I started this as an adjunct to the next Rough Trade Album of the Month about Isobel Campbell, who we saw at St Pancras Old Church. I disappeared down a Beatles shaped rabbit hole, which I thought would dilute the original post so I’d give it a separate entry. So here’s some Fab Four background to the church, a gorgeous sanctuary just a spitting distance from the Eurostar Terminal and the grim Euston Road.
The Old Church sits on top of the River Fleet, now running underground. There was a church in the same location in medieval times, but it was abandoned in the 14th century, probably due to the propensity of the river to flood. The centre of the parish migrated north to Kentish Town. Eventually the church was restored in the mid 19th century. In recent years, it has hosted concerts, like St Lukes and the Union Chapel.
It has been quite a location through the ages. Mary Shelley’s mother was buried here and she and Byron met here to work out how they would elope. Dickens liked to have a wander through the graveyard and William Blake was familiar with it too.
The church has a more prominent place in British musical history. On 28 July 1968, it was the location for a Beatles promotional photo shoot to promote Hey Jude and the White Album. The day of the shoot was christened the Mad Day Out, where the Fabs hung out in a variety of locations around London. whilst the brilliant Don McCullin, (whose retrospective at the Tate Britain I wrote about here) took some iconic snaps.
He summed up his commission as follows:
One day in 1968 I got a phone call, which I thought was just a joke. An unfamiliar voice said he was phoning from Apple and wondered if I would consider spending a day photographing The Beatles for a fee of two hundred pounds. They were a little tired of approaches from photographers and wanted to get a fresh supply of pictures.Don McCullin, A Day In Life Of The Beatles
The band headed out to Grays Inn Road, the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill, Highgate Cemetery and eventually Old Street, where they posed in the middle of what is now know as Silicon Roundabout before arriving at St Pancras Old Church.
As this was 1968, the hair was growing longer and the clothes getting funkier. Paul is wearing a rather fetching lilac suit whilst George has a striking pair of red and blue striped strides. Lennon was dressed in black and McCullin commented afterwards that Lennon was angry during the day and saw everything as a protest. This was pre-1969 era and he looks like he’s dressed for action, whilst the other three are still in thrall to the vibrancy of the Swinging Sixties. Clearly a sleepy London town ain’t no place for a street fighting man.
McCullin took a series of shots, looking north toward the St Pancras hospital amongst the hollyhocks, sitting in the grassy graveyard and in the imposing arch near the door.
It looks idyllic, an English Country Garden in the shadows of grimy Kings Cross. The impression is broken when you see the shots of the crowd, noses pressed up against the church railings. These shots were used in the famous red and blue Beatles greatest hits compilations 62-66 and 67-70.
This one of those transition to the modern world moments that the late 60s seemed to pivot on. McCullin almost always shot in black and white, very much a reportage style. His eye for the post war London urban landscape shines through in his photographs from the day.
Those photos of the locals places the shots in the era of Harold McMillan, Booby Moore and the post war boom. The public are looking on at a bunch of rich dandies, hanging out amongst the grassy graveyard and the wild hollyhocks. The vibrant colours of the Beatles clothes combine with the verdant lawn and towering flowers to head us into the 70s. McCullin was just back from Vietnam and saw the world through very different eyes. He was using his Nikon F1, the very camera that he’d used on the battlefield. It must have been very jarring to spend the day with bunch of young millionaires after he’d seen such devestation in south east Asia.
The band packed up at St Pancras and headed east to Wapping Pier for the early evening. The final stop was back at McCartney’s house in St John’s Wood where they hung out in the geodesic dome that he’d recently constructed in his back garden.
The day after the shoot, they were back in the studio working on Hey Jude. As Lennon shouts “From the heart of the Black Country (who knows why?)”, the band kick in to the demo version heard on the third Anthology compilation. Unadorned by the orchestration and backing vocals, the song is simpler. more humble and possibly a little easier to love than the behemoth that got released as a single a month later.
Listening to it now, stripped back of the baggage, you can imagine it sitting nicely on White Album, a payoff after an abridged Revolution #9.
They eventually re-located in early August to Trident Studios in the heart of Soho. Trident had an eight track desk and rather than not have endless tape manipulations as they had on Day In The Life, they would take the relatively easier route of working with 36 musicians crammed into in the small recording room. Apparently after cajoling the musicians to play the four chords over and over, they offered them double fee to clap and sing along. All but one agreed. Could you imagine being the person who refused to sing on Hey Jude?
Hey Jude went on to be something of a juggernaut, the closing singalong for McCartney’s solo shows and a football chant to boot. I doubt it would have achieved the same degree of ubiquity status nestled on side four of the White Album as a relief after endlesss preceding minutes of #9’s musique concrete.
Now I must get back to that Isobel Campbell post…
Thanks to the Beatles Bible website for some of the background information.