The Beatles, Apple and Me by Lionel Morton

Lionel Morton 1960s
Pin-up pop star Lionel in the 1960s

Lionel Morton, former leader of Lancashire’s chart-topping band The Four Pennies, tells how he got involved in The Beatles’ ill-fated Apple Corps business venture as he continues his reminiscences of the Swinging Sixties.

I bumped into Paul McCartney in a Green room at the Beeb. Or, was it down the Speakeasy or Pickwick Club? Fritz Fryer and I worked at the Pickwick Club as a guitar duo; Fritz was a good guitarist and a natural harmoniser.

Anyway, I was on an evening out down the club and suggested to Nicky, a small curly haired Greek guy with a very long nail on his little finger (a sign of no manual labour in Greece he told me, he was the Maitre D) that the duo I worked with Fritz from the Four Pennies would work – well, look – unique, cool.

“Okay!” he said. “Try one night.” I asked for a spotlight; see how it goes. Well, needless to say we went down so well that Nicky gave us four nights a week, on reasonably good money, and the beauty of this gig is it was a late one.

Lionel Morton 1960s
Pin-up pop star Lionel in the 1960s

We didn’t go on till midnight and our second set could be 2am. The Pickwick Club was a theatrical watering hole with high-end food, Nicky was good at his job, Pickwick the Musical was on up the road on a long run, so the club was always crowded with faces from Harold Pinter to Elizabeth Taylor, Hank Marvin, any of the Beatles, even Christine Keeler. She called us over to her table for champagne after our first set, took the piss asking me what I thought of the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids etc, till one of her company told her to shut up; she was drunk.

Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end. Ha! Fritz and I worked the club for a long time, then a three-piece called The Peddlers took over, with a hot show drummer and a keyboard player who sounded like Ray Charles. I used to go regularly to see them; well, easy parking at 11pm. I was never a big drinker and the club, after midnight, did this huge all-in breakfast for £1 (today a tenner).

Of course when we worked there we got it free after our last set. I did hear a duo Peter and Gordon (Peter was Jane Asher’s brother) played the Pickwick for a little while. That may have been before Fritz and me. Anyway, some nights to remember.

One night we were invited over to a table for champagne. Nicky would come over and point out a table with the glasses and ice bucket on show. We joined these two guys who turn out to have been involved in the Great Train Robbery. I personally got to know them really well, and, that’s another story as little did I know then that the East End boys, Christine Keeler and me would meet again in a pub in Knightsbridge. But I digress.

Paul and I chanced to meet; green room? Anyway he was so pleased to meet me as that morning or all week he’d been sitting with his daughter on his knee watching me on TV (Playschool BBC2 11am weekdays) he says, and you suddenly realise everyone is looking. Even the ones pretending not to are. What it must be like to be that famous! Forever stared at.

“We’re opening a shop and offices with music rooms on the corner of Baker Street. Cum an have a luc la.” Then he went and, beating a rhythm on the table, sat down with Linda. How cool is that? With everyone – well you know – it’s the ‘Elvis is in the room’ innit?

So the next day – can’t wait – to Baker Street. Sure enough, workers everywhere, and scaffolding all round the building up to the roof, three storeys, in I go. “Paul sent me!” (joke).

Shopfitters and decorators, upstairs offices all white, I mean all brilliant white and there I meet Terry Doran who’s going to be manager of the music side of the shop.

“Lionel, how ya doin?” Thick Liverpool accent, beautiful head of afro hair. “Yep!” he says. “All white, even the telephones and wires, white every single thing f****** white!,” he points out.“Cum an av a luc upstairs.”

Small offices and a studio demo room with two Revox tape machines synced up and a couple of mics. This was the policy at Apple; come to the office, up to the demo room, bang your stuff down, no drums, and then Terry can listen in his own time.

“That’s a really nice thing to be doing, well done mate! Who’s doing your demoing then in here?”

Then out the blue Terry says: “Do you fancy it? When someone comes in, I can give you a ring, come over do a couple of hours, a tenner okay!” (£100 t’day). “Done,” I said. We shook hands. “And that little room there can be your office. I’ll put you a desk in etc etc.”

To put this into perspective, I would at the time be doing five Playschools over five days at the BBC TV Centre for £75. (‘Special Low Fee’ it always said on the contract- huh!)

On the way out, Terry tells me this weekend (a bank holiday) and Monday, a team of artists calling themselves The Fool are to paint the entire corner block, to be unveiled on Tuesday, the opening day of the boutique shop downstairs.

I’m invited to the opening, of course. Two things really stand out in my memory of this sumptuous opening party; the local (upmarket) furore that ensued over this beautiful psychedelic artwork all over the building (it looked amazing) and the local nobs didn’t approve. It stayed up there for a few months – the law grinds slowly as you know – and the other thing was John Lennon’s white suit, white shoes. So this was who was behind the office décor.

Apple Building

The opening ceremony was so open; no leery security, hundreds of happy famous people and pressmen and women. The boutique gear sold out that day.

I’d opened a boutique in my home town Blackburn in 1966; London Carnaby Street gear – shoes, sunglasses, belts and ties – sold out on the opening day. Well!

Some of my pop star peers of the time kindly turned up – a couple of Hollies, a Herman’s Hermit, and of course blocked King Street. Hundreds of people and screaming fans on the front page of the nationals the next day. “First step of my empire,” as my accountant put it.

It went bust in six months, lost everything and the accountant was eventually arrested for fraud or summat.

Of course the Apple Boutique venture went the same way and I left when the offices moved to Savile Row. I guess they had enough ‘demos’ for now. I recorded a lot of singer/songwriters in that little upstairs demo room on the two synced up Revoxes. Some were good and some not so, and some were brilliant. I wonder what happened to them.

I managed and produced an Apple group called Focal Point from Liverpool, four cheeky chappies, good songwriters, definitely some hit material there. They were about to sign when Brian Epstein died and the whole thing fell through. They finished up back in Liverpool and we lost touch. Epstein’s dying changed everything. The Beatles fell out and an iffy new Apple manager split them apart even further. Anyway, I wasn’t involved in any of that business and just had a laugh and enjoyed the whole scene that was going down then. The pop business was booming, the sixties was swingin’ and so was I. Yo!

1 COMMENT

  1. Fascinated by Lionel Morton articles. Used to use his car as a party venue for some girls as we had to move it if the traffic warden turned up in the seventies when he was in Jesus Christ superstar. Tea and sandwiches from a nice little shop opposite stage door.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here