It seems the catalogue of books about the Beatles is limitless. Written as an “insider” view, Magical Mystery Tours is a gossipy and intimate entry in that catalogue.
Tony Bramwell grew up with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Lennon in Liverpool. Bramwell was around as the three began playing music and ended up in a band together. As the band cut its teeth in the Liverpool area and when it returned from Hamburg, “Tone” was there, carting George’s guitar or doing other roadie-type work so he could watch his friends play, and get into the venue free. As the Beatles grew far beyond Liverpool, Tony went with them, ending up working for their manager, Brian Epstein, and later for Apple, the company the band formed. Bramwell was essentially a jack-of-all trades, doing whatever Epstein and the boys needed for the good of the band, from running errands, to bar-hopping with them, to seeing that the songs of Apple artists were getting radio play, to helping head up Apple Films.
There isn’t a great deal new here, and Bramwell’s memoir tends to be on the gossipy side and focus a bit on minutiae. There’s discussion of various girlfriends, celebrities throwing up in people’s shoes at parties, where Jimi Hendrix bought some of the jackets he wore on stage, and the extensive drug and alcohol use. As such, it is a first hand account of life in London in the Swingin’ 60s. It is also a glimpse of the early innocence of rock. Here were essentially four working-class kids with no idea about the entertainment business. They hire Epstein as their manager and while Epstein does an excellent job of marketing them, his own naivete would cost the Beatles millions in the sale of today’s common items of t-shirts and souvenirs.
Some of Bramwell’s historical tidbits are intriguing, though. For example, he helped lay the foundation for the music videos of today. No longer touring, the Beatles still wanted to perform for their fans. Bramwell ended up filming and videotaping performances, and making small films about the band’s songs for television broadcast. It didn’t take long before Bramwell was helping videotape other English bands to air on U.S. television and elsewhere. Although these tapes would be priceless pop relics today, once aired, they were simply “wiped and reused.”
Bramwell also inadvertently plays a role in the whole “Paul is dead” mystique. When the rumors of McCartney’s death started circulating, Bramwell called a radio station and pretended to be Paul. Later, voice analysis of recordings of that call in comparison to recordings of McCartney’s voice would show it was not McCartney, lending credence to the rumors.
Just as Bramwell was in a position to see the band revolutionize the music world and pop culture, he also witnessed the band’s dissolution. Bramwell makes it clear he felt one person was particularly culpable. Yoko Ono is introduced in the book as “[a]n artist of mass destruction.” Bramwell never gets much more charitable, calling her “a she-wolf garbed in black,” “the Princess of Darkness,” “implacable and paranoid,” “the snake-haired Wicked Witch of the East,” and “such a core of negativity that she sucked the air out of the room whenever she entered.” Bramwell paints a picture of John Lennon initially disliking and trying to avoid Ono, but eventually either being brainwashed or suffering from mental illness. He feels Lennon’s distraction and Ono forcing herself in the midst of the band contributed to the Beatles going their separate ways.
Bramwell also makes clear that he views another participant as being just slightly less nefarious. Following Epstein’s death, Lennon (with the consent of Harrison and Starr) brought Allen Klein on board to help run Apple and related enterprises. According to Bramwell, Klein wanted to clean house at Apple “so he could cook the books and milk the company dry… Klein’s tentacles were long. He tore everything apart.”
Unfortunately, the clarity with which Bramwell expresses his feelings about Ono and Klein aren’t true of all of the book. Perhaps due to its conversational manner of recollection, the book suffers from muddled writing and/or poor editing. Time references are often unclear and there is a tendency to suddenly jump from one topic to another. For example, the concluding paragraph of the section introducing Yoko Ono to the book segues into a discussion of the fact a woman Epstein had been dating had died of cancer. Similarly, a later chapter goes from Bramwell’s four-day affair with Rex Harrison’s ex-wife, to recollections of Jean Paul Getty II and his wife to bumping into Englebert Humperdinck in New York, to watching Bobby Darin perform at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, all in the space of 4 1/2 pages
Magical Mystery Tours is far from a definitive or the best work on the Beatles. It does certainly serve its purpose as an intimate firsthand look at both the phenomenon of the Beatles and the British Invasion.