One of my favourite Beatles stories is the 'let's buy an island and live in a commune together' one. It was July 1967 and Sgt Pepper had been unleashed on the world just a few weeks earlier. The Beatles were at the peak of their acid-dropping, weed-smoking phase and were arguably at their creative peak too.
John in particular had been harbouring a dream of living communally with the rest of the Beatles and their entourage for a while, and decided to try and make it happen. Derek Taylor described John's vision in his autobiography, 20 Years Adrift: "The four Beatles would have their network at the centre of the compound: a dome of glass and iron tracery not unlike the old Crystal Palace over the mutual creative/play area, from which arbours and avenues would lead off like spokes from a wheel to four vast and incredibly beautiful separate living units. In the outer grounds, the houses of the inner clique: Neil, Mal, Terry and Derek, complete with partners, families and friends..."
Alexis Mardas (dubbed 'Magic Alex' by John due to his fantastical claims and ideas, like making a flying saucer powered by the engines from John and George's Ferraris) had recently come onto the scene, and he found John's idea to be the perfect way to get even more involved with the Beatles and their inner circle. He persuaded John that Greece (Magic Alex's homeland) was the perfect location for the Beatles' island and a trip was planned to find a suitable location.
Paul reminisces about the plan in his autobiography, Many Years From Now (if you don't have a copy, get one): "Alex invited John on a boat holiday in Greece, and we were all then invited. There was some story of buying a Greek island or something. It was all so sort of abstract but the first thing we had to do is go to Greece and see if we even liked it out there. The idea was get an island where you can just do what you want, a sort of hippie commune where nobody’d interfere with your lifestyle. I suppose the main motivation for that would probably be that no one could stop you smoking. Drugs was probably the main reason for getting some island, and then all the other community things that were around then... it was drug-induced ambition, we’d just be sitting around: 'Wouldn’t it be great? The lapping water, sunshine, we’d be playing. We’d get a studio there. Well, its possible these days with mobiles and...' We had lots of ideas like that. The whole Apple enterprise was the result of those ideas."
The Beatles left for Greece in July 1967. George, Pattie, Ringo (no Maureen, as she was in the latter stages of her pregnancy at the time) and Neil Aspinall left on 22nd July, while John, Cyn, Julian, Paul, Jane, Pattie's sister Paula, Magic Alex, Mal Evans and Alistair Taylor all left on 23 July.
'We were great at going on holiday with big ideas, but we never carried them out. We were also going to buy a village in England - one with rows of houses on four sides and a village green in the middle.'
The Beatles chartered a luxury yacht called MV Arvi. It had 24 berths and a crew of 8 including the captain, chef and 2 stewards. They spent the first few days island hopping, swimming and tripping their tits off, which turned out to be a bit too much for Paul: "We went on the boat and sat around and took acid. It was good fun being with everyone, with trippier moments. For me the pace was a bit wearing. I probably could have done with some straight windows occasionally, I’d have enjoyed it a bit more."
George had no such reservations: "It was a great trip. John and I were on acid all the time, sitting on the front of this ship playing ukeleles. Greece was on the left, a big island on the right. The sun was shining and we sang ‘Hare Krishna’ for hours and hours."
After all of that fun and merriment, the Beatles got down to serious island-buying business. They found the perfect place - an 80 acre island called Leslo. It had a small fishing village, four beaches and a large olive grove (so they could always move into the olive oil business if the tunes ever dried up). Four small neighbouring islands surrounded it and the grand plan was that each Beatle would have their own island, as Neil Aspinall (a bit dismissively) confirms: "There was talk of getting an island. I don’t know what it was all about - it was a bit silly really. The idea was that you’d have four houses with tunnels connecting them to a central dome”. John was very excited about the idea at the time: "We’re all going to live there, perhaps forever, just coming home for visits. Or it might just be six months a year. It’ll be fantastic, all on our own on this island. There’s some little huts which we’ll do up and knock together and live communally"
The Fabulous Foursome decided to buy the island there and then. They asked Alistair Taylor to tie up the deal. It cost them £90,000 and at the time it was difficult to get money out of Britain. The Beatles had to apply to the government for permission to spend £90,000 abroad, which was eventually given, but by this time they’d long since forgotten about Leslo."It came to nothing." said Ringo. "We didn’t buy the island, we came home. We were great at going on holiday with big ideas, but we never carried them out. We were also going to buy a village in England - one with rows of houses on four sides and a village green in the middle. We were going to have a side each." Paul said that they all thought "We’ve done it now. That was it for a couple of weeks. Great, wasn’t it? Now we don’t need it." He reflected that "Having been out there, I don’t think we needed to go back. Probably the best way not to buy a Greek island is to go out there for a bit. Its a good job we didn’t do it, because anyone who tried those ideas realised eventually there would always be arguments, there would always be who has to do the washing-up and whose turn is it to clean out the latrines. I don’t think any of us were thinking of that."
And so the Beatles returned to Blighty. Brian Epstein was to die a few weeks later. They were soon to start filming Magical Mystery Tour (their first taste of a critical bashing) and fractures would start to appear within the band. I think that's why this is one of my favourite Beatles stories. The band were still strong, their relationships were still firmly intact, creativity was still pouring out of them, they were still having wonderfully whimsical ideas like this one, and there was no sign of the doom on the horizon.
Visit Sam's Beatles blog at Plasticine Portal
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