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10th January 1969: George Harrison quits the Beatles in this extract from ‘And In The End’

  07 Jan '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

The 10th January 1969 has gone down in history as a significant moment in the Beatles’ final acrimonious months as a band. On this day, George Harrison quit, pushed to breaking point by continued disharmony within the band, the constant presence of film cameras in the recording studio, and tension over Yoko Ono’s involvement. This is chronicled meticulously by Ken McNab in his book And In The End, which leads the reader on a tour of 1969, the final year of the Beatles.

Extract from And In The End by Ken McNab

Harrison remained opposed to any live show, particularly one that he viewed as ‘expensive and insane’. Starr was adamant that he was not going abroad. Lennon vacillated between being up for anything and opposing everything. ‘I’m warming to the idea of an asylum,’ he remarked.

Harrison was vexed by yet another issue. As she had been during the White Album sessions, Yoko was impervious to all hints that her presence was unwanted, while Lennon revelled in the discomfiture of his friends. She often distracted him by kissing him or whispering in his ear during a take, causing him to miss a note or forget a lyric. It was virtually impossible for the cameras to get a shot of the four Beatles without Yoko being in the frame. It was obvious to everyone that Lennon, like Harrison, wanted to be anywhere but there. At other times, Yoko would be Lennon’s voice in group discussions about how best to break the impasse, but the others knew better than to take him on. McCartney reflected: ‘He would have used that as an excuse to leave the band.’ Harrison preferred straight-talking, having, months earlier, told Yoko that she gave off ‘bad vibes’. Lennon struggled to control his temper then, but now, little more than a week into the project, the gloves were off.

On 10 January, Harrison’s tolerance snapped. Lennon was sabotaging the sessions, putting his own self-interest before that of the band, was continuing to patronise him personally and was treating them all with contempt. He railed bitterly at Lennon for his put-downs of George’s new songs, and brusquely added that he was leaving the band.

‘When?’ asked a startled Lennon.

’Now,’ snapped Harrison. ‘See you round the clubs. Put an ad in the NME.’

Reflecting on the incident later for the Beatles Anthology project, Harrison attributed his departure to a number of factors, among them the presence of film cameras, which he found particularly annoying when The Beatles weren’t getting along. ‘They were filming Paul and I having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, “What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and if I’m not able to be happy in this situation, I’m getting out.” It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, “I’m not doing this any more. I’m out of here.’’ ’

Cameraman Les Parrott was part of the team assembled by Lindsay-Hogg and up-and-coming film-maker Tony Richmond. Though he didn’t witness this particular bust-up Parrott was sussed enough to know something was amiss when Lennon, McCartney and Starr returned to their instruments. ‘Well, George was missing for a start,’ he told me. ‘There was no reason for any of the crew to be told he had walked out or anything. But it was pretty awkward. We all knew something had happened and it was pretty serious.’

As for Yoko: ‘She was a blob in black,’ Parrott added. ‘Always there. You could tell the others resented it. Especially George. You had the feeling he wanted to say something. He used to just glower at Yoko.’

Lennon and McCartney’s immediate response to Harrison’s departure was to launch into an ear-splitting jam. Yoko eased herself into Harrison’s chair to lend her own inimitable vocals. It was the only time the cameras caught her smiling. Lennon betrayed the depth of his feelings towards Harrison by casually suggesting they had a ready-made replacement in Eric Clapton, Harrison’s closest friend. ‘If he’s not back by Monday, we’ll get Eric in,’ he declared. ‘He’s just as good and not such a headache.’

As it turned out, they wouldn’t have to approach Clapton, who would most certainly have refused to fill the gap left by his closest friend. But at that precise moment, The Beatles were victims of their own indifference and as close to breaking up as they had ever been. The candle that once shone so bright was nearly out.

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