Beware Of ABCKO! (Strawberry Records STR 001)
(50:01): Run Of The Mill, Art Of Dying, Everybody Nobody, Wah-Wah, Window Window, Beautiful Girl, Beware Of Darkness, Let It Down, Tell Me What Has Happened To You, Hear Me Lord, Nowhere To Go, Cosmic Empire, Mother Divine, I Don’t Wanna Do It, If Not For You
Once the Beatles had announced their untimely split then the race was on to see who would produce the first solo record. it would seem that either John or Paul would be the first to do so because of their high profiles & the fact that George & Ringo were usually left behind in the song writing stakes. It was with some surprise then that George was first of the blocks – indeed with a triple vinyl album, no less. Long considered a classic album despite being by a Beatle who, before then had only minor success with song writing apart from the classic “Something” recorded for “Abbey Road” & subsequently recorded by many, many other artists then the songs that were prepared for this album had been maturing for quite a while – indeed some of the songs from these sessions are said to date back to 1966 (“Isn’t It A Pity” springs to mind & who knows how THAT might have sounded on Sgt. Peppers lonely Hearts Club Band?)
By the time of the Beatles split then they’d shunned their ever present producers (George Martin) sound to bring in Phil Spector for Let It Be only to bring back Mr. Martin for their swansong but as it was Harrison thought that Spector was the way to go & chose him to produce his next album. To present these songs to Phil though George must have thought that there was a composing recording needed – a demo tape of sorts – so retiring to the studio George sat down with a couple of guitars, a few lyric sheets, a mysterious friend ( Klaus Voorman? ) & began playing ..
Strawberry Records present a magnificent artifact in this unmixed recording session for the ATMP album. Obviously recorded to multi track meaning that we get a full aural experience – guitar on the left speaker, vocal to the right & where present, bass on both. where this tape could come from is anybody’s guess but that it was launched in late 1994 or early to mid 1995 while Yellow Dog & their subsidiary labels were seemingly in full force then fans were having a field day.
The tape starts with a George introducing the song, a slight fumble & then straight in to “Run Of The Mill” – as the tape will go on, it’s a sublime & pared down version of this track. performed exclusively on acoustic guitar. bereft of all it’s lazy horns that punctuate it on the album. It’s a glistening burst through through one of George’s more achingly romantic tracks. Next up is a perfect version of “Art Of Dying” which in someway almost surpasses the version on ATMP. it’s weighty subject matter may be a stickler for some – it possibly stems from the Tibetan book of the Dead that famously inspired John Lennon to write Tomorrow Never Knows for the Beatles ‘Revolver’ album but it’s a beautiful track all the same. George breaks the mood as he finishes the track by singing a little Spanish pastiche along the lines of “Hernando’s gone away” with the flutter of Spanish guitar.
“Everybody, Nobody” follows – it’s an unreleased song but an alternative name for the “Let It Roll” track from the album. the song may not have found it’s title yet but the essential parts are in place from the whisper / mumble of the ‘Sir. Frankie Crisp’ refrain – Sir. Frank Crisp was the previous owner of George’s recently acquired estate ‘Friar Park’ – being a fan of the in-joke George must have been to drop that in there for the Beatle dissectors & Apple Scruffs.
After an obvious cut to the tape then George refers to electric guitar for “Wah Wah’. There’s the sound of a tune up & after another cut to the tape George is joined by a bass player. at first i suspected that this could be an after the fact overdub being that it spreads itself over the tracks & appears via both speakers but as George is heard speaking to someone about “being out of tune with the piano (!)” then i’m prepared to expect that he is actually playing at this session with someone else & to my ears this sounds like Klaus Voorman’s playing as it sounds remarkably like the bass playing on HMC’s Lennon CD’s. “Wah Wah” features a stinging guitar riff played by George that supplement the song well as it’s quite a waspish repost at his ex – Beatle friends & the dragging “Let It Be” sessions & the quarrels that were damaging relations & Apple Corps.
