John Lennon – Holy Grails, Upgrades & Reconstructions Vol. 5 (TMOQ Gazette / HMC 051)

John Lennon, “Holy Grails, Upgrades & Reconstructions Vol. 5” (TMOQ Gazette / HMC 051)

DVD – Imagine Recording Sessions – Oh My Love – 21 May 1971 36:56 / Imagine Recording Sessions – How Do You Sleep – 21 May 1971 49:45 / Ken Dewey Memorial Service 16 Sept 1972 01:00
CD – Love (Acoustic Guitar & Piano Take 31) / Love (Acoustic Guitar & Piano Take 32) / Hold On John – Pre-Take / Hold On John – Take 1 / Hold On John – Ringo Drum Levels Test – Klaus Lever Test – John Levels Test / Hold On John – Ringo & John Chatter- Take 2 / Hold On John – Take 3 Breakdown – Bass Levels – Arrangement / Hold On John – Take 4 / Hold On John – Take 5 / Hold On John – Take 6 / Hold On John – Take 7 – I’ve Got Better Things To Do Then F*in Listen To It All Night / Hold On John – Take 8 -If I Could Do It Without Singing It, It’d Be Better…. / Hold On John – Take 9 (Guide Vocal Only) / Hold On John – Take 10 (Guide Vocal Only) / Hold On John – Take 11 – Take 12 / Hold On John – Are We On – Ringo Gets Tea / Hold On John – Run Through Look At Me / Hold On John – Take 13 – John Mistake / Hold On John – Take 14 – breakdown – John Accidentally Turned Down Guitar / Hold On John – Take 15 – Inst. John Not Pleased With Guitar Sound / Hold On John – Take 16 / Hold On John – Take 17 – With “Don’t Let Me Down” Lick / Hold On John – Take 18 – Voice Levels – Consults Take For Tempo / Hold On John – Take 19 – Blues Jam #1 – I Didn’t Like That… / Hold On John – Take 20 / Hold On John – Blues Jam #2 / Hold On John – Take 21 / Hold On John – Take 22 / Hold On John – Blues Jam #3 / Hold On John – Glad All Over (Perkins) / Hold On John – Take 23 / Hold On John – Take 24 / Hold On John – Take 25-Take 26 / Hold On John – Take 27 (False Start) – Take 28 / Hold On John – Take 29 – In Style Of “I Found Out” / Hold On John – Take 30 / Hold On John – Take 31 / Hold On John – Take 32 / Hold On John – Take 33

I must admit, when it came to the deluxe ‘Imagine’ boxed set, I felt disappointed. Not that the mastering wasn’t there, the wealth of unheard and unseen material either, it’s just that His Masters Choice have grabbed up a great selection of reels from the Plastic Ono Band sessions, the ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night Sessions’ and ‘New York City’ and presented them just as they were recorded, presenting them recently in much better upgraded stereo quality (Right up from the mono on their hard-backed book series), though it wouldn’t always be my choice of material, I’ve fully enjoyed listening to John and his cohorts working their way through these sessions, picking through the minutes, hearing John ad-lib, almost as he thought that they might be heard one day, though mainly through the fact that that was just John.

With this release, HMC have doubled up to a two-fer and given us a mixed visual/audio delight.

The DVD disk features over an hour of sessions from the recordings of “Imagine”’s ‘Oh, My Love’ and ‘How Do You Sleep’. The former has been touted on bootlegs for years, firstly on VHS, sneaking in to the DVD age, though with a narrow perspective. HMC have done their best to draw out the visuals and present us with a full screen viewing experience. Watermarked and time coded, the video reels are changed roughly every 7 – 8 minutes, the footage isn’t broadcast quality as you might expect but however much the colours are saturated, it’s still significantly watchable and the sound is much louder than you might find on a TV broadcast.

For those of you that are familiar with the film, you can move along to the next part, for those of you that have kept your powder dry ‘till now, here’s what the ‘Oh My Love’ film consists of; Firstly we focus on John listening to a playback of ‘Imagine’ and discussing it with his engineer while they wait for the rest of the band. Moving on to the studio, we are greeted by quite the crowd – Mal Evans, Nicky Hopkins, Phil Spector, Yoko and George are all in attendance and John is excited to premier his new track. A brief, very brief run-through opens it up to those collected, as John starts to discuss the arrangement, asking Yoko the names of chords that he’s playing, asking if they should include Nicky on a second piano and also asking Phil his thoughts.

Moving through the rehearsals, John moves on to guitar, joining George who is taking ideas from Yoko. This is a fated idea however as John soon moves back to the piano and the film continues with a whole clutch of rehearsals including a take of ‘Make Love, Not War’ (Which, as we know, morphed in to ‘Mind Games’ a few years later). The action then starts to move between the studio and the mixing desk and a peevish looking Phil Spector. Back in the studio, Nicky Hopkins is relegated to finger bells. The next few takes break down after which, George plays a partial chord sequence which reminds John of the CCR track, “Did You Ever See The Rain”. After another attempt to get started, Phil can hear something through his monitor which George believes might be his foot tapping. We then have another short succession of takes, including George instructing Klaus on his bass notes, the next problem that occurs is George’s – His bottom note falls much louder than the rest of the notes, something that takes George a couple of attempts to rectify.

