George Harrison buys Mornyork Ltd

On this day George Harrison bought a shelf company, Mornyork Ltd, which he turned into a music publishing company Harrisongs Ltd. He was on tour in the US at the time, so the transaction would most likely have been made on his behalf by NEMS Enterprises.

Shelf companies typically exist for no other purpose than to enable others to buy them to set up their own companies with minimal complications. That was the case with Mornyork, which became Harrisongs Ltd on 7 December 1964.

Harrison, however, entered into a three-year publishing deal with Northern from 25 March 1965, giving that company the publishing rights to his songs. None of Harrison's compositions were published by Harrisongs until his Northern Songs contract expired in March 1968. Harrison owned 80% of Harrisongs.

Northern Songs was the company formed in February 1963 by Dick James and Brian Epstein on behalf of John Lennon and Paul McCartney to publish their compositions.

Ringo Starr was also under contract to Northern Songs. He and Harrison both became dissatisfied with their royalty rate from the deal; in 1967 Harrison wrote Only A Northern Song about the situation.

Royalty rates on songs published by Northern Songs were divided among the principal shareholders, with Lennon owning 19%, McCartney owning 20%, 10% belonging to NEMS Enterprises Ltd, and 49% owned by Dick James Music (DJM); Harrison and Starr initially owned nothing. By the time the company went public in 1965 it had been restructured and all the shareholders had cashed in some of their holdings. Lennon and McCartney each owned 15%, DJM held 7%, his family had 15%, DJM's co-director Emmanuel Charles Silver had 15%, and NEMS Enterprises owned 7%. Harrison and Starr held just 1.6% between them.

The result was that Harrison and Starr received far less money than Lennon-McCartney for any of their compositions that the company published. And, because he was under contract with Northern Songs until 1968, Harrison left his own publishing company dormant until that time. Starr set up his own publishing company Startling Music in 1968.

Also on this day...

Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.

4 responses on “George Harrison buys Mornyork Ltd

  1. drtomoculus

    See what I mean? He buys a shelf company, pretty soon after that restructuring and selling of those first “hits” in the Beatle repertoire, including his own “Dont Bother Me” (which is a friggin good song!!) . He sees George Martin get offered partnership in this restructuring (but he turned it down) but he and Ringo get offered nothing.

    So he buys Mornyork Ltd. It lays vacant for 3 months. He changes it to Harrisongs Ltd.

    And then writes NOTHING. He has his own publishing company, but writes no songs at all. Speculation and History say, well he wasn’t as good at writing songs as Lennon & McCartney. Fair enough. Say that. Recorded history shows that he starts writing songs again when he GOT OFFERED 1.6% of Northern Songs. And he starts pushing to get 2 or 3 songs per album (because mechanical royalties will come in from those song inclusions per album.) He even advertises one of them at the end of HELP! (1965). He has his own publishing company, but does not use it. But is writing 2 or 3 songs per album if he can get them on them, at 1.6% earnings.

    He does his groundbreaking East/West collision music, changing Pop history and in fact Music history by being the first Western artist to break out of Western instrumentation and pick up that Sitar (instead of imitating it with western instruments.) He does his musique concrete/East/West/pop/rock Wonderwall Music album. He’s only earning 1.6%, so he might as well experiment not write a pop tune. He’s got 3 years to mess around.

    He then sells his shares in Northern Songs, whips out Harrisongs Ltd. at 80% earnings and full copyright ownership, and surprise — starts writing tunes like While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something, Here Comes the Sun etc. He’d had Isn’t It a Pity since 1966. As well as Art of Dying. All Things Must Pass and Beautiful Girl pop up later. He hadn’t “improved” as time went on. He was already “improved”. What I think he totally did, was not appear to be a non-team player by getting Harrisongs Ltd rolling in 1964/65. Because that’s how it would appear wouldn’t it! They’d just sold the rights to most of their songs, including his. They then don’t offer him any partnership in BEATLES legally. If he brought out his own publishing company where he earned most of the money from it, how would that appear to the Epsteins/The NEMS/The Dick James. They earn what from it? 20% at best? There’s no way that would happen that he’d get even 1 song on an album from a business sense. So he waits til they offer 1.6%. Then starts writing, earns Lennon & McCartney more than he earns himself for composing it.

    Lets the contract expire, sells his stock, and then starts writing tunes that get compared to his colleagues, and to a standard associated with BEATLES. And in some aspects, were better than what his colleagues were writing for their albums.

    One day, people might get this. What he did. It wasn’t about becoming a better songwriter. It was about being a smart businessman.

