The Pepper Pickle
It was twenty years ago this June when I stood in Abbey Road studios, elbow-to-elbow with Paul McCartney, thinking about the anniversary of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Even for a case-toughened music lag like myself, that was a cool little occasion, as the trumpets blared, the stories unfurled and we caught some of the wonky-eyed flavour of 1967.
Now here comes the 40th anniversary. The Beatles trainspotters and nostalgia merchants will urge us to buy into the myth again. People will insist that it was the greatest album ever made, that was a western landmark, the most unifying event since the Congress Of Vienna.
Really? Well maybe if it didn’t contain the dour George Harrison track, the mawkish wibble of ‘She’s Leaving Home’, and the badly-realised try at a sustained concept. It’s a terribly over-praised album. Remember, the release was preceded by an impeccable single, ‘Strawberry Fields’ / ‘Penny Lane’ that outscores everything on the long player. And if you’re measuring it against other Beatles albums, The ‘White’ album and ‘Revolver’ are surely better.
While we’re thinking about 1967, let’s remember that an Ulster artist called David McWilliams left his signature there with a winsome, literate song, ‘The Days Of Pearly Spencer’. He was a big hit on pirate radio and a couple of his albums made the top 40. But David, who died in 2002, never really made the big time. Indeed, during the making of the TV music doc, ‘So Hard To Beat’, we couldn’t find the archive or the wherewithal to give David his credit. In hindsight, we should have tried harder.
Hopefully, some fans will be raising the McWilliams name this summer. There is talk of a tribute record and perhaps even a live event. His reputation could do with a little help from his friends.