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The Man Who Made The Beatles

Brian Epstein

Epstein at the Cavern
Fifty years ago on 27th August 1967, a tragic event occurred that would lead directly to the demise of one of the greatest pop music-culture figures the modern world has ever known.  Brian Epstein was one of the key global figures of the post-World War II era. Epstein, was the man who discovered and managed the Beatles, the most influential rock group in history and one of the dominant pop culture entities of the 20th century, yet he died of an apparent drug overdose at his elegant townhouse in Belgravia, London. when he was only 32 years old. While Epstein had no musical talent of his own, nor did he any impart any influence on the Beatles' music, it is safe to assume that if he had not strolled into the dingy, dank Cavern Club in Liverpool one day in November 1961, the Beatles would have never been unveiled to the outside world and society as we know it today might be quite different. Thus, it is not unreasonable to declare that Epstein was one of the key global figures of the post-World War II era. Like his four famous protégés, Epstein himself was a fascinating, complex (but ultimately tragic) figure. He was a deeply troubled and insecure man who all of his life fought demons that ultimately crushed him. Despite his comfortable upbringing, good looks and high intelligence, Epstein had two things against him. First, he was Jewish (the descendant of immigrants from Russia) in a society rife with anti-Semitism. Although Jews in Britain did not face the kind of prejudice and violence they encountered in continental Europe,  anti-Semitism frequently reared its ugly head in the north of England, and heavily Irish Catholic Liverpool was no exception.

Worse for Epstein, he was homosexual, a criminal offence in England until September 1967 (just one month after his death). As a lonely, sensitive and spoiled adolescent, he longed to escape from Liverpool to make his mark in the arts and theater in glamorous London. However, his enrollment in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts ended in failure and disappointment. In 1957, while in London, he suffered the humiliation of an arrest for “importuning” and was accused of persistently  attempting to procure men for sex in public conveniences. Though he avoided prison, he remained traumatized by the ordeal. The military had also determined him physically and psychiatrically “unfit” to serve after a ten month spell. Depressed by his failure to establish any kind of career in London, Epstein reluctantly returned to Liverpool to work at his family's furniture store and (most notably) their record and musical instrument store, North End Music Stores, or NEMS.

The originalWalton Road NEMS the site of the Epstein
families original furniture store

NEMS Great Charlotte Street

NEMS (North End Music Stores) in Great Charlotte Street (and also later of Whitechapel), was to develop an internationally known brand name from its association with Epstein and the Beatles. Epstein became a great success at running these establishments, using his theatrical gifts for presentation to his advantage. But bored and restless with life in provincial Liverpool, he ultimately found the answer to his hopes of making it big.

The famouse NEMS on Whitechaple, it was above this store, in his office, that Brian held crucial talks
with the Beatles

How exactly Epstein became of the aware of the Beatles has never been made clear. While the group was the hottest act in Liverpool by 1960, Epstein (who was at least six years older than any of the Beatles) lived a totally different cultural and social life to the band members. He favored the finer arts like opera, theater and chamber music, not the simple, raucous rock 'n' roll that was sweeping across Britain at the time. Legend has it that a Liverpool lad named Raymond Jones strolled into Epstein's NEMS store and asked for a record  'My Bonnie' by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers,  that he did not have in stock. Puzzled by this unexpected oversight, Epstein then tracked down the record and the artists behind it. However, this tale is probably apocryphal, since, among other things, as a prominent shopkeeper in Liverpool, Epstein must have been tangentially aware of the Beatles. In addition, this Raymond Jones fellow has never stepped forward to claim his place in history.
What cannot be questioned is what happened next. During a lunchtime session on 9th November 1961, 27 year old record-store owner Brian Epstein visited The Beatles.  Epstein strolled into the Cavern Club (a gloomy, sweaty, claustrophobic venue) and became instantly charmed and infatuated by what he saw on stage.

The young, pre-celebrity Beatles circa 1960 presented a vastly different image from their later, much more famous countenance. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best (later to be replaced by Ringo Starr), were rough-hewn, foul-mouthed, young "Teddy Boy" wanna-be thugs who smoked and drank on stage and chattered and joked with each other and the crowd (particularly, the girls). They also played fabulous, hard-driving rock 'n' roll, quite an accomplished group after nearly two years of practicing their craft in the crucible of Hamburg, Germany's dangerous waterfront clubs.

The Beatles at the Cavern in 1961 seen here with Pete best on drums

Epstein reportedly became instantly smitten with John Lennon  an infatuation that would last till the end of his life. Many of the top music managers in Britain at the time were indeed gay, including the notorious London impresario Larry Parnes, who combed clubs to find good-looking young men he could mold into pop stars with absurd, contrived names like Billy Fury, Vince Eager, Dickie Pride and Lance Fortune.

