Monday, 26 July 2010

Meeting Magic Alex

I'd read the cuttings, scoured the books on my shelf, and I was on my guard. I felt cynical, wary, even a little nervous. I was, after all, about to meet a man who - according to Beatles legend - had been cunning enough to bamboozle the world's most successful entertainers into providing him with an endless cash-flow and a purpose-built branch of their Apple corporation.

The man I met in an Athenian bar, seven or eight years ago, was slim, gently elegant, disarmingly charming, and generous beyond the demands of the occasion. He was instantly recognisable from the Apple promo photos of 1968; despite recent ill-health and a heavy smoking habit, he looked youthful for a man in his early 60s, even charismatic. And he loved to talk. Once he'd established that my companions and I weren't there to crucify him, he was almost alarmingly eager to talk about the old days - sometimes openly and at enormous length, sometimes with a sly smile and a flirtatious hint that he knew far more than he could possibly tell.

I spent a long afternoon that passed into evening and then night-time in his company; then another day in his villa on a Greek island, a night's vigil at a local bar, and a final morning around his hillside swimming pool. My cynicism survived for no more than an hour, after which I fell under his spell. Of course, he talked about the Beatles, and about his continued friendship with Lennon, Ono and Harrison way beyond his last documented appearance in their story, circa 1969. He devoted a long lunch to an urgent recounting of his side of the Apple Studio debacle - claiming, in brief, that the studio installed at Apple in 1969 was taken from his workshop while he was out of the country, without his knowledge, and had been intended only as a demonstration of how a multi-track system might work, rather than something ready for installation. As I recall, he pointed the finger at some Abbey Road staff who, he suggested, had most to lose from Apple creating a working studio, as they would lose the Beatles as clients. He described how, later in 1969, he returned to London, and discovered that the new Allen Klein regime at Apple had closed down his Apple Electronics lab, chaining and padlocking the door shut. None of the Beatles had bothered to tell him that his days of scientific experimentation on their behalf were over.

There was more, much more - about his involvement, as a security consultant, with many of the crowned heads of Europe (and he had the photographs of riotous parties to prove it); his friendship with several members of the British Royal Family, including Princess Diana; even hints that he knew the whereabouts of the legendarily lost Lord Lucan. In the classic Greek tradition, there was plenty of hyperbole and exaggeration - it is, I have been told, a Greek habit to say "thousands" when you mean "several". But every time I started to doubt his word, he would open a cabinet and produce dozens of unseen photographs of the Beatles in India, or his Mediterranean cruise with the Lennons in 1969. Most dramatically, he turned on his computer in a busy cafe and said, "Have you heard this?" John Lennon's voice echoed out of the tinny speakers, making a wisecrack about "the Alexis Mardas rock'n'roll band", before launching into an affectionate song about his friend, recorded during the Indian adventure of 1968 - and completely undocumented by any Beatles scholar. "I have hundreds of tapes like this", he said proudly, and whether he meant 600 or half-a-dozen, I was suitably impressed.

For a while we kept in touch, and every so often I think that I should try to track him down again, and find out exactly how many photos, and how many tapes, are hidden away in his vaults. Most of the time, though, I'm happy to remember his conversation and his kindness during those three days in Greece - evidence enough for me to testify here and now that Alexis Mardas, regardless what he said and did in the late 1960s, has been dealt a rough hand by almost everyone who has written about his enigmatic involvement in the Beatles' story. I didn't want to appoint him as "my guru", like John Lennon did; I didn't even think he was 'Magic'; but I was convinced that he was much more than the caricature that appears under his name in most Beatles literature.

1 comment:

  1. That's a fascinating post. Like most of the world, I believed everything I'd read about the guy over the years, until I came across a PDF on the New York Times website wherein Mr. Mardas refuted virtually every horrible thing ever said about him. Something tells me that the "true story" of the Beatles will never really be known. But it's still fun reading about them!