John Clare Writings

I saw The Beatles and The Beatles saw me

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It was 50 years ago today – well, a week or so back – that the Beatles came to Brisbane to play. My wife and I lived there for a while just prior to sailing off to England. Fair exchange some might say. There are still conflicting opinions as to whether you could actually hear the Fab Four. I heard nothing – just my own footsteps down an empty Brisbane street late at night, and the barely audible glide of a large car as it slid up beside me and slowly passed. I cannot remember where I had been. Presumably I was heading home. I turned to glance at the car, for it was the only thing moving. Simultaneously the Beatles turned to look at me. From their point of view I was the only thing moving.

The lads looked at me with what I will call mild interest. A specimen of Brisbane Man. Except that I was from Sydney, but what did they know of me? I knew a thousand times more about them. It was a very strange situation, and I think I was vouchsafed this truth: being human, I was of interest too. In some circumstances anyway. The face I remember most was that of Ringo Starr, who happened to be up against a near-side window. I believe that Ringo was the most authentically working class Beatle. His expression was both amiable and sceptical. Also tired. They all looked tired.

Their faces seemed unnaturally large. I suppose that was because I had never seen them  up close. In fact I had never seen them in real life. Film is different. Everyone is larger than life up there on the screen most of the time. I like to think that if I had done something a little odd I might have been given a tiny role in one of their songs from a later period. One of those extraordinary creations swarming with detail of the most ordinary and fantastical kind. All beneath the blue suburban skies.

Goodbye Beatles. Thanks for the memory, to quote a song from before your mother was born.

Oh, wait. Two artists lived in the Hampstead building we moved into a month or so after this historic encounter: Beatles/JC, you understand. One was the Australian expatriate Tony Underhill. The other was Jack Yates from Yorkshire. One night Jack called Tony and me into his flat to show us a nicely finished painting recently completed by one of his students. This same student was working on a portrait of George Harrison, who came to Hampstead from time to time to sit for him. We never saw George but Jack’s student had told him that George was a very nice man.

Oh well, Dusty Springfield once imitated my accent when I was introduced to her by Dudley Moore’s drummer Chris Karan, whom I’d known well back in Melbourne. Dudley was there too, if you want name dropping, and Woody Allen did his stand up act on Dusty’s show in a beautiful tan suit. He was unknown then. I said I thought he was funny. Dud did not. ‘He’s got that American thing!’ he said with some distaste.

PS Thank you, dear friends, for the kind and moving words re my son. I watched a program about Easter Island the other night and without thinking, said, ‘You’d love this, Mathew.’ For a moment he seemed to be in the room. But that beautiful boy has gone. Actually he was 47, but still very beautiful. He was born in Hampstead Hospital I suddenly remember.

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