Mark Lewisohn is considered to be the foremost authority on the Beatles having authored books such as ‘Recording Sessions’, ‘The Beatles Live!’, ‘The Complete Beatles Chronicle’ and most notably ‘Tune In [The Beatles: All These Years]’, the first part of his three part Beatles biography, which is regarded the definitive story of the band.
In August 1983, the Revolver team, in attendance at the Liverpool Beatles Convention approached Mark following his appearance on an expert panel with Steve Baker to be interviewed for the fanzine as an expert on all things fab. Mark was kind enough to give of his time but strictly on the proviso that he be interviewed as a fan and not as an expert. Here’s what he had to say …
Revolver: Mark, what do you think of the recent releases by the solo Beatles?
Mark: I think ‘Tug of War’ is for me about his best solo album on the whole. The production of it I like. I like everything he’s done but some of it you can tell isn’t as good … something like ‘London Town’ isn’t as good as ‘Back To The Egg’ or ‘Tug Of War’.
‘Gone Troppo’ is alright but I wouldn’t even place it the top three. I like ‘All Things Must Pass’, ‘George Harrison’ and ’33 & 1/3’ … they are my favourites. I thought ‘Gone Troppo’ was a bit weak actually.
Revolver: What do you think is the best track on Gone Troppo?
Mark: I quite like the single [Wake Up My Love]. They only pulled the one single from it which is a little unusual.
Ringo’s LP [Stop And Smell The Roses] I’m afraid I didn’t like it very much. I liked a couple of the tracks on it. I think that part of the fault was it had too much of a build up, so when things are built up big you’re expecting it to be fantastic. It was just an ordinary album.
Revolver: Do you think that was the fault with ‘Rotogravure’ as well?
Mark: Yes. It wasn’t much really was it?
Revolver: How do you think solo releases compare with each other?
Mark: I think there is no disputing Paul does the best solo work. Sure, I’m a Harrison fan as well but George’s stuff isn’t really as commercial … as good as Paul’s. George’s work has never been as good really. I don’t think I’m being controversial. I mean Paul has written 100 hit singles and George wrote 10. Even George would admit it.
Revolver: Are DIY fanzines harmful or are they a useful informative outlet for fans?
Mark: I think they are a useful informative outlet. They can never be harmful. Even if it’s only 50 or 30 people they’re keeping people in touch with what is going on. It’s also great for people who are doing it. I used to do similar things [not for the Beatles], when I was a teenager and at Primary school. It’s all good experience so it can never be harmful.
Revolver: What is your favourite fanzine?
Mark: I guess Beatles Now. I haven’t had a chance to look at your one yet. ‘Beatles Now’, the guy has got good ideas and he knows what he wants to do. It’ll take a while to get there but he has set his sights …
Revolver: How do American fanzines compare?
Mark: I don’t know. There’s about three good ones. ‘Beatlefan’, ‘With a Little Help’ and ‘The Write Thing’. There is a hell of a lot of them that are really strange. Fans worshipping Sean … I find it a little bit sick actually. American go in for that kind of thing, the British people don’t.
Revolver: What artists on Dark Horse and Ring’O Records are worth collecting?
Mark: As far as collecting, they all are. In fact the least successful artists will be the best to collect because there are so few records sold. I actually like Splinter a lot. I was in their fan club. I got to know them and like them a lot and saw them live. On RIng’O I really like Graham Bonnet. I think he’s the best vocalist in the whole of Britain, in the whole of rock music. In fact after Ring’O he signed for Rainbow. The album he did with Rainbow was fantastic, and again I went out of my way to see him live and meet him because I really got into his music.
Thanks to Ring’O records I got into these people. I originally bought the records without hearing them, but I make a point of playing every record before I file them away. When you buy records as a collector you don’t particularly want it but you do want it for the label. I play Graham Bonnet and Splinter a lot and then I went out and bought everything else they had done prior to their Beatles connection. Graham Bonnet had been around for about ten years and I went out and got all his stuff from collectors shops.
Revolver: What about Splinter, they released an album about a year back. Did you hear that one?
Mark: Yes. That was on the Bellaphon label that released the Hamburg tapes. The label folded about eighteen months ago and they went with it. I don’t know where they are now. In between that and Dark Horse they were on Barn records which was the label owned by Chas Chandler. I think they have done a couple of albums that are unreleased … whether they will be released now?
Revolver: What do you think of Mojo Filter and Cavern?
