Mal Evans was present on 28 August 1964, the night Bob Dylan introduced The Beatles to marijuana. He sampled the drug with the members of the group, and helped Paul McCartney fulfill a somewhat unusual request.
I discovered the meaning of life. And I suddenly felt like a reporter, on behalf of my local newspaper in Liverpool. I wanted to tell my people what it was. I was the great discoverer, on this sea of pot, in New York. I was sailing this sea and I had discovered it.
I remember asking Mal, our road manager, for what seemed like years and years, ‘Have you got a pencil?’ But of course everyone was so stoned they couldn’t produce a pencil, let alone a combination of a paper and pencil, so it was I either had the pencil but I didn’t have the paper or I had the… I eventually found it and I wrote it down, and gave it to Mal for safekeeping.
I’d been going through this thing of levels, during the evening. And at each level I’d meet all these people again. ‘Hahaha! It’s you!’ And then I’d metamorphose on to another level. Anyway, Mal gave me this little slip of paper in the morning, and written on it was, ‘There are seven levels!’
As The Beatles’ love of the drug grew, Evans and Neil Aspinall found their duties changing once more.
Reefers are hard to avoid in The Beatles’ story. All the time, Mal and Neil would sit in Studio No. 2 behind the sound baffles while we were working, rolling them up and smoking.
While Lennon, Harrison and Starr lived in the stockbroker belt in south east England, Evans often joined McCartney and Aspinall in the clubs of London after The Beatles’ recording sessions. A particular favourite was the Bag O’Nails, where he mingled with the stars of swinging London.
Mal Evans was present in America in 1965 when Lennon and Harrison had their second LSD experience, and Starr took the drug for the first time. The occasion later inspired John Lennon’s song ‘She Said She Said’.
Paul wouldn’t have LSD; he didn’t want it. So Ringo and Neil took it, while Mal stayed straight in order to take care of everything. Dave Crosby and Jim McGuinn of The Byrds had also come up to the house, and I don’t know how, but Peter Fonda was there. He kept saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead, because I shot myself.’ He’d accidentally shot himself at some time and he was showing us the bullet wound. He was very uncool.
On the same tour they met Elvis Presley, whom Evans had greatly admired for years.
It was a thrill, but it was the biggest disappointment of my life in one way. I really am a big Elvis fan – at six foot three I’m one of the biggest. So I prepare my outfit to go and meet Elvis – send the suit to the cleaners, nice white shirt and tie – really ponce myself up. But when the suit came back from the cleaners, they’d sewn the pockets up. Now, I always carry plectrums – picks, they call them in the States. It’s just a habit. I’m not even working for them [The Beatles] now and I’ve still got a pick in my pocket at the moment.
So when we get there, Elvis asks, ‘Has anybody got a pick?’ and Paul turns round and says, ‘Yeah, Mal’s got a pick. He’s always got a pick. He carries them on holiday with him!’ I went to go in my pocket for one – and there they were, all sewn up.
I ended up in the kitchen breaking plastic spoons, making picks for Elvis!
That was a disappointment. I’d have loved to have given Elvis a pick, have him play it, then got it back and had it framed.
As The Beatles’s tours became more hectic towards the end, Evans found his role becoming more pressured. Concerts would go ahead often with scant regard for safety, and the crowds were ever more fervent in their adulation of the group.
Open-air concerts in the States were terrible. When it looked like rain in the open air, I used to be scared stiff. Rain on the wires and everybody would have been blown up, yet if they’d stopped the show, the kids would have stampeded.
In June 1966 The Beatles toured the Philippines, where they unintentionally snubbed the first lady, Imelda Marcos. The group lost their police protection, and were forced to make their way to Manila airport alone. When they arrived The Beatles and their entourage were repeatedly shouted and spat at, and were shoved and punched by officials and the gathered crowds.
Once on the plane Mal Evans was ordered off, along with Brian Epstein and press agent Tony Barrow.
They all had to get off, and they looked terrified. Mal went past me down the aisle of the plane breaking out in tears, and he turned to me and said, ‘Tell Lil I love her.’ He thought that was it: the plane was going to go and he would be stuck in Manila. The whole feeling was, ‘Fucking hell, what’s going to happen?’
The three were eventually allowed to board again, once Epstein gave the authorities all the money The Beatles had earned for their two concerts. The experience was perhaps the key event which led to the group’s decision to end touring.