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Ken McNab talks about his book "The Beatles in Scotland"

By George Burton


Q: So Ken, it's a fairly crowded market, tell me why you decided to write another Beatle book.

A: My first impression was my very first instinct was that, does the world need another book about the Beatles? I've got so many friends, so many friends who've come to me in the past and said, you know you're such a fan why have you never thought about writing a book about the Beatles in Scotland…so…it all began about a couple of years ago when I went down to see John Lennon's cousin in Largs (West of Scotland) as a starting point, as a jumping off point to where we go with this and he was absolutely charming, fantastic memories and even a hour spent in Stan's company down at his house in Largs was enough to convince me that quite possibly it was worth further examination and really from there the whole project grew arms and legs in a very short space of time when I drew up a possible list of maybe ten or twelve bullet points, which could possibly act as chapters in themselves. It was a good starting point and the whole project was built 'round the premise of these eleven or twelve bullet points and slowly over the period of over several months it began to take some kind of concrete shape.

Q: Talking about the premise Ken, tell us roughly, just for the folks at home what exactly the book is about.

A: The book is about the connection of the Beatles to Scotland. Most people, most observers think there are very few connections. But when you actually begin to delve quite deeply into the whole link of the Beatles to Scotland and how many times they came here and also, various other connections, each individual has to Scotland, you can build up a very concrete picture, quite a stunning picture in a very short space of time. It's right from the start where you've got John Lennon spending his summer holidays as a teenager in, of all places, Durness. If you mention to people that John Lennon spent something like five or six summers, in Durness as a teenager, most people would think you were absolutely mad, it's probably the last place on earth that people would expect to find a connection to, of all people, John Lennon. But, the connection's there and it was a very important connection to him. So, even going from that very first brick in the wall, which would be Durness and it's connections to John Lennon and then moving from there into how the band grew, very quickly you realise that there's a lot of material out there connecting the band to Scotland and quite a lot of it's never been covered before. This is the most talked about band in history and it's astonishing just how much information, even at this stage slipped through the cracks.

Q: You know when you start to think about John Lennon as a teenager, and he's coming up to Durness, what was he listening to at that time?

A: Well, what he would have been listening to would have been early rock 'n' roll, but the most important thing about Durness in John's life is that it took John away from the grime of post war Liverpool and a slightly unsettled, unhappy home life, so Durness was this magical wilderness and one which by all accounts seems to have fired John's imagination. Because he able to run around with Stan. Stan and John were extremely close (Stan is John's older cousin…but the two men throughout John's lifetime continued to have a very very close bond) Stan and John would spend their days running along these fantastic beaches, running in and out of caves, playing in the heather…er you know…looking up at the fantastic scenery… and for John it must've been a world removed from what he was used to. There seems to be no doubt in most people's minds, that the Highlands, this Highland wilderness freed up John's first creative juices, it seems to have inspired him to initially, certainly, paint and write poems…so there's no doubt in my mind that Durness played a very important part in John's initial creative urgings.

Q: Do you reckon that came out in his writing, in terms of his song writing?

A: I think it's a step in the process, it's like a work in progress. I think it made him realise that there was a world beyond Liverpool. There was another world out there, one that he wasn't familiar with and I think it just freed his mind a wee bit. I think it just gave John an insight into another world, you know the world didn't begin and end in Penny Lane for example.

Q: And Stuart Suttcliffe as well, there's the Edinburgh connection right?

A: It's incredible, it's absolutely incredible…

Q: 'Cos he was born there right?

A: Stuart was born in Edinburgh. His parents came from Lanarkshire, Wishaw and Hamilton actually to be more specific. There's a bit of a family scandal behind how his parents came to get together, because his father was already married. Aside from that Stuart… (Although the family moved down South when Stuart was young)….was born at the Simpson memorial Hospital in Edinburgh, although the family moved south at a really young age, Stuart's mum Milly was very insistent that the family would remember their Scottish roots. Most Sundays they had to maybe dress in Kilts, Hogmanay was regarded as the most important night of the year, so although Stuart certainly didn't have a Scottish accent when he grew older, as far as his mum was concerned it was extremely important that he and his sister Pauline never forgot that they came from Scotland and I think that she always harboured a hope that one day they would eventually relocate to Scotland, although obviously circumstances dictated otherwise

Q: It's a strong connection really is it when you think about it like that.

