Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sergeant Pepper in the Head Master's Cottage!

Aileen Parker (left) with Rosemary Webb-Rehill c 1969 in Oliver.
In June 1967, a group of us (mainly I thinking from Mortimer Seniors in the 'New' block) were invited one evening to the Headmaster's cottage the head's daughter - Aileen Parker. The head - George Parker and his wife were obviously out. I can't remember who went but there was about half a dozen including myself and Ralph Aldhous, both of us in a fifth and final year and coming up to leaving the school not long after this.

Headmaster's Cottage
Aileen was a great hostess, and food and snacks were made available. It stood out as a pleasant evening because it was so different to being in the dorms but there was another reason it was memorable. Aileen had just bought the newly released Sergeant Pepper album by the Beatles. As it was newly released, none of us had heard it before. The Beatles had been pushing the boundaries of their music for the last couple of years and although it built on their earlier developments in Rubber Soul and Revolver, this was quite something else at the time and we sat chatting and eating while listening to these weird and wonderful new sounds.

I was the only one with a portable record player in the new block at the time, and soon others had the album and would play it on my record player. First thing in the morning someone would put the album on my record player and blast Good Morning Good Morning - with it Cockcrow beginning. no one could sleep through that and the angst-y Lennon social commentary that followed! In the wake of Dylan, popular music lyrics were no longer exclusively about 'boy meets girl', there was a growing subtext of social criticism and rebellion.

"Going to work don't want to go feeling low down
Heading for home you start to roam then you're in town
Everybody knows there's nothing doing
Everything is closed it's like a ruin
Everyone you see is half asleep.
And you're on your own you're in the street
Good morning, good morning..."

Of course the album was played also after staff-room raids and midnight parties, which were easier to arrange in the 'New' block as we were in smaller rooms and the staff quarters were further away.

It's hard to imagine now how revolutionary that album was back then after all the concept albums and innovation that followed but all of the sounds were created in the studio. Now of course the sounds can be created digitally without much work by synthesizers or sampling. In George Martin, they had a producer who had long experience of producing comedy records with acts like the Goons and all the sound effects associated with them.

Among the gems on this, then, new album was She's Leaving Home beautifully orchestrated by Mike Leander who worked on Decca tracks for Marianne Faithful as George Martin wasn't available for that session in March 1967. In The Beatles Complete Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn we learn that the score called for 4 violins, 2 cellos, a double bass and a harp. There were no Beatle instrumental overdubs, only the lead voice of Paul and John's backing voice which were heard but double tracked to sound like four voices.

Beautiful as the music is, the lyrics are often overlooked. McCartney, according to A Hard Day's Write by Steve Turner derived his inspiration from reportage in the Daily Mail on February 27th 1967 and transformed that reportage in to a highly visual and video-phonic lyric that, in contrast to the newspaper article, 'shows not tells'. (An update on the story appeared in the Daily Mail in May 2008 - 

The reportage begins "The Father of 17 old Melanie Coe, the school girl who had everything, spent yesterday searching for her in London and Brighton......she had a wardrobe full of clothes but took only those she was wearing.....she left her cheque book and drew no money from her account" but McCartney with Lennon transforms the story from the past tense into this very evocative lyric. It starts with a time-frame - "Wednesday morning at 5am" and paints a step by step picture. You see her closing the bedroom door. McCartney doesn't tell us she's upset but shows it via the image of her 'clutching her handkerchief and evokes the senses with little touches like "Father snores as.."

Paul McCartney tells us - 
"John and I wrote  She’s Leaving Home together. It was my inspiration. We’d seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who’d left home and not been found, there were a lot of those at the time, and that was enough to give us a story line. So I started to get the lyrics: she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up ... One of the nice things about the structure of the song is that it stays on those chords endlessly. Before that period in our song-writing we would have changed chords but it stays on the C chord. It really holds you. It’s a really nice little trick and I think it worked very well.

While I was showing that to John, he was doing the Greek chorus, the parents’ view: ‘We gave her most of our lives, we gave her everything money could buy.’ I think that may have been in the runaway story, it might have been a quote from the parents. Then there’s the famous little line about a man from the motor trade; people have since said that was Terry Doran, who was a friend who worked in a car showroom, but it was just fiction, like the sea captain in “Yellow Submarine”, they weren’t real people."

She's Leaving Home
Wednesday morning at five o'clock as the day begins
Silently closing her bedroom door
Leaving the note that she hoped would say more
She goes downstairs to the kitchen clutching her hankerchief
Quietly turing the backdoor key
Stepping outside she is free.
She (we gave her most of our lives)
Is leaving (sacraficed most of our lives)
Home (we gave her everything money could buy)
She's leaving home after living alone
For so many years. bye, bye
Father snores as his wife gets into her dressing gown
Picks up the letter that's lying there
Standing alone at the top of the stairs
She breaks down and cries to her husband
Daddy our baby's gone.
Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly
How could she do this to me.
She (we never though of ourselves)
Is leaving (never a thought for ourselves)
Home (we struggled hard all our lives to get by)
She's leaving home after living alone
For so many years. bye, bye
Friday morning at nine o'clock she is far away
Waiting to keep the appointment she made
Meeting a man from the motor trade.
She what did we do that was wrong
Is having we didn't know it was wrong
Fun fun is the one thing that money can't buy
Something inside that was always denied
For so many years. bye, bye
She's leaving home bye bye


Another interesting story behind the songs on the album is that of Being for the Benefit of  Mr Kite

Lennon bought the poster that inspired the song in an antique shop in Sevenoaks in Kent while making a promotional film for Strawberry Fields in January 1967. 

Pablo Fanque was Britain's only Black circus proprietor, was born William Darby in Norwich in 1796, and was in his time one of the most successful circus performers and proprietors. Orphaned at an early age, he was apprenticed to William Batty, the owner of a travelling circus. Under Batty's tutelage, he became proficient at horse riding, rope dancing and acrobatics, and soon joined the troupe of Andrew Ducrow, who ran one of the most famous circus troupes of the time.

I put the fuller story on another site although the video on there no longer works - you can read here

These are just two of the stories behind this seminal album. Of course we knew none of this background when we sat cross-legged on the floor in the dim-lit cottage but there was much learning to be had from it later on and it was evident that something ground-breaking was going down as we listened to the tracks, despite being out in the wilds of Shropshire!


  1. Heard it first in A'dam in a student club in the summer of 1968 and pranced around on the dance floor, instead of late night finals cramming

    I only saw the cover, when I met Ralph, but lost it got lost along the line.

    1. Well thanks to Aileen we got to hear it hot off the press. Apart from that, I was lucky in that I had the only portable record player at the school at that time and didn't need to buy loads of records as everyone brought them to me to play - Martin Lumley used to bring the latest stones or Dylan albums and we'd talk about music and then i got a reel to reel for taping the latest sounds. The record player had a built in radio too.