It was 50 years ago today that the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album emerged, and The Beatles changed the musical landscape once more.
Apart from the fact that the Cosworth DFV won its debut GP three days later, there’s not much to connect motor sport with the most famous album in rock history. What a pity that racing fan George Harrison, who attended GPs at Aintree in his youth and had been to Monaco just the previous year, didn’t add a Fangio or Moss to the list of Beatle heroes pictured on the cover. However, there is one small anecdote that I can recount here.
In March 1967 Paul McCartney came up with the song She’s Leaving Home, inspired by a newspaper article, and he was eager to get into the studio to record it. Since he wanted a string section, he naturally called George Martin, who had scored the non-Beatle accompaniment to the likes of Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby. Such a job was not the work of a moment, and Martin had to tell McCartney that he was busy with a Cilla Black recording session, and couldn’t drop everything.
“I rang him and I said, ‘I need you to arrange it.’,” McCartney recounted in the book Many Years From Now. “He said, ‘I’m sorry, Paul, I’ve got a Cilla session.’ And I thought, Fucking hell! After all this time working together, he ought to put himself out. It was probably unreasonable to expect him to. Anyway, I said, ‘Well, fine, thanks George,’ but I was so hot to trot that I called Mike Leander, another arranger.”
Leander had attracted McCartney’s attention in part because of a version of Yesterday he’d recorded with Marianne Faithfull, which featured strings, a choir, and the full works. He was a good stand-in for George Martin.
This where our racing connection comes in, as Leander was also the business partner of Richard Lloyd, later to become famous as both a BTCC and WEC driver and team boss, and the man who brought Bentley back to Le Mans in 2001. He also did much to popularise the original VW GTI in the UK. Sadly, he was to perish in a plane crash in 2008.
In the 60s Richard combined club racing with a career in music. For a while he was a producer at Decca – working with the ace R&B outfit Graham Bond Organisation, which featured future Cream members Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce – while the list of session musicians he could call upon for other projects included a couple of guys called Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. He also worked with comedy music group The Scaffold, whose members included Mike McGear – better known as Mike McCartney.
Anyway, Richard told me once that when Paul first called Leander and asked him to help out on She’s Leaving Home, he accompanied his colleague to McCartney’s house near Abbey Road to discuss the commission. So Richard got to hear an early version of one of the great Beatles songs, and was a first hand witness to the discussions about what Paul wanted Leander to do with the backing.
As McCartney recounted, “I got him to come over to Cavendish Avenue and I showed him what I wanted, strings, and he said, ‘Leave it with me.’”
This being 1967, McCartney had “recreational substances” to hand. And as Richard recalled it, while they were talking the front door bell rang, and someone looked out of the window and saw a policeman waiting patiently outside.
Did this signal the start of a raid? The previous month Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been arrested for alleged drug offences at the latter’s home in Sussex, where the aforementioned Marianne Faithfull was also famously present. George Harrison and girlfriend Pattie Boyd had been there too, but left before the police moved in – indeed in later years the theory was the Beatles were initially regarded as off-limits by the overzealous cops (although before the end of the decade the notorious Sgt Norman Pilcher would nab both George and John Lennon).
The Stones bust was big news, and in the circumstances, McCartney could be forgiven for being a little nervous. Richard recalled that panic ensued, and the “substances” were quickly flushed down the McCartney WC. Somebody, probably Paul himself, then answered the door, presumably wearing his best cherubic choirboy look.
“Does that car over there belong to anyone here?,” enquired the policemen. “No, it’s not ours,” came the reply. “Sorry to bother you.” The PC duly wandered off in search of an alternative owner, his mind presumably focussed more on an out of date tax disc or broken tail light than any off-duty misbehaviour by one of the most famous people in the country at that time. Macca and co could relax – and regret that they had rather hastily disposed of the stash.
Leander went home, wrote the arrangement, and returned it to Paul. On March 17 George Martin, disappointed that he’d been sidelined by the impatient McCartney, dutifully conducted the 10-player string section – and a Beatles classic was born. And Richard Lloyd was left with a story to treasure…
One response to “It was 50 years ago today: Sgt Pepper’s racing connection”
Brilliant anecdote complete with historical detail. I wonder if you have any F1 connections to my number one album of all time, Revolver?
And is it true that Harrison was a Williams supporter?