The film ends with John’s reaction to the camera operator changing his reels right as they’re in the middle of a take. It throws John off of his step and thereby ruining a perfectly servisable run-through. The sound is cut around 15 seconds before the visuals do.

The film for ‘How Do You Sleep’ is entirely unseen by the general Beatleg collecting community, while some of the higher tiers of collectors may have already have it, it’s safe to assume though that the masses haven’t. While the visuals leave a little more to be desired than the previous segment, you don’t miss much. The sound is good and loud, certainly more than adequate; in other words, It wouldn’t have escaped the attention of the bootleggers in the 1990’s and would have been sonic equivalent to a lot of the early ‘Get Back’ boots, though, like the LIB film, it is much better with visuals and had the HMC label have the audio only to this session, I doubt I’d find it as interesting as some of the earlier POB takes. As we change reels, there are spots of white screen, the sound is being recorded as these changes are made however and so we have mostly uncut performances / rehearsals and thankfully, it’s not a static camera, the operator has full remit to move around the room and capture whatever he wants.

Here’s how it runs; firstly footage of Nicky Hopkins playing a piano riff – Shades of ‘The Tale Of Pearly Spencer’ by Gene Pitney – this ends after a few minutes to a blank screen, John narrates something about someone who has chewed up the lyrics – There’s around 30 seconds of this before we start the next reel. Once we come back we have footage of John presenting the chords of ‘How Do You Sleep’ to George, moving over to a version of ‘How?’ as that was the track they were recording the night previous, we then move back to discussing ‘How Do You Sleep’ (‘That’s the nasty one” jokes, John) before Phil Spector arrives and the band move away from the piano to discuss.  After a few minutes of silent footage of John smoking, we go back to John drinking tea, reading the paper while sitting around the table with George, Yoko and Phil while discussing the ‘War Is Over’ project (John discusses his lack of language skills and wanted to ensure he’s not inciting war by mistake) then John discusses with George if he sees the other Beatles – Beatle Ed and Beatle Phil – Some of this chatter appeared in Andrew Solt’s “Imagine” film – They then retire to the recording studio.

The early takes of the song consist of John reciting the lyrics as he plays while calling out the chords, lowing the register of his voice. Firstly actually playing the chords to Nicky Hopkins (who recites it back by watching John play guitar), George peels off a pretty liquid guitar solo (which John talks over), shortly after, the first take comes to a halt. Discussions after that take include John asking for a ’The Thrill Is Gone’ kind of sound from Nicky’s piano.

After the first couple of takes, the cameras are swapped and so is the studio and John leads the band through a minor jam to warm up, someone questions whether the cans are plugged in, John announces his are working OK, the band then run through a sloppy, reggaeish style take. Phil Spector drops in to question the set up in the room and John gives a little more instruction to the players. Another take ends with John taking some more instructions from Yoko – They’re still working through the track as early stages, the next take, under a white screen, is even more lazy than the last and shuffles along like John has just woken up. It breaks down early too while Yoko argues about John’s lyrics, he answers back irritatedly. The next take starts up to a blank screen but the image appears again around a quarter of the way through the take. Firstly focusing on Klaus, then Jim Keltner, back to Klaus then round to John. Another halfbaked take, but one where the band are getting it together a little more, John still sees fit to cue the players up shouting out for George and Nicky’s solos as they appear, though the take folds a few seconds in to Nicky’s solo, when John asks for the take from that spot again, it only lasts a few more seconds before breaking down. The final take on the film has Nicky playing with his parts, bar-rooming up the piano and adding odd little flourishes that he toned down for the CV. We end the film on blank screen.

The Ken Dewey Memorial service, while the best quality video on the set is possibly the shortest and weirdest thing you’ll see (Maybe if someone leaks ’Self Portrait’, we might think otherwise but thankfully that’s not the case so far) – The avant-garde artist gets a very quiet send off as Yoko writhes and silently screams in to her hand as John goes manic thrashing at an invisible electric guitar, wringing the air between his fingers with a force that might have made Metal Machine Music count like Mantovani. Almost as quickly, the silent band, including two members from Elephants Memory, stand up and walk away. Safe to say, you may watch this once (I’ve seen it twice) but as part of John and Yoko’s life together, it’s not to be dismissed.

It’s all really rather special to see this go on. Footage of a Beatle in the studio actually recording from the get go is rare – We’ve gotta be thankful that both John and Yoko decided that their lives had to be captured for posterity and of course for the collectors who have reached out and found this material. Also, at nearly an hour and a half, it’s a lot longer than the spare video that the official boxed set gave us – There is obviously work on the box that ISN’T here too of course .

