Magical Mystery Tours-My Life with The Beatles, by Tony Bramwell with Rosemary Kingsland
I don’t recall visiting with him at the time I got his autograph (although I’m sure I did), but we did have an encounter later that weekend. It was Sunday, the last day of the Fest. I was sitting at the base of the big ugly statue in the Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel, on the phone with a friend of mine back home, Sarah, who wasn’t able to come to the Fest with me. As we chatted, Tony Bramwell came walking by, and I told Sarah that one of The Beatles’ long-time friends just walked by, and I asked her if she’d like to talk to him. I remember her kind of stammering because I caught her off guard (she’s not a Beatles fan), and instead of waiting for her answer, I caught up with Tony, asked him to speak to a friend of mine, and handed him my cell phone. I don’t remember what he said to Sarah (or what she later told me about their conversation) other than the end when he said to her, ‘I’ll give you back to your friend now’. I do remember the funny look Tony gave me as he handed back my phone and then walked away. My spur-of-the-moment decision to have Bramwell talk to Sarah allowed me to annoy a Beatles insider, irritate an old friend of mine, and create a silly Beatlefest memory.
I was excited to read Magical Mystery Tours when it was first announced. Tony had known The Beatles since before the mania and was with them throughout their career. In addition, Tony had quite a career himself after The Beatles broke up, working as a music promoter for records and films. I dig reading first-hand accounts about the music and movie industries, so I was anxious to hear what Bramwell had to say in that regard. But I was most excited to read about Tony’s time with The Beatles, going back to their early days in Liverpool.
I obviously first read the book when it first came out in ’05. I hadn’t read it since, and I’d forgotten my impression of it before I re-read it again recently.
And it was interesting to read a lot of what Bramwell presented in his book. A lot of what I like about such books is how they tell us about something that’s well-known (a song, a situation, an event), but do so from the author’s perspective which might be from an angle that hasn’t been widely shared before. My favorite parts of Chris O’Dell‘s book are her descriptions of events (such as the Concert for Bangla Desh) told from her perspective, which, obviously, is a way no one else could use to describe those events. The same can be said for a lot of what Tony described in his book.
But, while I enjoyed that aspect of Bramwell’s book, I have to be honest and say that this is not one of my favorite Beatles books. It’s not my least-favorite, but as I made my way through it, I found myself liking it less and developing negative feelings about it. I’ll explain how I felt as I discuss the book.
After a Prologue, the book is divided into five parts: Part I – Liverpool 1940-1963, Part II – London 1963-1966, Part III – 1966-1967, Part IV – 1967-1970, Part V – 1971-Present. These include two sets of black-and-white pictures and are followed by an Epilogue, Acknowledgements, and a decent Index.
I started the book with an open mind and anticipated learning something new, and I was immediately rewarded in chapter 1. Tony talked about growing up in Liverpool, and his descriptions of when he would pal around with George and his familiarity with Paul and John when they were all young are reminiscent of descriptions given by Pete Shotton and Len Garry in their books (John Lennon In My Life and John, Paul and Me: Before The Beatles).
One point that I found interesting in Tony’s book is his claim that John and Paul “knew each other years before they ‘officially’ met”. Bramwell had described his group of friends getting older and moving to different schools and the widening of their ‘social circle’. He says that John wasn’t in their gang, but, being the same age as Tony’s brother, John came into their lives suddenly and seemed to always be a part of their consciousness. I’m not aware of any other books mentioning John and Paul being at least aware of each other before ‘officially’ meeting, but it seems likely. Tony even mentions connections between parents of The Beatles: on page 12 he says that George’s mother Louise and John’s Aunt Mimi were acquainted; on page 14 Tony says that Paul’s mother Mary knew John’s mother Julia and Julia’s daughters well, often stopping to visit with Julia; and further on page 14 Tony says that Louise, Tony’s mother, Julia, and Mary all used the same bus and, when riding it, would sit together and gossip. I haven’t seen any such connections between Beatle parents in other books, but, again, it seems likely.
Bramwell described how John’s attitude caused many Teddy Boys to want to beat him up. Bramwell feels that John’s refusal to wear glasses caused him to look like he’s arrogantly outstaring people and also giving the Teds’ girls the eye; Bramwell also speculates that the Teds didn’t like that John styled himself as a Ted but didn’t live a Teddy Boy life but came from a middle-class home. It’s kind of funny how Bramwell describes the situation, that John was ‘a marked man’, and Bramwell tells about The Quarrymen‘s escape from Teds after their Rosebery Street performance. But it’s kind of sobering to read Bramwell’s description of how violent the Teds could be. While it would have been great to attend early Quarrymen/Beatles performances, I wouldn’t have wanted to be around the environment Bramwell described … I’m a wimp 😦
In chapter 2, Bramwell says, “John suffered from dyslexia”. I didn’t recall that being stated in any other Beatles book; I did a quick search through my main references but couldn’t find any reference to dyslexia or any other learning disability. I just made a quick Internet search, but, while I see that the dyslexia community has embraced John as one of their own, I see no reference on any site, not even dyslexia authorities to any source other than Albert Goldman’s ‘biography’ The Lives of John Lennon. I’m ashamed to say that I own a copy of Goldman’s book, and, after having read it many years ago, I feel confident in not considering it reliable as a source of factual information. So, I question Bramwell’s statement. And it was at this point in reading his book, only chapter 2, that I began to doubt his authenticity.