    1. Joe Post author

      It’s a very interesting hypothesis. I’m not sure I wholly agree with it, but that’s OK.

      With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to say Harrison spent three years experimenting with songwriting while waiting for his Northern Songs contract to expire. But The Beatles had no idea how long they’d last. They could easily have ground to a halt in a haze of weed smoke and exhaustion around the time of Help! (I’d argue that if they’d split up in 1965 we probably wouldn’t be talking about them like this now). Harrison didn’t have the luxury of waiting for his Northern Songs contract to expire – he needed to make hay while the sun shone. He certainly didn’t have three years to mess around.

      As the most money-minded Beatle, he would have been better off trying to get Isn’t It A Pity etc on albums than not at all – in 1966 he didn’t know that he’d score a monster hit album at the start of his solo career (which he probably wasn’t even considering). Add to that the fact that his initial offering for Sgt Pepper was Only A Northern Song, which was rejected by George Martin for not being good enough. I think the idea of a mid-60s surplus of brilliant Harrisongs is somewhat overstated. Perhaps he had a lot of unfinished ones that he later knocked into shape, but the notion that he was a fabulous and prolific songwriter throughout the 1960s? I’m not sure.

      What I do agree with is that when the Northern Songs contract expired, he had more of an impetus to get writing. The fact that his songwriting had become brilliant by 1969 definitely helped him get more songs on albums/singles (as did Lennon’s inaction through heroin addiction and lack of interest in being a Beatle), but by then it was too late – they’d split up by the end of the year. So how smart a businessman was he? Wouldn’t having three songs on each album (as he did on Revolver) at 1.6% have been better through the years, rather than holding the songs back until he had a better rate?

      Also, if he was such an astute businessman, he would have taken more of an interest in what Brian Epstein was up to, throwing away film and merchandising rights and royalty rates because he was crap at negotiating. Do you think if Harrison had a masterplan to build his own empire he would have pushed for a better cut in other ways? No, I think he signed away his rights in 1965 with Northern Songs because that was the best he could get at that time within a closed circle, found himself regretting being under a contract that he signed when he was young and naive, and when that contract expired he exercised some independence (having learnt a bit more about publishing by that point).

      “I realized Dick James had conned me out of the copyrights for my own songs by offering to become my publisher. As an 18 or 19-year-old kid, I thought, ‘Great, somebody’s gonna publish my songs!’ But he never said, ‘And incidentally, when you sign this document here, you’re assigning me the ownership of the songs,’ which is what it is. It was just a blatant theft. By the time I realized what had happened, when they were going public and making all this money out of this catalog, I wrote Only A Northern Song as what we call a ‘piss-take,’ just to have a joke about it.”

      It wasn’t a question of being a team player rather than using his own publishing company in 1964. He genuinely seemed to think it was a good deal at the time.

  2. drtomoculus

    Because it was practically better than nothing,. Which is what he got in that first restructuring.

    I would say you have to come in from this angle. Here is the guy who was friends with Paul McCartney long before either one were Quarrymen or Beatles. He’s known him since they were children. He joins this band in 1958. He tours with them in Hamburg. He sees Stu Sutcliffe die, just like everyone else did. He sees Pete Best get kicked out. The very first song they record is a McCartney/Harrison tune. The next one bears his co-write as well with Lennon. He actively wrote songs or at least attempted to, even while there was the Lennon/McCartney tag on songs. You still find Lennon/Harrison, or McCartney/Harrison in those first tunes. He’s a part of this band. He’s friends with this band.

    He then sees his friends sell his song, lose ownership of them, and never get offered a slice of the pie, even though he worked just as hard making that pie. He sees the producer of that band get offered a slice of that pie, the guy who instrumented getting the drummer out and a new one in, before he ever did.

    Think about it. And how would you feel?

    I think you’d feel a bit betrayed. I think you’d feel like f*** this, I’m getting my own publishing company and writing my own tunes on it. You have to take that whole situation, and put the other person’s shoes on. What would you do? I would do the same he did. Personally, I would be gutted thinking, wait a minute. I’ve just spent 5 years of my life helping getting us where we are. I played 8 hour a day gigs in crappy places too. I taught Lennon how to tune his guitar! IT had to be a bad blow for Harrison never getting a partnership offer in Northern Songs, when it was clear that he wrote songs. Don’t Bother Me isn’t some strange track amongst those first Beatles tunes. It fits in very well. It’s a great “first” solo composition.

