Cranberry Sauce: Praising, Not Burying Saul MacGarvey

 

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I learned the word hoodwink from my tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Bobby Hand. He might take pride in knowing that. I always thought about it in that way politicians pull the wool over people’s eyes when they make false promises. I took pride in thinking I was too smart to be hoodwinked myself until I had a run in with Saul MacGarvey. Saul is actually the innocent party in all this. As you’re about to read, he is the subject of an informative and entertaining interview. I was suspicious when Saul’s people contacted me out of the blue but it’s flattering when anyone takes an interest in the Portland Orbit. Jeff Dodge, my Portland connection to Saul, was evasive when I asked him the name of  Saul’s band. Anybody else would wonder why I didn’t ask Saul himself but between trying to decipher the cryptic nature of this project and actually getting in touch with Saul, I forgot! It wasn’t until I began gathering images and links to include with the interview that I found out this was a Jeff Dodge and the Peasant Revolution Band release. And that, is how, I got hoodwinked. Saul MacGarvey’s identity is a mystery but it doesn’t matter, I had a great time talking to him and despite technical issues that created transcription challenges, I had plenty of laugh out loud moments listening to this recording over and over again. This may not be the last word on my getting hoodwinked but I figure I should let it go for a moment and get to the interview.

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Guest hosting The Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour

Portland Orbit:  Okay we’re starting, I mean, sorry, it’s David, it’s David from (laughs) the Portland Orbit. You’ve got to excuse me because we’re had our Christmas party. We’re so busy that we are just now getting around to having our Christmas party. So that’s what we’ve been up to but Saul we know how busy you are.

Saul: It’s a bit late for Christmas, isn’t it?

PO: Yeah, well, I know exactly, we’ve been very busy and you know 12 days of Christmas and all that so that’s where we were—

Saul: I could play that for you if you want.

PO: Oh wonderful Saul. I know you guys had reached out to me it’s been a bit of a mystery but you’ve reached out to me for an interview and so I’m glad that I was able to track you down I have to admit that I didn’t know much about what you were doing and I’m going right into my first question. Okay, are you ready?

Saul: Chorde was a big fan of the Portland Orbit so we thought we do that.

PO: Oh great!

Saul: Yeah, go ahead, fire away.

PO: Okay, okay, wait a minute. (Pause for technical difficulties.) Here we go, this is great. From what I’m so familiar with for the music I felt like, it seemed you’re inspired by the Beatles with your Beatle influences on your album and I’m wondering how did you connect with the band?

Saul: What you seem to be saying right there, I disagree with that characterization but continue on.

PO: Well then, maybe the question is, because you cut me off, but my follow-up question which was sort of like, it was a two-part question, two questions in one, which is complicated, but did you connect with the band The Beatles when you first heard them?

Saul: Well, for one thing we’re entirely from different eras, you know, just because we grew up in Liverpool, we were born during the bombing, you know, the war going on. They supposedly had similar things but I don’t really know their history. I was always more of a Stones guy, you know.

PO: A what guy?

Saul: The Rolling Stones.

PO: Not Gerry and the Pacemakers?

Saul: Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. I’m also a bit big fan of The Turtles, very influential and the Thompson Twins were also a big influence on our work.

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Saul with the Thompson Twins!

PO: (Hearty laugh) I can imagine twins, anything with twins. This Tom Lemon collaboration that you’ve got going on, were you trying to do the—

Saul: Ronnie Lemon. It’s not Tom. Tom, that’s his Dad.

PO: What’s that? It’s not Tom Lemon? Okay, wait a minute Ronnie, Ronnie Lemon. Okay, I’m sorry I don’t know where I got that. But I mean are you guys doing the songwriting team thing?

Saul: We’re kind of taking a break from it it’s been a lot of pressure so we’re going to release this album and take a little break, maybe get back to it a little later.

PO: Well, actually how did you decide which name was going to go first though?

Saul: Well, this album is very much about me and my life’s legacy. Some of these songs I wrote by myself when I was first teaching myself how to play the guitar. I didn’t have any lessons, you know, no one showed me how to do anything. That’s why I ended up left-handed with it. I can even play dobro with my toes, you know. Back then it was about doing skiffle, you know.

PO: Okay, what was it about Ronnie though? What was it about Ronnie then?

