatles' own gear to be substandard.
The Beatles recorded 15 songs altogether. The likely order was:
  • Like Dreamers Do
  • Money (That's What I Want)
  • Till There Was You
  • The Sheik Of Araby
  • To Know Her Is To Love Her
  • Take Good Care Of My Baby
  • Memphis,Tennessee
  • Sure To Fall (In Love With You)
  • Hello Little Girl
  • Three Cool Cats
  • Crying, Waiting, Hoping
  • Love Of The Loved
  • September In The Rain
  • Besame Mucho
  • Searchin'

It is likely that the majority of songs were recorded in a single take without overdubs; the entire session, which began at 11am, took roughly an hour.

Like Dreamers Do, Hello Little Girl and Love Of The Loved were Lennon-McCartney originals.
Many years later, in 1995, five of the Decca recordings - Searchin', Three Cool Cats, The Sheik Of Araby, Like Dreamers Do and Hello Little Girl - appeared on the Anthology 1 collection which was published in 1995. The others were never released and it is only with the passing of the 50 years that the recordings have finally entered the public domain, as a result Beatles fans can finally judge the quality of the sessions for themselves.

The legend has grown up that the group then comprising John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best travelled all the way down from Liverpool on the morning of the gig with driver and roadie NeilAspinall. The popular myth is that the Beatles were beset by snowstorms and only arrived just in time for the 11am audition. The truth is somewhat more prosaic and was revealed by Pete Best during a television interview for the Magical History Tour in 2007:


Q Why were you seeking a record deal here in Britain rather than Germany?
What we wanted was an English recording contract. That was the important thing. We had this recording contract in Germany, but because of the sheer economics of it having to go over there to record, we felt, now hang on a minute – we need a record company in England: Decca, EMI, or someone. Decca was the biggest, so let's try and get a deal with them, and that was the mission we gave Brian Epstein. He went to them because of his contacts in the record industry. He went to the biggest record company going at the time, Decca, and bent the ear of Mike Smith, dear old Mike, to come down and watch the Beatles at the Cavern. He was absolutely knocked out with us. Hence, you know, the famous, or infamous, Decca auditions of 1962. That was the speed Brian was moving. Remember, he’d only been our manager for a couple of months. So, to land an audition within a couple of months with the biggest record company in England, as well as grooming us, and polishing us – it’s not as if we could say he wasn’t doing anything! He was, you know – he was flying.
This was an audition and it was a very important audition, and Brian went to great lengths to tell us about before we went down there that we must be in bed early. Of course, half past two in the morning, we are in the middle of Trafalgar Square, doing certain things which we shouldn’t be doing. Got to the session hung over. It was New Year's Day. The excitement was certainly there. We played about 14 or 15 numbers. Not our choice, but Brian’s, and if there’s one thing Brian got wrong, I’d say it was the material that he made us play on that particular day. It didn’t do us any justice. I could see the thinking in that he wanted to show Decca the cross-section of material, from out and out rock, to great harmonies, to country and western, to the original songs, but, as Mike Smith said, what he saw in the Cavern didn’t come over in the studio. That was one of the reasons why we never got the gig with Decca.

Q How did you feel after being turned down by Decca?
I think we felt desperate more than anything else. We thought that we had Decca’s contract in the bag. The final words from Mike Smith as we left were, ‘Don’t worry, lads’. We even went out and celebrated. St Johns Wood, big lavish dinner, on Brian of course. The wine was flowing, and we all came back in high spirits. Then, a couple of weeks afterwards, we were told that Decca had turned us down. I think they signed Mike Poole and the Tremolos instead. So, that was like a red rag to a bull to us. We said, ‘Okay, Brian, get back on your bike again. Get us a contract!’

As we know, Decca had been the biggest company, but he took the tapes from Decca and he hawked them round London, all the record companies, and he wasn’t getting anywhere. They weren’t biting, until someone heard them and, to cut a long story short because it is well chronicled, got them to George Martin, and as a result we got a test recording date, which was set for 6th June 1962, just after we had come back from Hamburg for the third time. We opened the Star Club, and because Bert released us from our Polydor contract and we could now say we were EMI recording stars, which was a big company in England. By now, Brian had got us onto the BBC radio – Teenagers Turn at the Manchester Playhouse – and we were broadcasting stars as well.

When we recorded, we were adamant about the fact that we wanted to record our own material. ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘PS, I Love You’, for example. We’d tried them out on the German crowds at the Star Club. We changed the arrangements several times, until we were quite happy with them. Even though George Martin wanted us to record other people’s material, we were adamant. We write our own material and we want to record it. We were quite dogmatic about it, actually. If it was anyone else’s material we wouldn’t pay too much attention to it. We would do a back-handed version of it to make sure that our material was stronger. Hence, ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘PS, I Love You’, they were the first ones we wanted to record.

Q How did the recording session go?
There were problems, actually. I mean, okay, we were a little bit blasé, I’ll be quite honest. When you look back, we were the Beatles and we thought we were the biggest thing since sliced bread, even though we weren’t, but we’re from Liverpool and we had that Liverpool arrogance.

