Monday, 14 December 2009

Waiting for Nowhere Boy


Nowhere Boy, the new biopic about the young John Lennon is due out on general release at cinemas across the UK on Boxing Day, December 26th. It has already been previewed for the press down at Abbey Road Studios, and London Beatles tour guide Richard Porter had the chance to attend the screening. He came to the screening with mixed feelings, because of early reports about "white washing" the story, but he left with a positive view of the film. In fact, he called it "by far the best Beatles-related biopic I’ve seen" and awarded it 4 stars out of 5.
The thing is, "Nowhere Boy" was supposed to be based upon Julia Baird's book Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon but she pulled out of the project when the director refused to use the new facts about John's Aunt Mimi and her affair with one of the students who rented a room in her house. The point of the book, Julia Baird told me a couple of years ago, before her book was published, was to reveal Aunt Mimi's hypocracy. On one hand, she managed to persuade the local authorities to take five year old John away from his mother Julia and place him with her sister Mimi and Mimi's husband George Smith on the grounds that Julia was living in an unmarried relationship with John Dykins (Julia Baird and her sister Jackie's father). On the other hand, after George Smith died, Mimi herself started an affair with student Michael Fishwick, who was a lodger at Mendips. Julia Baird did some groundbreaking detective work for the Beatles history when she not only discovered this fact, but also tracked down Fishwick and confronted him with her findings.
Furthermore, as John was growing up, Mimi never told him that his real mother Julia was living within a short distance by bus from Mendips, so the two lost touch. It took another sister of Mimi and Julia, Elizabeth (known as Mater) to bring mother and son back together again. Elizabeth lived in Scotland, but had to send her own son, Stanley Parkes down to Liverpool, instructing him to pick up John at Mendips and take him to Blomfield Road in the Penny Lane area to be reunited with his mother. Once reunited, mother and son picked up their relationship, and as John's school was in walking distance from Julia's home, he often made visits to his mother from then on and until she was killed in a traffic accidence. This dark side of Aunt Mimi is not present in the film, and Julia Baird then distanced herself from it.

Julia Baird and your humble WogBlog editor

It now appears that the reason for this glossing over of Aunt Mimi's persona was perhaps due to the interference of none other than Sir Paul McCartney!
In an interview with The Times from December 5th, McCartney has this to say:

The Beatles' very early days are topical again, not so much McCartney's childhood as Lennon's, thanks to Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy, a new film examining Lennon's relationship with his Aunt Mimi and mother, Julia. Has he seen it? "I haven't. Sam asked me to but I've been very busy lately. She showed me some little bits of it and I said to her, 'cos I know Sam, she's a great girl, I said, 'Sam, this isn't true'. She sent me a synopsis and it said, 'Aunt Mimi is a cruel woman', and I said, 'Sam, do me one favour: Aunt Mimi was not cruel. She was mock strict, very proper. But she was a good heart who loved John madly and she knew she had to bring up what was potentially a wayward boy'. I always could read that."

Taylor-Wood had the character rewritten. "She showed me some stuff and I said, 'Well, the Mimi character's good now, I like that, but that bit, we never did that, and John never did that, and he certainly didn't do that'. So we had a discussion about 'Yeah, well, it's a film' - 'This is not a pipe', as Magritte would have said, 'it's a painting'. It captures the essence, but not for me. Because I was there. I hear it's a good film. But it's my life."


So, despite McCartney's insistence on the sugar coated version of Aunt Mimi, Richard Porter thought that it was a good film, and I guess it's because of the music, the actors and the authenticity in recreating the post war Liverpool that makes this possible. As a long time aficionado of several subjects, I have a long time ago found that you need to take every fact presented by the popular media with a lot more than a pinch of salt. Artistic license is one thing, but more annoying is the fact that every myth gets repeated ad nauseam until the public at large gets a very twisted version of the actual historic events and personas.

But let's not dwell on facts. Let's just go and see the movie, and try to enjoy what's good about it. In my blog post about the soundtrack album, I gave you the breakdown of the tracks on the 2 disc release. Now here are the linear notes, where Ian Neil (Music Supervisor), Sam Taylor-Wood (the film’s director) and Matt Greenhalgh (screenplay writer) gives their comments on the songs:
Track 1: Wild One
Artist: Jerry Lee Lewis
Ian - We had to have Jerry on the film, he was a Don. Originally meant for another scene but ended up opening the film. Iconic tune and perfect for seeing young John for first time.

Track 2: Mr Sandman
Artist: Dickie Valentine
Matt - This came out of wanting something for the opening, that set up the swing band music that was hip at the time. A time before rock'n'roll. It also gave us a foreboding dreamy quality. John wishing for someone. You can imagine Dickie singing this about Julia.
Sam - This was the perfect 'everything in the world is wonderful' kind of track; all 50's and full of sweetness that we thought perfect for this seminal moment in John’s life.

Track 3: Rocket 88
Artist: Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats
Matt - Generally regarded as the first rock'n'roll record so it seemed apt that it should be the one we, and John, first hear on his musical journey with Julia.

