Friday, June 02, 2006

The Many Faces of “Magic” Alex Mardas

Magic Alex MardasLennon was to have many gurus over the space of his ten years in the Beatles, but none was to cause him such acute future embarrassment as one John “Magic” Alexis Mardas. In describing the perils and misfortunes of the Apple empire, Lennon was to remark: “…And then I brought in Magic Alex and it just went from bad to worse.” Alexis had, in fact, made himself known to the Beatles far before the Apple concept had been conceived. Alexis had befriended John Dunbar of the Indica Gallery in London, and soon moved in with him in a flat on Bentinck Street, and it was there that Mardas first met Lennon. Known then to friends as Yanni Mardas, Alex had entered Britain from Greece at the age of twenty-one on a student visa, and at the time was a television repairman for Olympic Electronics. He had grander visions, however, for what he could accomplish given the opportunity, and regularly pitched these notions to John Dunbar. “He was quite cunning in the way he pitched his thing,” remembered Dunbar. “He knew enough to know how to wind people up and to what extent. He was a fucking TV repairman: Yanni Mardas, none of this ‘Magic Alex’ shit!”

Dunbar nonetheless was impressed enough with Alex to work with him in working on the lighting and effects for the Rolling Stones’ three-week European tour of 1967. Their partnership was not a great success, and the Stones were unimpressed with the results. Alex found a new project in meeting John Lennon, who was immediately captivated by the fantastical ideas for inventions the young student regularly pitched to him. Alex quickly saw an opportunity and moved to protect Lennon from any other major influence, including his current friends. Mardas was introduced to the rest of the Beatles in typical Lennon fashion: “This is my new guru: Magic Alex,” he said as introduced Alex’s new moniker while sitting in Paul’s home in Cavendish Avenue. McCartney was astonished at this latest pronouncement but remained calm. “Because John had introduced him as a guru, there was perhaps a little pressure on him to try and behave as a guru,” McCartney conceded. “I didn’t treat him that way, I thought he was just some guy with interesting ideas.”

Those interesting ideas went from designs already in production by other production teams and scientists, to fanciful musings of the imagination: an X-ray camera that could see through walls, an artificial sun, loudspeakers made out of wallpaper, and a house which hovered supported by an invisible beam being just some of the inventions Alex had in mind. McCartney pointed response to these was: “Well, if you could do that, we’d like one,” but the whimsical ideas, unsurprisingly, were to stay as such. One of the inventions that saw its way to completion, the Nothing Box – a box with twelve lights that flashed at random – had a use that only carried as much weight as its name. Harrison was critical of the new guru’s supposed creations and later embarrassed at their own gullibility: “What Magic Alex did was pick up on the latest inventions, show them to us and we’d think he’d invented them. We were naïve to the teeth.”

It was Alex that sold to the Beatles the idea of buying a Greek island in July 1967. Here he had found a way of becoming involved in the Beatles’ finances, and improving the reputation of the current military regime running the country, to which Mardas’ father was said to be a member of its secret police. The Beatles saw the island as a way of escaping the pressures of life in Britain, though since Alex had tipped off the media as to their whereabouts on a day-to-day basis while in Greece, the amount of time they spent in peace was limited. “Once on a trip to a hill village, we came round a corner of the peaceful road only to find hundreds of photographers clicking away at us,” assistant Alistair Taylor recalled. The island of Leslo was handpicked, which had the ideal characteristic of having four surrounding smaller islands, one for each Beatle. As to the question why the Beatles would want to leave the comforts of their suburban homes, McCartney later offered: “Drugs was probably the main reason for getting some island, and then all the other community things that were around then.”

As with any idea currently residing in Lennon’s head, it had to be realized immediately for fear of imminent loss of interest. The island held a price tag of £90,000, and Alistair Taylor was given the task of purchasing the land from the government. It took time for the transaction to get clearance from the British government, and by that time the Beatles and Lennon in particular had indeed lost interest. All was not lost, however, as a change in property value meant the Beatles had made a nice profit of £11,400 on the deal.

Apart from appearing briefly in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour film of 1967, Magic Alex’s next major involvement with the Beatles came during their stay in Rishikesh, India. Mardas arrived there later and with specific intentions, remembered Jenny Boyd: “He came because he didn’t approve of the Beatles’ meditating, and he wanted John back.” Alex’s quick solution to the problem at hand was a damaging accusation directed at the Maharishi, that the spiritual one had made sexual advances to one female member of the group, which planted great seeds of doubt in the Beatles’ minds as to the teacher’s validity. The allegations were made “without a single shred of evidence or justification,” Cynthia Lennon noted. “It was obvious to me that Alexis wanted out and more than anything he wanted the Beatles out as well.” Alex went so far as to order taxis in advance to take them to the airport and insist for them to take the next possible night flight, to avoid having them stay in India another day to reconsider. Lennon from this point on believed that he had made a mistake in judgment with the Maharishi, but later McCartney looked to the source of the doubt rather than the accused: “It was Magic Alex who made the original accusation and I think that it was completely untrue.”

