Mal Evans began the 1960s as a Post Office
engineer in Liverpool. By the end of the
decade, he’d appeared in three out of five Beatles films and was an
occasional musician on their albums. It was Mal playing the organ on Rubber
Soul, Mal who sounded the alarm clock in A Day in the Life. On Abbey Road, it
was Mal, not Maxwell, who banged the Silver Hammer.
Part of the Beatles’ small but exceptionally
protective inner sanctum, Mal was one of just two witnesses at Paul
McCartney’s first wedding. Among the hundreds of claimants to that
threadbare title “fifth Beatle”, he was arguably the most
deserving. Wherever the Beatles went, Mal would never be far behind.
In the 10 years he spent as their road
manager, Mal was blessed with a greater insight than most into the group’s
spectacular rise, their domination of pop in the middle years, and their
painful implosion in a welter of recriminations. Throughout the decade, he
kept a series of diaries and wrote an unpublished autobiography; all of
this has until now remained unseen, part of an archive that went missing
when Mal himself died in bizarre circumstances in 1976.
For many years, an ever-growing number of
Beatles historians have regarded the Mal Evans archive as the holy grail.
Last year, rumours surfaced that it had turned up in a suitcase in a Sydney street
market (not true) and that it contained outtakes of unreleased Beatles
songs (ditto). The reality is rather more prosaic: 10 years after Mal’s
death, Yoko Ono was told about a trunk full of his effects that had been
found by a temp clearing out files in the basement of a New
York publisher; she arranged for them to be shipped back to
his family in London.
Among those effects were the diaries, which his widow, Lily, kept for years
in an attic at her home.
Together with some photographs, most of them
taken by Mal himself, they amount to a fascinating collection: the
unwitting historic recollections of a Forrest Gump of a man, who by sheer
good fortune ended up in the right place at the right time.
The story, inevitably, begins in Liverpool. A keen rock’n’roll fan, Mal would while
away what he called his “extended lunchtimes” at the Cavern Club
before putting in a brief appearance at the Post Office and then heading
off to his house in Hillside Road, Mossley Hill.
In 1961 he had married a local girl, Lily,
whom he had met at the funfair at New
Brighton. Their first child, Gary, was born in the
same year. Mal’s life was settled, mundane and ordinary; nobody could have
predicted that the bizarre twists and turns of his life in the next 15
years would lead to a premature and avoidable death at the hands of the
police in California.
At the Cavern, Mal was soon noticed by the
Beatles, who had a lunchtime residency at the club. George Harrison felt
that Mal, at 6ft 3in, would make an ideal bouncer. He was also of an
exceptionally gentle disposition, and Harrison
was canny enough to realise that this too would be useful in the years
In the first few pages of his 1963 Post
Office Engineering Union-issue diary, which includes information about
Ohm’s law and Post Office pay rates, he reflects upon his good fortune.
Looking back on the previous year, he writes: “1962 a wonderful year…
Could I wish for more beautiful wife, Gary,
house, car… guess I was born with a silver canteen of cutlery in my
mouth. Wanted a part time job for long time now bouncing… Lost a tooth
With this, Mal sets the tone. We soon find
he is more Pooter than Pepys. As the Beatles’ road manager and trusted
implicitly by all four he is presented with an “access all
areas” ticket to one of the best parties of the century. Yet somehow
he never quite realises it.
The year 1963 is crucial for the Beatles,
ergo for Mal. At the start of the year it is becoming clear that working
with them, particularly on tour, is a more engaging diversion for him than
family life in Mossley Hill. The band, now managed by Brian Epstein, are
beginning to realise their potential. Mal drives them to London for one of their early BBC
appearances, and later they make the most of the capital.
January 21, 1963: “Lads went shopping.
Paul and George bought slacks. George a shirt in Regent St. This was before
the Sat Club recording and we lost them for a while. Back to Lower Regent
Studios for recording talent spot. Met Patsy Ann Noble, Rog Whittaker, Gary
Marshall, a really good show. Also on the bill was a Birkenhead
singer. At about 8.15 the boys went to Brians room in the Mayfair
for a Daily Mail interview. I parked the gear and joined them later… We
at about 10 o’clock, stopping at ‘Fortes’ on M1 for large dinner bought
by the Beatles and so homeward bound. Met a lot of fog… suddenly after
leaving M1 short time windscreen cracked with a terrible bang. Had to break
hole in windscreen to see… Stopped for tea at transport cafe… and
arrived home at about five o’clock. I was up at 7.45 but lads laid in till
about five that night. Lucky devils. They were on that night at Cavern as
fresh as ever with no after effects. The Beatles have certainly gone up in
my estimation. They are all great blokes with a sense of humour and giving
one the feeling they are a real team.”
