Heard the one about the 15-year-old and his mate who gatecrashed the premiere of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film in July 1968, ending up directly behind the Fab Four in seats reserved for Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull?
That same lad, on a non-school day, was also spotted in shots of John Lennon and Yoko Ono on their way into Marylebone Magistrates’ Court on drugs charges three months later, days before his 16th birthday, in a year when he was also on hand for filming of The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.
And a year later he sneaked into the premiere of The Magic Christian, starring distant relative Peter Sellers and a certain Ringo Starr, taking advantage of a flustered usher amid HRH Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon’s red carpet arrival.
Soon enough, John, Paul, George and Ringo got to recognise David Stark at such events, many more encounters following down the years, the 68-year-old these days on the guestlist, considered a distinguished visitor, as with his involvement at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA) graduations, alongside Sir Paul McCartney.
And while 2020 was a difficult year for David – amid emotional upheavals and sad times, with good friends lost – he put the first UK coronavirus lockdown to good use, finishing a memoir recounting his days as a Beatles fan who in time got to enjoy many of those first-hand encounters with his heroes.
He first caught the band in person 56 years ago this month, attending Another Beatles Christmas Show with family at Hammersmith Odeon, the group’s second festive offering in London.
I won’t go deep into the details of all the encounters that followed. You can find out for yourself in It’s All Too Much, David’s ‘Adventures of a Teenage Beatles Fan in the ‘60s and Beyond’. But it’s fair to say it’s been a star-studded journey for this music industry veteran.
The drummer of tribute act The Trembling Wilburys – who also stood in for proto-Beatles act The Quarrymen in 2013 – has worked with Elton John and members of The Moody Blues and The Who down the years, and got to enjoy quality time with the likes of Sir George Martin and even John Lennon’s beloved Aunt Mimi.
Then there was his 1999 audience with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, at an event he helped organise, and another when one of his past bands, Riviera Feedback supported Eddie & the Hot Rods the night they recorded the Live at The Marquee EP in July 1976, replacing the Sex Pistols after they smashed up some of the Rods’ gear.
David grew up in north-west London, and isn’t so far off now, based in Belsize Park, having attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s School in Elstree before embarking on an indirect path into the industry he loves, a short stint with Premier Drums followed by time with Dick James Music, Decca Records, MAM, and Music & Media/Billboard magazine.
He’s edited Sound Engineer & Producer, the Eurofile Directory, and The Producers’ Handbook too; and since 1993 has edited and published SongLink International and Cuesheet. David was also a recipient of a BASCA Gold Badge Award for services to the music industry and was made a Companion of LIPA by founding patron Sir Paul McCartney in 2006.
His life story is certainly Boys’ Own stuff in place. Did this admitted Beatles nut consider himself a shy lad, or did he always possess a bit of ‘front’?
“I was quite shy. I scratched the surface. I could have pushed it a lot more if I’d wanted to. But just being in those few situations, I was really lucky, but with a bit of front, especially at the Yellow Submarine premiere. That was unbelievable – for a kid that age to get that far. But it was just the timing and the circumstances, thanks to Keith Richards, Dick James, and all that.”
Thanks to Mick Jagger and his partner at the time, Marianne Faithfull, too, for being in New York that night.
“Totally. Who’d have thought!”
If that part of the tale turned up in a Hollywood blockbuster, I’d probably question its plausibility.
“I know. That’s the funny thing. Steven Spielberg made a film years ago about Beatles fans in the States getting into their hotel room at the Plaza in New York. A great film, and I always related to that. Lots of kids have their own (similar) stories from all through the Beatles years. I was just a bit luckier than most, I suppose, living in London at the right time.”
Geography seemed to be on the side of this native of the capital’s Middlesex borders. But I guess he had more opportunities – as someone born in 1952 – to see his heroes than someone born around then on the outskirts of Liverpool. The Fab four had well and truly uprooted by then, heady days of younger fans being able to catch them at lunchtimes at The Cavern long behind them.
“Yes, and being at the end of the Bakerloo line on the Tube in Stanmore, then at the end of the Northern line in Edgware, was fortuitous. And as I reached my teens, I was into town a bit for discos and the cinema. I’ve good memories from there.”
