Posted December 2018
Beatles fans the world over – even if they’re just a nominal fan – is aware of the bands iconic performance which became known as the “rooftop concert”.
Only a handful of people were on that roof with the band and very few people have written directly about – and certainly not from an insider’s perspective.
Ken Mansfield – who is no stranger to Boomerocity or Everything Knoxville Magazine – is one of those handful of people on the roof that day. As the U.S. manager for the lad’s record label, Apple, he was on the inside, literally, of what led up to that iconic musical event. While he’s written about it in previous books, his new book, The Roof: The Beatles’ Final Concert, combines the stories and the details of that performance and shares it from a very personal (and not so academic) perspective.
For the second time this year, I called Ken at his California home to chat about “Rooftop”. To help set up the backdrop for what he was about to share, I started by asking which of the Fab Four he was closest to.
“I was probably more with Ringo because he and I had spent the longest time together. I think there was a closeness with George that I didn’t have with the others just because our natures were so similar, and we spent some really close, personal time together. But Ringo and I, we went through everything. We went through being crazy and having to go away and get well. Ha! Ha! Coming back together afterwards. I represented him, again, in the nineties. He moved to L.A. right away, so he was really an L.A. guy after a while. We were a small group that just hung out together; an isolated group of people from either Apple or just in the business and stuff like that.”
When I asked Mansfield if he sees either Ringo or Paul since the nineties, he said:
“The last time I saw him (Ringo), he was playing at an Indian casino at Indianland up in Northern California – in Santa Rosa, actually. It was in Santa Rosa. That’s the last time. It was funny because, as close as we were and as much time as we spent (together) and went through so much together . . . when we got together, we were backstage, ‘How’s Barbara?’ ‘Oh, she’s fine. How you doin’, Ken?’ ‘Well, I’m doing okay.’ Then, pretty soon we’re just looking at each other because we just didn’t have much to talk about because we weren’t involved in each other’s lives anymore. That was the last time I saw him. That was probably four years ago.”
Asking Ken to lay out the premise of “Rooftop”, he shared:
“First of all, the point I’m really making with this book is that I really wanted to separate myself from other people and the other books. It’s a personal book. Since Kevin Harrington forty years ago when he wrote that really small book on the roof, I’m the only person right now that’s written a book about being on the roof. I was there. There’s only a few of us that were there. There’s not many of us alive anymore.
“So, it’s a very personal, in-person look at putting together Apple. A personal look at the guys. There’s not a lot of facts and not a lot of detail and research and all of that. I really wanted the people to have an understanding of what it was like. It really concentrates on putting Apple together and all the things surrounding that and everything leading up to the roof. Basically, me walking up to the roof with the band and this moment happening that none of us really realized what it was going to be.
“There was an emotion up there; a closeness of all of us that were up there. Nobody else can describe it. I was standing four feet away part of the time from George; sitting just a few feet from Yoko; six feet away from the guys. There’s very small space on top of the roof that day. Everybody that was up there, we’re just bound to each other like two guys in a foxhole. Its’ something that’s with us forever. Something we’ll never forget.
“I wanted people to get that inside look at it and to make sure that I was also taking care of business. I had some of the greatest authorities like Mark Lewisohn, Bruce Spizer, Robert Rodriquez, Stefan Granados. Even Ben Stoker and Marshall Terrill. I invited a lot of people to go through this to make sure that my facts were right as they went by, I had to deal with facts, also, and I wanted to make sure I wrote this book for two specific groups of people.
“I wrote it for the aficionados – the people that know everything about the Beatles; knows everything that’s ever been about the Beatles. I wanted to give them a little different look; a little insight, softer look. I felt they deserved it as I wrote in the forward on it. I felt they deserved it. They’ve never met a Beatle or been with them or anything like that; to give them a feel for what they’ve been writing about for all these years. They know everything about them. Just that kind of a thing.
“Then, I wrote it, also, for the everyday people that’s just been a fan their whole lives. ‘Yesterday’ is their song they heard when they met their girlfriend. I wanted the people who haven’t been reading all this stuff, I wanted them to get a clear picture. So, I wrote it for two audiences and being very respectful to both audiences; to make sure that I gave them what I wanted them to know.
