Beatles roadie whose passion for the band (and groupies) wrecked his life: Mal Evans toured the world in luxury with the Fab Four, but after the group broke up his marriage collapsed – and his life ended in a hail of police gunfire…
BOOK OF THE WEEK
THE LIFE OF BEATLES LEGEND
by Kenneth Womack (Mudlark £25, 592pp)
One lunchtime in 1961, a young telephone engineer called Mal Evans took a different route back to work after eating his sandwiches at Pier Head in Liverpool.
He took a shortcut in an alley and heard what sounded like Elvis Presley music coming from a fruit cellar.
He paid a shilling, went down a few steps to investigate and found himself in the Cavern Club during one of the Beatles’ pre-fame lunch sessions.
That random choice of route would change his entire life.
Mal was pleased with what he heard and returned to the Cavern as often as he could, and being a large man of 6ft 4in tall, it was soon suggested by Beatle George Harrison that he become a bouncer. .
Mal Evans (above right) pictured with the Beatles at London Heathrow Airport in July 1965. Mal had left his job as a telephone engineer to work as a roadie for the Beatles in the summer of 1963
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, before the release of She Loves You, he took a risk and left his “fun, safe, reliable job in retirement” to work as a roadie and general factotum for the Beatles.
Throughout it all he kept notes in his Post Office Engineering Union diary. “They are all great guys with a sense of humor,” he wrote after his initial involvement. “And (they) make you feel like they’re a great team.”
For Mal, his job was more than a dream, and he would be present at every Beatles recording session and performance as the band toured the world.
Nominally he was their road manager, the guy who always had a spare pick in his bag, who set up the drums, who had extra guitar leads and drum sticks, and Hack’s cough drops to soothe a sore throat from singing too much.
But Mal wasn’t just any employee. He was a friend to all the Beatles and would make himself slavishly available to help them at any time.
There was only one catch. Already in his late twenties and a family man, his wife, Lil, would inevitably be left behind in Liverpool with their two children.
When Lil and Mal married in 1957, they were both still virgins, and the girls who came to see the Beatles and company would prove impossible for her husband to resist.
Mal pictured with Paul McCartney at Nice Airport, France. During the 1960s, when Mal traveled with the Beatles as they conquered the world, their stardom reflected on him and he enjoyed it.
Many books have been published about the Beatles, but this look at them through the eyes of their closest assistant shows not only the group’s extraordinary workload, but also how, without realizing it, the Beatles’ constant demands eventually became part of the crumbling scaffolding. from the life of Mal Evans.
Throughout the 1960s, Mal, who this writer knew to be the most likable guy, seemed to have it all. As he hopped on and off planes as the Beatles conquered the world, their stardom reflected back on him and he enjoyed it.
But although he longed to be famous for himself, he could never become a Beatle. He knew he was a much-loved servant, albeit at a menial servant’s wage.
When he was with them, he always stayed in the best hotels and rode in the longest limousines.
In Hollywood he was with them when they met Elvis, and also with them when they went to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBEs from 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. Then, as his wife noted, he would go home and have to clean out his children’s rabbit hutch.
Throughout the 1960s he led two parallel lives, and this book is a devastating portrayal of how the glamorous life took over, so much so that when the Beatles broke up, so did Mal.
Mal and Lil’s wedding day. Lil was already in his late twenties and a family man when he started working with the band. Lil stayed behind in Liverpool with their two children while Mal was on the road.
Mal was in Hollywood with the Beatles when they met Elvis, and also with them when they went to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBEs from the Queen
He had settled his family in a suburb of London by then, but there was no return to his work repairing telephone lines. There were other women too, with Lil finding letters, cards and even underwear in Mal’s bags when he came home from abroad.
None of that meant anything, he would say. But it did that with Lil too.
He would write her loving letters and make promises he wanted to keep, but when the phone rang he would be gone again, leaving her struggling to raise their children financially. He hated himself for his neglect, but he went anyway.
Having occasionally helped out with a single line in the recording studio, he wanted to become a songwriter and record producer, and after divorcing Lil, he went to live in California with a girlfriend. But his songwriting didn’t get very far and he didn’t have the skills to become a record producer.
Instead, he tried to write a memoir about his years with the Beatles, which might have generated some income. But depression, lots of cocaine and an increasing sense of failure began to envelop him. He missed his children, he cried.
Then, just after New Year’s 1974, four years after the Beatles broke up, he strangely began dictating his will to a friend.
He had always loved westerns and owned a Winchester rifle. When he saw him holding it while lying on the bed, his girlfriend tried to take it from him.
He resisted. “If you don’t give me the gun right now, I’m going to call the police,” she said. “Please call the police,” he replied.
Kenneth Womack’s book describes how the glamorous life Mal led amid the band took over, to the extent that when the Beatles broke up, Mal also gained the upper hand.
When police arrived, the friend was told to stand outside. According to their report, they kicked open the bedroom door and told Mal to drop the gun.
‘No. Shoot my head off,’ Mal allegedly said, and he started raising the gun as if, they thought, he was going to shoot them.
Police fired six shots, four of which hit Mal. He died immediately. Scattered around him on the bed were memorabilia from his Beatle days. A toxicity report found only 10 milligrams of Valium in his system; no other medications.
Author Kenneth Womack, an American academic, has carefully researched not only putting together the roadie’s point of view on the Beatles story, but also portraying the tragedy of a man who was so in love with the group that he destroyed his own life. .