I should mention that I found one mention in a Beatles online forum that Mark Lewisohn‘s Tune In made reference to John possibly having dyslexia. But I wasn’t able to find that reference in my copy of Tune In. I’m not saying that John definitely didn’t have dyslexia or any learning disability, but I’m not able to find a credible source proving it.
In chapter 3, Bramwell says that he, George, Paul, and John all attended Buddy Holly’s concert in Liverpool March 20, 1958. I’d thought I’d read that Paul was the only Beatle to attend, but Tune In says that George, Paul, and John went instead to a show at the Morgue Skiffle Cellar (the show featuring The Texans, The Bluegenes, and The Sioux City Skiffle Group). A quick look through others of my Beatles books shows no mention of any of The Beatles attending either of Buddy’s Liverpool shows. I, again, question Bramwell’s credibility. And, although Philip Norman‘s Shout confirms that Bramwell attended and even got to meet Buddy and The Crickets, it’s kind of annoying that Bramwell points out three times within the span of three pages that he got to meet them. I mean, it is something to be proud of, but Bramwell seems to be driving the point into the ground.
A major criticism I have to make about Bramwell’s book is that there are too many British phrases in the writing. At times while reading it, I had no idea what he was trying to say because he was using slang that I’d never heard before. I would think that the writing in Bramwell’s book would make more of an impact if there weren’t so many Briticisms but was said in a way that’s more commonly understood … Then again, I used the phrase “driving the point into the ground” in the last paragraph, and maybe that or other phrases I’ve used aren’t easily understood by everyone. Anyway, sometimes Bramwell’s writing was difficult for me to understand.
In Part II, chapter 9, Bramwell starts out describing times he’d hang out with John when John was bored being home at Kenwood. The description starts off as if Bramwell’s generally telling about the many times this situation came up: “Every two weeks or so, [John] would come into London …”, “He would start these little adventures by suddenly arriving at my desk in the NEMS office …”, “If it was still early, we’d go to our regular pubs, or we’d go to the movies …”. The issue I have is that these general descriptions often, without warning, turn into specific accounts. For example, Bramwell started one paragraph with, “Sometimes if John fancied it we used to go out and drop in unannounced on Mick Jagger and Keith Richards“, and Bramwell briefly described where Mick and Keith lived and how such visits would be. Suddenly the narrative turned into being about a specific visit: the very next paragraph begins with, “On the way up to Kilburn in the limo, John got onto the subject of country music …”. The telling is even so specific that Bramwell shared the dialog that he and John and later Mick and Keith had on this one specific visit. It’s a little disorienting when this happens in Bramwell’s book, the sudden shift from a general telling to a detailed specific account.
What’s more annoying are narratives that describe all the details of specific dialog. There’s no way Bramwell could remember exactly what he, John, Mick, and Keith said in the conversation described above. Bramwell even describes motivations for what people said, when specifically they spoke, what they were doing when they spoke, and what reactions were. There’s no way anyone could recall all that detail. This style of writing reminds me of Len Garry’s book John, Paul & Me: Before The Beatles, which is almost entirely made up of such recalled accounts and dialog. I understand that the purpose of such writing is to assist flow and to add a sense of realism, but instead it leads me to think that the author is inventing dialog and action to describe the account, and that leads me to question his credibility. Although it’s based on reality, how do I know what part of it is factual and what part was invented?
In chapter 10, Tony described videos he’d made of artists such as Gerry and The Pacemakers, Donovan, and The Yardbirds for American shows such as Shindig! and Where the Action Is. It’s too bad that not many of those videos still exist. From those shows, the few that I’ve been able to find online (not necessarily made by Bramwell) are great to watch. Some are kind of cheesy and lame, but overall I dig seeing them and hearing the music they accompany. ’60s music was the best.
Yoko is first mentioned in Part III, chapter 13. Holy moly, Bramwell is rough on her. Not that I’m a fan of Yoko, but it’s crazy how negative Bramwell was in discussing her. I’m not completely doubting what he says about how Yoko pursued John, but it’s almost uncomfortable to read. I wonder what Yoko thought about what Bramwell wrote about her. I’d almost expect her to have taken some legal action against him. It’s almost like Bramwell enjoyed saying so much negative about Yoko and got carried away with it. For example, I don’t see what his purpose was in describing backgrounds of both Yoko and Tony Cox, all completely negative in saying that they plotted to win over John and benefit from his fame and wealth. Again, I’m not saying that I totally disagree with everything Bramwell described in this regard, but I think that he went overboard in making his point.
Re-reading what I’ve written, I almost feel guilty about saying more negative than positive about Tony’s book. As I said before, this is not my least-favorite Beatles book; I didn’t hate it, and, in fact, there’s a lot of it I enjoyed (for example, the description of the search for the Apple logo was really interesting). Honestly, if Bramwell wrote a second Beatles book, I’d be interested in reading that also. I can’t say that overall I didn’t like Magical Mystery Tours, but there is a lot in it that irritated me. I don’t want to not recommend it to fellow Beatles fans, but I guess I would say in recommending it that it’s just to be read as entertainment and not to be considered a reference.