Τετάρτη 20 Δεκεμβρίου 2023

The day the Beatles nearly bought an entire Greek island

On July 22, 1967, a notable group consisting of Paul McCartney, Jane Asher, John Lennon, Cynthia Lennon, Julian Lennon, Paula Boyd (Pattie Harrison’s sister), Mal Evans, and Alistair Taylor embarked on a journey to Athens, Greece. The purpose of their trip was to explore a series of Greek islands that had captured The Beatles’ interest as potential residences. George Harrison, Pattie Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Neil Aspinall had already arrived on July 20.

However, their plans were delayed due to a storm off Crete, altering their itinerary. Instead, The Beatles took the opportunity to go sightseeing in the scenic countryside surrounding Athens.

On this day, the group and their companions traveled in a convoy consisting of a Mercedes car and two large American taxis. Unfortunately, the taxi carrying Paul McCartney, Jane Asher, and Neil Aspinall encountered a mechanical issue, catching fire from the intense heat. Consequently, they had to make their way back to a nearby village where they had previously enjoyed their lunch.

The Beatles were graciously invited by the Oxford University Dramatic Society to attend a performance of Agamemnon by Aeschylus at the theater in Delphi. However, their host, Alexis ‘Magic Alex’ Mardas, had given prior notice of their visit to the tourism authorities, leading to the news being broadcasted on Athens Radio.

Upon reaching Delphi, the group was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of fans, photographers, and journalists. Faced with this unexpected reception, The Beatles opted to return to their limousine and depart for Athens without witnessing the play.

Aristotelis Sarrikostas, an associate photographer for the Associated Press since 1965, will receive a phone call from the Beatles’ agent informing him about their incognito arrival in Greece. “His only request” as Mr. Aristotle tells NEWS 24/7 today “to be as discreet as possible”. Knowing the date – July 22, exactly 50 years ago – the photographer waited for their flight from Heathrow to the VIP lounge at Hellinikon airport with the camera in his bag.

At that time, when things were simpler and simpler, and even stars of international stature crossed a distance until they reached the cars that were waiting for them, Aristotle Sarrikostas took advantage of the natural light and took some shots of the initially surprised “Beetles” who then, having become accustomed, in similar situations marched to the two black limousines that were waiting for them.

“That first contact lasted about 10 minutes. I tried to be as discreet as possible. Just before they depart I approach John Lennon and ask him about their next stop. ‘I have no idea’ he said a little annoyed.” This moment of the conversation between Aristotle Sarrikostas and John Lennon was immortalized by his colleague Fotis Floros.

Two days later the phone at the agency would ring again. He was again the agent who was anxious looking for his “photographer” as he had forgotten to inform him about the Beatles’ first trip to mainland Greece. “We are in Arachova, you can come as quickly as possible” were his words.

“At that time I had an Alfa Romeo Giulia, I don’t know what speed I was running at to catch up. In Arachova I literally caught up with them at the last minute. A local photographer, with a Minolta if I remember correctly, had set them up and photographed them between two traditional instrumentalists. I went and took a shot too.”

Aristotle Sarrikostas, who hates the staged photographs more than anything else, decides to take the initiative. ” ‘Do something’ I said, and while most of them were indifferent, John Lennon, who was clearly more cheerful, polite and friendly than our first meeting, responds. Few people notice it but on the guitar there are three hands as he also stretched out his hand at my urging.”

“I really praise God that I managed to take this photo that through the Associated Press went around the world. From what I learned later, apart from Arachova, they had visited other nearby villages asking to listen to traditional Greek music.”

After Arachova, the Beatles continued their adventure in the Aegean islands with the plans to acquire a Greek island to be wrecked as it was the time when their spirit was not so clear (let’s not go into details).