“I did go back to the White Book and The Beatles, Bible, and Bodega Bay a little bit because I needed to pull things out of there, update them, and re-write them to tell the whole story. I couldn’t leave out what I’d written before. I couldn’t tie things together if I didn’t. The Beatles, Bible, and Bodega Bay was eighteen years ago.
“I’ve got some pictures in there. Some of the Beatles guys – you probably know some of these guys – like Steve Marinucci and Ken Michaels – one of them said they couldn’t believe it when they saw the pictures I have of inside the building. They’re not exciting pictures. George is leaning against the wall while Derek Taylor is typing a letter, or Peter Asher on the phone. It shows them in their offices. It shows what it looks like in the building. The building was just a bunch of ordinary, working people. I wanted the people to get a personal feel for the Beatles. I’ve never seen a book like this before.”
I commended Mansfield on the stellar list of people like Alan Parsons, Peter Asher, and Andrew Loog Oldham, who contributed comments at the beginning of the book and what that says about his work. He replied:
“You need to make sure that you got the cred because, otherwise, people won’t believe you. Peter was there. We became friends. And Jack Oliver who went on to being president of Apple. And Alan (Parsons). Alan and I were on the roof together. We didn’t know that. I don’t remember him and didn’t remember me. He was a nineteen-year-old kid making his bones pulling cable and doing the stuff on the roof. I was the guy in the suit. We met, maybe, ten years ago and we got to talking. ‘Wait! You were on the roof?’ No! We couldn’t believe it; that we were on the roof. I always wanted to meet him. At that moment, we’re, like, ‘Yeah. Okay. We’re pals. We were on the roof together.’ That’s all we needed to know.”
Ken then told me that he hoped the book didn’t come across too “fluffy”.
“It’s a very ‘soft’ approach. I’m wondering if it’s going to be too fluffy for some people. That’s how I remember things. The funny thing about the whole time with Apple and the Beatles was that I have nothing but good memories. Nothing but that. Nothing in my time with the guys – no bad memories there. People accuse me of sort of soft-pedaling everything about the Beatles. I know there were times and I know they weren’t perfect, and they weren’t angels. They weren’t always the nicest guys, maybe. I don’t know. I didn’t see that part.”
Concluding those remarks, Mansfield added:
“The thing I’ve never tried to say was, ‘Hey, I’m the big man that was the Beatles. I’m the big authority on the Beatles.’ I’m not. I had about – other than small things during the years – I had two years where I was very involved with them. I’m talking about what I know and what I’ve seen. But the time I’m talking about is – maybe you could separate the beginning when all this madness started and all that. That would be one area.
“This is another encapsulated time in their lives; when the whole Apple thing and the roof thing; the White Album, Let It Be and all these things. This was a pretty amazing time. I think it was a time – maybe the most remarkable time of their lives in a way for them; when people really followed them. It was an amazing time. And I was there. I was there on the roof. That’s why I feel I’m the person that can talk about that. Not because I’m smart. I just happened to be there. I could've been at Apple a week later or a week earlier. I just had to be working in Apple and that was happening in London. ‘Hey! We’re going up on the roof!’”
In recent times, I’ve watched the footage of the rooftop concert and in my mind, I see a lot of symbolism. I asked Ken if, a) he saw any symbolism during that event; and, b) if so, what does that whole event symbolize to him? I asked him that question having not yet read the book.
“Because you used those words, so I can tell you like those things. You’re going to read a lot of that when I come to talk about that. I think it was kind of ironic that it was their final moment and they were on top. They were still on top. They were on top of the building. They’d been on top of the world. I’ve said this before. In our meetings they said, ‘Well, we’ve got nothing else to accomplish. We’ve accomplished everything.’
“I think they did one more thing with going up there. It was a cold, dirty roof. Everything was in kind of a mess. They were having problems. But when they broke through that door and got up in front of the mics; when they started signing – the whole thing, for me, that touched me the most – to remember the most – is when either Paul looked over at John or John looked over at Paul and they just had this look like, ‘Yeah. Yeah. This is us. This is who we are. This is who we’ve been. We’re a great band. We’ve been great friends for a long time and this is who we are.’
