When Brian met The Beatles
They took on the world. They were `bigger than Jesus'. But what about the man behind their success? Here, friends and former colleagues recall how Brian Epstein helped create the greatest band in history
Tuesday 16 November 1999
Anyway, salesman that he was, Brian did a handwritten notice in the window which said: BEATLES RECORD AVAILABLE HERE. Within an hour or so it had sold out. All the rest, the other 24 had gone. So we ordered another 25. The same thing. Bang. Gone.
Then Brian came in one morning and told me he'd seen this poster at the bottom of Mathews Street advertising The Beatles "direct from Hamburg", and of course Mathews Street is where the Cavern Club was. We've been accused of knowing they were from Liverpool. Well, we didn't. We weren't interested in pop music. But he said, "I'm intrigued." So we decided to go see them during our lunch hour. It was an awful club. There was condensation running down the walls and it smelt. There were these four guys onstage in black leather, wearing what we call bomber jackets today, black trousers, black T-shirts, and they were so loud. There was smoking onstage and they were joking with the girls in the audience and it was just like, "Oh my God, what are we sitting here watching?" I mean we were in suits. And these guys were just so awful. They really were. It was quite appalling, really.
It took about half-an-hour for Brian to decide to manage them. We went for lunch and he asked me my opinion first, and I said I thought they were awful but there was something there. He said, "They are awful but I think they're fabulous." And then he suddenly said, "What do you think about me managing them?" And it was as quick as that. That was 9 November 1961.
Derek Taylor (press officer for NEMS Enterprises, Epstein's firm): When he signed them up, in that office in Whitechapel, he told them, "I think I can help you." He actually believed he could and he was prepared to sit it out with them, with all their cheek and impudence. The access he gave them to another side of Liverpool must have been important to them, the sense that they were on the move. He had a great style and once he got his confidence and his bearings he was very funny and upbeat and witty.
Alistair Taylor: Brian's parents couldn't quite understand what this son of theirs, who used to go to the Philharmonic Hall and listen to Mozart and Beethoven, was suddenly talking about. And actually managing four leather-clad rockers from the Cavern Club - I mean, this is like hitting [Brian's father] Harry over the head with a mallet really.
Rex Makin (the Epstein family lawyer and neighbour): I saw the boys coming to him on a Sunday morning when I was in my garden. They looked what we term in Liverpool a set of scallywags - untidily dressed and not quite the thing for the genteel atmosphere of the part of Queens Drive where we lived.
Vera Brown (friend of The Beatles): They were just a scruffy bunch of boys. But then Brian looked like the real thing. He was handsome. He was tall. He was immaculate. He was probably one of the sexiest fellas I had ever met. People say, "Oh well, Brian was gay," but he wasn't very gay with me. He was just like any other man and more. He was easy-going and funny. He'd make you laugh and he could dance.
Nat Weiss (Epstein's American business partner): I don't think The Beatles needed a great businessman. They needed a person who would inspire them. And for Brian The Beatles were an alter ego. Brian was on the stage with The Beatles emotionally and he devoted his life to them.
Alistair Taylor: He smartened them up. He taught them stage discipline. They were told to stop swearing onstage, to stop joking with the girls and to stop smoking onstage. He tidied up their hair and put them into suits. Brian could see what could happen with this band and he channelled it.
Peter Brown (one of Brian Epstein's closest friends and associates, who worked closely with The Beatles): It was difficult for Brian because he was still running the record store and making these trips to the record companies pitching The Beatles. It seemed like an awful long time that he was doing this and coming back dejected for having been rejected. But it was all right because it was a challenge to him and he was not going to give up.
The amphetamine time started around then. He was introduced to these by The Beatles and other groups who had played in Hamburg where they needed stimulants to keep going. It was a cool thing to do.
George Martin (The Beatles' producer): There's no question of them employing him. No, he was in charge and they did what he said. He was their only hope. They'd done a pretty hard grind all over the place. They were convinced they were going to get to the top but they found it hard. They were prepared to go along with Brian if he could bring them results.
Nat Weiss (Brian Epstein's American business partner): Brian fused everything. The Beatles had the talent. But it was Brian who was the emotional and psychological catalyst. He had the vision to say The Beatles would be bigger than Elvis in 1961. When all the record companies told him to forget about it he refused to give up.
George Martin: Brian was full of confidence for The Beatles. He had this unswerving devotion and faith in them, that they were brilliant and they were going to conquer the world. And this was all the more remarkable because he'd been rejected by everybody. And he still had that blind faith.
Simon Napier-Bell (manager of groups including Yardbird and Wham!): When Brian met The Beatles, something about them energised him. It may have been to do with his protected middle-class background. It may have been to do with homosexuality, but one way or another he was excited by them to a point where he just devoted himself to them.
Lionel Bart (writer, best known for the musical Oliver): Right from the very early days, when Brian was trying to promote The Beatles in London, he said, "Well, they're going to be bigger than Elvis." And of course everybody laughed. I did too. I said, "Come on, Brian, give us a break." But he was totally dedicated and this dedication, together with the suit and the gentlemanly appearance, which he had, and his demeanour, may well have been a key to allowing him into the American great razzmatazz and the great pressure of the business.
George Martin: On that first recording I was aware that I needed a stronger and more steady and more powerful drum beat than I was getting. Although the drummer was a very good-looking lad, he didn't have the overt personality of the other three. So I knew I had to make a change there.
So I said to Brian, "On the next recording I'm going to book a different drummer." It was then that I found out that the group had been wanting to get rid of Pete and this was a good excuse. So they fired him. They were fortunate in getting Ringo. They actually pursued Ringo, because Ringo was a bit of a star then. With the addition of Ringo Starr, it was easy to complete the new image of The Beatles, mainly because Ringo's hair fell naturally into the "Beatle cut".
Aunt Stella (Stella Canter, Brian Epstein's paternal aunt): When I first heard "Love Me Do" I was sitting at Harry and Queenie's house. I was asked, "What do you think of it, Auntie Stella?" And I said, "Well, Brian, I'm a Frank Sinatra fan."
John Lennon on Brian Epstein's death from cancer in 1967: When Brian died, I thought, `We've fucking had it now'.
This article is an edited extract from `The Brian Epstein Story' by Debbie Geller, edited by Anthony Wall, published by Faber and Faber Ltd at pounds 14.99. To order your copy at the special price of pounds 13.50, contact Caroline Sherlock, Direct Customer Service, Macmillan Distribution Ltd. Tel: 01256 302699.
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