Something Else! Reviews columnist Kit O’Toole with saxophonist Tom Scott, who has performed on albums with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
To discuss “every sound there is,” Beatles enthusiasts converged on Rosemont, Illinois for the 36th annual Fest for Beatles Fans. From August 10-12, 2012, Beatles experts, musicians, and enthusiasts gathered at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare to celebrate the Fab Four through panels, “Battle of the Bands” contests, and much more.
Highlights included an interesting panel of special guests: Freda Kelly, official (and original) Beatles Fan Club secretary for ten years; Tom Scott, the legendary horn player who has performed with Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr; Ken Scott, former Beatles recording engineer; and Mark Hudson, Starr’s former producer and hit songwriter. A last-minute addition, former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber subbed for an ailing Spencer Davis, who canceled due to bronchial pneumonia.
Seemingly humbled by the attention, Kelly discussed her affection for the band with interviewer Martin Lewis. The audience emitted gasps when she revealed that she had saved all the original fan club newsletters. While she is currently the subject of a documentary, Good Ol’ Freda, Kelly stated that she does not plan on writing a memoir. After Martin tried persuading her to reconsider, she replied that she values the Beatles’ privacy, and that the surviving members have changed so much over the years that she would not feel comfortable disclosing their pasts.
Sax maestro Tom Scott charmed fans with his tales of working with Harrison on Dark Horse, Extra Texture, and 33 1/3. In the mid-1970s, Scott stayed at Harrison’s Friar Park estate while playing on his albums. There Harrison screened Monty Python episodes before Python ever reached the United States. Scott recalled the two of them laughing for hours at the zany show. Later, Harrison told him about Rutland Weekend Television, which eventually evolved into the classic mockumentary The Rutles. Scott also expressed his genuine fear of “Wall of Sound” producer Phil Spector. He used to ask Harrison why he was so fond of the eccentric Spector, and got an unusual answer. Harrison explained that while he wouldn’t want to live with the man, he admired his production work for one major reason: no matter where you play one of his tracks in a house, it sounds exactly the same in every room. Still, Scott said, he avoided the “nutball” Spector at all costs.
Engineer Ken Scott dazzled the audience with his tales of working with the Beatles on Magical Mystery Tour and part of The White Album. His first track working as primary engineer: “Your Mother Should Know,” a technically complicated song that required orchestration as well as other production work. He also discussed why the drum break sounds different at points during “Glass Onion,” which he describes fully in his new book Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust. He then demonstrated how separate tracks are layered to create one song by deconstructing Harrison’s “What Is Life.” While engineering Harrison’s album All Things Must Pass, Scott functioned as a vital editor, often omitting unnecessary extras that would otherwise clutter the songs. Anyone who wishes to learn about sound engineering should attend his lectures or pick up his memoir.
Other speakers included Juber, who entranced Festgoers with his exceptional acoustic guitar work. Starr’s principal photographer Rob Shanahan displayed rare and candid photos, while Hudson regaled everyone with stories of working with Starr on Vertical Man, Ringorama, and Choose Love. Incidentally, music fans may also know Hudson through his 1970s music act the Hudson Brothers, or through his compositions like Aerosmith’s “Livin’ on the Edge.”
Guest authors shared their vast knowledge of various aspects of the Beatles’ career through presentations and panels. Bruce Spizer, author of respected reference works such as Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, lectured on the group’s 50th anniversary and the Beatlemania phenomenon. Liverpool historian David Bedford, co-founder of the Beatles Social Network site, led fans on a virtual tour of his hometown. His book Liddypool: The Birthplace of the Beatles guides the reader through the city and provides information for those wishing to visit the Beatles’ birthplace.
On a personal note, this Fest for Beatles fans marked my first year as a panelist. I served on the Revolver discussion panel with Beatlefan Executive Editor Al Sussman and Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock and Roll author Robert Rodgriquez, and moderator (and Beatles historian) Wally Podrazik. We thoroughly explored the album’s initial reception and its lasting impact, and how it compares to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This year also brought the first all-women panel, where we discussed the role of women in Beatles writing and research, and how our roles will further change. Members included bloggers and novelists who have long participated in Beatles’ fandom.
Of course, no Beatles fan convention would be complete without live music. Lewis moderated the Musicians’ Forum, where Hudson, Tom Scott, Juber, and Shanahan (sitting in on drums) illustrated how early rock and roll influenced the Beatles’ music. A loose jam on “Ticket to Ride” was a highlight of the session, as was a wicked Scott sax solo during “That’s Alright, Mama.” Juber played a note-perfect version of “When I’m 64,” while the whole group finished the session with enthusiastic renditions of “You Really Got A Hold on Me” and “I’ll Cry Instead,” with Hudson singing lead.
On Sunday night, the Fest concluded with an all-star jam anchored by the in-house band Liverpool. The band bravely tackled “A Day in the Life,” then Juber and Scott joined the group on Starr’s “Oh My My” and McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said.” Scott performed his famous sax solo on the latter track. Hudson’s raspy vocal anchored an extended “Working Class Hero,” and all guests rushed the stage for the Fest’s traditional closer “Hey Jude.” As everyone sang along, it was apparent that the Fest had aptly done its job: uniting friends and fans in celebrating the Beatles’ lasting legacy.