“I think that this is symbolic way for them to walk back out of that building and leave it that way. That’s what they were: A great band and old friends. They gelled that day up on the roof.”
Yoko Ono was on the roof with Ken and the others on that historic day. Lots has been written about the alleged negative impact and influence she supposedly had on the band. Her and John’s good friend and photographer, Bob Gruen, valiantly defended her against those allegations in my last interview with him (here). I asked Mansfield if he sensed any negativity directed to or from Yoko that day.
“Not that day because I didn’t see Yoko that day other than when we were up on the roof. She came in with John and she left with John and I think they swapped coats before they got up there or afterwards.
“I said this before: She did more with being quiet than anyone I’d ever met. You knew she was observing. You knew everything you said, really, went through her to John and then back to you. You knew that she filtered everything and that she had a great influence on him. I mentioned that the Beatles never gave me the sense that, ‘Well, I’m a Beatle and you’re not.’ They were always just so open.
“Yoko always just felt a little elevated against the rest of us commoners. But, in the end, she was always great to me. She approved things for me after John died. Everything I ever needed or asked her for, she did. She treated me very, very good.”
Circling back to the symbolism of that day, Ken said:
“Here’s something for you to mull over in your mind. It just came to me recently. The Beatles, you never knew what to expect next from them. Every album was like a complete, ‘Oh my gosh! They didn’t do the same thing.’ They always did something fresh and something new and something different.
“Here’s a band who came through Sgt. Pepper and the White Album and all these things, but that thing on the roof – nobody expected that. I would expect that, at that point, they would’ve come up with something really exciting and really different. Now, I realize how different that was. You’d have to go a long way to think about, ‘Well, okay, our final thing will be on a roof.’ I realize that they did it again. They did another Sgt. Pepper, it’s just different music and a different set. They did something as unusual as Sgt. Pepper was.
“Then I realized when I looked, that’s where they were at at that time. There’s all the talk about going to Tunisia or going to the coliseum doing all these giant, extravagant things which were more of the Sgt. Pepper mindset. But with the music they were making at that time was Let It Be. You’ve heard the Let It Be Naked and stuff like that. That’s where they were at at that time. That was very representative of their mindset. That gave me a lot of insight when I started thinking about that day.”
And what does Ken Mansfield think is the biggest misconception about that event?
“I’ve never had anyone ask me that. I’m not sure what the conceptions were from a lot of people. Maybe that they knew it was their final concert; that they knew that they were doing this and that was it. They were pulling the plug. I don’t think anybody knew that. I think everybody felt it and I think everybody sensed something like that. But I don’t think it was written down. I don’t think it was a plan or anything. It just happened, and it wasn’t organized like that. It was organized in a couple days. Organizing: all that meant was putting some planks up there because that roof would have never held us. They put timbers up on the fifth floor where Peter Asher’s office was to make sure the roof didn’t cave in. It was just something that happened. That’s what it was. Something happened.
“As you probably know, that couldn’t also not have happened at the last minute because they weren’t sure before they came out through that door that they were all going to go up there. There were discussions and, finally, I think John said, ‘Screw it. Let’s do it.’ Maybe like, ‘Let’s quit trying to think it through. Let’s just go do it. Get the footage and get out of here.’”
Was there anybody else who hasn’t been identified as being there on that day that Ken feels has not been highlighted according to their presence and significance?
“Chris O’Dell. Nobody ever mentions her. She was sitting there. Yoko and I, Marie and Chris. Chris was from Arizona. Her story is fascinating how she ended up at Apple anyway. She was a dynamo in the building. She got things done. Chris was just a worker. When you talk to Chris, things got done. A lot of the girls maybe didn’t care a lot for Chris because Chris was in there to get stuff done. She was used to working like that. She came out of L.A. She was a fireball and she was really trusted by the Beatles. Very trusted by them. In their homes. With them. Just somebody who they could turn around and say, ‘Hey, Chris, go do this.’ Or, ‘Hey, Chris, I need this.’ “Chris, will you go with me to here.’ She is Miss O’Dell and she did the big booklet. I’ve never seen her much associated with the roof. That’s why I put a chapter on her and Jack Oliver, who became president. He was a worker-bee in the company. He’s a guy who got things done. He’s a guy who hung out and he’s a guy that was this little dynamo in there, too, so there’s a chapter on him.