When we got to EMI at Abbey Road, we went into Studio Two and we just set up like we normally do, a couple of sound boards up and all the other bits and pieces. The sound engineers were miles away at the bottom end of the studio. We played around with the sound for a while. I suppose our equipment, our amplifiers, weren’t as good as they could have been, so there were a few problems with amplification, but we played the numbers and we were quite happy with the way they had gone.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t supposed to be a final cut. This was just to let people know because they hadn’t heard us before, but as we know now, after that particular session words were spoken. My drumming wasn’t good enough, or alleged to be not good enough. They wanted to use a session drummer, and a short while after that I got the order of the golden boot.

Q But it was commonplace to replace band members with session musicians for recording in those days?
It was common knowledge to anyone involved in the record industry that for certain sessions, studio musicians sat in and they played it. They knew what was required. They could read music, and all the rest of it.

Q So what happened next?
George Martin or someone said that they weren’t happy with the sound they were getting with my drumming, and that it needed to be played around with a little bit more. Looking at it from a purely economic angle, they thought that they should bring in a session drummer, who was Andy White, and get the session over and done with.

What they were saying is that what happens outside of the studio is nothing to do with us. There’s no need to change the format or the line-up. In fact, we got back in touch with George Martin after the dismissal, just to try to resolve this puzzle, because we weren’t getting any answers. There was all these adverse things being said, but Brian wouldn’t give me a definitive reason. He was quite tight-lipped about it. He just said the boys want you out and that was that. So we decided to try and get it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

So what happened was we phoned George Martin, and he explained to us – well my mother, Mona, actually – that what he said could have been misconstrued, that what he meant was, fine, we could use a session drummer in the studio, but that he appreciated the charisma of Pete and the qualities he brings to the band, and that what happens in the studio and what happens on stage are totally different.

Whether that got misconstrued, I’ll never know, but it was the perfect excuse to get rid of me. We can say that George Martin wants to use a session drummer. Of course, the same thing happened to Ringo initially. Ringo jumps into the hot seat, God bless him, and off he goes, off to London. He sets his gear up and who’s there? Andy White. Of course, Andy played on  ‘PS, I Love You’ and ‘Love Me Do’, and on ‘Please Please Me’, I think – a couple of takes on that, until eventually some said that enough was enough, and that Ringo was staying on sessions, and thanks, Andy, away you go. So, whether the same thing would have happened to me or not – well, it’s academic now, isn’t it?

Q In your opinion, is there much difference in the drumming when you listen to the two versions?
Yeah, there is. I mean, you can tell Andy White’s version and Ringo’s version of ‘Love Me Do’. Ringo’s is a little bit heavier. My drumming on it was totally different. I think the unfair thing comparing my version with Andy White’s and Ringo’s is that mine was never supposed to be the final thing; mine was for the purpose of letting George Martin and the sound engineers know what the song was about, to let them think about it. So when I listen to it, I don’t hear a finished recording, I hear a glorified demo, so that’s one way of looking at it.

The song changed an awful lot when Andy took over with George Martin’s arrangement. It was very different compared to the way that we as the Beatles performed ‘Love Me Do’ to the audiences. There was a change of beat in the middle, and it was slower. The change of beat was put in because that was fascinating to the audiences. But, you know, for people to compare my recording with Andy’s and Ringo’s recordings – you know, they make an unfair judgment on it. I’ll be quite open about it. Some people have listened to it and said it would have been better if it had stayed the way we first did it. Other people have said they prefer Andy’s version. I suppose that’s individual choice. All I am pointing out is that mine wasn’t a finished version, it was a glorified demo. Base your understanding or your opinion on that.

Q How were you sacked, Pete, and how on earth did you feel?

Very quickly, actually. We had played the Cavern the night before and Brian asked if he could see me in the morning. I thought, ‘Okay, it’s another chew the fat one, talk about promoters – shall we put the price up, what’s this venue like?’ – the usual business stuff that we talked about all the time. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll be there about half ten,’ or something. And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’

I jumped in the van with Neil and came home. Neil dropped me off the next morning at NEMS and said he’d wait for me. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll only be a few minutes.’

I went into Brian’s office and I could tell that he was very aggravated and anxious. We talked round the subject for a while, and then he said, ‘Pete, I don’t really know to tell you this, but the boys want you out.’ He said, ‘It’s already been arranged,’ and I think that was the key phrase.

It had already been arranged that Ringo would join the band on Saturday, and this was either Wednesday or Thursday. It was a bombshell, you know. I walked in cock-a-hoop, not expecting anything bad because there had been no forewarning or indication that they weren’t happy with me in the band or anything like that.

When I was confronted with it, to be quite honest my brain scrambled and I was standing there gasping for air, trying to get my brain to work. I said, ‘Well, what’s the reason for it?’

