On December 4th, 1968, as the staff at the Beatles’ iconic Apple Records headquarters in London’s lavish Savile Row prepared for the Christmas celebrations, George Harrison had decided to spring the most troubling of surprises on them. The Quiet Beatle besmirched his good name and gave those who were in the offices a rather loud and very rude awakening as he opened the doors to a biker gang.
Harrison, who was living in Los Angeles at the time while producing tracks for Jackie Lomax’s debut record Is This What You Want?, had met California’s infamous Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and struck up a friendship of sorts. It was enough to inspire the ‘All Things Must Pass’ singer to invite the notorious gang, who had yet to feel the wrath of the rock world for their part in The Rolling Stones’ Altamont tragedy, to The Beatles’ offices for a spot of festivities. Naturally, things descended rather quickly.
Apple Records president Neil Aspinall explained in The Beatles Anthology that Harrison casually offered the Hells Angels accommodation upon their initial meeting: “George had said, ‘Oh, if you ever come to England, look us up,’ or something,” Aspinall explained. “A couple of months later the motorbikes were outside Savile Row with these guys saying, ‘Well, George said it was OK.’ They ended up living at Apple and terrifying everybody.” It was not the situation the street, known for its high-end and bespoke tailoring, was used to and the gang quickly became unwelcomed guests.
According to Harrison, Apple staff didn’t realise the motorcycle gang were arriving until they rocked up, engines roaring, despite the Beatle previously writing the following memo: “Hells Angels will be in London within the next week, on the way to straighten out Czechoslovakia. There will be twelve in number complete with black leather jackets and motorcycles. They will undoubtedly arrive at Apple and I have heard they may try to make full use of Apple’s facilities,” he wrote, somewhat casually.
Harrison’s memo continued: “They may look as though they are going to do you in but are very straight and do good things, so don’t fear them or up-tight them. Try to assist them without neglecting your Apple business and without letting them take control of Savile Row.” It’s the kind of directions which are incredibly easy to hand out but not so easy to enact.
Richard DiLello, a man who was often labelled the “house hippie” of the Apple headquarters, explained that the arrival of the Hells Angels offered just another somewhat bizarre day in the encompassing world of Beatlemania. “Not a day went by that there was not some totally tripped-out crisis and/or triumph to deal with,” he said in an interview with Mojo in 2004.
However, the Hells Angels were always going to be a little more disruptive than the usual guests that frequented the offices. With staff knowing that the uncompromising gang would be expecting food, the record label arranged a huge Christmas dinner which included a 43-pound turkey which was said to be the largest turkey available in Britain at that time. Despite the festivities, however, Harrison didn’t join. “I didn’t go because I knew there was going to be trouble,” he later admitted.
Typically, Harrison was right. With the drinks flowing, the no-nonsense figure of Hells Angels Frisco Pete had grown tired of waiting for the food. “What the fuck is goin’ on in this place?!” he is reported to have said as per DiLello’s memoir, The Longest Cocktail Party. “We wanna eat! What’s all this shit about havin’ to wait until seven?! There’s a 43-pound turkey in that kitchen and I want some of it now!”
With a couple of punches thrown and the party on the cusp of breaking into an all-out brawl, some of the Beatles in attendance attempted to calm down proceedings, as DiLello writes: “John Lennon, at this moment in his life a squeamish vegetarian, looked up at the frightening figure of Frisco Pete in total bewilderment. He knew nothing of the release schedule on the Largest Turkey in Great Britain.”
Thankfully for Lennon though, the food was hauled out by the Apple staff and calm… of sorts… was restored: “A huge turkey came in on a big tray with four people carrying it,” Aspinall explained. “It was about 10 yards from the door to the table where they were going to put the turkey down, but it never made it. The Hells Angels just went ‘Woof!’ and everything disappeared: arms, legs, breast, everything. By the time it got to the table, there was nothing there. They ripped the turkey to pieces, trampling young children underfoot to get to it. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
After the Christmas party debacle, the Hells Angels were asked to leave to which they said to Harrison: “Hey, man, I just wanna ask you one question: Do you dig us or don’t you?” Harrison, not one to rock the boat but with a keen sense of spiritual responsibility replied: “Yin and yang, heads and tails, yes and no.”
With the gang not quite getting the message, the Quiet Beatle clarified: “You know – ‘Bugger off!'” to which they did.