Saul: Ronnie and I met probably about nine—we were young lads growing up in Liverpool. We met playing the game Connect Four. I believe you call it over there, Connect Four. We met in a Connect Four tournament.

PO: (Laughs)

Saul: We were fast friends after I beat him.

PO: Your album, it feels a lot like the I Am Sam soundtrack. I’m not sure if you’re familiar but that was a movie where Sean Penn plays a mentally challenged Beatles obsessive and so the album is full of performers playing Beatles tunes. Have you heard of this movie?

Saul: I have not, had no idea such a thing—but again I don’t see what all these Beatles comparisons have anything to do with this work. This is from my own personal life, you know it talks about the bombings, it talks about growing up in Liverpool. My friends introduced Chorde Benjamin to Ron Lemon and shortly after the Connect Four tournament we discovered that Chorde could make music out of a pickle, not a piccolo, but an actual pickle. First, we thought we’d change the skiffle group to feature the pickle on the solos.

PO: Oh man!

Saul: We got our feet in the fire there and so this is just an album about our ride and our, you know, going on the Boolivan Show and our exposure in the Americas that we got and all of that, the love, the pain, ending in some great new tracks and old tracks you know. I don’t see why that should have anything to do with stuff about the Beatles, whatever you call them, you know, I was just never into them, I don’t know.

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Saul on TV!

PO: Okay, well I mean, a lot of people are and it’s—

Saul: So Paul’s probably caught wind of us doing this new thing and, all lies, and he’s probably jealous, him and that Yoko, they’re probably, you know, desperate to cling to rellavancy and trying to cash in on our project. Yes?

PO: (Laughs) I couldn’t begin to understand what they’re thinking about but, okay—

Saul: He’s a knight, you know, he’s a knighted one. He might even be replacing one of the Princes I hear. Sounds like they’re doing a little trade.

PO: Pick up some extra work at the palace, yes. I don’t know, I was really curious about your skiffle comments because it seemed to me that skiffle is just, in part, an idea of how kids could just play music without, you know, having to have practically any gear at all if you’re talking about making music from a pickle.

Saul: Yes, it was very difficult through the war, you know. I’m from a different generation and the Falkland Islands War was very difficult to get through. We had noble heroes. We were very poor growing up. We were, well, you know, we were in the lines, we were on the dole. It was very depressing and so we would have to use rocks and sticks to make sounds and that, you know.

PO: Yeah, just like a piece of string, tie a piece of string to—

Saul: Some people think it was invented 30 or 40 years before we discovered it but I guess what we did with it, with the pickle and everything was kind of—it’s what we kept doing. We try to reinvent ourselves. It’s very important to do that, you know. Like when I had to replace, I mean when I spotted Saul. It was very, the psychedelic era, a lot of disinformation got out there, you know? What was your question?

PO: I actually, well I was talking about skiffle but I mean I get it, it just something that struck me just the idea that most people would be intimidated or think you have to have a lot of equipment to form a band or whatever but it sounded like kids were just getting up and trying to make whatever music they could to express themselves.

Saul: Sometimes we’d have to compete with rouges, it helps, it was a blunt object that could be used as a weapon. Very tough, you know. It was really difficult when we started to move into sponges and pillows. We wanted to get a softer sound. It was no good. Moving in our junior year we had to fight off for our spots and rosters with pillows.

PO: But that sounds like the origins of soft rock then that came out of California. That’s amazing! I hadn’t even thought about that.

Saul: Brian Wilson, we were probably very influential on him.

PO: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Saul: I feel like, you know, it totally makes sense today. I don’t know if he would’ve admitted to that back then but, you know.

PO: That’s, gosh, I had never even thought about that parallel at all either. I wanted to ask you about the walrus and is it a metaphor?

Saul: Well, you know, I suppose for that Beatles group it was. You know we don’t really have any cute animals on this album necessarily. This is much more about love and peace and understanding and the love Ron and I shared for each other before he got shot, you know.

PO: Okay, yeah, I, yeah, I didn’t want to go there at all but I did, I mean—

Saul: You know, Ronnie getting shot, you could compare that to a walrus getting washed out into the sea. I guess there are some similarities there.

PO: Yeah. Ah, yeah. Yeah.