The reason that was given was that I wasn’t a good enough drummer. They felt Ringo was better, and I’ve always disputed that. A lot of people who have seen me play then and since have all said it’s a matter of personal choice, but at that time I was reputed to be one of the best drummers in the world, so that ‘not good enough’ thing didn’t hold water. It didn’t make sense, but at that moment nothing made sense.

I thought, ‘Okay, if that’s the way they want it, I’m off.’ They even asked me to play two gigs with them until Ringo joined! I suppose I was brain-dead, because I agreed to do it, and it was only when I got back home again I thought, ‘Hold on a minute – I can’t play two gigs with the guys who’ve just kicked me out.’ But Brian even had covered himself on that, because he had Johnny Hutch playing on the same bill, and so when I didn’t show up Johnny Hutch stood in for me.

When I walked out of Brian’s office Neil was in the van and he saw my face and asked what had happened. I told him I’d been kicked out, and he said he didn’t believe it. We didn’t say anything until I got back home again, and that’s when it all really hit me. So that was it. That was the way I was dismissed, right there.

Q People have put all sorts of reasons forward for it. What do you reckon, Pete? Will you ever know?

To be quite honest, what was put forward as the reason then – my drumming ability – never made sense. Never did and never will. Then you had other people who say it was because I didn’t have my hair cut. Well, no one told me there was going to be a Beatle hairstyle. If they had asked me to comb it down, I would have combed it down. In fact, to prove a point when I went over to America for six months with the Pete Best Combo, I combed my hair down just to say, there, that dispels the hair-dress myth. Then there was jealousy because of the fans’ reaction to me; I was becoming too popular. I was antisocial and I wouldn’t talk. Some said that Brian felt threatened because I had managed the business side of things before.

It could have been because Brian had – what’s the word for it – had approached me, and I had refused. You know, he propositioned me and I said, ‘No, I’m not that type of guy.’ So a lot of people have said maybe it was because I refused Brian, but that doesn’t really add up. I think that now there’s possibly only two or there people who know the real reason why I was dismissed. Whether it will ever come out or not, I don’t know. There have been so many things said.

The Beatles Anthology shocked me in a way, I suppose, when I was watching it, when George insinuated I was becoming unpunctual and I wasn’t turning up for gigs. Hang on a minute! Let’s clear up that one. In the two years that I played with them I played over a thousand gigs and I only missed four, so if that’s unreliability, or whatever the word is, then, as they say in America, I’ll plead the Fifth Amendment.

Q And looking back, there was no inkling that you weren’t liked or that you no longer fitted in?
No. You couldn’t even say there were group arguments. There had been discussions, but it was all on a musical level. What we had was – think about it – a band which was totally different from anything else because of what we’d experienced together. It had spent its time in Germany, where we’d had to live hand to mouth, in one another’s pockets 24 hours a day to survive.

Q Did you see the banners or hear the chants from the fans saying ‘Pete forever’?
No, I wasn’t there. When that reaction took place in Mathew Street, I wasn’t there. I went along after all that. I did go down when Granada Television was recording at the Cavern, just to see what was going on. You know, a television company recording at the Cavern? But I couldn’t take it, to be quite honest. When I went down there were too many people asking me what happened, and all that. They were lovely thoughts, don’t get me wrong. They were on my side, but in that predicament and in that situation, I realised that wasn’t the place for me. But I heard about the reaction and the banners and the protests in Matthew Street; they were fed back through the public and through the media. There were people knocking at my door to ask me if I knew what was happening. It was very heart-warming. I’ll be quite honest, I knew deep down inside nothing was going to change things, but it was a very heart-warming reaction from the fans in Liverpool, and I thank them for it. '

Brian Epstein didn't take rejection lying down. He travelled back to London for further meetings with Decca, even promising their sales team that he'd buy 3,000 copies of any Beatles single they released. Had Dick Rowe been informed of this, history could have been quite different.

‘I was never told about that at the time. The way economics were in the record business then, if we'd been sure of selling 3,000 copies, we'd have been forced to record them, whatever sort of group they were.’

However, the Decca audition tapes did prove fortunate for The Beatles. Had they signed to Decca, their career may never have involved Ringo Starr who joined the group only after George Martin expressed concerns about Pete Best's drumming. Furthermore, the audition gave Epstein some good-quality recordings of the group, on reel-to-reel, enabling him to take them around the remaining London labels.

The manager of the HMV record store on London's Oxford Street suggested that Epstein transfer the recordings from reel-to-reel to disc, to enable them to be more easily played. Epstein agreed, and immediately took the tapes to a studio and pressing plant situated above the store. Engineer Jim Foy was impressed with the recordings. When Epstein told him three of the songs were original Lennon-McCartney compositions, Foy contacted Sid Coleman, of music publishers Ardmore & Beechwood (a subsidiary of EMI), who offered Epstein a publishing deal.

Epstein's priority was to get the group signed, and so Coleman arranged a meeting between The Beatles' manager and George Martin, the A&R head at Parlophone. Upon hearing the Decca recordings, Martin was sufficiently interested to offer The Beatles an audition at Abbey Road.

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