"combining first-hand accounts of the events that allowed ‘Sgt. Pepper’ to happen with rare and unseen footage"
Director Alan G. Parker says “We’re combining first-hand accounts of the events that allowed ‘Sgt. Pepper’ to happen with rare and unseen footage that we’ve forensically unearthed from mainstream archives and private collectors. The last days of touring…. the execution of the album…. and the aftermath that it left behind will, I hope, give the audience an intimate sense of the band, the time and the impact of this extraordinary album.”
It Was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper & Beyond looks at the twelve months (Aug 1966 - Aug 1967) that would arguably be the most pivotal in the band’s entire history, a period where ‘the world’s number one touring band’ ceased to be, and ‘the world’s most innovative recording artists’ emerged, re-establishing what could be achieved within a studio environment.
With the imminent release of ‘Sergeant Pepper’ the band were prepared to take risks, which may have seen them lose a big chunk of their market. Yet, between ’66 and ’67 various musical strands were laid down, then tied together with ‘A Day In The Life’ by John Lennon. The band members were full of enthusiasm and brimming with ideas, and were the first to make an album of this kind.
A detailed account of Sergeant Pepper was developed, next the lyrics and the recording of it at EMI's Abbey Road Studios, followed by the sleeve and finally, the release. The Beatles' early success has been accredited to Brian Epstein, whom the band trusted without hesitation. Epstein handled their business affairs, including their “moptop” style haircuts and tailored suits.
Brian Epstein (1934 –1967) was the first to discover the Beatles in November 1961 at the Cavern Club, where he instantly saw their potential, despite receiving rejections from most recording companies in London, that is until he managed to secure a meeting with the head of EMI label Parlophone, George Martin, after which everything changed.
The film analyses the change in relationship the band had with their manager, his tragic death, Apple’s creation and the influence of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Believing they were becoming bad musicians, The Beatles unable to hear themselves play, stopped touring altogether in August 1966, a time when the ‘Swinging avant-garde of London’ was in the midst of emmerging. A great surge in creativity and rebirth.
From drugs to blasphemy It Was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper & Beyond provides a first-hand account of Sgt. Pepper, in what became the first “concept album” in the world.
And John Lennon’s offhand remark exclaiming the band were ‘more popular than Jesus Christ,’ led to many a protest and death threats. To quote Lennon "Christianity will go," he said. "It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I know I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
However, Lennon barely remembered saying it in the interview he gave, which was published by the London Evening Standard in March 1966, then re-published in Datebook, an American teen magazine.
Prior to it Brian Epstein had given permission to Maureen Cleave, a journalist the band gravitated towards, access to a series of in-depth profiles, where equal attention would be devoted to each band member. They appreciated their portrayal as more than “lovable mop-tops.”
No blame was placed on Cleave for “the Jesus Christ” quote, and she did make an attempt to smooth everything over, issuing a statement reading "John was certainly not comparing the Beatles to Christ; he was simply observing that, so weak was the state of Christianity, the Beatles were, to many people, better known."
For many in England it was just seen as a flippant remark, but Brian Epstein, in private, was extremely worried. So much that he actually flew out to New York City, where he assessed the damage, caring most of all about the abuse the Beatles would have hurled at them.
A press conference was arranged for August 6th, where it was said that the John Lennon quote, made to a London columnist, had been taken out of context.” And what he actually meant was ‘he was astonished... in the last 50 years, the Church of England, and therefore Christ, had suffered a decline in interest. He did not mean to boast about the Beatles' fame. He meant only to point out the Beatles' effect.."
But as the situation remained volatile it was clear a statement would have to be made by Lennon himself, however in August 1966, the Beatles permanently retired from touring, apart from rare television performances, and an iconic rooftop concert.
Paul McCartney, in February 1967, suggested after recording “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that they might release a whole album, whereupon they could further explore an experimental approach towards composition but with that said, it is to the surprise of many that “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were released but as a double A-side single.
The Beatles released their ground-breaking album on 1st June 1967, which the Rolling Stone magazine described as “The most important rock & roll album ever made…”
The band broke up in 1970, and on December 8th, 1980 John Lennon was shot dead by Mark David Chapman, whose idolising over him had escalated into a psychotic obsession. Chapman remained outside the Dakota apartment, in Manhattan, where he began to read J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ till the police arrived. He later used the novel as his statement, pleading guilty, seeing his crime his as a will from God.