A love of the cinema comes into his tale, not least memories of seeing A Hard Day’s Night in the summer of ’64 – David starting secondary school that autumn – and Help! in August ’65 at the flicks. In a sense, I argued, that was perhaps the last golden age of popular cinema.
“Possibly, although I’ve loved going to the cinema ever since. But with A Hard Day’s Night being in black and white, it was in that era of classic and iconic British dramas and comedies. It was really of its time and for me still stands up. When it comes on the telly, I have to watch it. It’s brilliant, the script spot on. It’s incredible for their first film.”
While David was first exposed to The Beatles in January 1963 when he heard Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman play ‘Please Please Me’ on Pick of the Pops, it was a while before he learned drums, and even longer before he made his way in the record industry. His was a far more circuitous route, but one he’s equally proud of and thankful for.
“Oh, I’m very lucky! All through my life, meeting a lot of my heroes, some of whom became good friends.”
David follows this by mentioning my Christmas interview with Slade’s Don Powell, a drumming legend he tells me is a good pal, mentioning how he helps organise the celebrity dinners Don mentioned, involving various friends from the industry.
The title of his book comes from one of the more psychedelia-tinged George Harrison numbers on Yellow Submarine, in a nod to the premiere for that animated film he sneaked into.
“Yes, and it’s the perfect title. I love that song and loved that film, although it’s not one of his best known numbers.”
The line, ‘And the more I go inside, the more there is to see’, that was your journey with The Beatles, wasn’t it?
“I guess so, yeah. Always a bit philosophical, old George. But very true, I’d say.”
Does that mid-July ’68 happening at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly Circus remain pretty vivid today, five decades down the line?
“It always stayed in my memory, being such an incredible occasion. And the fact I was caught in a couple of pictures that day, then later found that news clip where George (Harrison) and Pattie (Boyd, the Beatle’s wife at the time) walk straight past … and I’m making the most stupid expression!
“But what I remember most was the excitement of it all and it being such a colourful occasion, everyone dressed in ‘60s fab gear, looking incredible, especially The Beatles, in particular George with his yellow and orange suit and hat. He looked fantastic, they all looked great. The whole thing was London and the Swinging 60s at its finest.
“Even I looked the part, wearing a Lord John suit with a turquoise shirt and kipper tie. I must have gone up there with something in the back of my mind, despite having no clue what was going to happen. I think I was prepared for any eventuality, and this possibility of getting in. It was pure luck that we managed to bluff our way through and get the manager to approve us, saying, ‘I see you know people here’!”
As I was only born five months after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it’s difficult for me to imagine just how advanced aspects of that LP sounded back then. I’ve heard so many great records since that built on that and other classic Beatles albums – including one of my personal favourites, Revolver – that it’s difficult to get a handle on just how revolutionary they were at the time. They certainly broke the mould time and again, from the moment they retired to the studio.
“Definitely – without doubt! That’s how it was. Every record was a progression from the previous one, and in most cases they were only six months apart, with two a year until Sgt. Pepper. And not only were the songs getting better, but the recordings were getting better, moving slowly from four-track to eight-track, and with George Martin’s experimenting.
“Everything was progressing through the Sixties. We went from black and white TV to colour, and The Beatles went from black and white to vivid colours. Everything was happening, an amazing period to live through. It’s hard to explain it to people today, but that decade changed everything.
“I loved it all. I was still at school, listening to Beatles records and one or two others. I’d tape the charts on the radio on a tape recorder, so when I hear old records today, in my mind I can hear what song’s going to be next from that tape, almost 50 years on.
“That was the Light Programme in those days, shows like Pick of the Pops and The Saturday Club. I was still taping when it turned to Radio 1. I just wish I still had them.”
Were you listening to pirate radio stations too?
“Yeah, Radio London mainly, because of Kenny Everett, who was fantastic. I enjoyed Johnnie Walker’s shows too … and he’s become a pal. Such a fantastic voice, and still going strong.”
I tend to take issue with over-simplified notions that in the ‘60s you were either Beatles or Stones fans. And it seems that you had time for both acts.