A: It's amazing, I mean nobody…if you ask most people to talk about the Beatles, Stuart's name might conjure up a very very hazy memory, but the one image it won't conjure up is that one of the Beatles; Stuart Sutcliffe was born in Scotland and his family were very very proud of his Scottish roots and ensured as far as they could, that he remembered that he was first and foremost a true Scot.

Q: And of course you've got the McCartneys on the Mull of Kintyre.

A: Again, an obvious and a very strong connection to Scotland. When you factor into the equation that John loved the Highlands, one of the Beatles was born in Scotland, and Paul McCartney's links with the Mull of Kintyre, then you have very good grounds to begin a project from that base onwards. Paul McCartney's links to the Mull of Kintyre do not begin and end with the song, the Mull of Kintyre and his farm at Campbletown played a very important part in his life when the band split in 1970. Paul more or less used the farm as a bolthole, because he was on the brink of suffering a nervous breakdown.

Q: Understandable…

A: The band's split had taken a terrible toll on him. He was really the Beatle, he has gone down in folklore as the man who split the Beatles… (Well that's not true)… He was the one who really tried hardest to keep it together, but when all the strains and stresses of the band's demise and all the internecine warfare that was taking place between the four of them, he retreated to the Mull of Kintyre for several months and he's certainly been on record as saying that if it wasn't for the Mull of Kintyre he would've suffered a nervous breakdown. But, while he was up there, he and Linda hadn't been married that long and were still enjoying the first few months of being together as a married couple and he has always credited Linda as having the strength to help him, if you like, put the genie back in the bottle because there's no doubt he suffered quite terrible times and had it not been for the Mull of Kintyre….he wasn't exactly looking over the cliff, you know of jumping off the cliff, but he certainly had a good look over the edge.

Q: ... And probably wondering what he was going to do next, you know the biggest band in the world's just finished …

A: The problem was that he felt redundant. He felt like, what do I do next? This band has been my job. Paul was a prince of the city in London, you know the other guys in the band tended to stay in the suburbs, but Paul was king of the city and all of a sudden he stopped subscribing to Billboard, he realised there was another life away from London, away from the showbiz circuit and all of a sudden he and Linda discovered the beauty of running around the heather, running around the beaches, growing their own vegetables and essentially getting back to nature. Sounds very hippy, it sounds like a very nice hippy ideal, but I think for Paul McCartney it's clearly worked because it's helped to develop his life along unfamiliar grounds and always from the rock 'n' roll circus if you like.

Q: I was in London recently I was at the Linda McCartney exhibition and what was quite interesting was that one of the great pictures is that one of Paul standing on the fence, with Mary is it?

A: Yeah it's Mary…

Q: Sort of…bizarre action picture!

A: And he's wearing nothing but an old overcoat or a dressing gown?

Q: Yeah I think it's a dressing gown

A: ... Like he's just got out his bed!

Q: lol! Exactly, they probably have!

A: But I think that picture just sums up how happy they were as a family…you know there are two Paul McCartneys. There's Paul McCartney the family man, certainly when his children were young, and I don't think anything was more important to him and then there's Paul McCartney the musician. I think up at Mull of Kintyre he could be Paul McCartney, family man. It was the perfect place for him to be away from the music rollercoaster of being such a famous celebrity. But there's no doubt that the Mull of Kintyre saved his life. There is another element to it that there are very good grounds for believing that the actual. Well although Paul didn't split up the band, he was the one who had to take the decision to take John , George and Ringo to court to end their song writing and musical partnership and I've discovered very good evidence which tends to suggest that that ultimate decision was taken while he was walking along the beach on the Mull of Kintyre. So in theory, the ultimate decision to end the Beatles musical partnership was taken in Scotland. Nobody knows that. Nobody's been able to break that element down and come to that conclusion. I've managed to obtain eyewitness accounts and I've spoken to people and I've disseminated the information. So there's no doubt in my mind that he had to agonise over this decision because he was in effect having to take his best friends to court. But, there's no doubt in my mind and it's never been made public before that the decision to end the Beatles was taken in Scotland.

Q: There's an interesting front cover on your book Ken….tell us about that…tell us about the picture on the front cover.