For much of the early 1960s, touring became
Mal’s life. Against the wishes of Lily, left at home with Gary,
Mal gave up his job at the Post Office in order to be at the Beatles’ beck
and call full time, clocking up industrial levels of mileage driving from
Liverpool to London.
He was also expected to attend to almost every personal whim.
John Lennon, who had a predilection for
enigmatic silences, would punctuate these with murmured requests such as
“Socks, Mal” at which point Mal would scoot off to Marks &
Spencer to fetch six pairs in navy cotton.
By the spring of that year, Beatlemania was
under way; Mal and Neil Aspinall, another old friend from Liverpool,
accompanied the Beatles on all of their tours, making up what was an
astonishingly pared-down entourage. Aspinall still runs the Beatles’ Apple
The Beatles’ first European tour began in Paris in
January 1964. The ever-loyal Mal was on hand, this time accompanied by Lily
and their young son. Mal writes about a “big punch-up” with
photographers in Paris.
In the manuscript of his unpublished book he recalls that this was
“the only fight I got involved in on behalf of the Beatles”
although he was terrified when he and the band were nearly beaten up by
Ferdinand Marcos’s thugs in Manila
To mark the news in 1964 that the Beatles
had reached No 1 in
for the first time, Mal writes that Epstein threw a party at the hotel.
Some journalists then hired prostitutes to provide a lesbian show for the
Beatles in the room next to Epstein’s. “It was a little unnerving to
have these ladies performing before our eyes with each other in one room,
with Brian, George Martin and his wife and the rather more staid members of
the press in the adjoining living room. I guess celebration caters to
everybody’s different tastes.”
With Beatlemania in full swing, Mal seems
strangely oblivious: there is no sense in any of the diaries that he is
working for the most famous, most successful pop stars of the time. But
odd, intimate little moments are recorded:
March 18, 1964: “Had plastic cups in
top pocket milk poured in by George. John says after sarnies: Mal you are
my favourite animal.”
After two further exhausting years on the
road, the Beatles were ready to give up touring: the whole tiresome process
had ceased to be of interest to the group. The Beatles, and Mal, for that
matter, were just about worn out.
But there was now a larger role for Mal as a
studio “fixer”: as the music became more complicated, he was
dealing with an increasingly outlandish inventory of instruments and
equipment, and he sometimes contributed as a musician. More than any other
year so far, 1967 presented Mal and the Beatles with undreamt-of
possibilities: it was the year of satin tunics, Carnaby Street and Sgt Pepper; the
band was at its creative, cohesive peak. On a more mundane level, Paul
found himself without a housekeeper at his house in St John’s Wood so Mal moved in with
him. Mal writes of this time fondly, but complains of Paul’s dog, Martha,
fouling the beds.
Within a few months, Mal had moved his
family his second child, Julie, had been born in 1966 from Liverpool to
Sunbury-on-Thames, about equidistant from Paul’s house and the homes of the
other three in the Surrey stockbroker belt another indication of how he’d
let the band take over his life. Mal was also beginning to enjoy some of
the more illicit aspects of the mid-1960s rock’n’roll lifestyle.
January 1, 1967: “Well diary hope it
will be a great 1967. Have not slept… Friday night’s recording session
and journey to Liverpool. Late afternoon
went over to the McCartneys in Wirral, and had dinner with them. Paul and
Jane [Asher, McCartney’s then girlfriend] had travelled up for the New Year
also Martha. Fan belt broke.”
January 19 and 20: “Ended up smashed in
Bag O’ Nails with Paul and Neil. Quite a number of people attached
themselves, oh that it would happen to me… freak out time baby for Mal.
“Eventually I spewed but this because
of omelette I reckon. I was just nowhere floating around. Slept till 5pm.
Flowers arrived for George for his anniversary tomorrow. Made up yesterday
with new number for I’m counting on it and ringing alarm [he is referring
to A Day in the Life, Sgt Pepper’s closing opus]. So George came back to
flat for tea tonight that is before we went home. He was in bedroom reading
International Times. I was asleep on bed, very bad mannered. Left for home
with Neil driving… On M6, starter jammed. 10/- to free it. Hertz van
still no comfort… I spent some time in rest room.”
Mal’s diary describes the recording of the
Sgt Pepper album in some detail, referring to the song Fixing a Hole as
“where the rain comes in”. But there are soon signs that he is
beginning to feel a little hard done by.