Saul: Ron got shot in the toe so he got back up, limped onto the shore.

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Saul’s short film deemed a critical and commercial failure.

PO: (Laughs) Well, I was curious about the rest of the band, Chorde and Mack-O, Mackie? And Ron, of course.

Saul: Chorde was my old mate. He was a couple of years younger than us and we met at the Connect Four tournament with Ronnie. He had my back. He was kind of my coach, my cheerleader and then when I beat Ronnie it was like, you know, hey will you join my band? And I said yes, l will. Can Chorde come along? And Ron didn’t—he rejected him out right. That scrawny little thing? I don’t think so. What does he do? And Chorde didn’t do anything at that time. It was another year or so, oh I can play this pickle, you know. That’s sort of how that all came together. Our drummer was a wonderful lad that we used to have. He was kind of stealing all the ladies and that was a bit of a problem so we fired his ass. We got Mack-O. He was cute but he wasn’t as cute as us so we were all able to get the women and the birds.

PO: Because the other drummer before Mack-O wasn’t the best drummer, right? That’s why he needed to go.

Saul: The wonder boy could really, really keep a beat but he was getting all the bird’s attention.

PO: Okay, I just, yeah, I just wanted to make sure I got that.

Saul: Who wants that around, good looking smiling guy. He’d go with three women and they wouldn’t bother with us. They’d all be with him by the end.

PO: Yeah, I was asking about Chorde and Mack-O and about where the names came from.

Saul: Mack-O should be pretty obvious. He came with a mac and he never took it off. The truth, I don’t really know what’s under there. (Laughs) No, he’d shower with that mac on. Mack-O.

PO: He had his mac on!

Saul: Loves his mac, his mother got him in the habit of it when he was really young and he’s much older than all of us but like, you know he’d wear the mac to the shower, anywhere because it rained and he was sickly child so they were very worried about him catching a cold so he always kept the mac on. On the other hand, I, you know, I’m not sure it just seems very convenient that he would be our lead guitar player and his name is Chorde, it just, you know—

PO: Oh, yeah, that’s—so it’s a nickname then? Nickname?

Saul: No. He was born with it. They named him that. He spells it with an e on the end too. It’s unique that way.

PO: Okay, name, it’s kind of a—you got to have a gimmick and all so that’s good.

Saul: His parents were academics who knew nothing about music, you know, it was very outside their world.

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Another handsome drummer axed!

PO: How did you feel about the death of Ron Nasty?

Saul: Ah, from the Rutles.

PO: Yeah the Prefab Four, the Prefab Four and then the Rutles. Yeah.

Saul: I’m a big fan of their work. Nasty was influential in a lot of Ron Lemon’s song writing, for sure, yeah. You’d have to ask Ron about that. He’s hard to get in touch with since he’s isolated himself with that guru, Raku. Yeah. It’s not like her sitting on my guitar was, you know, gonna—it just made me mad. Get out of here. Why are you sitting on my guitar? You’re making it all out of tune.

PO: (Laughs) Not a good piece of furniture.

Saul: Not cool at all.

PO: Did you have anything that you wanted to add? I know, actually, I’m gonna repeat that because I appreciate this so much Saul and I know that the people that I talked to were saying 10-15 minutes. I try to limit, you know, my interviews to three questions which is impossible with a guy like you.

Saul: I fully understand. My management told me this would only be like two minutes but Chorde has spoken so highly of the Portland Orbit that we wanted to give you a fair shot and tell our story. Really this is about my story, you know, it always is at the end of the day and, you know, I guess if I had anything to add to it it’s just that it chronicles our journey as a band and, you know, kind of—when I first replaced—got involved with the band you know they’re sort of two phases of it really and those, the young phase where I was very disengaged and unmusical and then there’s the after the drugs came into it, you know I changed my perspective and some people joked that I changed my face and stuff but you know, a lot of that second phase, really, it brought us into, well, it’s a lot about the world we live in today and the various systems of power and influence according to the majesty of the royal crown is talked about a lot in there, you know. The prestige of the BBC and, you know, what it means to be of kind of a royal bloodline and how important and influential that is on the world, you know, a little bit of blood goes a long way, as they say. It’s got blood all over the place. It’s got blood in the Americas there, you know.

