150 pages in to the 900 pages of The Beatles: Tune In, Mark Lewisohn's first volume of Beatles biography, which takes them up to recording their first single (I'm just up to where John and Paul meet as teenagers at a church fete). I'm really enjoying it, and it's awesomely researched (although I remember hearing him saying, I think on a Word podcast, that he's still inviting people to send him information, that he is continuing to find out new things from people about The Beatles, which seems unbelievable but must be true).
Some first notes:
- there's an unexpected amount of illegitimacy in the family trees, with some in all four
- Aunt Mimi is a much finer and more admirable person than she's often portrayed, mother Julia conversely a much less attractive one
- John's nastiness confirmed; Paul more driven and focussed from an early age than expected
- national service was a significant cloud hanging over all young men in the 50s; it came to an end just in time for the future Beatles
- it's really hard to convey the impact on young Britons of the arrival of on the one hand rock and roll and on the other skiffle; people are always trying to get it across, and always fail; the book does well to get across that the latter was just as important, and in some ways more important, than the former (estimating several hundred skiffle groups springing up in Liverpool alone)
- it does get across the scarcity of information about records (whether owning, hearing, or learning words or chords, or knowing anything about the artist) and in particular the scarcity of instruments (how few guitars there were, and the sudden explosion in the guitar trade brought about by skiffle); possibly I can understand this better than people younger than me, having grown up without the internet and a proliferation of monthly music magazines (re the former) and without as much disposable income/cheap goods (re the latter)
- the importance of The Crickets. This para from p146 struck me:
'Big in America, the Crickets were so much bigger in Britain. Rock and roll was full of solo singers with backing musicians - Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and the rest. The only group of note was the Coasters, and not many knew them yet; besides which, they were just vocalists with session musicians. The Crickets were another kind of group: vocals, electric guitar, bass, drums. When thousands of skifflers heard That'll Be The Day, those eternally uplifting two minutes, they were *converted*. It was like a well-drilled, willing and equipped army being given a new battle plan.'
- Paul's mum's poignant words from the day she died of cancer, when he was 14 and Mike was 12: 'I would have liked to have seen the boys growing up.'