Mark: I haven’t really seen Mojo Filter. I caught about five minutes of their act right at the back and couldn’t really make up my mind. Cavern … I love. They played in London at the Fulham Golden Lion about six months ago and I went there one night to see them. It was really fantastic! They are always going to go down well here because everybody’s a Beatles fan, but this night at the Fulham Golden Lion, which is a normal venue with just an ordinary crowd in [not Beatles fans] and they still went down really well. Their first single actually made 135 on the charts and Was hoping it would go higher. They should be alright, they’ll probably make it one day.
Revolver: What books do you like and dislike that have been released recently?
Mark: If you call ‘Shout’ recent, it is my favourite. I think it is vastly under-rated. There’s a lot in there, on every page you open up there will be three or four things you never knew before. A lot of people overlook and it’s a shame.
Revolver: We have noticed that a lot of ‘Beatley’ people from back in the sixties don’t seem too impressed by it. What do you think of that?
Mark: A lot of people he doesn’t paint in a very good light, so they’re not going to like it much. I don’t think it will be bettered. I think it could be … but it never will.
Revolver: What books don’t you like?
Mark: There’s a lot of them. I’m the first to admit that the Beatles weren’t saints, but I hate books that put people down when they can’t answer back. Sure, Philip Norman put Paul McCartney down but at least he can answer back … and, in fact, he has. We all know what he thinks of it! Peter Brown’s book is something else. It’s just not nice, but money talks. Peter Brown was going to do a book on the 60’s … just an ordinary book, but the publishers wanted a sensational book and so gave him a huge advance so he did that instead. It’s the same with May Pang’s book,Pete Shotton’s book and John Green’s book. They’re all terrible.
Revolver: What are the best guides for collecting and buying records and memorabilia etc?
Mark: There’s a couple of American books on collecting memorabilia. I don’t have them because I think Americans are into such different memorabilia than we are. They’re into the wigs and stockings. Sure, there are someEnglish people into it but they’re in a minority. I went to an American Beatlefest a couple of years ago. Here it’s mostly books and records with a few bits of memorabilia, there it is the other way round, mostly memorabilia and a couple of books and records and after about half an hour I was really bored. That sort of thing doesn’t interest me. They pay huge prices over there for that sort of thing. I think the best book on collecting is “All Together Now”. I’m a record collector but I didn’t know what records they all played on and that sort of thing until I saw that book. And when I did I had to go out and get every record. So that book cost me a lot of money in the long run. It really told me if you’re going to be a record collector what you’ve got to have, so for me it is the best one. They wrote that nearly ten years ago and a lot has happened since then. We also know a lot more about the EMI out-takes than we used to in the early days because of Abbey Road opening and that sort of thing. I think they’re great books.
Revolver: What do you think of this convention [MBE ’83] compared with the previous two years and American conventions?
Mark: I don’t think there are as many people here as there were last year, which is a shame. I think more people seemed to take an interest after John’s death. John’s records went to no.1 when they wouldn’t have done before. The first convention after he got shot, which was August 1981, was packed because of that. After that it starts to drop. It dropped odd a little bit last year but was still packed. This year is back to the old level of previous conventions organised by Alan Williams and Bob Wooler. I think they’re great, I really do. Being a collector, I’ve now got most things but I know that if I did not I’d be spending a fortune. At the very first convention in Norwich in 1976 I spent all my money. Being a collector, the less you have the more you need.
Revolver: Do you think the book ‘You Can’t Do That’ is a good guide for bootlegs?
Mark: It was good when he did it. Since it has come out a lot of things have become out of date and some things have become known that were not known at the time. All the dates of the BBC sessions have come out, which he did not know when he wrote the book. I do hear that it is coming out in the UK next Spring. And it is going to be updated and corrected, so it should be a pretty good book.
Revolver: What do you think of the ‘Long And Winding Road’ book?
Mark: Personally I’m not that mad on it. I get a little bit annoyed when people do books and do not do any fresh research for themselves. They only copy everyone else’s books. If people do their own research, then fine. However, if they just copy others, they just copy their mistakes. I don’t want to put him down too much, but I think that’s what he did. He’s taken a lot of things from ‘The Beatles Monthly’ … things I’ve written. Sure enough he’s credited it, but it is interesting to see that things I didn’t have the details for, he hasn’t got them either. He should have researched that bit himself and not just leave it blank because I left it blank.That’s my view of that.
September 1983 [Issues 10 & 11]
Addendum [September 2021]
It is perhaps telling that the interview finished with Mark stressing the importance in his view of research when writing a book, something for which he has become synonymous not just in the world of Beatles writing but in all non-fiction writing. The consequence of compiling such diligently researched material is time. Currently 2023 is a possibility for the publication of Tune In volume 2 with the probability that it will be later, regardless the wait will be worth it.