The rest of 1967 was as busy for Mal as it
was for the Beatles: the overblown, complicated Sgt Pepper was
time-consuming. As soon as it was completed, Mal flew with Paul to LA to
see Jane Asher, who was touring with the Old Vic company. The three took a
trip to the Rockies and returned to LA by
private jet. Mal took up the story:
“We left Denver in Frank Sinatra’s Lear Jet, which
he very kindly loaned us. A beautiful job with dark black leather
upholstery and, to our delight, a well-stocked bar.”
When they arrived, they went to Michelle and
John Phillips’s [of the Mamas and the Papas] house and Brian Wilson [of the
Beach Boys] came round. Mal writes of joining in on a guitar for a
rendition of On Top of Old Smokey with Paul and Wilson. Mal, however, was
not impressed by Wilson’s
avant-garde tendencies; at the time he was putting together the Smile
album. “Brian then put a damper on the spontaneity of the whole affair
by walking in with a tray of water-filled glasses, trying to arrange it into
some sort of session.” Mal wasn’t keen on glass harmonicas he would
have preferred Elvis.
When they returned in April 1967, the
Beatles began work on what was to become the ill-fated Magical Mystery Tour
project. The band, with Paul taking an increasingly dominant role, was
showing signs of stress. Mal wrote:
“I would get requests from the four of
them to do six different things at one time and it was always a case of
relying on instinct and experience in awarding priorities. They used to be
right sods for the first few days until they realised that everything was
going to go smoothly and they could get into the routine of recording…
Then I would find time between numerous cups of tea and salad sandwiches
and baked beans on toast to listen to the recording in the control
Once they’d completed the recording, Mal,
Neil and their families were whisked to Greece by the Beatles at George
Harrison’s expense. They spent a month under sunny skies on a wooden yacht
in the Aegean. By their return, however,
darker clouds were forming on the horizon. Before the summer was out,
Epstein was dead after an overdose. Without his guiding hand, the Beatles
plunged further into the chaotic Magical Mystery Tour project. As ever, Mal
was a crucial element, organising the coach tour that formed the
centrepiece of the film, recruiting actors and extras, then flying to Nice
with Paul to film the Fool on the Hill sequence.
According to Mal, this trip, as did many,
took place on an impulse; without luggage or papers. Paul sailed through
immigration with no passport, but they were refused entry to the hotel
restaurant because they didn’t look the part. They headed off to a
nightclub. “We had dinner in my room… The only money we had between
us had been spent on clothes, on the understanding that money was to be
forwarded from England
by the Beatles office. After the first round of drinks… we arranged with
the manager for us to get credit.”
The next day, Mal and Paul returned to the
club. “We took advantage of our credit standing, as money had still
not arrived from England.
News about Paul’s visit to the club the previous night had spread, and the
place was jammed. Now Paul, being a generous sort of person, had built up
quite a bar bill, when the real manager of the club arrived demanding that
we pay immediately. On explaining who Paul was and what had happened, he
answered, ‘You either pay the bill, or I call the police.’ It certainly
looked like we were going to get thrown in jail. It was ironical, sitting
in a club with a millionaire, unable to pay the bill.” Eventually the
hotel manager agreed to cover the money.
Paul and Mal returned to London,
where Paul was to edit the film. But it was panned by the critics when
televised that Christmas.
The year 1968 saw the genesis of Apple, the
group’s trip to Rishikesh in the Himalayas
at the invitation of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and increasing tensions.
By the time the band arrives in India, Mal
is already there, having carried out a recce a few days earlier. Ringo
demands a doctor as soon as he gets off the plane. From Mal’s memoir from
February: “‘Mal, my arm’s killing me, please take me to a doctor right
away.’ So off we go looking for one, our driver leaving us to a dead end in
the middle of a field, soon to be filled with press cars as they blindly
follow us; so we explain to them that it’s only Ringo’s inoculation giving
him trouble. When we arrived at the local hospital, I tried to get
immediate treatment for him, to be told curtly by the Indian doctor, ‘He is
not a special case and will have to wait his turn.’ So off we go to pay a
private doctor ten rupees for the privilege of hearing him say it will be
The Beatles, accompanied by an entourage
that included Mia Farrow, Donovan and the Beach Boy Mike Love, write half a
dozen songs in India, most of which are to end up on the White Album they
release later that year. Mal’s diary comments favourably on the sense of
karma that seemed to have settled upon them. “It is hard to believe that
a week has already passed. I suppose the peace of mind and the serenity one
achieves through meditation makes the time fly.” He even enjoyed the
food, unlike Ringo, who famously turned up with a case of baked beans.
