A Clockwork Orange’s Alex worshipped the gorgeousness and gorgeousity of Ludwig Van, but Malcom McDowell rolls right over Beethoven when he slooshies his favorite fuzzy warbles. Forget the angel trumpets and devil trombones, the iconic actor heard it proper live on a tiny stage in Liverpool. The humble narrator of first visual anthology of the toppermost mop tops, The Compleat Beatles, saw the band before and after they traded their savage leather for Pierre Cardin and dropped the long Silver from their name.
Malcolm McDowell is currently singing the praises of his new film, Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050, the first film the iconic actor made with the iconic independent director. McDowell took a pit stop to govereet with Den of Geek about the film and the conversation veered into extra laps.
Long before he was who he was, McDowell was an expert on the band he praised in the documentary The Compleat Beatles. The actor grew up in Liverpool and got a taste of the early Merseyside Beat first hand.
“I went to see them at the Cavern when they were called the Silver Beatles,” McDowell fondly remembers. “I think they had just come back from Hamburg. I was so taken with them and also this cellar.”
The Beatles started in small clubs, like most bands. The club where they held their local residency has grown in legend, but never in size.
“The Cavern was a tiny place, a bolted room with a little raised stage at one end,” McDowell says. “They weren’t raised that much, maybe six or nine inches off the floor.”
That didn’t stop the tough Teddy Boys from rocking the house.
“The place was packed, jam packed. The Beatles, who had done, by then, the 10,000 hour thing. They’d played so much together. They were so tight as a band, but they weren’t yet singing their own stuff. As I remember, it was mostly covers of Chuck Berry and all that, Little Richard and stuff. But they were extraordinary.”
The future film star had a mosh pit view of the early evolution of rock and roll.
“I went back,” McDowell says. “They had played on Friday night and I went back for a few months to see them every Friday. Then I noticed, one of the last times I went, they suddenly haircuts and the leather jackets were gone, the drainpipe trousers, the DA haircut, all gone. Now they were the Mop Tops.”
“Obviously Brian Epstein had got hold of them and they were moving. Within the year they were the biggest band in England and I was listening to them on the radio. In the car. BBC did these live shows from Manchester that had Beatles on it.”
The Beatles’ success was the ultimate local-lads make good story.
“It was amazing,” McDowell enthuses. “It was terrific and I was thinking oh my god, these are the guys, you know? Anyway, who would have known that they would have been so creative in terms of the writing of these incredible songs that they came up with? Singularly or in a group. Of course the great influence of George Martin and all that.”
The Beatles broke up at the end of the sixties, but they live on in the McDowell household. He considers it a personal victory.
“My 13 year old was always an Elvis man,” McDowell explains. “I kept saying the Beatles and he wouldn’t want to know. Now I see everything on his playlist is the Beatles. They have to find it themselves. A father cannot tell them what to do. He can only suggest, point in a direction and they eventually get there. It’s great.
“In fact, he sang at the school, at a thing the other night, ‘Strawberry Fields.’ I thought ‘oh my god, how ironic and bizarre is this? My 13 year old singing ‘Strawberry Fields.’’ And he doesn’t even know what he’s singing about. Strawberry Fields is an area in Liverpool, it’s amazing. Just like Penny Lane.”
Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 is out now on Netflix, Blu-ray, and DVD.