“ We stopped being a band when we stopped going into record stores and stopped trying to improve on our favourite singles. ” JOHN LENNON, ON THE BEATLES GRADUAL DISINTEGRATION
THE PREVIOUS YEAR HAD ENDED DISMALLY FOR THE BEATLES, AND 1969 STARTED IN MUCH THE SAME MOOD. THE BAND LACKED DIRECTION. THERE WAS NOTHING THEY HADN'T DONE BEFORE, NOTHING LEFT TO CONQUER. THEY WERE ALREADY THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BAND. AND AS THEIR OWN MANAGERS, THEY HAD NO ONE TO MOTIVATE AND GUIDE THEM, NO ONE TO PROVIDE A CRITICAL OUTSIDE VIEW.
All the same, McCartney tried to push the band forward by suggesting a new project. Because The Beatles no longer played concerts, he proposed to get back to what they had always done best: playing together as a performing group. McCartney said later that he always considered The Beatles as a great little band. "Nothing more, nothing less. You know, for all our success, when we sat down to play we played good, from the very beginning - from when we first got Ringo into the band, and before. [And] when we got Ringo into the band it really gelled. We played good! We never had too many of those times where it's just not working. We had them like any other band, but often we were just a great little rock'n'roll band that played any blues and rock'n'roll things. And it seemed to work. It seemed to gel."1
The idea was to do another television special, this time showing the group rehearsing and preparing new songs for a special live concert. The finale to the programme would be The Beatles performing at some grand place such as a Roman amphitheatre or a stage in the middle of the Sahara desert - or even a relatively small London club such as the Roundhouse. It seemed a good idea, but never achieved a consensus within the group. Discussions about the project became so heated that Lennon suggested the group just call it quits. Harrison was not at all keen on the idea of performing live, and Starr reminded the group that he would be busy filming The Magic Christian from the beginning of February. This left only a month to complete the project.
Despite all the disagreements and tension, McCartney did manage to persuade the others at least to move the idea forward, and perhaps change it into something else. "The original idea was that you'd see The Beatles rehearsing, jamming, making up stuff, getting their act together," he explained later, "and finally we'd perform somewhere [at a big] concert."2
Filming of rehearsal sessions started on January 2nd at Twickenham film studios. Although the idea was at first to make a television documentary, the material from the Twickenham shoots was later used and assembled with other footage of the group and finally released more than a year later as the Let It Be film.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg was recruited as director and assigned the task of capturing on film the group getting it together. Unfortunately, what was committed to celluloid during this two-week ordeal at Twickenham was four miserable-looking Beatles drudging through songs as if they really wished they were somewhere else. Years later, McCartney commented that these filmed sessions in fact portrayed how a group comes apart. "We didn't realise that we were actually breaking up as it was happening,"3 he said. Lennon's sentiments were similar. "When it came to Let It Be, we couldn't play the game any more, we couldn't do it any more," was his assessment. "We'd come to the point where it was no longer creating magic - and the camera being in the room with us made us aware [that it was] a phoney situation."4
Putting all that to one side, the film shot at Twickenham does at least provide us with an accurate document of the instruments and gear that the group were using at the time. The final version of the Let It Be film opens with a new Beatles-logo drum-head. This is number seven in our scheme, and the last of the Beatles drop-T heads. The new logo was painted on a 22-inch Ludwig Weather Master head. It was similar to the previous logos, the main difference coming in the longer, narrower lettering, with a very thin S, pointed at the end of its lower curve.
A non-pearl Ludwig for Ringo, and new Fender amps
The new Beatles-logo head was intended for Starr's new Ludwig five-piece drum kit, but was never used on it. In late 1968 Starr had received the new kit, but did not unveil it until these sessions. The Ludwig Hollywood maple-finish kit came with a standard 22-inch by 14-inch bass drum, 12x8 and 13x9 rack tom toms, 16x16 floor tom, and a 14x5 all-metal Supra-Phonic 400 snare drum. It was equipped with two Ludwig cymbal stands, a snare stand, a hi-hat stand, and a Ludwig Speed King bass pedal. Retail price would have been £484 (about $1,160 then; around £4,750 or $6,650 today).
Starr did not use the regular retracting double tom tom holder, but instead chose a free-standing double tom stand that he used set up in front of the kit. The front drum-head was removed from the bass drum - which was standard practice when recording The Beatles at the time. This explains why the new Beatles-logo head never appeared on the five-piece kit.
