Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite

Ah, dear Readers, welcome to 1967!

And to the conceptual creation, writing and recording and birth of what is, by general consensus, so no need to blister the twitterverse on this, but many consider it to be the greatest record ever made, with the most iconic cover ever created.

Under 15 years old? Gather round, youngsters: we’re talking about “records”, now that’s a 12” piece of pressed, circular plastic – also called vinyl – with one, ONE, continuous groove on it which produces a sonic vibration when played on a “phonograph”, an ancient device designed to process sound vibrations made by playing the plastic disc.

Yes, it’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles Featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

While there are so many songs on this great record, one of the most beautiful – at least in this blogger/writer’s humble opinion – is the masterfully grooveilicious song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, written by the greatest and most successful songwriting team of the 20th Century: John Lennon and Paul McCartney, also known as  “Lennon/McCartney”.

Just recently, in fact a few days ago, I saw a wonderful short film about New North Press, a very traditional letter-press shop in London, and the process they went thru to re-produce the original poster that inspired this song from a few photographs and some archival sheets.

And it was a captivating and magnificent example of the superb craftsmanship of these folks and the short film I saw regarding the re-creation of this famous poster is what drove me rise from a deep and calming sleep on a Sunday morning, to share with you, my faithful Readers, this magical and inspiring story.

A little about the song:

John Lennon said that the song came almost word-for-word from a Circus Poster made in 1843.

The inspiration to write the song was a 19th-century circus poster for Pablo Fanque‘s Circus Royal appearance at Rochdale. Lennon purchased the poster in an antique shop on 31 January 1967, while the Beatles were filming the promotional films for “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” in Sevenoaks, Kent.[5] Lennon claimed years later to still have the poster in his home.[6] “Everything from the song is from that poster,” he explained, “except the horse wasn’t called Henry.”[7] (The poster identifies the horse as “Zanthus”.)

Mr. Kite is believed to be William Kite, who worked for Pablo Fanque from 1843 to 1845. “Mr. J. Henderson” was John Henderson, a wire-walker, equestrian, trampoline artist, and clown. While the poster made no mention of “Hendersons” plural, as Lennon sings, John Henderson did perform with his wife Agnes, the daughter of circus owner Henry Hengler. The Hendersons performed throughout Europe and Russia during the 1840s and 1850s.[8] A hogshead is a large wooden cask.

With the mention of the trampoline, an enjoyable activity for everyone, it brings to mind the wonderful bounce culture that is still with us, championed by a number of highly respected Trampoline providers!

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is credited to Lennon–McCartney, but Lennon said he had written it entirely himself. In 1977, when shown a list of songs Lennon claimed writing on (including “Mr. Kite”), McCartney disputed only “In My Life“.[6] In his 1997 memoir, he claimed to have also co-written “Mr. Kite”.[3] In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he recalled spending an afternoon with Lennon writing the song based on the poster, and said that “the song just wrote itself”.[4]

One of the most musically complex songs on Sgt. Pepper, it was recorded by the Beatles on 17 February 1967 with overdubs on 20 February (organ sound effects), 28 March (harmonica, organ, guitar), 29 March (more organ effects) and 31 March.[9] Lennon wanted the track to have a “carnival atmosphere”, and told producer George Martin that he wanted “to smell the sawdust on the floor”. In the middle eight bars, multiple recordings of fairground organs and calliope music were spliced together to attempt to satisfy this request. In a 1968 interview, Martin recalled that he achieved this “by playing the Hammond organ myself and speeding it up”.[10] In addition to the Hammond organ, an attempt was made to find a 19th-century steam organ for hire in London, in order to enhance the carnival atmosphere effect, but to no avail.[11] After a great deal of unsuccessful experimentation, Martin instructed recording engineer Geoff Emerick to chop the tape into pieces with scissors, throw them up in the air, and re-assemble them at random.[12]

Before the start of the first take, Lennon sings the words “For the benefit of Mr. Kite!” in a joke accent, then Emerick announces, “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite! This is take 1.” Lennon immediately responds, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”, reinforcing his title preference from a phrase lifted intact from the original Pablo Fanque poster. The exchange is recorded in The Beatles Recording Sessions[5] and audible on track 8 of disc 2 of Anthology 2. The original recording can also be heard during the loading screen for the song if it is downloaded in the video game The Beatles: Rock Band.

Although Lennon once said of the song that he “wasn’t proud of that” and “I was just going through the motions”,[13] in 1980 he described it as “pure, like a painting, a pure watercolor”.[7]

For the benefit of Mr. Kite

There will be a show tonight on trampoline
The Hendersons will all be there
Late of Pablo Fanques Fair, what a scene
Over men and horses, hoops and garters
Lastly through a hogshead of real fire
In this way Mr. K. will challenge the world

The celebrated Mr. K.
Performs his feat on Saturday at Bishops Gate
The Hendersons will dance and sing
As Mr. Kite flies through the ring, don’t be late
Messrs. K and H. assure the public
Their production will be second to none
And of course Henry The Horse dances the waltz

The band begins at ten to six
When Mr. K. performs his tricks without a sound
And Mr. H. will demonstrate
Ten summer sets he’ll undertake on solid ground
Having been some days in preparation
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
And tonight Mr. Kite is topping the bill

Please enjoy, share and comment – I really loved doing this piece!

About the Author

“If there’s a place for musical perfection, it’s wherever you’ll find Eric Sommer – A blistering acoustic style plus a variety of slide and open tuning formats will knock you for a loop…” wrote Studdie Burns, Melody Maker/UK in 2013. “How one guy can do this so well is remarkable, but if you look a little deeper there’s a batch of road miles around this lad… and it all makes sense.”

Eric started his musical career in the Boston area under the eye of legendary promoter Don Law and was onstage at The Paradise Theatre in Boston for a record 40 appearances. He has been a regular player on many national and international tours and showcases, and worked in Europe for two years with Nick Lowe and acts Bram Tchaikovsky and Wreckless Eric; during this period Eric worked on Danish, German and British rock stages, returned to Boston and formed The Atomics.

As founding member of Boston’s legendary pop/new wave cult trio “The Atomics”, who toured non-stop with Mission of Burma, Gang of Four and The Dead Kennedy’s and were on the leading edge of a number of musical transformations, Eric never lost sight of his acoustic roots, returning to his heros and mentors often: David Bromberg, Steve Howe(YES), Duane Allman (Allman Bros.), Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, Robert Johnson. Mr. Sommer’s current project with power trio “The Solar Flares” shake up Chet Atkins and David Bromberg influences with those of Randy Travis and British Rocker Elvis Costello – a remarkable mix.

And to keep track of it all, Eric started keeping notes, which evolved from napkin scribbles to paper and pen efforts, writing stories, making poetry and capturing the roads and bridges as they went by, plus people, places and… more people which become his notes, then become characters for songs, stories and prose.

Eric currently has four volumes of verse, 5 studio albums, a LIVE in AUSTIN DVD as well as an electronica project titled “The Smallest Particle” and more on the way… this blog is an attempt to keep track of it all,

Amen.

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You can reach Eric directly at ericATericsommer.com and see more of his projects here on this website. Red Chairs, Black Pancake and Blue Turtle are all available here, as well as all current releases. Please share and comment below.

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
John Lennon
Sgt Peppers Cover
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