“Oh yeah. I loved the Stones as well, and seeing that Rock’n’Roll Circus show was great. I’ve seen them loads and loads of times over the years … although not as many times as The Who, my second favourite band.”
And you got to meet Keith Moon and John Entwistle in later years through jobs in the industry.
“Yeah, John I knew a bit, promoting his solo record at one point at Decca Records. He was a good bloke, and I met Keith a few times. He was … well, if I do another book, there’ll be stories about him and The Who for sure!”
That brings me to a landmark January ’67 support set you witnessed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience – their first major London appearance – for The Who at London’s Saville Theatre.
“I saw Hendrix three times that year, the third time at the Royal Albert Hall with Pink Floyd and Amen Corner. That was fantastic too.”
But it was Jimi’s June return to the Saville I wanted to mention, the night he played the title track of the Sgt. Pepper album, somehow redefining a number released just three days earlier.
“Yes, that was so unexpected. It was like, ‘Oh my God, what is this!’. Nobody realised until around 30 seconds or more what he was doing. It was great, George Harrison and Paul McCartney were there too, and all of them were there in January for his first major gig. And apart from the release of Sgt. Pepper, I’d say 1967 was Hendrix’s year, without doubt. And I still play him a lot today.”
Down the years, David seems to have had an uncanny ability to be in the picture, in more ways than one. And how? Well, sometimes it’s about contacts and being in the know, and arguably his roots gave him a few of those opportunities, such as his Jewish family links and initial chance meetings with the likes of Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s younger brother Clive – during a summer ’64 family holiday at a hotel in Torquay (not Fawlty Towers) – and music publisher Dick James.
“You are right, because if you look at The Beatles’ history and the persons involved with them, quite a lot were Jewish, such as Brian Epstein and Dick James. That said, I’ve never played on that, at all. I’m not particularly religious, but it is something that does connect people.”
In a sense though, that was the entertainment business at the time, wasn’t it?
“It was, although when I left school, I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I was reasonably good at art and thought I’d try that, but I guess I knew I wasn’t really good enough. Then my parents broke up, and that’s why I didn’t end up going to uni, ending up getting that job at Premier Drums. And I really enjoyed that. I mean, having to go and meet Keith Moon at the Rainbow Theatre …”
That must have been a hardship for a drummer who always loved The Who.
“Oh, very hard! He was great, and very funny.”
For 18 months, David was also employed as an estate agent, showing prospective clients around flats and houses in north London, on one occasion appointed by Spike Milligan to sell his house in North Finchley and arrange the purchase of another in Hadley Wood, near Barnet.
But while The Beatles’ solo endeavours grew apace, David’s lack of success in finding his first band, Raw Deal, that crucial deal, proved not to be fruitless, an approach made to Dick James Music with a demo tape leading to an offer of a job. He was on his way, soon getting to know a wealth of famous clients, including Elton John.
“That was my first proper job in the music business, having skipped a couple of years. On reflection perhaps I really should have gone with it when I left school – writing to every record company. But I didn’t know that then. Instead, I made my own way, but … why didn’t I write to George Martin?”
Ah, another hero David got to know in later days.
“What a really lovely guy. He would have been 95 a couple of days ago. Always such a nice guy when I met him, and for me the quintessential Englishman, especially with that voice … wonderful. He was always very funny as well, and never ‘bigged’ himself up.”
Reminiscing about his opportunity to see the band play live in early January 1965 at Hammersmith Odeon, David uses the word ‘overwhelmed’ in the book, mentioning how he was ’desperately trying to hear the music but ultimately just taking in the experience of actually seeing The Beatles playing, familiar from so many TV appearances.’
He was lucky enough to get tickets through his Dad’s accountant, Dick James’ silent partner in Northern Songs, formed with Brian Epstein to administer The Beatles’ song catalogue. I gather there was also a chance of an investment, one his father turned down, way before shares were floated.
“Yes, if I remember right, he had that opportunity to invest, but didn’t, because he felt he didn’t know enough about music. Just one of those things, but my life could have been completely different. Who knows!”
It did help in his situation that school pal David Templer lived close to Abbey Road Studios, leading to his first personal exchange of sorts with John Lennon around Easter 1966, making for a lovely tale.
