The police famously tried to shut down the Beatles’s rooftop concert on 30 January 1969, over concerns of breach of the peace, in what was to be the band’s final public performance. Now a further backstage drama has emerged with the revelation that Paul McCartney afterwards used his charm to stop a police officer from arresting their road manager and confidant, Mal Evans.
Kenneth Womack, one of the world’s foremost Beatles scholars, told the Observer: “It turns out that Mal was actually arrested that day but managed to get out of it only when Paul went into PR mode and changed the copper’s mind after the show.”
It is among behind-the-scenes revelations in Evans’s previously unpublished diaries, manuscripts and photographs to which Womack has been given unprecedented access for a major biography.
For decades, the mystery surrounding histrove of unreleased material has left Beatles fans and music historians longing for a glimpse into the life and times of this devoted friend from the group’s inner circle.
Evans himself had written his memoir, titled Living the Beatles’s Legend, which he planned to submit for publication in the mid-1970s, with the written permission of the Beatles. But he died before he was able do this. Evans was killed in 1976, aged 40, in a tragic shooting by the Los Angeles police.
Now his children, Gary and Julie, have made his documents available to Womack, who said: “Since Mal’s death, the Beatles’s world has always been abuzz about his diaries and his manuscripts. For the first time, they will be published.”
The material reveals what really happened at the rooftop concert, which is the big climax of Peter Jackson’s new Get Back docuseries.
Womack added that Evans, with his assistant Kevin Harrington, had created the makeshift stage on the roof of the Beatles’s Apple Corps HQ in Savile Row: “The police demand that they turn down the sound or stop the concert. They tell Mal they intend to arrest the Beatles. At that point, Mal turns off George Harrison’s amplifier. Of course, George is very unhappy with that and barks at Mal. As Jackson’s Get Back documentary shows, the Beatles performed a brief, stilted version of Get Back, and then the concert was essentially over.”
Of the police’s threat to arrest the Beatles, Evans wrote in his diary: “I felt that this would have been a silly thing to let happen and, making an effort to keep the peace, I switched off the power, starting with George’s amplifier, just as they were about to break into a new number. Then George got a right cob on. I put the amp back on. They played that last number and finished.”
He added: “On the way up to the roof, they arrested me, with one of the policemen putting me in his book. Paul, being the public relations man that he is, apologised to the police and got me off the hook.”
Womack said fans of the Beatles will be astonished by the diaries and other material: “Being there for nearly every minute of all of their sessions, having struggled with them on those world tours, Mal understood they were crafting a musical legacy that was something extraordinarily special.” The Beatles, in turn, valued his loyalty.
Womack is professor of English and popular music at Monmouth University, New Jersey, and author or editor of 40 books, including The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles and The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four. Yet even he has found plenty that he did not know. On reading the diaries, he was “overcome with emotion”.
“Mal is showing them in their unguarded moments,” he said. “You have to be a genius to write A Day in the Life [considered one of the best Lennon-McCartney collaborations], but they’re real people. It’s a real story with highs and lows and fantastic moments of success and heartbreaking moments.”
Womack’s biography of Evans will be published in 2023, followed by a fully illustrated offering from the family’s archives in 2024.