“Window, Window” is one of the George tracks that fell through the gaps & unless he went back & took a serious look at the lyrics, quite rightly so. George himself admits the lyrics are “A bit silly .. “. the tune itself is very acceptable – sounding like an early Dylanesque folk tune on acoustic guitar but obviously he knew there was nothing that was going to save it otherwise so it was quietly dropped & this disk is the only place that you’ll hear it .. if you want to .. thankfully it comes to an abrupt halt before it finishes.
One that would escape “ATMP” but, like ‘Circles’ recorded at Kinfauns for the “White Album” demos would be resurrected years later is “Beautiful Girl” on George’s 1979 eponymous album – a song that was presumably written for Patti – George’s wife at the time. It’s marginally better than “Window, Window” but there is a reason that it was bumped from ATMP & saved for when George had a writers block .. thankfully, it’s redeeming quality is that it’s rendered here in the same quality that the rest of the tape sets & it’s played on acoustic guitar.
“Beware Of Darkness” is the latest of the bunch written “The other day & there’s a few words needed yet .. ” it’s another song that doesn’t suffer from to many horns & too much Spectorness – it obviously reflects George’s frame of mind at the time as George adds the lyric “Beware of ABKCO”. When ATMP was remastered from the duvet covered mess it was originally released as on CD then George decided that this would be one of the bonus tracks to the disk. he really shouldn’t have bothered as it’s taken out of it’s context having been removed from this tape & is shortened by over a minute.
In a departure from the ferocious roar that begins this song on the album proper “Let It Down” is a softer creature on this release. slightly less angry, rather more yearning but it would be difficult to choose a favorite of the two versions as they are both as worth of consideration as each other. Once again George decided to use this as an extra bonus track on 2000’s ATMP remaster but added another guitar line that sounds inept when placed over the bones of the original demo.
As a lightness of touch to a rather deep song George stums a delicate few chords at the end & scat sings a line before flowing straight in to “Tell Me What Has Happened to You” – another of George’s slighter songs & upon hearing it then there’s no surprise that it was dropped from consideration from the album. George goes back to his electric guitar for the next track “Hear Me Lord” – a ‘spiritual brother to George’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ the bare bones studio style once again suits this song down to a tee. Still on electric for the next track ‘Nowhere to Go’ is a song that George had also demoed in Woodstock while staying with Bob Dylan in his home in the Catskils. The lyrics bemoan the fact that George carried the burden of being ‘Beatle George’ or as he shrewdly puts it ‘Beatle Jeff’.
“This is full of chorus voices .. and stuff” is how George sees “Cosmic Empire”. Starting with electric guitar after only a couple of bars changes his mind & skips to acoustic. He’s in a lighter mood by this time & really stretches his vocal cords to imitate how the girls voices will sound on the finished article but ultimately this song & “Mother Divine” will never really be realised. A shame in “Cosmic Empire’s” case as it would have done well with a quick dust down in the late ’70’s but “Mother Divine” is firmly stuck in it’s era & is not quite the hit it thinks it might be. “I Don’t Wanna Do It” written by Bob Dylan was yanked from the vaults for the soundtrack to the motion picture “Porky’s Revenge”. “If Not For You” another Dylan title is a more heartfelt pean than the version on Dylan’s ‘New Morning’ LP & is recorded simply & acoustically rather than with slide guitar, harmonica & splashy drums as on Dylan’s version & a douse of echo & piano such as is on ‘ATMP’. it’s a beautiful ending o a glorious CD.
The CD cover features a head & shoulders shot of George from the period with a nice clear type over the top. the back cover is a gorgeous deep red in colour & has a face picture of George turned in to a dark negative. The titles are, once again, well rendered in white with text denoting on which guitar the instrument is played & gives lyric credits to Bob Dylan for track numbers 14 & 15.
All in the end if you had to compile a list of your top 10 Beatles / solo bootlegs then this release would feature in the top 3 at least. although Strawberry would follow this release up a mere 8 years later with a set of ATMP acetates then not much will surpass listening to this CD. One would hope that Olivia sees herself dipping in to these tapes to bring us more when the George Harrison Anthology is finally released.