Now with all of the Beatles back home in London, Alex could officially integrate himself with the four and their new enterprise: Apple Corps. Less than a month after returning from India, Alex was appointed as head of Apple Electronics, and was to be paid £40 a week, plus 10 per cent of profits made on any of the inventions that he created. “I’m a rock gardener, and now I’m doing electronics,” Alex said at the time in his thick accent. “Maybe next year, I make films or poems. I have no formal training in any of these, but this is irrelevant.” He was given a space in which to work: a rented garage on Boston Place, and though while some of the Beatles visited him regularly, there was never much to see. “I’m trying to remember why we even bothered getting involved now,” McCartney admits. He fobbed the Beatles off with more imaginative ideas: a flying saucer, glowing paint that made things disappear, a solar-powered electric guitar, an invisible force field around Ringo to obtain a clearer drum sound, and a 72-track recording facility. Much to the Beatles’ dismay, his Boston Place workshop fell victim to a mysterious fire before any of his inventions could be properly presented, and so Alex was able to remain in their favor for the time being. The studio was all that the Beatles really wanted for the basement of their Savile Row office, and so Alex was finally commissioned to actually act upon this important idea he had been pushing. Naturally, he took to spying on the true experts, and visited George Martin at Abbey Road. Alex observed the techniques and technology being used, while at the same time denouncing it all as horribly out of date. “I found it very difficult to chuck him out,” said George Martin, “because the boys liked him so much. Since it was very obvious that I didn’t, a minor schism developed.”

When the Beatles left Twickenham Studios to begin recording at Savile Row, they discovered the results of Alex’s attempt at creating a recording studio, and George Harrison was later to aptly term it “the biggest disaster of all time.” Unfortunately, Alex did not know the first thing about making an actual studio, and it showed. “If you’d had a few Revoxes you’d have done better,” said John Dunbar, noting the purchases Alex had made at Apple’s expense. “He’d charge them thousands and buy the stuff second-hand.” Not only had Alex installed sixteen small speakers to falsely mimic a sixteen-track recording studio, the room itself was without soundproofing, and he had built the studio beside the central-heating unit for the building, rendering any possible recordings useless with the voluminous amount of noise the machine generated. To top it all off, there were no ports connecting the studio and the control room, so it was impossible for sound emanating from the microphones to get to the mixing desk. Everything was taken apart and the Beatles asked George Martin to borrow a four-track mixing console from EMI. Martin himself became so annoyed over the fact that the Beatles had not listened to reason and had fallen for Alex’s impossible promises that he distanced himself from the current project named Get Back, and left much of the producing to engineer Glyn Johns.

The failed studio was the eye-opener the Beatles needed to snap themselves out of Alex’s spell, and after quickly realizing this, he made himself scarce, quietly hanging on until Allen Klein saw it fit to finally close Apple Electronics. Though Alex would occasionally see some of the Beatles from time to time, such as during the making of Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, his influence had been reduced to nil and he faded from the scene within a relatively short period of time. Just how did Alex initially become so close to the Beatles? Perhaps his perplexing comment relating to his choice of career most accurately describes the enigma of “Magic” Alex and his involvement Beatles’ empire: “Man is just a small glass, very, very clear, with many faces, like a diamond. You just have to find the way, the small door to each face.”


Anonymous said...

I'd like to use some of this material. Can anyone tell me where it's from please?

Anonymous said...

Major sources: Peter Brown 'The Love You Make' and George Martin "All You Need is Ears"

Check, too 'The Longest Cocktail Party' by Richard di Lello, aand eme3rick's 'Here, there and Everywhere.'

Di Lello especially, describes the huge collection of flakes and phonies that latched on to the Beatles. Mardas was only one of them.

Anonymous said...

Not that I really give a shit, but out of curiosity, what ever happened to "Magic Alex" I do know he was trying to auction off a necklace and some other items a few years ago that John Lennon had given to him but other than that, haven't heard anything.

soapers said...

I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Mardas back in the Armalite days when he had the bullet proofing business and observed the way he conducted himself, which was always honest. I witnessed the envy that allowed the false rumors to circulate about him and Apple and beyond, but he was always fair and cordial to me and his fellow colleagues. I wish him well.

Anonymous said...

i have a piece of art work that john gave magic alex called "STRONG" it was created when john was on acid??

elena gr said...

hi! if someone knows that the greek singer kostas bigalis when he was young was playing guitar at the group of beatles, must tell me. because my friends are laughing with me! they dont believe it but im sure. not for a long time! after he went to america with a solo cariera with the nick name big-alice.i m waiting....p.s.alex you are great, and you are greek!!!

Unknown said...

"p.s.alex you are great, and you are greek!!!"
Shit will always smell like shit where ever it comes from!!

J.Oliver Hazley said...

There is a fair bit of evidence that Alex screwed Cynthia Lennon as she was on the rebound from John bailing with Yoko.She wasn't all that innocent.and he was a fox.

Anonymous said...

i wonder were is alex?

Lynne11.10 said...

Well Alex was the inspiration to what Apple computers are today. Apple Corp had not only the apple as a trade mark but apple electronic, apple films, apple music , apple boutiques. This whole journey with Apple and Alex made the Beatles the most money. $500 billion was given to the Beatles by Steve Jobs for their logo and trade mark.

Now that's really something.
The Beatles and Magic Alex created Apple computers or was the inspiration behind it all today.
So it makes you wonder was Magic Alex's really all that bad or did he not have the vision and understanding of what Steve Jobs continued.
Maybe Steve Jobs met Magic Alex.
Now that's some journey and the Fab Four really knew their purpose in life. If only we could now focus on gun control.
John Lennon is still watching over all of us and apple has a job to do. Tracking devices for gun control. At least we can be alerted if a gun is near a school or close to us.
Come on Apple the journey continues for the Beatles and human rights. Lets make a bigger difference in the world and continue the circle of life without greed but by PAYING IT FORWARD.