From The Beatles in Arachova. The detail that few spot in the photo (news247.gr)
Photos: Aristotelis Sarrikostas / ERT Archive – From The Beatles in Arachova. The detail that few spot in the photo (news247.gr)
From 6. Were the Beatles ‘used as propaganda’? (substack.com) – A page from Fabulous 208, October 1967

From The Herald Statesman, October 9, 1967

We were all going to live together now, in a huge estate. The four Beatles and Brian would have their network at the centre of the compound: a dome of glass and iron tracery (not unlike the old Crystal Palace) above the mutual creative/play area, from which arbours and avenues would lead off like spokes from a wheel to the four vast and incredibly beautiful separate living units. In the outer grounds, the houses of the inner clique: Neil, Mal, Terry [Doran] and Derek, complete with partners, families and friends. Norfolk, perhaps, there was a lot of empty land there. What an idea! No thought of wind or rain or flood, and as for cold… there would be no more cold when we were through with the world. We would set up a chain reaction so strong that nothing could stand in our way. And why the hell not? ‘They’ve tried everything else,’ said John realistically. ‘Wars, nationalism, fascism, communism, capitalism, nastiness, religion – none of it works. So why not this?’

Derek Taylor – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

We rented a boat and sailed it up and down the coast from Athens, looking at islands. Somebody had said we should invest some money, so we thought: ‘Well, let’s buy an island. We’ll just go there and drop out.’

It was a great trip. John and I were on acid all the time, sitting on the front of the ship playing ukuleles. Greece was on the left; a big island on the right. The sun was shining and we sang ‘Hare Krishna’ for hours and hours. Eventually we landed on a little beach with a village, but as soon as we stepped off the boat it started pouring with rain. There were storms and lightning, and the only building on the island was a little fisherman’s cottage – so we all piled in: ‘’Scuse us, squire. You don’t mind if we come and shelter in your cottage, do you?’

The island was covered in big pebbles, but Alex said, ‘It doesn’t matter. We’ll have the military come and lift them all off and carry them away.’ But we got back on the boat and sailed away, and never thought about the island again.

George Harrison – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

We went on the boat and sat around and took acid. It was good fun being with everyone, with nippier 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. But nothing came of that, because we went out there and thought, We’ve done it now. That was it for a couple of weeks. Great, wasn’t it? Now we don’t need it. Having been out there, I don’t think we needed to go back. Probably the best way to not buy a Greek island is to go out there for a bit.

It’s 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 it is to clean out the latrines. I don’t think any of us were thinking of that.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

According to documents held at the National Archives in England, the main island was Aegos, although no island of that name appears to exist. It was apparently surrounded by “five small unnamed offshore islands” upon which The Beatles were to have separate villas.

From 26 July 1967: The Beatles visit a Greek island they intended to purchase | The Beatles Bible


On Sunday we all piled into a convoy of cars — a big Mercedes and a couple of huge old American taxis! For three hours we drove through the countryside in the blistering hot sunshine. Suddenly the rest of us realised that the taxi carrying Paul, Jane and Neil was missing. Apparently the extreme heat had been too much for it. Thick black smoke poured out as the engine all but caught fire. So Ringo’s taxi turned back to look for them — and found the trio walking happily along the dusty road towards the village we’d stopped at for lunch !

Everyone spent an hour or so looking round the village, admiring the tiny shops, buying beads, Greek antiques and odd bits of clothing. Then we were taken to lunch at a lovely house high up in the hills, and while we ate, a guitarist and a clarinet player provided colourful accompaniment with their folk music. We all tried a bit of Greek dancing on the patio to work off some of that marvellous meal !

We left the village loaded down with presents. The girls were given Greek dresses with classical patterns. Julian got a foot-high doll (a Greek soldier) and the boys received long slip-on shirts.

SHOPPING

Before going any further we decided it was time we bought something to carry all the gear in. Obviously we were going to do a lot of shopping during the week! So everybody picked up brightly-patterned hand-woven shoulder bags and started filling them with beads, old Turkish and Greek jewellery.

We drove for another hot and sticky hour before coming to rest on a beautiful beach where Paul helped Julian to construct one of the finest sandcastles you ever saw.

