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Paul McCartney has the idea for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Paul McCartney had flown to France on 6 November 1966, and met Mal Evans in Bordeaux on 12 November before flying to Kenya for a safari holiday.

In Kenya they were joined by McCartney’s girlfriend Jane Asher, and the three of them visited the Ambosali Park at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, and stayed at the Treetops Hotel in Aberdare National Park.

They spent their final night on 18 November at the YMCA in Nairobi before flying back to London on this day. During the flight McCartney had the idea for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Alternative photograph from the Sgt Pepper cover shoot

We were fed up with being the Beatles. We really hated that fucking four little mop-top boys approach. We were not boys, we were men. It was all gone, all that boy shit, all that screaming, we didn’t want any more, plus, we’d now got turned on to pot and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers. There was now more to it; not only had John and I been writing, George had been writing, we’d been in films, John had written books, so it was natural that we should become artists.

Then suddenly on the plane I got this idea. I thought, Let’s not be ourselves. Let’s develop alter egos so we’re not having to project an image which we know. It would be much more free. What would really be interesting would be to actually take on the personas of this different band. We could say, ‘How would somebody else sing this? He might approach it a bit more sarcastically, perhaps.’ So I had this idea of giving the Beatles alter egos simply to get a different approach; then when John came up to the microphone or I did, it wouldn’t be John or Paul singing, it would be the members of this band. It would be a freeing element. I thought we can run this philosophy through the whole album: with this alter-ego band, it won’t be us making all that sound, it won’t be the Beatles, it’ll be this other band, so we’ll be able to lose our identities in this.

Me and Mal often bantered words about which led to the rumour that he thought of the name Sergeant Pepper, but I think it would be much more likely that it was me saying, ‘Think of names.’ We were having our meal and they had those little packets marked ‘S’ and ‘P’. Mal said, ‘What’s that mean? Oh, salt and pepper.’ We had a joke about that. So I said, ‘Sergeant Pepper,’ just to vary it, ‘Sergeant Pepper, salt and pepper,’ an aural pun, not mishearing him but just playing with the words.

Then, ‘Lonely Hearts Club’, that’s a good one. There’s lot of those about, the equivalent of a dating agency now. I just strung those together rather in the way that you might string together Dr Hook and the Medicine Show. All that culture of the sixties going back to those travelling medicine men, Gypsies, it echoed back to the previous century really. I just fantasised, well, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. That’d be crazy enough because why would a Lonely Hearts Club have a band? If it had been Sergeant Pepper’s British Legion Band, that’s more understandable. The idea was to be a little more funky, that’s what everybody was doing. That was the fashion. The idea was just take any words that would flow. I wanted a string of those things because I thought that would be a natty idea instead of a catchy title. People would have to say, ‘What?’ We’d had quite a few pun titles – Rubber Soul, Revolver – so this was to get away from all that.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The Beatles began recording the Sgt Pepper title track on 1 February 1967.

Last updated: 1 March 2024
Paul McCartney meets Mal Evans in Bordeaux, France
Brian Epstein holds a party for The Four Tops in London
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