This article first appeared in Mojo magazine
In 1971 after a strange sequence of events I found myself playing guitar on Imagine. A case of being in the right place at the right time.
We were signed to Sherry/Copeland Enterprizes who had offices in Dryden Chambers just off Oxford St. I used to spend a large part of every weekday hanging about there. 7 or 8 people used to share the office, some were bookers, some were managers of up and coming bands who blagged a bit of space there. It used to be quite entertaining listening to Ed Bicknell talking dirty to various coy social secs on the phone.
“You can have Wishbone Ash for £500, but it’ll cost you a blowjob next time I see you.”
Or finding out how Miles Copeland conducted business on our behalf.
“You guys gotta start your own publishing company”. he boomed, on one occasion.
“Uh, can we do that?” I asked rather naively.
“You just have………… asshole!”
On this particular occasion my friend Rod Lynton had been on the phone for hours whispering under his breath about some strange mysterious happening. I didn’t know what, but it was obvious after a while that he was trying to get somebody to accompany him on some beano or other later that evening. I left the office at about 5pm. and was waiting at the bus stop for a no 19 to Clapham when Rod came up to me.
“What are you doing tonight?” he said.
“Fancy doing a session?”
“I’ve never done one”
“S’easy, I’ll show you”
“Oh, all right then”.
I got in the cab and it was then that he told me it was no ordinary session.
“We’ve got to go to Sound City to pick up some guitars first and then we’re off to Weybridge”.
“Yes Weybridge, we’re playing with John Lennon!”
It was a good job I was sitting down.
Here’s a musical footnote;
Rod explained that since the Beatles split, on almost every recording George Harrison had done, he had had the two guys from Badfinger playing accoustic guitars on the backing track. (That’s the “My Sweet Lord” sound.) Later on John had taken up the idea too. It gave a ‘take” a live feel and added some texture and depth to the recording even if sometimes they were left out of the final mix. Luckily for me Badfinger were on a rare tour of the States at that time and Rod had somehow been asked to take their place.
It was dark when we got to Startling Sound as the studio was known.
We were met by Mal Evans, who showed us around, and although my acquaintance with him was brief, he remains one of the nicest blokes I’ve ever met. There was a huge table in the main room which was groaning with food, a TV room, a snooker room and what would now be called a chill-out room I suppose. Mal said to help ourselves to anything we fancied and someone would call us when we were needed. There was a spiral staircase in the middle of the room and I will never forget what happened next. A pair of feet appeared at the top of the stairs, then another pair, and another. The first face came into view. It was John, in T shirt and jeans, smiling broadly. He was closely followed by Yoko, dressed in white and looking incredibly beautiful. Lastly came an expressionless Phil Spector who didn’t remove his shades the whole time I was there.
John came straight over and shook hands. It was all there in his face, the confident pop star, the cheeky scouser, the deep thinker, the musical genius – the nice bloke.
I’ve met more than my share of famous people and I don’t mind saying that most can be fairly described as a pain in the arse. Don’t let the caring, sharing, rain forest loving, tireless workers for charity image fool you. Most would sell their soul for a pair of leather trousers. I know of one world famous singing diva whose back stage crew are banned from making eye contact with her.
They risk instant dismissal if they dare to let their little peoples gaze fall upon her heavenly countenance. With John, it’s the nice bloke I remember most clearly, although I saw plenty of the genius as well. He was always completely relaxed and straightforward in conversation. I remember thinking; how can anyone who has lived life in a goldfish bowl and endured all the shit that comes with colossal fame and super stardom, be so normal.
I spent most of the evening drinking beer and grazing at the kitchen table, playing snooker and skimming stones across the lake outside in the huge grounds, until eventually Mal shepherded us in to the studio where we were introduced to the rest of the band.
Alan White, who was already sitting at the drums when I walked in, ignored me. Nicky Hopkin spun round on his piano stool and offered his hand, Klaus Voorman gave me the briefest of smiles. John came in and took Rod and me aside to learn the chords to Oh Yoko. Rod started to embelish it with some arpeggios. John said it was best to keep it simple. We tried it out with the rest of the band with John singing live. At one point he ad libbed, “In the middle of a shit, in the middle of a shit I call your name, Oh Yoko” etc. When we broke down with laughter he said, ” No swearing in this one,” and in his mock game-show host voice, “It’s a family show folks! “.
After 2 or 3 takes we took a break for some refreshment and soon after we got it down on take 3 I think. Everybody put down their instruments and went into the control room to listen to the playback. As the track came to an end John turned to Phil Spector and said “I’d like to try some backing vocals straight away.” Then, to me and Rod,
“Can you sing?”.
“Sure – you bet”.
The 3 of us then did numerous vocal takes but none were particularly brilliant. Frustratingly, the song was slightly beyond my upper range and I was singing flat, so later on John and Phil re-did them and I don’t think any of my vocals went out on the finished album. The first day’s recording finished in the wee small hours.
I had a chauffeur to take me back to London. Each night I stepped out of the limousine in Bayswater and climbed 6 flights of stairs to the tiny flat I shared with 7 other people. This really was my lucky day, it was my turn for the mattress!
The next day was pretty much a repeat of the first – only this time another friend, John Toute of the band Renaissance, came along as cover for Nicky Hopkin. I don’t think John ever actually got to play anything. It’s perhaps just as well, as he was so nervous that, whenever the possibility arose he had to rush to the bathroom! Strangely, I didn’t suffer from nerves. Maybe I was too young to appreciate the importance of the occasion or perhaps it was because I knew John’s songs so well that I couldn’t foresee anything being too difficult. All the Beatles songs had such simple chords.
Gimme Some Truth, which was recorded on the second night, is a prime example. A massive song yet so simple to play. There is just no substitute for great songwriting. Over the next two days we recorded Gimme and How which took a while to get right – there’s some very tricky timing in there.
Even though a film crew and photographers were filming our every move I have never seen a clip with me in it. I must have ended up on the cutting room floor. To my great surprise though, we were all asked for a mugshot to go on the inner sleeve. Apparently
everyone was to be included no matter how small a part they had played. Unfortunately for me, Mal Evans forgot my surname and when the artwork came back from the printers the photos were all grossly over-developed. John liked the effect and that’s how they stayed. So I am Andy and one of those dark smudges that adorn the dust jacket.
Mal paid me (yes I got paid) he quietly mentioned that John was thinking of doing some live dates with a sort of Plastic Ono Band line-up. “We might need a couple of acoustics – would you be available?” he asked.
I waited by the phone but he never called.