PO: Yeah, you reminded me—

Saul: Fake blood. (Laughs)

PO: Yeah, I’ve kind of gotten away, you know, a lot of the other things that I was hearing about the dribs and drabs that I was getting about this whole project kind of took me away from the music so I’m really appreciating you, because this is a huge album, a huge project and—

Saul: Love and blood lines that’s what it is for me. It’s all about love and bloodlines.

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Bonus Interview!

P.O. Okay, well, love and bloodlines and what about the future of Scotland? Did you have any thoughts on that? I know you spent a lot of time or you’re going to spend a lot of time in Scotland.

Saul: Me and Cinda, have a little castle, some people call it a cottage up there in the Highlands. It’s very important to get away from Ronnie and Raku and Chorde, you know, Chorde, he has his own projects to do and, yeah, I just want what’s best for all of them. But Cinda and I, no, you know, we’ve dabbled with Scottish politics I suppose, a little bit. The marijuana laws are horribly regressive, you know, we’ve had to get legal help about that at times when we’re traveling back and forth. I have to have lawyers with me. They’re checking our luggage, passports—

PO:  Yeah.

Saul: Certain—

PO: Cavities?

Saul: Thanks to my bloodline it’s sort of a short conversation.

PO:  (Laughs.) All right, well, that is amazing. Thank you so much.

Saul: I’ll have to tell the whole joke about the nickname Billy someday too. There’s a lot of disinformation out there, so I just won’t want you to, especially this Beatles garbage. I hate them. I’m a Stones person.

PO: Okay, well, that surprises me but I get it, maybe it was just too much but, you know, you were still kind of subconsciously reflecting out what you were getting in from them even though you liked the Stones more.

Saul:  I couldn’t name one song if you asked me. I don’t, you know, I mean how little their music meant to me. The Rutles were far better from my perspective.

PO: Yeah, okay, and it sounds like you didn’t catch the Rain tour. I mean, there’s  numerous Beatle impersonator bands.

SauI: I don’t, yeah, you know, there’s some good Stones cover bands that I really enjoy and a wonderful U2 band called boob tube in Ireland. They’re wonderful, wonderful lads, but, yeah, I don’t know this Beatles thing I wish people would kind of drop it.

PO: You can still get confused. I watched much of a rooftop Beatles concert before I realized, now I realize then this is Them Beatles reenacting the rooftop Beatles concert so I was blown away by that. I was totally fooled.

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Saul and Ronnie raise the roof!

Saul: Yeah, well, you know when we were getting on with Ford Harkin and we decided we couldn’t use him anymore to produce it was his idea that we should throw one last set together and Mack-O said, “let’s go on the roof.” We did, but you know, I didn’t know that the Beatles did that actually until you mentioned that. It was a stupid idea because it was pouring down rain. We got all wet.

PO: Who got electrocuted? Anybody get electrocuted? That sounds dangerous. Struck by lightning?

Saul: Well, it was just a lot of water. It was pissing.

PO: You have to check the weather before you schedule a concert outdoors.

Saul: Well, you know, it was the heat of the moment it was quite epic, we were fookin’ done with Harkin here. It was time to do something wild and spontaneous so we did. Actually one of the tracks might have made the album, “World Gone Mad” is actually–

PO: Right from the roof!

Saul: Yeah, people got so excited they decided to put it on a satellite feed across the world so we did that, opened it with the Canadian national anthem to start and it started raining.

PO: Ugh.

Saul: We were live so we played through.

PO: You see Mack-O never—he wouldn’t care because he had the mac.

Saul: Mack-O stayed remarkably dry. His mother raised him well. It was one time the mac really protected him.

 

 

When Portland Almost Killed Beatlemania

I caught the exhibit about The Beatles at the Oregon Historical Society. The displays weren’t specific to the Beatles’ visit to Portland on August 22, 1965 when they performed two shows to a combined attendance of 20,000 fans. There were relics from the concert but the collection, organized by the Grammy Museum and Fab Four Exhibits, included items from the full spectrum of the band’s career. Through November 12, people can pour over artifacts, admire replicas of the band’s gear, look over oddball Beatle merchandise, play drums with Ringo or even sing and record a personal version of Yellow Submarine.

