One lunchtime in 1961 a young telephone engineer called Mal Evans took a different route back to work after eating his sandwiches at Liverpool’s Pier Head. Choosing a short cut down a back alley he heard what sounded like Elvis Presley music coming from a fruit cellar.
Paying a shilling, he went down some steps to investigate, and found himself in the Cavern Club at one of the Beatles’ pre-fame lunchtime sessions. That random choice of route would change his entire life.
Liking what he heard, Mal went back to the Cavern as often as he could, and because he was a burly, six foot three, gentle giant of a man, it was soon suggested, by Beatle George Harrison, that he should be a bouncer.
From there he graduated to driving the Beatles’ Ford Thames van as they went to London to make their first records, and around England as they promoted them. Then, in the summer of 1963, just before the release of She Loves You, he took a risk and gave up his ‘nice, safe, reliable job with a pension’, to go to work as a roadie and general factotum for the Beatles.
Throughout everything he kept notes in his Post Office Engineering Diary. ‘They are all great blokes with a sense of humour,’ he wrote after his first involvement. ‘And (they) give one the feeling that they are a great team.’To Mal, his job was more than a dream, and he would be present at every Beatles recording session and appearance as the band toured the world. Nominally he was their road manager, the guy who always had a spare plectrum in his bag, who set up the drums, who had extra guitar leads and drumsticks, as well as Hack cough sweets to ease sore throats from too much singing.
But Mal wasn’t just an employee. He was a friend to all the Beatles and would slavishly make himself available to help any of them at any time.
There was just one snag. Already in his late twenties and a family man, inevitably, his wife, Lil, would be left behind in Liverpool with their two children. Both virgins when Lil and Mal had married in 1957, the girls who came on to the Beatles and company, would prove impossible for her husband to resist.
There have been many books about the Beatles, but this view of them through the eyes of their closest servant, shows not just the extraordinary workload of the group; but how, without realising it, the Beatles’ constant demands eventually became part of the crumbling scaffolding of Mal Evans’s life.
Throughout the Sixties, Mal, whom this writer knew to be the most likeable of men, seemed to have it all. Hopping on and off planes as the Beatles conquered the world, their stardom was reflected on him and he enjoyed it. But, although he longed to be famous for himself, he could never be a Beatle. He was, he knew, a much-loved servant, albeit on a menial servant’s wage.
When he was with them, he would always stay in the best hotels and drive in the longest limousines. And in Hollywood he was with them when they met Elvis, and with them, too, when they went to Buckingham Palace to be given their MBEs by the Queen. Then there was India to learn about meditation with the Maharishi, and Rome, with Ringo, to meet Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and even Marlon Brando. Mal was always there. After which, as his wife, Lil, would point out, he would go home and have to clean out his children’s rabbit hutch.
Throughout the Sixties, he lived two parallel lives, and this book traces devastatingly how the glamorous one gained the upper hand, to the extent that when the Beatles broke up, so did Mal.
He’d brought his family to live in a London suburb by then, but there was no going back to his job fixing phone lines. There were other women, too, Lil finding letters and cards, and even knickers, in Mal’s bags when he came home from abroad. None of that meant anything, he would say. But it did to Lil.
He would write her loving letters and make promises he meant to keep, but when the phone rang he would be off again, leaving her to struggle financially bringing up their children. He hated himself for his neglect, but he still went.
Because he’d sometimes helped out with the odd line in the recording studio, he wanted to be a songwriter and a record producer, and, having separated from Lil, he went to live in California with a girlfriend. But the songwriting didn’t get very far and he didn’t have the skills to be a record producer.
Instead, he tried to write a memoir about his years with the Beatles, which might have provided some income. But depression, much cocaine and a deepening sense of failure began to envelope him. He missed his children, he would sob. Then, just after New Year, 1974, four years after the Beatles had broken up, he strangely began to dictate his last will and testament to a friend.
He’d always liked Westerns and he owned a Winchester rifle. Seeing him holding it while lying on his bed, his girlfriend tried to take it from him. He resisted.
‘If you don’t give me the gun now, I’m going to call the police,’ she said.
‘Please call the police,’ he replied.
When the police arrived the girlfriend was told to stand outside. According to their report, they kicked open the bedroom door and told Mal to drop the gun.
‘No. Blow my head off,’ Mal allegedly said, and he began to raise the gun, as if, they thought, to shoot at them.
The police fired six shots, four of which hit Mal. He died instantly. Scattered around him on the bed was the memorabilia of his Beatle days. A toxicity report found only 10 milligrams of Valium in his system; no other drugs.
Author Kenneth Womack, an American academic, has done a meticulously researched job in not only piecing together the roadie’s viewpoint of the Beatles’ story, but also in depicting the tragedy of a man who was so in love with the group he destroyed his own life.
Ray Connolly’s memoir Born At The Right Time (Malignon £9.99) is now available from Amazon.