    You can find many quotes where Brian Epstein DOES say George Harrison paid attention to the money and where it went. You can even find Ringo saying it tongue in cheek. I’m not here to outright prove that this is what went down. I just look at when he stopped writing songs, and when he started writing again, and pushing to get those songs included on albums at a much lower royalty rate than his partners. And it coincides with that Northern Songs 1.6% deal.

    Isn’t It a Pity was first rejected by Lennon in 1966. He did offer it to The Beatles. Think about it. If you’ve heard the demos George Harrison did of ANY of his songs, the demos do not sound all that different than what he eventually recorded. It just takes a listen (and maybe a musicians perspective, which I have) to hear that what he heard in his head, was what ended up eventually on a record. He may have written slower, but he wrote meticulously, and had a firm idea of what he wanted once that song was constructed. In the end, he decided if The Beatles weren’t going to have Isn’t It a Pity, he’d give it to Frank Sinatra. In the end he didn’t. He tried again in 1969 to bring the song to the Beatles. This whole history of the song is told in “Let It Be”. It happens right before that sequence in the movie with Harrison helping Ringo write Octopus’s Garden. It was very obvious the rejection of Isn’t It a Pity was a matter of contention for Harrison. He seemed truly pissed off in the transcripts from that day. And he had a right to be. Because listen to what it became. It’s a beautiful song. And to have your songs rejected, and the ones they actually listen to they dismiss as “inferior” or “boring” when you are writing tracks of the calibre of “Taxman” and “If I Needed Someone”, but also totally changing Western Music forever by being all Eastern about it, which even the classical composers didn’t do (see Ravel, DeBussy, or even any in the avant garde). The guy was groundbreaking. But his band didn’t appreciate it much, nor his producer. Is “Only a Northern Song” boring? Well listen to “It’s All Too Much” that comes from the same era. It clearly had all the makings of a Summer of Love anthem. But his band and producer didn’t take it seriously enough (excluding Ringo.)

    I appreciate your thoughts and reply. It’s a theory I have. The three years to mess around is just a generalisation used for effect. He’s got Isn’t It a Pity in one corner, and Only a Northern Song in another. He could obviously write contemporary music. His interest judging from what he wrote 1967 onward until that contract expired, seemed solely in being trippy and daring and boring and sonic and what have you. There’s no Pop that he’s writing. You have McCartney doing that with his WWII Music Hall songs that please the audience listening to Mrs Mills at the time. It’s Lennon and Harrison doing the trippy stuff your parents would hate. Not McCartney (for all his avant garde leanings and associations)

    If you ask me, they should have split up in 1966. And he did try to get Isn’t It a Pity on album. It showed up for the Revolver sessions. Rejected by Lennon.

    1. Joe Post author

      A couple of points which may be relevant. The Beatles were on tour in the US at this time, so it’s unlikely he signed contracts on this day. I don’t know the precise details of the Mornyork purchase, but I’d bet that Harrison got NEMS to arrange it for him. At that time The Beatles didn’t have legions of lawyers and managers at their disposal, and they generally relied on Epstein’s people for everything. So I don’t think this was a clandestine purchase – if Harrison was intending to set his own publishing company up it would most likely have been in the full knowledge of The Beatles, NEMS and Dick James. He almost certainly didn’t have the knowledge and experience to buy a company on his own.

      Secondly, you say: “The very first song they record is a McCartney/Harrison tune. The next one bears his co-write as well with Lennon. He actively wrote songs or at least attempted to, even while there was the Lennon/McCartney tag on songs. You still find Lennon/Harrison, or McCartney/Harrison in those first tunes. He’s a part of this band. He’s friends with this band.”

      In Spite Of All The Danger, although credited to McCartney-Harrison, was written by McCartney alone when he was around 14. He said this about the credit: “It says on the label that it was me and George but I think it was actually written by me, and George played the guitar solo! We were mates and nobody was into copyrights and publishing, nobody understood – we actually used to think when we came down to London that songs belonged to everyone. I’ve said this a few times but it’s true, we really thought they just were in the air, and that you couldn’t actually own one. So you can imagine the publishers saw us coming! ‘Welcome boys, sit down. That’s what you think, is it?’ So that’s what we used to do in those days – and because George did the solo we figured that he ‘wrote’ the solo.”

      Cry For A Shadow was more collaborative, but as Harrison pointed out it was more or less improvised rather than composed as such (I know the distinctions between the two can be vague, but what I mean is this was no concerted effort to sit down and write a song). I wouldn’t dispute, though, that he was integral to the band and involved in their arrangements and decisions.

Leave a reply