Within You Without You – The Beatles
try to realise it’s all within yourself no one else can make you change
and to see you’re really only very small and life flows on within you and without you
when you see beyond yourself then you will find peace of mind is waiting there
and the time will come when you see we’re all one + life flows on within you and without you
Track 1, side 2 of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A song written by George Harrison inspired by his love of Ravi Shankar‘s records and his newly-found spiritual awakening to Indian philosophy and religion. After the pop glories of Lovely Rita and Getting Better and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds have become over-familiar, Within You Without You retains its mystical glowing power after many repeated listens and starts to become the warm central heartbeat of the LP. Often claimed to be the greatest LP of all time, (though more usually placed way down a list of great Beatles albums), Sgt Pepper was a cultural phenomenon that even I was aware of at the age of 9 on June 1st 1967 when it was released. It was played on Radio Luxembourg all day, and John Peel played it on his eclectic late night show The Perfumed Garden on Radio London without interruption. Artists as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa all fell under its strange English spell, and despite years of claim and counter-claim – ‘holy grail‘ versus ‘not very good really‘ criticism, it still towers over most of pop’s major records as a Legendary Thing, combining the first concept LP (despite the concept not holding up for more than three songs), the pop-art sleeve by Peter Blake, and the music itself, a rather eccentric combination of psychedelic rock, end-of-the-pier Edwardian recital, classical Indian music, and pure pop. The first two songs recorded for the LP were Penny Lane (see My Pop Life #36) and Strawberry Fields Forever, but they were released as an extraordinary double-A sided single in April by a zealous EMI. It’s a testament to the depth of the Beatles’ songwriting that this commercial decision didn’t sink the subsequent LP.
George was always third in the Beatles. John, Paul…..and George. And Ringo. It was simple – he was youngest. Ringo was last because he was last in, and because he was the drummer. And our family has a similar shape. Ralph, Paul…..and Andrew. And Becky. George traditionally got one song per album if he was lucky, but by the end of the 1960s his songwriting was so strong that Abbey Road had to include Here Comes The Sun AND Something, the finest song on the LP.
Roger McGuinn & David Crosby in the early days of The Byrds
It was The Byrds‘ guitarist and legendary stoner David Crosby who first showed George a sitar in California in 1965 at an LSD-drenched party in the hills, although Roger McGuinn later insisted that he had shown George the instrument. I can’t imagine any of them actually remember the details, but George then played one on Norwegian Wood in October of that year. The following April Harrison went full Indian on Love You To, which is on the LP Revolver. The accompanying musicians were uncredited but came from the Asian Music Circle, an organisation founded in Finchley in 1946 by Ayana Angadi and his wife Patrica Fell-Clarke, and where Harrison had been taking sitar lessons.
Ravi Shankar was guest of honour at the Finchley house in June 1966 when he first met George, who thereupon humbly asked him if he could become his pupil. Ravi accepted. They became firm friends and the most rewarding fruit of their work is Within You Without You, also recorded with uncredited members of the Asian Music Circle on the Indian instruments tamboura, swarmandel, dilruba and tabla.
Unknown musician, George Harrison & Ravi Shankar in 1967
With a string section arranged by producer George Martin and George Harrison, none of the other Beatles are on the track. George plays the sitar, much improved from his first attempt. The effect is mesmerising, musically adventurous and unembarrassingly spiritual. He was determined to master the instrument, but after a conversation with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix (!) Harrison realised that he had started his lessons fifteen years too late, and that he would never achieve true mastery. He put the sitar down, and went back to electric guitar, playing some astonishing pieces after the Beatles’ split, including How Do You Sleep? on the Imagine LP, and some beautiful slide guitar on My Sweet Lord and Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) among others.
George Harrison & Ravi Shankar
When the Brighton Beach Boys decided to tackle Sgt. Pepper, we sat around and threw our names into the hat for lead vocals. Within You Without You was my first choice. Clearly the angelic and profoundly moving voice of Glen Richardson would sing most of the McCartney vocals – She’s Leaving Home, Fixing A Hole, When I’m 64 etc. Tom and Stephen tussled over Paul’s opening screamer. That left John, George & Ringo among the remaining five singers. I got Ringo’s A Little Help From My Friends and the John part of A Day In The Life and this amazing song. Rehearsing it was odd, because we couldn’t really play it without the strings. So I sang it at home on my own to the record and tried to hold my nerve.
Very rough Sgt Pepper live event in The Robin Hood pub, 2005. From the top : Stephen Wrigley, me, Adrian Marshall, Tom Arnold
In May 2005 we had a very rough run-through of Pet Sounds v Sgt Pepper in the Robin Hood pub in Brighton one Sunday afternoon in front of a few customers and friends. Landlord Neil Hayward had come up with the idea so it was his fault. We’d already done Pet Sounds at Komedia on May 7th – the first time. I simply cannot remember how we did WYWY, perhaps we didn’t, or perhaps we had an electric tamboura by then (plug-in, switch on, choose key = instant spangly drone and lots of “mine’s a chicken korma” jokes) and Charlotte played the string part solo. Or perhaps not.
