by Jane Roser
This recently published book about the Beatles is both an enticing and educational quick read, filled with colorful, fun illustrations and fascinating tid-bits that you may have not known. Example: Eleanor Rigby really existed. A gravestone was found years after the song was released in a churchyard where Paul and John first met in 1957. Hmmmm…repressed childhood memory or eerie coincidence?
Written by the award winning husband-and-wife team of Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom, The Beatles was published this spring by Frances Lincoln Children’s books and the reviews, including one by the New York Times, have been glowing.
Manning and Granstrom flew over from the U.K. to the recent ALA Midwinter conference in Philadelphia to promote their book and take in the City of Brotherly Love. “We signed books all day at our publisher signing stand and that kept us pretty busy,” says Manning. They had a chance to explore the city at night, “Brita was drawing in a big sketchbook and a small crowd gathered to watch her working, I could have put a hat down and made some beer money!”
As a child growing up in the 1960s, The Beatles were Manning’s soundtrack to his childhood. He recalls hearing stories from his sister of fans bombarding the band with candy called jelly babies and how their music followed Manning around the house and got inside his head, marking the passing of time in his childhood.
“It became the soundtrack to many associated memories that still pop up when I hear their music; from the earliest singles such as “Twist And Shout” to the more mature albums such as Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. That applies to millions of people my age, I’m sure and this book is for them and their kids.”
Manning previously created books about Darwin and Dickens and wanted to do something different. “Brita and I wanted to retell The Beatles’ legend in the same style [as their other books], with the same amount of detail for fans of all ages. Our book is written on many levels with that idea in mind. There is no tittle-tattle about the band members, just the story of those two driving forces and their incredible friendship and talent. It’s a story for young and old to cling to in these uncertain times of rocket to riches/talent show meets gladiator area philosophy.”
The pair spent a lot of time researching their subject matter and working out what parts of the story to focus on. “We decided early on that their childhood experiences were essential to the adults that they became, so we spent a lot of time on John and Paul’s childhood adventures.”
They also decided early on to format the book in a year-by-year approach which “lent itself to that sort of presentation and as a book, of course, it relies on a page turn. As you turn the pages, it’s sobering and refreshing to witness them creating a legendary album almost every year of the decade. It’s also fascinating to see them grow older and richer over the years until they break up and follow their solo careers. We also have a timeline at the end to help people relate some of the huge social and political events of the 1960s to the stages in The Beatles career. As we say, in an admittedly sweeping statement at the end of the book, without The Beatles, the modern music scene now wouldn’t be the same. They kick-started the explosion of youth culture and the diversification of popular musical genres we know today.”
Noted Beatles expert, Colin Hall, became involved and was an invaluable resource. Manning explains, “Hall is a wise and sensitive man and a legend in his own right in Liverpool. Colin had some great facts to share, such as the color of the shirt John Lennon was wearing when he met Paul McCartney for the first time after a Quarrymen gig; he’s also the live-in custodian of Mendips”.
Mendips is Lennon’s childhood home in Liverpool. Hall once even gave a tour of the house to Bob Dylan, which he says was a very surreal moment.
If you ask Manning which of The Beatles’ songs is his favorite, you’ll get a very philosophical answer, “they earned their fame the hard way, playing amphetamine rock and roll hour after hour, night and day in eight hour shifts in Germany’s seediest strip clubs. At night they slept in a walk-in broom cupboard next to the ladies’ toilets at the back of the club. This punishing routine would have most modern rock bands begging to go home and those early recordings are liberating, as are later tracks such as “Eleanor Rigby” or “A Day In The Life”.
Me, I’m a huge fan of The Beatles’ more folky numbers such as “Blackbird” and “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.”