Track 4: I Put A Spell On You
Artist: Screaming Jay Hawkins
Sam - When Ian put forward Screaming Jay in the mix I yelped with delight and excitement as I'd always loved this track and thought the raw sexiness would work perfectly with this complex scene.
Ian - She did yelp with excitement it's true.

Track 5: Shake, Rattle And Roll
Artist: Elvis Presley
Ian - We always knew we would use an Elvis recording in the film, it made sense to have an early one and not such an obvious one. As John once said; “If there hadn't been an Elvis there wouldn't have been a Beatles!”

Track 6: Hard Headed Woman
Artist: Wanda Jackson
Sam - I love the gravel voice of Wanda Jackson and really thought she shouldn't be left out of our rock n roll punch. I thought she'd be a good accompaniment to Elvis and Ian says she dated him once too. Elvis that is!

Track 7: Maggie May
Artist: The Nowhere Boys
Matt - A song that's deeply rooted in Liverpool folklore. It just seemed to have the right amount of cheekiness, as well as an undercurrent of bitterness if sung by John, considering Maggie May was a whore!

Track 8: That'll Be The Day
Artist: The Nowhere Boys
Matt - B side of: “In Spite of All The Danger”, The Beatles first record. Paul's favourite artist was Buddy Holly and it meant John could wear his glasses and look cool for the first time.

A limited edition single of That'll Be The Day from the soundtrack album

A limited edition single of That'll Be The Day from the soundtrack album

Track 9: Rockin' Daddy
Artist: Eddie Bond & The Stompers
Ian - We needed a little ditty when John goes to buy his first guitar. So many to choose from but this one hit the spot.

Track 10: Twenty Flight Rock
Artist: Eddie Cochran
Matt - Perfectly documented by Paul in the 'Anthology' - where he describes the first time he met John - and then actually performs the song on his acoustic - and you can see how he would have blown The Quarrymen, especially John, away. Just brilliant.

Track 11: That’s Alright Mama
Artist: The Nowhere Boys
Sam - A great Elvis track sung and performed with zest by the guys. There was a great energy amongst the group when they played this one out.
Ian - Originally scripted as "Searchin" but we had to change the song. We looked at various options but Elvis songs are hard to beat and of course historically The Quarrymen did cover it, so it ticked that box.

Track 12: Movin’ and Groovin’
Artist: The Nowhere Boys
Ian - Originally going to be Guitar Boogie by Chuck Berry. Ended up our music producer pitched me this Duane Eddy gem and did the job equally well.

Track 13: Raunchy
Artist: The Nowhere Boys
Matt - Has gone down in history as the tune George played for John on the back of a midnight bus as an impromptu audition for the band at the behest of Paul who knew that George was the best thing he'd heard!!

Track 14: Hound Dog
Artist: Big Mama Thornton
Sam - My brother sent me this track, it's so perfect. The film is about two amazing women in John’s life and I feel to have Wanda and Big Mama Thornton brings two powerful women's voices to the film. It’s great to hear a different version to the Elvis one we are familiar with.

Track 15: Be-Bop-A-Lula
Artist: Gene Vincent And The Blue Caps
Ian - Gene was another Don and this was such a big tune from the period and one of my favourite rock n roll tracks of all time.

Track 16: Hello Little Girl
Artist: Aaron Johnson
Matt - John's first track, ever written. Imagine being in that room when he played it to Paul for the first time? There's that re-occurring undercurrent of longing and neediness which is fascinating.

Track 17: In Spite Of All The Danger
Artist: The Nowhere Boys
Matt - The first Beatles record, although under a different name. These vinyl recordings were so flimsy that John was paranoid about it being smashed as soon as they left the studio. He wouldn't let anyone else hold it.

Track 18: Mother
Artist: John Lennon
Matt - It couldn't end anywhere else. He was never reconciled with Julia, he was only just getting to know her. I think this song was his way of moving on from her, and in life - as he does in the film. You can also turn it on its head and attribute it to his 'other mother', Mimi, and it still resonates. It gets you every time.

Sam - When I read this on the last page of Matt's script I was decimated. We had to, in my mind, get the rights the song as I couldn't envisage the film without it. It’s the most intense recording, and hearing John Lennon's voice at the end reminds you that the film is about the legend himself and leaves you slightly haunted.

The album is a stylishly packaged deluxe 2CD set which features the soundtrack to the film on disc one, plus a collection of vintage rock’n’roll classics that inspired John Lennon as a second disc. Interestingly, the first disc includes original tracks recorded especially for the film by the band that portray ‘The Quarrymen’ characters (credited on the soundtrack as The Nowhere Boys). The album features unique takes on these songs, as well as original recordings from Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and many more.



If you're in or around Nottingham, England, you can catch this film tonight already, as it is being shown from December 11th to December 17th on the Broadway Cinema. The rest of us will just have to wait.

Official movie site (UK)

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