Soundcheck for Within You Without You in the church. Steve is playing harmonium (on the vibraphone!)
But history (and Tom Arnold) does record that the first time we played this gig was at the Brighton Festival, May 21st 2006. We had a tabla player just for this one song which we later considered to be a luxury, and since then Tom Arnold has played a variety of tabla and djembe and other percussion in the song. Rory Cameron played the sitar part on a Danelectro sparkling blue guitar belonging to Stephen Wrigley. Later he would learn the part on an actual sitar which of course is visually rather marvellous. Rory has now left the band. Glen found a swarmandel sound on his synthesiser – like a zither or metallic harp. And Steve also scored the string quartet. For this gig we added a string quartet and an extra flute and sax, and percussion, bringing the total to 16 players, and called the ensemble The Psychedelic Love Orchestra. Stringers being expensive people who insist (with complete justification) on being paid for rehearsal, I think we may have had just the one rehearsal with them. (We didn’t have any rehearsals with the stringers this year!) We then rehearsed during the sound-check, always a nerve-wracking experience. No pressure. It kept breaking down in the call-and-answer section between the first violin and the sitar, and the timing was controversial too – was it in 2/5 ?? For my part I had simply listened to the track ENDLESSLY and knew every twitch and sigh, so when I heard my cue, in I droned with the opening line:
“We were talking . . . about the space between us all…”
St George’s Church, Kemp Town with full Psychedelic Love Orchestra
That night the space between us all was a packed Georgian church – St George’s in Kemp Town, Brighton. We were set up on the altar thanks to a groovy priest who no longer runs the place – as a result the altar is now out of bounds, and we can’t fit into the space left. So those six or seven church gigs were unique and special, in a beautiful wooden structure with wonderful acoustics and an intimate setting. We lit incense as the tamboura warmed up, Stephen played the harmonium I think, and it was there, singing live in front of people that I discovered the soul of the piece, how heartfelt and warm it was, how true. How it was a miracle that somehow we got to the end without breaking down as we had in almost every single run-through. How I made the pranam prayer Hindu shape with my hands and bowed into the applause, and how we then slid effortlessly (apparently) into the soft shoe shuffle of When I’m 64, such is the clever sequencing of the LP. How proud I was that we had, collectively, scaled an Everest of a song in English pop culture, inspired by another tradition many miles away. How I could never count the bars, but always had to rely on instinct, which is much scarier. We’ve done the show ten times now, and it is always for me the scariest section of the show, and the part I look forward to the most. A bit like a ghost train.
Practise makes fantactiss
When we moved to New York City in 2014, my great sacrifice was seeing the godchildren growing up – Delilah Rose, who is eight years old, and Skye who is almost two. Uncle Ralph flies back as often as he can to see these precious little people. The other sacrifice was the band. It was touch-and-go for a few years whether it would continue at all – not just my absence, but Rory moved to Bury St Edmunds, Charlotte had a baby boy Cosmo, and Tom joined the endless tour of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. A chance visit in December 2015 found me in Brighton on the same night as a gig at The Brunswick with the rock’n’roll version of the Brighton Beach Boys complete with legend Chris Spedding on the guitar. I played on that gig (from memory, almost forgetting a key chord in Good Vibrations) and then said that if they booked the Pet Sounds/Pepper gig, I would fly back for it from Brooklyn.
May 28th 2016, Pet Sounds v Sgt Pepper live
Thus it was that almost exactly three years to the day since we last tackled these two pop landmarks The Brighton Beach Boys were reunited at The Haunt, in Pool Valley Brighton on Saturday May 28th 2016. No Spedding this time, but a lovely guitarist and singer called Jono Harrison. The band had had two rehearsals, but the woodwinds and strings hadn’t been there. The same four key players : Nicky and Brian on violins, Sarah on cello and Rob on viola joined us for the soundcheck on Saturday afternoon and we had a quick run-through of Within You Without You. As usual it was rubbish, well, not rubbish, but covered in errors and hesitations and poor timings, mainly from me. As usual when we performed it live it was fine. Some enthusiastic audience members even insisted that it was great.
Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away on 11 December 2012. George Harrison left us on 29 November 2001. They remained great friends.
Now and again I tiptoe towards the wisdom embraced by the song – seeing both within myself to change the sadness, and seeing beyond myself to find – sometimes – that peace of mind is waiting there. I hope I can grow old gracefully. At the moment the tempest shows no signs of abating. But life. Life flows on within you, and without you.