But the tranquillity does not last.
“Suddenly… excitement… Ringo wants to leave… Maureen can’t stand
the flies any longer.” Mal himself spent a month in India, before returning to London to help out with the White Album
Later in the year, Mal travels to New York with
George. They go to visit Bob Dylan and the Band, who are rehearsing at Big
Pink, the Band’s upstate retreat.
November 28: “Up at 10.30 into Woodstock… To Bob
[Dylan] for Thanksgiving. Meet Levon [Helm] of the band, he is drummer
plays great guitar. Around the table after turkey, cranberry sauce etc.
& also Pecan pie. Bob, George, Rich, Happy, Levon… around the guitars
while many children play; Sarah [Dylan] great turkey sandwich & beer.
To Richard [Manuel] & Garths [Hudson]
home for farm sessions home to bed.”
At this point, Mal’s 1968 diary comes to an
end; it has been an action-packed year with two hit singles and a sprawling
double album but the Beatles are no longer a cohesive unit.
In the midst of a miserably cold winter, the
band and Mal set off for Twickenham Studios, where they are to start work
on the project that is to become Let It Be, a filmed record of the Beatles
at work. Already there is discord within the group, and in front of the
cameras they begin to disintegrate; from Mal we also get the first murmurings
of real discontent.
January 13, 1969: “Paul is really
cutting down on the Apple staff members. I was elevated to office boy [Mal
had briefly been made MD of Apple] and I feel very hurt and sad inside
only big boys don’t cry. Why I should feel hurt and reason for writing this
is ego… I thought I was different from other people in my relationship
with the Beatles and being loved by them and treated so nice, I felt like
one of the family. Seems I fetch and carry. I find it difficult to live on
the £38 I take home each week and would love to be like their other friends
who buy fantastic homes and have all the alterations done by them, and are
still going to ask for a rise. I always tell myself look, everybody wants
to take from, be satisfied, try to give and you will receive. After all
this time I have about £70 to my name, but was content and happy. Loving
them as I do, nothing is too much trouble, because I want to serve them.
“Feel a bit better now EGO?”
The Let It Be film is to feature the Beatles
in what is to become their last public performance, on the rooftop of the
Apple office building in London’s
Savile Row. Squabbles put to one side, the band, accompanied by Billy
Preston on keyboards, are clearly enjoying themselves. Mal is unusually
January 24, 1969: “Skiffling ‘Maggie
May’; Beatles really playing together. Atmosphere is lovely in the studio
everyone seems so much happier than of recent times.”
January 27: “Today we had the engineer
to look at the roof of No. 3. 5lbs sq. in is all it will take weight wise.
Needs scaffolding to make platform. Getting helicopter for shot of roof.
Should get good shot of crowds in street, who knows police might try to
stop us. Asked Alistair [Taylor, Apple office manager] to get toasted sandwich
January 29: “Show on the roof of Apple.
4 policemen kept at bay for 40 minutes while the show goes on.”
With the Beatles in free fall, Mal busies
himself with jobs for other Apple artists and fetching and carrying for
individual Beatles. Throughout the 1960s he and Paul had an affinity, and
in March 1969, Mal was one of just two witnesses at Paul’s wedding to Linda
Eastman in London.
The same day, George Harrison’s home is raided for drugs.
March 13: “Big drama, last night about
7.30pm Pattie rang the office from home for George to say ‘8 or 10
policeman including Sergeant Pilcher had arrived with search warrants
looking for cannabis’. George went home with Derek and lawyer, and was
released on £200 bail each.”
Mal, meanwhile, has financial worries.
April 24: “Had to tell George ‘I’m
broke’. Really miserable and down because I’m in the red, and the bills are
coming in, poor old Lil suffers as I don’t want to get a rise. Not really
true don’t want to ask for a rise, fellows are having a pretty tough time
as it is.”
The Beatles record their last album, Abbey Road, in
the summer of that year. Mal’s diaries note that four alternative titles
were mooted before the band settled on a title that celebrated the home of
EMI studios. “Titles suggested: Four in the Bar; All Good Children Go
to Heaven; Turn Ups; Inclinations.” Mal helps with John’s Instant
Karma, but he is finding Paul distant.
The next year, 1970, sees the Beatles
continuing with their solo projects. The band is no longer recording together.
January 27: “Seem to be losing Paul
really got the stick from him today.”
