When I was asked to introduce Beatles insider Jenny Boyd at Wimborne Literature Festival last week I jumped at the opportunity. After all this is a woman who effectively lived with my record collection during the 1960s and 1970s. Whatever I was listening to or reading about in my teens and twenties there was a pretty good chance that Jenny Boyd was actually experiencing it first hand.
Together with her older sister Pattie she became a leading teenage model at the height of swinging London. She was photographed by David Bailey for Vogue and Harpers and Queen and idolised by the Carnaby Street set. Thanks to Pattie, who married first George Harrison and then Eric Clapton, she also acquired two very influential brothers-in-law.
When the British beat invasion swept into New York, Jenny was there. She dropped acid in San Francisco during the summer of love and in 1968 travelled to India with John, Paul, George and Ringo to study transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Donovan who was with them at the Ashram in Rishikesh wrote Jennifer Juniper for her. In London she worked at the Apple Boutique and shared a flat with The Beatles rather dubious psychedelic electronics guru Magic Alex. “Not very magic at all,” she would later tell me.
She went on to marry, divorce and marry again her teenage sweetheart Mick Fleetwood and spent years on the road amidst the mayhem and madness of the Rumours era Fleetwood Mac. She was also married for a while to the late Ian Wallace, drummer variously with Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills and Nash and Don Henley.
In her 30s Jenny abandoned her rock ’n’ roll lifestyle and turned to academia, eventually gaining a PhD in psychology. With a little help from her many famous friends she specialised in studying the creative process among musicians and artists. The result has been years of clinical practice and now a book, It’s Not Only Rock ’n’ Roll culled from her doctoral thesis and given a populist spin.
Which is why she was appearing at a bookshop event in the little Dorset Town of Wimborne with me as presenter and guest interviewer. It was a good evening with a packed and satisfied audience. However the best part for me was the opportunity a few days before the event to have a long discussion with Jenny about her life and experiences at the epicentre of popular culture.
The purpose of our chat was theoretically designed to do sufficient research to prepare an effective list of questions and discussion points. I’m afraid I ended up just wanting to hear her talk about life with The Beatles, the 1960s fashion revolution and what it was really like living through the cocaine-fuelled insanity that was Fleetwood Mac in the late 1970s. I’m delighted to say that Jenny was perfectly happy to indulge me.
It was particularly intriguing to hear about the time she spent with The Beatles, particularly in India. “It was amazing,” she told me.”Just what I needed. I’d been in San Francisco taking acid and all that stuff and it had made me question a lot of things. I was very confused at the time so going to India was absolutely right for me at the time. George knew I’d had some kind of spiritual awakening and invited me. It was wonderful because there was nothing, just meditation and it was so beautiful. I loved it there.”
Jenny remembers beautiful evenings with the sun going down, sitting with The Beatles on the roof of one of their simple bungalows watching them playing their guitars. “That really was an opportunity to see creativity in action. They’d be talking about something, start playing and it would just develop into a song. I remember John once saying that he hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. He found it quite difficult to adjust at first. That became So Tired.
Several of the songs that would emerge on The White Album later that year owed their origins to those ashram sessions – the early rooftop concerts? They included Dear Prudence – about Mia Farrow’s meditation-obsessed sister and Sexy Sadie, a swipe at the Maharishi when it was rumoured that he was not altogether averse to the pleasures of the flesh. On reflection several members of the party dismissed the suggestions that the Maharishi had been misbehaving as the result of mischief-making by ‘Magic’ Alex whose promised technological marvels tended to never quite see the light of day.
I was particularly interested to hear the background behind Bungalow Bill which, while seemingly one of the more flippant tracks on the album, was John Lennon’s characteristically sarcastic response to a fellow ‘devotee’ at the ashram who suddenly decided to go off and shoot a tiger.
Here accounts differ drastically. The wealthy young American, Richard A. Cooke III – Rik to his friends – was visiting his mother, Nancy Cooke de Herrara ( who just happened to be doing the Maharishi’s PR), when they were invited to take part in a traditional hunting party.
Rik – who is still very much alive and working as a photographer – says their elephants were attacked by a tiger and that he shot it before posing for a photograph with the carcass. Nancy insisted to her dying day that it was either the tiger or them. Lennon’s reaction, described as “scornful and sarcastic” was unimpressed. In a Playboy interview sometime later he said: “Bungalow Bill was written about a guy in Maharishi’s meditation camp who took a short break to go shoot a few poor tigers, and then came back to commune with God. There used to be a character called Jungle Jim and I combined him with Buffalo Bill. It’s sort of a teenage social-comment song and a bit of a joke.” To check out Buffalo Bill/Rik’s own take on all this go to: http://www.thealohabear.com
Suffice to say I had a wonderful time talking to Jenny about all kinds of things. The Wimborne Folk Festival too (Wilf is its acronym) turned out to be a revelation. For a tiny town in rural Dorset this annual literary show organised by Wimborne Bookshop owner Malcolm Angel is a major achievement, an event that punches way above its weight.
Our evening certainly did the business. Lots of interested punters, including I’m delighted to say, a couple of people who came up afterwards and thanked me for being so well researched. What can I say? I knew a lot of it already. I talked to Jenny about it at length before the event but ultimately it happened by osmosis. After our conversation Jenny said: “I’m so glad you are one of us” That’s an accolade and a half but I have to say that it was Jenny’s astonishing recall and eloquence that actually made it work so well. Thanks Jenny!