A: The front cover is a picture of the band taken at the Scottish border in days of yore (!)…when they used to have this sign up which said - "Welcome to Scotland" on one side and on the other side it said "Haste Ye Back" and somebody obviously took the decision to have the band pose at the border. It may well have been the Scottish Tourist Board at the time. But it's a fantastic picture and it really just sums up the band. I mean this was the most photographed band in history! I mean every day there are more pictures coming out and it's incredible to think of the body of work that they managed to do. I've yet to see a really bad picture of the band in any shape or form because they're such four interesting individuals, there's something …and I don't want to sound like a geeky fan, but there is something magical about them. It's that they just fit! I mean if there's such a thing as chemistry between four guys, then it's clearly evident in almost every picture you see of them.

Q: Yeah.

A: It's a great picture and it just sums up the title of the book which is The Beatles In Scotland and it's a fantastic picture. Again, I don't think that that many people have seen it; it's a very, very striking image.

Q: there's a bit of an interesting story how you got your hands on it is there not?

A: Yes, there is. I had seen it on a memorabilia website and was quite excited when I saw it, I knew it existed but I just didn't know where it was….so eventually to track down the guy who runs the website and I managed to speak to him and tried to sweet talk him into allowing me to use this picture. Eventually we got to the bottom line, and the bottom line was that he didn't have it anymore. So, I'd set my heart on this picture because I knew it was a fantastic cover image and my heart sank…because I thought well if he doesn't have it who does have it…but in his very next breath he happened to say to me that he did know the person who does own it. It turned out to be the owner of a restaurant in St. Andrews. I phoned the chap up and he was more than helpful. When I went up to St Andrews I actually went up with a camera to take a picture of the picture (in time honoured journalistic fashion!) and he was such a sweetheart and such a nice guy, that he actually removed the whole picture from the wall, frame as well, handed it to me and said there you are, take it away and you can bring it back when you're ready. So I was then able to do it professionally and get the image done properly and I'll be forever grateful to him. but it's a tremendous picture.

Q: Just shows you that you can't not be in the place that you're supposed to be, Ken!

A: Absolutely…it's a quirk of fate!

Q: The Beatles first tour is in Scotland, right?

A: Yeah. People perhaps won't be aware that the Beatles very first tour as a band took place in Scotland in 1960. The first gig took place in Alloa Town Hall before, what was an audience young bobby soxers. They were known then as the Silver Beetles (spelled b.e.e.t.l.e.s) and they were backing a Liverpudlian crooner called Johnny Gentle. They had won the right to perform on this tour after having won an audition in Liverpool to back Johnny Gentle. They set off on what was five or six dates criss-crossing Central Scotland and the Highlands. The interesting thing is that they didn't arrive at Alloa with all their guitars lugged over their shoulders until forty five minutes before the curtain was due to go up. In fact, they had actually never met Johnny either, so I think bum notes flew like empty beer bottles. But Johnny himself saw a spark in the band and although it was a bit rough and ready, it was enough for them to then move on to other dates in the likes of Peterhead, Forres, Fraserburgh and as the tour developed the band clearly got stronger. They were really green at the time, very young but this was their first taste essentially of being a working band on the road, it gave them a glimpse into what it's like to be a professional outfit and they loved it. As I say, it was very rough and ready, they had no money, they were continually skint (broke), they actually ran away from a couple of hotels that they staying in without paying, hightailed it before landlady's and hotel managers could "feel their collars", but in essence it was very much a learning experience for them and there were a few things that happened on that tour which stood them in good stead later on. It's maybe important to point out that the members of the band for the 1960 tour were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and the drummer was a guy called Tommy Moore who worked in a local bottle works in Liverpool and was a good bit older than them.

Q: Garston?

A: Garston Bottle Works! And didn't quite fit in with the band. The interesting thing was one of the major incidents that happened on the 1960 tour was they crashed the car outside Banff.

Q: Seems to be another theme developing there?

A: It is an interesting thing that John Lennon began the 1960's with a car crash in Scotland and managed to end the decade with another car crash in Scotland.

Q: (Laughs)

A: But this car accident outside Banff resulted in the drummer being taken to a local hospital with a couple of his teeth hanging out and there was a real danger of the gig not going ahead, until Lennon, always the one who had to do the dirty work, so John marched into the hospital and told Tommy Moore in no uncertain terms that, teeth hanging out or not, he would definitely be playing the gig that night, so get out of your bed please…

Q: So nothing going to stand in John's way then?