February 4: “To bed at 4.30am to rise
at 7.45 to help get the children dressed… Lil had a driving lesson at
8am, then driving test at 9am which she passed. Bed after a couple of
hours. Feel a cold coming on again. Walk into office late afternoon to meet
Ringo go to shake he says ‘Give us a cuddle then’ its worth a million
pounds that is and feel really recharged. George & Steve bass &
guitar. Nanette. Ringo Drums.”
February 5: “Bed this morning late. Up
at 1 to phone. Conversation with Paul, something like this: ‘Malcolm Evans’
‘Yeah Paul’ ‘I’ve got the EMI [Abbey Road studio] over this weekend I
would like you to pick up some gear from the house’ ‘Great man, that’s lovely.
Session at EMI?’ ‘Yes but I don’t want any one there to make me tea, I have
the family, wife and kids there.'”
Mal clearly took Paul’s distance to heart.
There was now no group to look after. Mal continued to work with John,
Ringo and George on their solo efforts and with the small stable of Apple
musicians he had helped to build up. But for him, the adventure was pretty
much over. When the Beatles broke up, there was a very strong chance that
he would too.
Mal remained an employee of Apple until
1974, when he moved to LA, ostensibly to work as a record producer. He left
Lily and the children the same year, moving in with Fran Hughes, whom he
had met at the Record Plant studio in Los
Angeles. The split from Lily had depressed Mal,
and it was clear that he continued to miss the family, long after he walked
out on them. Neither his family nor the Beatles, his second family, were
now close. “The times I had with him were brilliant. He was an
extraordinary person,” says his son, Gary. “But from the moment
he met the Beatles to the moment he died, he wanted to live two parallel
lives. He would have lived six months in the States and six months here if
he’d been able to get away with it.”
On the morning of January 5, 1976, exactly
two years after Mal had walked out, Lily took a call from Neil Aspinall. He
told her that Mal had been shot in LA. “I immediately thought he’d
been shot in a bank,” says Lily. “I had to wake up the kids and
tell them. I didn’t know he was low. He must have been missing the kids,
Mal had been killed by an officer of the Los
Angeles Police Department, who had been called to a disturbance at his home
in LA after it had been reported that he had been brandishing a weapon,
which may or may not have been an air rifle. Fran had called the police. Gary believes he was
drinking heavily and may have been on cocaine at the time: “It was all
part of the rock’n’roll, ’70s lifestyle.” Gary added that he thinks his father may
have been behaving like that in the knowledge that even if he was unwilling
to end his own life, the LA police would show no such hesitance.
George arranged for Mal’s family to receive
£5,000 on his death; he had no pension and he had not kept up his
life-assurance premiums. Lily and Gary have met Paul twice to discuss the
ownership of some Beatles lyrics Mal had tidied up, which she wanted to
sell. Paul appears to have reached generous out-of-court settlements with
her. Over the years, the Mal Evans archive has dwindled as Lily has been
forced to sell other parts of it piecemeal.
As she looks back on the 1960s, Lily regrets
the amount of time Mal gave up for the Beatles, but has fond memories: she
and the children adored the huge firework parties that Ringo organised at
his homes in Weybridge and Ascot. For
Gary, who was 14 when his father died, memories of the 1960s are also
bittersweet. “The Greek holiday was wonderful… There were good times
interspersed among the ‘Where is he’s?'”
“I’d go to school on the Monday, and
the teacher would say, “What did you do at the weekend?’ I’d say, ‘I
went round to John Lennon’s house.’ I thought that was normal. Sometimes I
found it all a bit too much. I’d be picked up from school by my dad in
Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce, He’d be wearing a cowboy hat, surrounded
by kids. I thought, ‘I don’t need this.'”
Ultimately, Gary remains disappointed about the fact
that the Beatles did not make proper provision for his father or his
family. When Mal left, Lily had to return to work to pay the mortgage and
keep the children going. “It was very tight,” Gary recalls. “We were on free
school meals. It’s very galling when you look back at what my dad’s input
was into that band and we ended up like that.” We asked Sir Paul
McCartney to comment, but a spokesperson said he was
It’s difficult to properly evaluate Mal’s
contribution to the Beatles, but for a long period he was regarded as
indispensable. He was trusted, universally liked and desperately loyal: his
diaries give away no indiscretions, though he would certainly have been
party to them. Even Lily acknowledges that “he would have had a few
flings”. But none of that bothered her: she always seemed more
concerned that he was “too nice for his own good” and that the
band would treat him “like a dishcloth”.
If he had followed her advice and remained a
Post Office engineer in Mossley Hill, he would have missed out on Sgt
Pepper, the Beatles in India
and his meetings with Elvis, his hero. And his passing, too, in the
sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles,
might also have turned out to be just a little less rock’n’roll.