Starr preferred not to use the metal snare drum that came with the Hollywood kit, reverting to his trusty wooden Ludwig oyster-black-pearl Jazz Festival snare drum. As with the sessions during 1968, the snare was covered with a light towel to dampen its sound. Each tom tom on Starr's new Ludwig kit had Drum City stickers fixed to the shell, remnants of which are still there today. This would be the Ludwig kit that Starr used for the remainder of 1969 with The Beatles.
During the filming at Twickenham a makeshift rehearsal area was marked out, complete with a wash of coloured lighting as a backdrop. Starr's kit was set up on a drum riser with the group's other equipment casually arranged around it. A new set of Fender amplifiers was brought in for the sessions. A pair of Fender Twin Reverb amps were set up for Lennon and Harrison to play through, while McCartney used a new Fender Bassman. The Twin Reverb was an 85-watt amp with two 12-inch speakers, featuring a vibrato circuit, and a reverb section that operated a large two-spring reverb tank inside the amp's box. The Bassman head was a 50-watt amp, with Fender's tall redesigned Bassman cabinet containing two 12-inch speakers (the model later switched to two 15s).
Paul's Rjckenbacker 4001 S bass guitar. Paul was given this bass in 1965 by Rickenbacker, at which time it was in the original "fireglo" (red sunburst) finish. Later he had it sanded down to natural wood, which is how it remains today. Paul still owns the bass.
This is how the Hollywood kit was offered in Ludwig's catalogue.
The amps, manufactured in 1968, were covered in Fender's black Tolex material and came with the new "silverface" look. This meant a silver-coloured control panel replacing the traditional black one, and a new silver grille cloth with a distinct blue-sparkle sheen. The grille had an aluminium trim around its edge and was labelled with a raised, underlined Fender logo.
Photographs taken during the early sessions at Twickenham show the side of McCartney's new cabinet with Fender's identifying "Bassman" sticker still in place. At some point at Twickenham McCartney saw this and presumably liked the idea of clarifying his role. So he removed the sticker from the cabinet and fixed it to the face of his '63 Hofner bass, where it stayed during most of the filming. McCartney was the Bassman.
As for guitars, McCartney's Rickenbacker 4001S bass, newly stripped to natural wood, was available at Twickenham but never used. Also present was his '61 Hofner bass. Out-take footage from the sessions - later used in the promotional clip for 'The Ballad Of John And Yoko' - shows McCartney playing this original Hofner. But the Twickenham sessions would be one of the last occasions when McCartney used the '61 bass, which was stolen shortly afterward. For the bulk of his bass playing during the filming, McCartney preferred to play his '63 Hofner, which was now fitted with a set of black nylon-tapewound strings.
THE CAMERA BEING IN THE ROOM WITH US MADE US AWARE IT WAS A PHONEY SITUATION. John Lennon, on the filmed sessions that became the Let It Be movie
Lennon almost exclusively used his stripped Epiphone Casino and Harrison his Gibson "Lucy" Les Paul. McCartney often switched to a Blüthner grand piano, and then Lennon or Harrison would take over on bass, using the Fender VI through the Bassman amp. Other instruments around at the Twickenham sessions included Harrison's Gibson J-200 and the Lowrey DSO Heritage Deluxe organ.
Photographs in The Beatles Get Back book that originally accompanied the Let It Be album show Harrison at Twickenham with a Vox Wah-Wah pedal (complete with carrying bag) and a silver-coloured Arbiter Fuzz Face distortion pedal. "I am the inventor of the Fuzz Face," laughs Ivor Arbiter today. "That's my claim to fame. Jimi Hendrix was the Fuzz Face man. It's not something that we promoted, it was just that fuzz was hip. Most of the effects footpedals in those days used to slide all over the place, hut I got the idea from the base of a microphone stand to use a case that was heavy-duty. Then we put a volume control and a tone control on and they looked like two eyes, and the footswitch looked like the mouth. So it became the Fuzz Face. Big deal!"5
The footage of the Twickenham rehearsals mainly shows the group trying our ideas for new songs as well as jamming old standards. When some of this film was finally released in the movie, the sometimes awkward, often uninspired performances gave the impression that The Beatles were only playing together because they had to. Eventually, on January 10th, the sessions broke down when Harrison walked out. He parted with the off-hand remark that he would see them around the clubs.6