The audio that HMC have for us this time is from two sessions. Rounding off the previous sessions on volume 4, two takes of ‘Love’ begin the CD, the rest of the disk features the complete session for ‘Hold On’. All in glorious stereo, it comes as a revelation as I head Ringo’s drumming like I never have before and his tickley little fills on ‘Hold On’ are fantastic to hear. I’ve actually come to prefer these to the CVs.  The final two takes of ‘Love’ are not so different and different to the final take – Take 31 is right on the money and would be the take that was used finally, take 32 uses a higher register in it’s picking style and also features more crack to John’s voice (A couple of bum piano notes don’t help either), ultimately, John is disuaded by the sound and rejects it, considering the previous take to have been the one.

The ‘Hold On’ sessions begin with a warm up bit of studio ambience for the band leading in to take 1 – More of a muted preamble than a take proper, as they discuss studio technique and the set up – moving in to testing the sound levels for the band while take 2 has John and Ringo talking about their own contributions, Ringo ponders the ending speed, John suggests keeping the pace fast as it represents a positive mood, something that cracks Ringo up. The drummer then wonders if John has heard Mike Nesmith’s First National Band and how they wrap up the first side of their debut LP (’The First National Rag’), the band then slumber through a loose take.  Take 3 breaks down after a short while and contains only the percussion for a time before John comes back in. This take falters again and John says to Ringo (Presumably), “Yeah, that’s where you do your sizzle or whatever you call it”. Take 6 is announced and requested by a count in. John pours scorn on this suggestion by telling his engineer that he’s not talking to Mantovani or Manfred Mouse, he’s a old blues player from Liverpool! Take 7 (Or, ‘Hold On, Take Fart’ is the longest session take here. The tape is choppy at the beginning while John tells Phil that he won’t start if Phil isn’t ready. The take itself is a standard run-through the song but it runs out of steam quickly, dropping out to just John very suddenly.  Takes 9, 10, 11 and 12 are essentially instrumental warm ups while John finds his measure – He grumbled at the end of take 8 that’s what he’d prefer and so that’s what he goes with. A break precedes a version of ‘Look At Me’ but with a full band, John then brings it all back in while ruminating on the chord that he put in there. We then return to instrumental versions of the track as John gets back in to the groove. Take 17 apparently features a ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ lick but it’s imperceptible really. By take 18, John wonders if they’re not going too slow. Asking Yoko her advice, he then asks her to ask if Mal might have a joint about him.

Take 19 has John getting bored as he gets around half way through before he utters ‘Piss on a cow’, he then flails over his words and, after they wrap up, and proceeds to wander through a brief blues jam. Take 20 has John a little more exasperated and calling for a halt. The blues jam re-occurs by take 21 as John throws the lyrics in to the mix there. It’s the second longest take on the disk, not that you’ll enjoy it more than a couple of times as John fiddles about with guitar effects – A trick that will have you hoping that Mal turns up with that spliff pretty sharpish.  Take 21 Is another longer run-through – John seems a little happier now but Yoko has a little instruction to give from the control room. Take 22 is, once again, instrumental and then we have another of those infernal blues jams – Thankfully, John gets that out of his system and then takes us through a brisk take on Carl Perkin’s ‘Glad All Over’, showing that he hadn’t forgotten to stretch his sensibilities out every so often. Klaus warms up with some bass fills. By Take 25, John declares that he’s going to perform standing up (On account of him getting ‘Crimp’ – A charly horse in other words) but his inflection isn’t working for him. He carries on regardless for an almost take but it’s a struggle to get through and he plays it to try to finesse for the next take. Take 27 breaks down under duress into take 28, while the next take is a jokey take in the style of ‘I Found Out’, skipping along with a full bodied, bubbly bassline.  After a little more discussion about Klaus’ bass playing ahead of John, they take with another instrumental. Take 32 breaks down again while take 33 seems to be the one that works for them all (As John growls ‘Cookie’ right in the middle. We end as the tape cuts, John is about to start speaking too, what he said, I suppose we’ll never know.

The packaging for this gazette is to the labels usual high standard. A thick magazine-styled book filled with rare images and write ups. Really nicely done and researched with a brief discussion of the contents of the disks and also an interview with the couple held at the St. Regis hotel in New York, on the 5th of September, 1971 (I think the audio of this is available on a bootleg CDR somewhere if you want to try find it).

Now that HMC have given us the reels that they had in upgraded sound, it’ll be interesting to see where they go next – Let’s hope that they have something else waiting in the wings that we didn’t previously expect.  I’m personally gonna hope for more audio of this quality if HMC can get it. Video too! There are no markers for forthcoming releases that HMC could join up with but maybe that’s a good thing. We’ll get something entirely unexpected next time?

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