Alex and Apple
When The Beatles set up their Apple empire, Mardas was appointed the head of Apple Electronics. He was given his own workshop – a rented garage on Boston Place – and the task of developing innovative and futuristic electronic devices to be sold by Apple. He was paid £40 a week, plus 10 per cent of profits on any of his inventions.
I’m a rock gardener, and now I’m doing electronics. Maybe next year, I make films or poems. I have no formal training in any of these, but this is irrelevant.
Unfortunately, the workshop fell victim to a mysterious fire before any of his inventions could be properly realised, keeping Mardas in The Beatles’ favour for a while longer.
What Magic Alex did was pick up on the latest inventions, show them to us and we’d think he’d invented them. We were naïve to the teeth.
Mardas remained at Apple until 1969, experimenting with audio-visual technology but creating little of substance. Legend has it that among his promised projects were an artificial sun, a voice-dialling telephone, wallpaper loudspeakers, a hovering house supported by an invisible beam and a solar-powered guitar.
Magic Alex invented electrical paint. You paint your living room, plug it in, and the walls light up! We saw small pieces of metal as samples, but then we realised you’d have to put steel sheets in your living room wall and paint them. Also, he had the ‘talking telephone’ – remember this is 1968 – a speaker phone which compensated so the volume always stayed at the same level as you walked round the room…
God knows what else he invented. He had this one idea that we all should have our heads drilled. It’s called trepanning. Magic Alex said that if we had it done our inner third eye would be able to see, and we’d get cosmic instantly.
Mardas’ electrical paint was to be used on George Harrison’s Ferrari Berlinetta. The colours were to change with the gears, and the rear was to turn red when the brakes were applied. According to Harrison, the engine from the car was to be combined with John Lennon’s, with which Mardas promised to make a flying saucer.
One of his tasks was to design The Beatles’ new recording studio, to be installed in the basement of the Apple HQ in Savile Row, London. Legend has it that Mardas claimed to be working on a system of replacing the ‘baffles’ which isolated each instrument with a sonic force field, which inevitably never came to fruition.
George Martin became frustrated with Mardas’ attempts to observe the technology in Abbey Road, which he dismissed as out-of-date while simultaneously taking notes.
I found it very difficult to chuck him out because the boys liked him so much. Since it was very obvious that I didn’t, a minor schism developed.
Mardas announced plans to build the world’s first 72-track facilities, but when the group needed to begin the Get Back project in January 1969 they discovered it was unfinished, with no soundproofing, talkback system or tape machine.
All that had been installed was a badly designed mixing console built by Mardas, which was scrapped after a single session. Additionally, the studio was unconnected to the control room, so any sound recording could not reach the mixing desk. The studio was later described by George Harrison as “the biggest disaster of all time”.
The mixing console was made of bits of wood and an old oscilloscope. It looked like the control panel of a B-52 bomber. They actually tried a session on this desk, they did a take, but when they played back the tape it was all hum and hiss. Terrible. The Beatles walked out, that was the end of it.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
According to Geoff Emerick, the mixing desk was sold as scrap to a second-hand electronics shop on London’s Edgware Road for £5. “It wasn’t worth any more.”
George Martin was forced to call EMI and request the loan of two four-track consoles to connect to Apple’s eight-track recorder. The failure of The Beatles to listen to his objections led Martin to distance himself from the Get Back project, and much of the production work was handed to engineer Glyn Johns.
In 1969 Allen Klein began an attempt to clean up The Beatles’ tangled business empire. A number of people – including Mardas – subsequently left the organisation, either being fired or resigning, as Klein attempted to transform Apple into a more efficient business.
It later emerged that every British patent Mardas had applied for on Apple’s behalf was turned down on the grounds of unoriginality, and that the designs that did reach production were variants of already-existing products.
After The Beatles, Mardas mostly sank back into obscurity. It later transpired that his primary electronic experience had been gained as a television repair man in Greece. In spite of this, Magic Alex remained a source of intrigue to many Beatles fans: colourful stories about him are plentiful, and he was a significant presence during one of the group’s most creative and controversial periods.
Alexis Mardas died in his apartment in the Kolonaki neighbourhood of Athens, Greece in January 2017. His body was discovered on 13 January, but early reports suggested he had been deceased for several more days. He had reportedly been suffering from pneumonia.
I feel very sad. "Magic Alex" Mardas was a good friend to both John and I. He was not just talented, he had a big heart.
love, yoko pic.twitter.com/Aw01TxUSLn
— Yoko Ono (@yokoono) January 16, 2017