Behind every brilliant mind, there is usually a group of individuals providing support. According to writer Kenneth Womack, even the most talented individuals like Charlotte Brontë, James Joyce, and Steve Jobs cannot achieve their success without the help of others. Womack, who has spent the past three years researching the life of Mal Evans, an assistant to the Beatles, understands this firsthand. Evans’ role included being a roadie, bodyguard, tea-maker, and even obtaining marijuana for the band.
Upon first seeing the Beatles at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, Evans underwent a transformation. Womack describes him as becoming “intoxicated.” Within a year, he took on a second job as the club’s bouncer. The following year, he left his respectable day job to travel with the band on tour throughout the country. And when Beatlemania swept the globe, Evans followed, responsible for transporting the band’s guitars and amplifiers.
After the Beatles stopped touring, Evans became involved in their music. He played the tambourine on Strawberry Fields Forever, used an alarm clock on A Day in the Life, and contributed lyrics to Here, There and Everywhere. However, after the band broke up and Evans’ own dreams of songwriting and producing didn’t pan out, he fell into a state of hopelessness. This ultimately led to his untimely death at the age of 40, when he was shot by police officers in Los Angeles after confronting them with an air rifle.
However, after nearly five decades and the return of the Beatles with their supposed “last” song, Evans’ tale remains highly regarded by fans. This is largely due to speculation about a collection of band memorabilia that Evans collected during his time with the Fab Four. The legend of this archive is so widespread that a prank in 2004 claiming it was found at an Australian flea market gained global attention. However, it has now been revealed that the legendary archive does exist, and Womack has been granted complete access to it.
“When the materials from Evans’s family arrived at my residence in New Jersey, I was amazed,” Womack remarks. “Mal had an impressive collection of materials. He would gather lyrics and even keep receipts, anything that was left behind. He was essentially the first historian of The Beatles.”
Using these resources, Womack has authored the initial comprehensive account of Evans’ life, which was published this month. In the following year, he plans to publish a second installment that will offer a complete examination of the archive, in order to enable Beatles enthusiasts to analyze the materials and potentially make connections that were previously overlooked.
The main focus is on Evans’ journal, which he wrote while he was a member of the band. He also had an unpublished memoir that he was writing before he passed away. For researchers like Womack, these documents are extremely valuable. “Mal’s diary provides key information for understanding the timeline,” Womack explains. “This will significantly impact the way Beatles experts view their history.”
Even though it is significant to historians, the diary can be quite ordinary. On his first day working for the Beatles, Evans wrote: “Started work with Beatles in Blackpool. Picked up the boys at 1:30am from the airport. They went home in a hired car. Neil [Aspinall] and I took the van. Went to bed at 3:30am.” It may not be considered exceptional writing, but there is something impactful about its everydayness. It dispels the myth surrounding the Beatles’ journey and serves as a reminder that their fame was not guaranteed.
In his memoir, Evans reveals more about his interactions with the members of the band. He formed a close bond with Paul McCartney, even living with him and spending time in his music room while songs were being written. He fondly recalls many enjoyable evenings spent in that small room at the top of McCartney’s house. However, his relationship with John Lennon was not as easy. Evans found it difficult to communicate with Lennon and notes, “I always felt like our friendship was on rocky ground whenever John stopped teasing me.”
However, the primary insight provided by these materials is into the personality of Evans himself. While Beatles fans may have portrayed him as a charming, bumbling sidekick, always present with a guitar pick or cup of tea, he was actually a multifaceted and conflicted individual.
Womack acknowledges that Mal had a strong desire to become a celebrity, as evident in his private thoughts. Mal’s personal collection contains many memories of the glamorous lifestyle he experienced while being a part of the Beatles’ inner circle. In his memoir, he ecstatically recalls the moment when McCartney allowed him to speak to Elvis Presley on the phone. In a letter to his wife, Lily, he expresses his excitement about visiting Burt Lancaster’s mansion with George and Ringo, and how thrilled he was to borrow Burt’s personal swimming trunks for a swim.
Evans rarely wrote letters home, as he was too focused on living out his dream of being a celebrity. This caused him to neglect his duties as a partner to Lily and a father to his two children. He even missed the birth of his daughter and was unfaithful to Lily, eventually leaving his family altogether. In his diary, he scolds himself for not keeping in touch with Lily and admits to making excuses to avoid talking to her. He confesses that he is afraid of her getting angry with him, but his guilt never prompted him to change his ways.
One possible explanation for the long period of secrecy surrounding the mythic archive is that the materials were lost for a time, stored in a basement at a publishing house. However, they have since been in the possession of the Evans family for many years. The family may have hesitated to make them public due to the difficult circumstances they were facing, particularly with regards to Mal. According to Womack, it is understandable that the family needed time to process and deal with their pain before sharing the archive.
Gary, the son of Evans, has taken the lead on this endeavor to finally make the materials available. He expresses, “I have always desired for my father’s book or a book about him to be published.” The timing seems fitting, especially with the recent release of the 2021 documentary series, Get Back, in which Evans had a significant role. Gary proudly mentions that Peter Jackson named the software used in the documentary after his father, MAL, as a tribute.
Definitely, it appears that Evans’ contribution to the Beatles’ story can now be more accurately valued – not only as a presence, but as someone who actively facilitated the band’s creative growth. Womack is firm in his assertion that creativity is always a “social production”. This can involve direct collaboration or influence among artists, but it can also encompass mundane tasks, such as traveling across London to retrieve a guitar, that allow an artist to fully immerse themselves in their creative pursuits.
Womack’s book is a tribute not only to Evans, but also to the often overlooked individuals who contribute to the creative process. However, it also serves as a cautionary reminder about the dangers of seeking fame. Womack explains, “The diaries serve as a warning about what can happen when you have complete access to your ultimate desire.” As Evans himself mused in a poem found in the archives, “Have I ruined my happiness by severing my ties to my family?”
The family of Evans endured consequences due to his desire for recognition. However, Gary takes pride in his father’s accomplishments. Growing up, the Beatles were a constant presence in his life, and he saw his father as just one of the band members. When considering his father’s legacy, Gary wishes for others to recognize him as the “greatest friend” of the Beatles.