The same evening Alex had hoped we’d visit the old Delphi theatre but there were so many people waiting for us when we arrived that we split and headed home to Athens rather than face all those crowds. News of our whereabouts and our plans seemed to spread round like wildfire!

On the Monday George and Paul decided to have a quiet day. They stayed behind and played guitars while the rest of the party went into the shopping centre. John wanted to buy the local equivalent of a guitar. A huge crowd of fans and sightseeing tourists gathered round the instrument shop we tramped into. To our surprise the shop was stocked with a wide range of modern electric equipment — Vox amplifiers and the lot! “It’s just like going
into Sound City in London” observed John as we looked around. But he found the instrument he wanted in the store’s antique department!

CUNNING RINGO

Ringo devised a cunning way of by-passing the crowds. He’d wait until John and the rest of us went into one shop, then he’d sneak quietly away into the one next door while the crowds gathered round John. His scheme came unstuck when he spent a bit too long choosing a pair of sandals. Forty photographers and umpteen Americans descended upon
him (“Say, isn’t that crazy? We travel all the way from Chicago and find Ringo Starr in a Greek shoe shop!”)

All the shopkeepers of Athens expect you to argue about the price of everything. The boys got pretty good at this bartering game and managed to pick up a load of bargains from the tiny rows of antique shops in the old part of the city. But whether we wanted to buy or not the shopkeepers urged us in very broken English to “just come in and look around so we can tell people Beatles was here!”

All the time we were in Greece we had wonderful food. One evening we stopped for dinner in a small village and sat down at tables under the trees in the square. Paul, Ringo and Jane
decided to test the local cooks by asking for an English meal just for a change. They had one of the best egg and chip meals they’d ever tasted — garnished (like every Greek dish) with tomatoes in olive oil and lashings of cheese. The rest of us had delicious kebabs —skewered chunks of lamb beautifully cooked.

All the while quiet Greek music was pouring out of a little loudspeaker in the tree above our tables. Suddenly they changed the record AND PUT ON “A HARD DAY’S NIGHT” BY THE
BEATLES. The owner of the cafe stood at the top of the steps beaming brightly and we all had a good laugh before signing some autographs and heading for home!

GREEK FLUTES

On Tuesday we set sail in the gleaming white motor yacht Arvi. It had 24 berths and, apart from the captain, a crew of seven including a chef and two stewards. The captain had purchased a brand new red ensign to fly on his mast to show he had a party of Englishmen on board. That evening we gathered up on deck to watch the sun setting over the islands. What a pity Ringo and Neil missed that! It was a fantastic sight. Still, the rest of us took many pictures and our movie cameras whirled away like mad.

At two o’clock in the morning we anchored under a full moon. Beside us was a mighty rock with the Temple of Neptune on top of it. The pillars were outlined in the moonlight —another unforgettable sight.

The days that followed were all swimming and laziness and beautiful sunshine.

HINDU CHANTS

After sunset each night we’d gather together on the top deck and sing until two or three. George played his ukelele, John got out his Greek guitar and we’d sing strange Hindu chants over and over again for hours on end !

We came home to London in two relays. George and Pattie wanted to go a little early — to pack again and leave for California — so Mal flew home with them on the following Sunday.

Then on Monday Paul, Jane, John, Cyn, Julian, Paula and Alexis headed for London. Alexis just about had time to pack a fresh set of clothes in time to leave for Los Angeles on the
Tuesday with George, Pattie and Neil !

There’s no room here to tell you about the Harrison holiday in Hollywood so that will have to wait till next month.

From The Beatles Monthly Book, September 1967
From The Beatles Monthly Book, September 1967
From Meet the Beatles for Real: A Day at the beach – This photo of Paul and Julian in Greece in 1967 is SO cute!  Paul has been a great uncle to Julian.  
From Meet the Beatles for Real: Dancing in Greece
From Argus Leader – July 24, 1967