A: No, as far as John was concerned this was his destiny and the first few gigs in Scotland had given him an insight into what he wanted to be. I mean people even asked them for their autographs, and nobody had asked them for their autographs before, not even in Liverpool had anybody done that. So, John all of a sudden thought, "Hey, hey, this is fantastic - this is where I want my life to go," so the small matter of a few missing teeth weren't going to stop him playing his gig with the band that night.

Q: You can understand that. This isn't just a couple of gigs in Scotland, this is a fundamental part of the Beatles development here?

A: It was a huge plank in their development because not only did they tour at a very early juncture in their lives in 1960, (but) three years later they came back of what was a very, very important tour at the beginning of January 1963. By this time, Ringo was in the band, so you now have the four of them playing together after having honed their musical abilities in sweaty dives in Hamburg. This was the real deal, they were managed by Brian Epstein. Epstein had cleaned them up, no leather suits, no smoking on stage, no swearing…er…probably sanitised them too much, certainly for Lennon's liking, but he insisted on a professional approach. And this mini tour of Scotland, the Bridge of Allen, Aberdeen's Beach Ballroom, Keith, Nairn, Dingwall. The interesting thing is that only nineteen people saw the Beatles play Dingwall. There was another gig on at the nearby Strathpeffer Pavilion involving a band called the Melotones and they were a much bigger draw, something like twelve hundred people crammed into Strathpeffer Pavilion and nineteen people saw the Beatles in Dingwall that same night! To put it into context nineteen people saw the Beatles in Dingwall ten days before "Please, Please Me" came out…so it's incredible to think.

Q: It is. Somebody made the right decision…well…certainly nineteen of them did anyway!

A: Some of these 19 people are now living as far away as New Zealand, Canada and America and as part of my research into the book I've managed to track down quite a few of them. It's interesting, they all have different memories of that night….they all see things through different shades and it's incredible to think that so many of them are scattered to the four winds as it were. Each of them when you talk about the night they saw the Beatles in Dingwall, for example have nothing but warm affection for the band even now. It's amazing most people who saw the band in their early days, before Beatlemania hit land if you like, have fantastic memories of them. The thing is though they were very much a "here today, gone tomorrow" band, and who could possibly have predicted how things would have turned out.

Q: I think as Paul McCartney even said, not even them! You mentioned earlier about a car crash at the beginning of the Sixties and one at the end…

A: Around about the end of June, beginning or July, 1969, John, Yoko and their two children, Kyoko and Julian, set off on what was a busman's holiday to Scotland. They were going to stop off at Edinburgh to see some relatives and then head up to Durness. It was a bit of nostalgia for John, he wanted to show Yoko his old childhood haunts. He had a tremendous affection for Edinburgh. Stan stayed in Edinburgh with his mother and his step father. So, John's connections to Edinburgh were very warm. They were heading up to Durness, they arrived at Durness and then went on a tour of local villages and while, after having visited Tongue and Loch Eriboll they crashed the car. The reason they crashed the car is that John was hopelessly short sighted. You know, moles have a better eyesight than John Lennon had! His cousin Stan warned him before going up "please, please remember the etiquette of Highland roads where there is only a single road. So, if you see somebody coming in the other direction, make sure you pull in". So, John did see someone coming in the other direction but completely threw Stan's advice out of the car window and ended up headlong in a ditch, having careered off the road to avoid hitting this other car. So, he, Yoko and the two children were taken to the Lawson Memorial Hospital where they were treated for various cuts. John actually needed fourteen stitches in his cheek. His hair was at it's longest length, his hair was very long, huge bushy beard. It's not long before the Abbey Road cover was taken, so you've got an idea of how thick his hair was. John had stitches put in his cheek, Yoko had 14 stitches put in a forehead gash, but I don't think it was especially serious. The interesting thing is they spent a week in the Lawson and this incident has largely been airbrushed out of history, out of Beatle history and the reason for that is because, John and Yoko simply pulled up the drawbridge on their lives. Up until then they had been the most high profile public couple in the world because a few months earlier they had been involved in the global "Give Peace a Chance" campaign and they were on the front pages of every newspaper for weeks on end and I think perhaps they suffered a wee bit of burn out. So, they spent a week in hospital, untroubled, nobody invaded their privacy. It's incredible to think that a small country hospital, a cottage hospital if you like, in the remote Highlands had John and Yoko as patients for a whole week. Incredible! If you imagine it nowadays, Sky News would be pitched outside, all the media organisation would roll up, the circus really would come to town. The problem here was that they didn't say anything, they made no comment, there were no pictures and essentially they went to ground for a week. But, they did have some interesting conversation with a number of local people. It's one of these incidents that, again, reaffirms that quirky connection to Scotland but not many people would know that….it just seems to have been a place that they liked to come to. In essence they loved coming to Scotland and it was just a nice way to escape the bedlam of their lives and they came more often than people think. Q: You've also uncovered some information about George on Skye?

