DCSIMG

Stephen McGinty: Scotland meant a lot more to the Beatles than just Mull of Kintyre

Should the firm hand of fate guide you to be in the vicinity of the Queen Mother Building at Dundee University today, at around noon, then look up and listen. On the rooftop will be Revolver, a Beatles tribute band who will be throwing down the chords of Don't Let Me Down, Get Back and all the songs their heroes cast out from the roof of the Apple building in London on 30 January, 1969, their final gig and the day the band decided to Let It Be.

The reason for Revolver's outdoor, vertigo-inducing gig is as part of the inaugural Scottish Beatles Weekend, an opportunity for like-minded obsessives to argue themselves into a drunken stupor over who was the greatest - Lennon or McCartney.

But let us side-step that issue, as indeed, we would anyone so vigorous in their defence of the choice as to embark on a round of fisticuffs, and concentrate instead on the sheer righteousness of such a convention taking place, not in Liverpool or London, but in Scotland, a nation whose integral part in the band's rise and fall has long been overlooked.

For the facts are that the man who named The Beatles was Scottish; the band played their first tour under their new name in Scotland; our countryside played a large role in the hinterland of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney; our roads almost killed the band once (and John Lennon twice) and the final decision to drive a pin through the heart of The Beetles and leave it sealed in aspic in 1970 was made on the Mull of Kintyre.

Let us unpeel the tartan shroud around The Beatles one layer at a time and start with Stuart Sutcliffe, who to this day still peers out from the third row from the back, just in front of Aubrey Beardsley on the album cover of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The son of Charles and Millie Sutcliffe, from Wishaw and Hamilton, was born on 23 June, 1940, at the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion in Edinburgh. Although conceived in London, his mother insisted the family return north so as to ensure her son would emerge as a Scotsman. Dressed in a kilt each Sunday with Hogmanay as the family's largest annual celebration, he grew up with an artistic temperament that found a mirror in John Lennon, who invited him to join his new band, The Quarrymen. A better artist than he ever was a bass-player, he would turn away from the audience which served only to increase his mystique.It was Sutcliffe who came up with the band's new name, The Silver Beetles, and switched the band from quiffs and black leather to mop tops and colourless suits.

As Paul McCartney said: "It was John and Stuart who thought of the name. They were art students and while George's and my parents would make us go to bed, Stuart and John could live the little dream that we all dream to stay up all night. It was during one of those brainstorming sessions they thought up the name."

The Silver Beetles first tour was a nine-day swing through dance halls in Alloa, Forres, Keith and Peterhead as the support act to Johnny Gentle in May, 1960. They were booed off the stage in Bridge of Allen, and crashed their Austin Saloon on the A96 outside Banff. It was left to Lennon to drag their then drummer, Tommy Moore out of hospital so they could play that night's gig. At Dingwall the audience totalled just 19 people, though I'm sure today hundreds now claim attendance.

Although today it is Paul McCartney who is more closely associated with Scotland, through his farm on the Mull of Kintyre and the song whose bagpipes echoed around the world, but the wilds of Scotland spoke first to John Lennon, who spent five long childhood summers at his Aunt Mater's cottage in Durness, Sutherland. Each June young John would be picked up at Edinburgh Bus Station by his older cousin, Stan Parkes and after a week at the family home in Ormidale Terrace, by Murrayfield Stadium, they would head north to the little croft to fish for salmon and build dykes.

When The Beatles, as they later became, played in Scotland 22 times between 1962 and 1965, Lennon would slip off to visit his cousins as often as he could, startling the staff at RS McColl when he popped in for cigarettes after staying with Stan in Currie. The bond Lennon felt for his family in Scotland was illustrated by his visit in June 1969 when he travelled to Edinburgh to introduce them to his new wife, Yoko, a tricky matter considering how fond his Aunt Mater and Uncle Bert had been of Cynthia, his first wife, and one not assisted by Yoko's refusal to eat anything but her own microbiotic food. For once the chilly Edinburgh welcome of: "you'll have had your tea" did, in fact, apply.

The trip appeared to go from bad to worse when Lennon, a poor driver with poorer eyesight, decided to forgo his Rolls Royce and chauffeur, in favour of a white Austin Maxi. Later, on a single-track road near the Kyle of Tongue, he was forced to swerve out of the path of a German tourist and ended in a ditch and later the Lawson Memorial Hospital in Golspie.While Lennon required 17 stitches and Yoko 14 stitches, they both insisted on being given hospital beds side by side and the Beatle took to roaming the wards, even wandering down to the kitchen to enquire: "Have you any leftovers?" When Lennon prepared to leave the Highlands, on what would be his final visit, he said: "If you are going to have a car crash try to arrange for it to happen in the Highlands. The hospital there was just great."

If Scotland had a role in the early success of The Beatles, so it would play a part in the band's demise. In the winter of 1970, McCartney had retired to the Mull of Kintyre and High Park Farm, the three-bedroom farmhouse he bought for 35,000 four years earlier. During walks in the surrounding hills with his brother-in-law, John Eastman, McCartney came to the decision to take the remaining members of the Beatles to court in order to break up their partnership. As he recalled: "We'd have these meetings on top of the hills in Scotland and I remember when we actually decided we had to go and file the suit. We were standing overlooking a loch. It was a nice day, quite chilly and we'd been searching our souls. Was there any other way? Eventually we said: 'Oh, we've got to do it'."

Standing among the crowds watching Revolver play will be Ken McNab, the author of The Beatles in Scotland, whose diligence and scholarly pursuit of the facts have shone a new light on the part our nation played in the band's history, and who will be entertaining an audience later today. Yet the question remains: what is achieved by conventions such as these? The memory of The Beatles is unlikely to fade, so it is not as if fans are required to blow on the dying embers, but then again music is all about pleasure and it can be derived in all manner of ways, from listening quietly at home to an argument over musical merit in a rowdy pub. As for the great debate between Lennon and McCartney, it is one in which the latter can never triumph, for the dead have the advantage of belonging to the ages. Who knows what Lennon would have recorded had he survived and what it would have done to his reputation.

What we do know is that for John Lennon, whose sketches are on display, Scotland would remain in his heart until Mark Chapman replaced it with a bullet. One of his final letters to his cousin Stan read: "It's a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht since I last had a word …you know I miss Scotland more than England."

 
 
 

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