“There’s a chapter on Kevin. He didn’t work for Apple. He worked for the Beatles. I didn’t know that until I talked to Kevin (Harrington) recently. I thought he was an Apple employee and just took care of instruments and stuff. No. He actually worked for the Beatles individually. He got a whole chapter in there. Alan got a chapter. Of course, Mal (Evans) got a chapter.”
Does Ken feel that it’s possible for an up-and-coming talent to structure things and do things today the way the Beatles were able to do so back then?
“No, because it’s not the same mindset. It’s not the same situation. It’s not the same culture. It’s not the same anything. Today, your bands are big business. They’re manufactured, a lot of them. They’re quick, one hit wonders. This is a band that worked together for a long time. Struggled together. Worked together. This had never been done before because people today could never do something for the first time. It’s already been done. The Beatles did it. That’s what separates them from everybody. All they can do is copy or work off of it. This was a soul thing with these guys.
“I wrote something in the book – one sentence that I’m most proud of. It refers back to that which you asked earlier about the emotion up there. I think I closed a chapter with it. I said, ‘They went up there without a sound check. They came back with a soul check.’
“When we all left, nobody talked with each other. I think we all – we knew something happened, but we didn’t quite understand it, so we didn’t talk about it. I don’t remember them huddling afterward. I don’t remember them talking to anybody afterward. I think, I like when I was telling you that Paul looked at John, I think, yeah, that they realized that, too. That they had something really special and knew that it was going to be going away. I think it made them look inside a little bit because there had been a lot of disagreements and I think they realized who they were and who they’d been and what they were together.”
When the 50th anniversary of the roof top concert taking place next year, does Ken have any idea if his book will factor into any of the acknowledgements?
“I have no idea. Apple hasn’t said what they’re going to do. They’ve not said a word. They wouldn’t approve my pictures of me in them; pictures that I had taken – my staff and stuff. They wouldn’t let me use them in this book. They said, ‘We’re going to do something. Or, maybe we’re going to do something.’ They didn’t want to give me rights to use those just in case they did something. I don’t know if they’ve got something up their sleeve or maybe they’ll do what they’ve done with the White Album and do a re-mastering of the rooftop thing or re-editing of the film. Right now, I ask everybody I talk to and nobody seems to know the answer to that. Nobody’s really heard. There’s rumors that they are re-editing the film to make it more friendly and not concentrate on the bad time during that film. The good times kinda soften it up a little bit is the only thing I’ve heard.”
I then asked a question that I should’ve known the answer to: Who controls Apple now?
“There’s a staff there. A guy named Jeff Jones is the head of it. They have a board that, of course, Ringo, Yoko, and Paul are a part of. The board approves everything and directs everything and the company day-to-day approving of things. It’s a business now. It’s a business of re-packaging, taking an asset and getting more out of it. It’s an asset now. Before, it was a passion.”
With so there have been so many changes in the music business since those idyllic days on the rooftop, I asked Ken if he thinks the business will come back around full-circle.
“I don’t know if that’s possible. The only thing I do know is when the record companies were so powerful, that’s what created independent producers and independent production companies and small subsidiary labels, and that kind of stuff is the people at the ground level having a way to come up and get involved in something. Maybe it will come back around to that a little bit. When I was in the business, it was all about heart and the crazy people around the companies. When things started getting big, now it’s accountants and lawyers. It became a business instead of an entertainment thing.”
Whether or not the music business comes back around full-circle, one thing is for certain: There’ll never be another ground-breaking group like the Beatles and the people who helped make them the iconic group that they were are gradually departing this earth. Being able to hear about historic events like the rooftop concert from one of the few attendees like Ken Mansfield is truly a treasure to avail ourselves to.
Keep up with Ken at KMansfield.com.