‘The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)’ was written by George Harrison in 1970, as a tribute to the original owner of his Friar Park mansion.
‘The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp’ is a piece of personal indulgence inspired by an eccentric lawyer from the 1800s who I have come to know by becoming the proprietor of his Victorian folly, my home. Sir Frank was also the authority on mediaeval gardens. Phil Spector said if I were to change the lyric I’d have a few cover versions of the song, but those words were written because that’s what it was.
I Me Mine
Sir Frank Crisp was an English lawyer and microscopist He qualified as a solicitor in 1869 and worked on a number of important international commercial contracts. In 1889 he became the first owner of Friar Park, a Victorian neo-Gothic mansion in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, which he owned until his death in 1919.
Sir Frank was knighted on 16 December 1907, and was made a baronet on 5 February 1913 for services as a legal advisor to the Liberal Party. He died on 29 April 1919, aged 75.
Friar Park was part of a 62 acre site which includes caves, grottoes, an underground boating lake, and a 20ft scale model of the Matterhorn. The interior of the building was decorated according to Sir Frank’s somewhat eccentric taste, with various phrases engraved onto stone or wood features around the building and gardens.
With its towers and turrets, gargoyles and gardens, stained-glass windows, and underground caves filled with stalagmites and stalactites, Friar Park was both regal and fanciful. Sir Frank must have had a wonderful sense of humor and a childlike love of play. On a high spot of the grounds he built a massive sandstone replica of the Matterhorn, and the three small lakes on the property were connected with tunnels large enough to row a boat through. Engraved into the mansion’s stonework were numerous pithy sayings (‘Eton boys are a Harrowing sight’). George’s favorite dictum, carved into a monument on the grounds was ‘Don’t keep off the grass.’ I loved the little scene, carved into the front of the house, titled ‘Two Holy Friars,’ showing a monk holding a frying pan with holes in it. Giant mushrooms and little red gnomes greeted you in the underground caves, and all the light switches in the house were monks’ faces that you switched on and off by the nose.
The estate was in disrepair and the mansion due to be demolished when Harrison bought it in January 1970 for £140,000. He worked on restoring the building and gardens, and in 1972 installed a recording studio, which became known as FPSHOT – Friar Park Studio, Henley-on-Thames.
Sir Frank found his way into several songs by Harrison, the first of which was ‘The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)’. Others included ‘The Answer’s At The End’ from Extra Texture (Read All About It), and ‘Ding Dong, Ding Dong’ from Dark Horse, both of which contained words found on the walls of Friar Park.
In 1969, George and Pattie moved into a beautiful, Gothic house and park in Oxfordshire, of which more later. This move brought him a relationship with the mind of the man who designed the house and created the gardens, Sir Frank Crisp, a kindly, brilliant, errant and eminent Victorian baronet of whom George frequently talks as if he were alive.
I Me Mine
‘The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)’ is an affectionate guided tour through the house and gardens, led by the ghost of Sir Frank as he drifts “through the hall and out the door/To the fountain of perpetual mirth”. The song also namechecks Molly and Joan Eufrosyne, sisters who worked at Friar Park (“Joan and Molly sweep the stairs”).
In the studio
On 27 May 1970 George Harrison was in Studio Three at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, where he performed fifteen of his compositions for Phil Spector. The purpose was to choose which ones to record for the album, and for the producer to consider how best they might be treated.
Although Harrison did not perform ‘The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)’ on the day, he did play an unreleased song titled ‘Everybody, Nobody’ which shares some of the melody and chords.
‘Everybody, Nobody’ begins with George singing “Oh Sir Frankie Crisp”. This line did remain in ‘The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)’ between the verses, although it is partly buried in the mix.
‘The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)’ was recorded on 5 June 1970 at EMI Studios, Abbey Road.