The union of Epstein and the Beatles was puzzling to some, in many  respects. For one thing, Epstein had no experience managing entertainers, nor did he have any contacts in the music industry.  But the Beatles were desperate for someone to help them with their careers,  they were the kings of Liverpool, yes, but they were stuck in Merseyside . In essence, Epstein and the group needed one another,  his eloquence, fine upper-class manners and wealth obviously impressed the Beatles.  For Epstein, the Beatles offered a long-shot chance for fame and fortune, a quick exit out of Liverpool and an escape from his dull, humdrum repressed existence.  Of course, everyone knows what happened next. After cleaning up the Beatles' on-stage demeanor by putting them in suits and forbidding them to smoke, drink and eat while performing (much to Lennon's consternation and McCartney's approval), Epstein landed them an audition with Parlophone, a label under EMI, which led to the much-coveted recording contract. Epstein also proved his managerial abilities by taking on the unpleasant task of firing Pete Best in favor of Starr (something the other Beatles dreaded doing themselves). By the end of 1963, the Beatles were the hottest act in Britain, and, in the following year, they would become the most famous four people on the planet.

Brian continued to promote the Beatles, and when "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me" were topping the charts in November of 1963 he negotiated a booking on the "Ed Sullivan Show" for the following February. The Beatles career skyrocketed after the historical appearance, and an American tour was scheduled including a sold out concert at Shea Stadium in New York. It was dubbed the first stadium concert in Rock 'n' Roll history. The Beatles were on their way to stardom thanks to their devoted and faithful manager "Eppie." 

As The Beatles' career was soaring, Brian found himself less involved in the routine operations. The Beatles empire was growing and Brian was no longer holding the master key. Epstein was feeling insecure about his future with the boys, his contract was due to expire as manager and he feared it wouldn't be renewed. He began his downward spiral, becoming depressed leading his double life, and driven by his blatant drug addiction he spent his time drinking and gambling to extreme, tripping on LSD, and popping pills. Brian Epstein's lifestyle became more than he could handle.

While the "Fab Four" were on a spiritual retreat reaping the benefits of stardom, Brian Epstein died on August 27, 1967 disillusioned and alone. The official cause was said to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. The Beatles were devasted with the news of Brian's death, John's response to a reporter was " he was just a beautiful fella." Brian Epstein was the underlying success of the Beatles and although not nearly as famous as the "Fab Four" its been said that Paul dubbed him the "Fifth Beatle." "He was in love with me," John said of Brian in 1980. “After Brian died, we collapsed,” Lennon said in 1970.

“Paul took over and supposedly led us". John said "but what is leading us, when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration.”  Indeed, the group would only last for another two years in the wake of Epstein's passing. Amid the grief, McCartney took control of the group and drove them to even greater musical milestones (including the "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be" singles and the immortal "White Album" and "Abbey Road" LPs).  But the rot had already set in. Lennon ensnared in his own devastating drug addiction, and, bored with his unhappy marriage with Cynthia, relinquished his leadership in the group to McCartney. His subsequent relationship and marriage to Yoko Ono further alienated him from his fan base and fellow Beatles. One can only speculate how history might have been altered if Epstein had lived. Clearly, the band's breakup in 1970 would have devastated him (assuming his many vices hadn’t consumed him already).

Epstein's legacy, of course, remains simply the Beatles, whose music continues to sell in the millions more than 40 years after their demise.  And none of it would have ever happened without him.   "If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian."

Ray McFall (26 November 1926 – 8 January 2015)

The legendary Ray McFall, the man who owned the Cavern and was first to book the beatles there died on 8th January 2015. Under Mr McFall, many more legends from the Who to the Kinks performed at the Cavern, and he first booked the Beatles for a lunch-hour appearance on February 21, 1961.The Fab Four went on to play at the legendary basement venue 292 times.

The Cavern club came into the ownership of Ray McFall in 1959, and Rock and Roll began to find its way in. It was on 9th November of that year that Brian Epstein first 1961 heard them play in the crowded basement.

Ray McFall changed The Cavern completely and allowed the rock 'n' roll into the club."
McFall had banned jeans from the club because he thought they signified a rough crowd. Guitarist George Harrison wore jeans to that first gig but managed to persuade the doorman to let him in.

McFall was not pleased at first - but was soon won over when he saw the band perform.

"The Beatles were sensational and I was smitten," he later said. "Completely, Absolutely, Instantly.

"I stood at the side, between the pillars, about halfway up the hall, and as soon as they started playing I was captivated by them.

"From that very first day, there was no stopping them. I said to Bob: 'What other lunchtimes have they got? We must have them regularly.'"

Ray McFall - Rest In Peace

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