The Beatles split up in 1970 following a number of reports which suggested John Lennon and Paul McCartney hated one another. During the supposedly messy break up, the documentary Let It Be was released which gave fans a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s relationship in the 14 months before their split. But now 50 years later, whilst celebrating what would have been Lennon’s 80th birthday, McCartney revealed what their last months together were really like.
Speaking on BBC Radio 2, John Lennon’s son Sean broached the subject of the relationships between John, Paul, George, and Ringo in the final days.
Speaking about footage he’d seen of Peter Jackson’s upcoming Let It Be documentary, Sean asked: “I got to, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say, but I’ve had little glimpses of some of the studio banter from the Let It Be period and it just made me think like, ‘Wow’.
“You know growing up there was always this myth that things were a bit grumpy, or whatever, and there was this mythos around the film and everything.
“But actually what surprised me was that you guys, then and throughout your career, just always seem to actually be having so much fun.”
Sean added: “It’s very light hearted, you guys are joking around and enjoying yourselves, I think – is that true?
“Do you think it was a bit of a myth? And that looking back, do you feel like, do you notice how much more fun it seemed or something, because I remember seeing in an interview with you saying.”
McCartney replied: “I think it was the fact that The Beatles were breaking up which was a very difficult time for us. It was like a divorce, so it’s very difficult to collect your thoughts and to just be jolly.
“And by the time Let It Be came about, that became the story of the film. And then that, coupled with the fact that we’d broken up, left a gloomy left a sort of cloud in the room.”
Although Let It Be was a documentary made to celebrate the lives and careers of the Fab Four, McCartney said that for years afterwards he had negative thoughts about those times.
He said: “For years when people say: ‘Oh, about Let It Be,’ I go, ‘Yeah, I didn’t really like it’, because it was such a gloomy period.”
However, Peter Jackson’s new documentary seeks to change all this. Get Back, which will look into the lives of the Fab Four, will be released next August and McCartney has already taken a sneaky glimpse.
He said: “Talking to Peter Jackson, when he was looking at the 58 hours of outtakes, I said, ‘Well, what’s it like?’ kind of thing, expecting him to say, ‘Well, it’s very gloomy. You’re all arguing all the time.’
“He says, ‘No’, he said exactly what you just said. He said, ‘It’s amazing. You’re like jolly and stuff.’ And he showed me some bits and it’s just great.
“It really made me happy because I know for years, there, I thought, ‘Oh, God, The Beatles broke up and it was acrimonious. And we were arguing,’ which happens in a divorce.”
Speaking of the upcoming release, Jackson explained: “Even though Let It Be wasn’t filmed with the breakup in mind it was filmed 14 months earlier.
“I can just imagine that if you were going to the cinema in May 1970, and you just heard that the Beatles had broken up, then you’re obviously going to look at the movie through a particular filter.
“I think that has led to it being known as the breakup film. But it’s not really a breakup film in the slightest.”
Speaking during the Radio 2 interview, Sean and McCartney also discussed John’s musical training, with Lennon’s younger son asking if the Let It Be singer felt inferior about his abilities.
He said: “I always got the impression that dad felt… that somehow he wasn’t officially a true musician or something and that everyone else was. I mean, was there that kind of feeling that he thought, you know, ‘I’m not a real musician’?”
McCartney confessed: “I don’t think any of us were [musicians], tell you the truth. I think that was a very good, strong thing about us actually, funnily enough. We all had to learn together.
“The nearest to John feeling like he wasn’t a true musician could have been that in the skiffle craze, when everyone else is playing guitar chords, he only knew a couple of banjo chords, but that only lasted a week or two.
“And I would just show him chords I knew which were very basic, but it was great bonding just learning chords off each other.”
He then went on to say that John “might have had a little bit of a hang up about not being sort of musically trained, but none of us were”.
“I think that was one of the strengths of The Beatles,” he continued. “That none of us knew what we were doing so we had to discover the root for ourselves and each of us discovered it together at the same time so that was lovely.”
John Lennon at 80 is available on BBC Sounds.