Press kit photo by David Falconer

The band’s performances in Portland must have impacted those who attended, the excitement, the memories. The Beatles, in Portland. Imagine that. Their tours came with baggage. Every show factored into their decision to stop touring. Screams of excitement muffled their ability to hear their instruments. There was more fun backstage jamming, smoking and drinking Wink soda before being trotted out to face 10,000 adoring and screaming Portlanders in a boxy arena. It’s amazing to think facing a crowd like that could get old.

Press kit photo by David Falconer

On tour the band was shuttled by plane and limo in a whirlwind. On the way to Portland the airplane lost an engine. The incident shook up John Lennon but this didn’t merit a mention in Philip Norman definitive Beatle biography Shout, although I swear I read about it somewhere. I also had it in my head that the band landed in Troutdale. I just liked the idea of the Beatles in Troutdale. My memory was proven wrong by a photo of Ringo and Paul waving to fans from a limo at the Portland airport. Their concert rider at the museum called for two seven-passenger limousines, “preferably with air-conditioning” to pick them up. The hoopla netted them 50,000 dollars for their performances and possibly proceeds from the gate on top of that. Tickets, at four, five and six dollars, seemed like a hefty price for the time. How much that equals in today’s money is beyond me.**

Ringo’s suit jacket.

Tiny details from the exhibit revealed more about the band’s personalities. There were things you would never absorb from a book. I saw John Lennon’s loopy handwriting, the use of his elbow to play keyboards in a show photo and a suit that Ringo had made to wear on the cover of the Abbey Road album. George liked it so much he ordered one. In a concert projected on one wall, I watched Paul graciously invite Ringo to sing “With a Little Help From My Friends.” I’m not sure why Ringo is all over the exhibit. He must have been the one Beatle willing and able to participate. His deadpanned intro to the Yellow Submarine booth was hilarious.

The most significant thing I learned about the Beatles’ Portland shows was that Allen Ginsberg was in the audience for the evening performance and he wrote a poem about it. Now a Beatles concert for the band was just another show. For the city and those who attended it’s historical. Not many concerts have poems written about them. Ginsberg has already received props for hanging out with Dylan and recording and performing with The Clash, his poem offers a sense of the essence of a Beatles show.

PORTLAND COLISEUM
by Allen Ginsberg

A brown piano in diamond
white spotlight
Leviathan auditorium
iron run wired
hanging organs, vox
black battery
A single whistling sound of ten thousand children’s
larynxes asinging
pierce the ears
and following up the belly
bliss the moment arrived

Apparition, four brown English
jacket christhair boys
Goofed Ringo battling bright
white drums
Silent George hair patient
Soul horse
Short black-skulled Paul
with the guitar
Lennon the Captain, his mouth
a triangular smile,
all jump together to End
some tearful memory song
ancient-two years,
The million children
the thousand words
bounce in their seats, bash
each other’s sides, press
legs together nervous
Scream again & claphand
become one Animal
in the New World Auditorium
—hands waving myriad
snakes of thought
screetch beyond hearing

while a line of police with
folded arms stands
Sentry to contain the red
sweatered ecstasy
that rises upward to the
wired roof.
— August 27, 1965

Now I’m going to attempt something, rare in this blog or any other, poetry analysis. If you absorb the poem you get images of that cavernous “New World Auditorium” filled with screamers while the Beatles jump as the complete a song. That must have been their stage move at the time. I got a kick out of his band member descriptions. George, so sick of being labeled the quiet Beatle probably kept his mouth shut about it. Paul being painted “black-skulled” is something he’ll never live down. “Screech beyond hearing” seems likely what the Beatles heard but these were Portland kids, sweaters and all, and that could have made all the difference.

**From a story in the Oregonian I learned 6 dollars I s equal to 47 dollars in today’s money.

P.S. The museum is free to residents of Multnomah County and the exhibit is worth checking out if you find yourself downtown. It’s fun to have a look but the mock teenager bedroom decked out in Beatle paraphernalia is a bit of a stretch.

For the Beatlemaniacs:
https://www.beatlesbible.com/1965/08/22/live-memorial-coliseum-portland-oregon/

www.bobbonis.com

Bob’s website doesn’t appear to work well but it’s an archive of photos from the Portland show.

The Author: New kicks, old road.