“That’s right! I was at school in Elstree, just outside London, and David went there as well, a long way from St John’s Wood every day. But he was always telling me he’d seen The Beatles arrive there and got their autographs, so that was it – I had to do it too!”
And that day you also decided – after seeing his kit – you wanted to take up the drums.
“Exactly. The first time I ever played was when I saw his kit. I thought I’ve got to have a go on this. That’s when it started for me. And an hour or so later, John Lennon was telling me off for having my bike parked up against the studio gate!”
It was the following year that Brian Epstein died, David overhearing news of his death from Sandie Shaw, while holidaying with his family in Majorca in late August, the Eurovision winner staying in the same hotel.
And how about the time he was caught on camera in October 1968 as John and Yoko appeared at Marylebone Magistrates’ Court in relation to a drugs bust at their Montagu Square flat?
“That’s right. There were hundreds of people there, but I somehow got lucky, right behind them.”
Those meeting-the-stars moments continued apace – from the Rolling Stones’ Rock’n’Roll Circus at a TV studio in Wembley to the Magic Christian film premiere, while David met John Lennon for the last time in July 1971 with Yoko at Selfridges, signing copies of her republished Grapefruit book, weeks before they left for New York.
He also talks about memorable meetings with George, and tells a lovely tale of a Saturday night in the autumn of 1970 when he went for a spur of the moment spin in bandmate Vince Lewis’ Ford Anglia, deciding on a whim to call at Ringo’s secluded Hampstead home, ask him out for a pint, first knocking on the wrong door, by chance interrupting Lulu and then-husband Maurice Gibb, who told them which house they really wanted.
“Oh yes! You know, you can’t make this stuff up! That’s how it happened. It’s just ludicrous. And then it was Ringo himself who opened the door – holding a pool cue, demanding to know what the hell we were doing on his doorstep!”
Apparently, Ringo had friends in, David spotting Eric Clapton just behind him. I don’t reckon he’d have got away with that today. The property would have far more secure for starters.
“Oh yeah, they’d all have gated properties. You wouldn’t stand a chance. Although, funnily enough, Paul’s had his house in St John’s Wood since 1966, and over the years he’s put up with the fans.”
I could go on, but time was against us. Yet five decades or so on, interest is clearly still there in the Fab Four judging by pre-Christmas reaction to a sneak preview of Peter Jackson’s Let It Be project, the original film still officially unreleased but now set to form part of a Get Back DVD package, including a re-imagined version of the documentary, the Lord of the Rings director in London to film new interviews during 2019. The completed film was set for release in September 2020, but is now pencilled in for August 2021, pandemic restrictions willing.
“That’s going to be very interesting. He’s re-editing the film, and I think his brief is to turn it into a happier film. And It wasn’t all misery. That promises to be another big event, so it never stops.”
I should mention that David received an official invitation from Apple for the original Let It Be, The Beatles’ fourth feature film, premiered at the London Pavilion in May 1970. On that occasion, there were no Beatles in person though, unsurprisingly just a month after they officially split up. As David put it, ‘The words ‘attending your own funeral’ spring to mind’.
Let’s hope we’re all back on track by then, and I dare say if that’s the case Ringo will be out and about touring with his All Starr Band again pretty soon.
“Yeah, and I’m sure Paul will as well. He’s out on the road every year and must be missing it. I’m definitely missing it. I didn’t do a single gig last year with the Trembling Wilburys, and we can’t wait to get back. We’re booked to play in March, but I didn’t know if that’s going to happen. I doubt it. So maybe we’re talking the second half of the year, or even later.”
And Paul continues to make interesting records, judging by his ‘rockdown’ release, McCartney III.
“Yeah, I’m enjoying that. And the other connection we have is through LIPA, where I see him every year normally. It’s just such a shame all colleges and unis are now shut again. It’s terrible for those students. I give out songwriting prizes every year with Paul, and they’ve asked me to do it online … but it’s not the same as being there in person. I really don’t know what’s going to happen this year.”
In the meantime, with the next lockdown underway, there may be a follow-up book on its way.
“Well, it’s on my mind, and I’ve got all these other stories, and loads of pictures.”