Look back with Asher
Sixties chart-topper turned music-biz big cheese Peter asher recalls the effects of Beatlemania-by-proxy
“It was weird living with Paul [McCartney], but it was weirder for my father’s patients” PETER ASHER
It is 6am in Hawaii, but Peter Asher is already wide awake to take Uncut’s call. Has he even gone to bed? “things aren’t quite that rock’n’roll these days,” laughs the singer, manager, producer and label executive, who partied with the Beatles throughout the ’60s.
this month, Asher will perform a set at the Port Eliot festival, attempting to summarise in word and song a life that’s included hit singles with Peter And Gordon, living with Paul McCartney, running Apple and managing James taylor. “I perform some Peter & Gordon hits and use video and photographs to tell my story,” he says. “the show can be two hours long – there’s a lot to choose from.”
the audience-pleasers, he admits, are stories about the Beatles. He met the band when Paul McCartney began seeing Asher’s sister Jane and moved in to the parental home on Wimpole Street, London. Asher’s father was a physician and the family lived above the practice, with McCartney and Asher sharing a top floor. “It was weird living with Paul, but it was weirder for my father’s patients,” says Asher. “they would have to wade through a crowd of girls at the front door. As we were English, nobody ever asked or explained what was going on. When I began performing, Paul didn’t give me advice but he did give me an unfinished song that John didn’t like.”
Peter & Gordon took “A World Without Love” to No 1 in the UK and US in 1964, and then recorded further Lennon-McCartney songs, including “Nobody I Know”, “I Don’t Want to See You Again” and 1966’s “Woman”, which McCartney wrote under a pseudonym to see if it would affect its success. Asher didn’t need to call in any favours to get hold of these, though: “When you have a No 1, the songwriters always want the follow-up, otherwise somebody else will make some money on your coattails. Lennon and McCartney were no exception. their heroes weren’t just Elvis and Chuck Berry, they were Goffin and King.”
After topping the charts, Asher co-founded avant-garde bookshop/ gallery Indica – where John first met Yoko – before taking the reins at Apple. the latter, he says, wasn’t as chaotic as often claimed. “We put out hit records and it was a working label, so I spent a lot of my time doing fairly constructive, normal record label stuff,” he says. “then at the end of the day you’d drift down to Derek taylor’s office, where there was a full bar and interesting things in the drawers, and the rest of the day could get a bit hazy.”
It was at Apple that Asher came across James taylor, who he would manage with great success, moving from London to LA’s Laurel Canyon just as the creative baton passed from one city to the next. Asher went to work as a producer before rising to the position of vice-president of Sony. But in 2005 he decided go back to his roots when Peter & Gordon reformed for a benefit show for Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five.
“I had my doubts: was it a cool thing to do, to get together and do songs from decades ago? But we realised people were interested, so we did it whenever we could and I was glad we did. I then had to decide what I would do when Gordon died
[in 2009], and I figured out this way to put stories and songs together for a new kind of show.”
Asher has also continued to produce, working with Elton John on his recent Revamp tribute album as well as Steve Martin’s bluegrass projects. After a period of decline, he’s convinced that the music industry is back on an upward curve. Does he ever wish he was starting out again? “I imagine it’s just as much fun to be a star as it was for me,” he says, “but I’m not sure old men should sit around wishing they were young.” Peter Asher appears at the Port Eliot festival, Cornwall, July 26-29
Peter Asher leaving Apple’s London offices with Paul McCartney, February 1969