A: George was very close to Donovan, who of course was born in Glasgow.

Q: Friend of the Beatles.

A: Extremely close friends with the Beatles. I would go as far as to say that of all the people they knew, of all the people who claim to be friends of the Beatles, there were very few in the inner sanctum. One was Bob Dylan and the other was Donovan. I'm absolutely no doubt in my mind that Donovan was very much a part of the inner circle. He went with them to Rishikesh to study with the Maharishi, he also spent time with George when he had a few run ins with the police himself…George was happy to give him some sanctuary from the hand of Plod….but the story about Skye is very interesting because it happened in the early Seventies not long after "All Things Must Pass" was released, the first triple album. George, Patti, Donovan and his wife…Donovan lived in Skye at the time in a sort of hippy commune and George and Patti decided to take the train up from London up to Kyle of Loch Alsh. Nobody recognised him at the time because he had long hair, big overcoat, nobody bothered him and George and Patti then literally got the Skye boat across to the famous Hebridean island and spent a good few days in Skye. I managed to uncover some never before seen pictures of George in Skye and they're absolutely fantastic….just unbelievable pictures. And it's these things that make a project like this even more interesting when you come across something that nobody has seen before. I've spoken to locals in Skye who remember the few days that was a Beatle in their midst and to be honest they did really bother very much. They gave him plenty of space. But, it's just the quirkiness of all the unlikeliness of George Harrison of all people taking the ferry across to Skye. It wasn't the first time he was in Skye because he spent some time there as a child because his mother took him there for a holiday once and again, I've managed to uncover a picture of George with his Mum on Skye. It's just an amazing story that hardly anyone recognised him; he had a huge coat on, big bushy beard, the long hair. He could have been any other hippy but he was one of the most famous musicians in the world in of all places Skye!

Q: So, when is the book coming out?

A: The book, hopefully will be out in October, November. The Beatles always had an album out by Christmas, so I'm trying to tap in to that kind of mind games kind of thing to try to get it out by Christmas. It's currently in the editing process which is very painful, but I'm very happy with it. I think there's a lot in there that people won't know about which I didn't think would be the case when I started. I've had a lot input and a lot of fantastic co operation from people who knew the band; we've had the interviews with Donovan, Lulu, Sir Jackie Stewart who knew George Harrison very well. We've had some fantastic interviews from people who've never spoken about the band before, such as Davie Johnson, Elton John's long time guitar player talking about playing with John Lennon at Madison Square Gardens. We've tried to top and tail the whole thing in that sense where chapters are about first tour, the Scottish eye witness accounts of every Scottish gig that they played which has been very difficult, but to get people who were are at virtually every gig has been fantastic. It's almost like a sociological history, aside from talking about the band, everybody knows the story of the band, but to get people's memories and what was happening around their lives at the time was really fantastic. I think there's a lot in the book, not just for die-hard Beatles fans although I think the die hard Beatle fan will be hugely interested what the book has to say. I think there's a lot in there that has never been revealed before which is always paramount for fans of the band. There's a huge amount of information which I was delighted to uncover and I hope it will appeal, not only to Beatle fans, but to people who really love music of any kind and are interested in looking back at just how exciting Beatlemania really was.

Q: Thanks Ken.

May not be used or published elsewhere, either in full or in edited form without express permission of Burton Production Ltd (UK). This interview is protected under copyright © 2008. For further information contact BPL here

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