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Sergeant Pepper Marches East: The Beatles in Indonesia

The Beatles in Indonesia

In October 1962 I was privileged to witness, in the Cavern Club in Liverpool, three working-class scouse lads, (plus one, John, from the middle-class), performing the best, in my honest opinion, rock’n’roll music ever heard on the planet.

Fifty-five years later, in August 2121, Liverpool University Press announced the forthcoming publication of a new academic tool, the Journal of Beatles Studies, which aims to establish a scholarly focal point for critique, dialogue and exchange on the nature, scope and value of The Beatles as an object of academic enquiry and seeks to examine and assess the continued economic value and cultural values generated by and around The Beatles, for policymakers, creative industries and consumers. The journal also seeks to approach The Beatles as a prism for accessing insight into wider historical, social and cultural issues. Wow.

There is no time, in an article like this, to chronicle how four leather-clad rockers, having morphed into “lovable moptops”, and then “saints of psychedelia” became such an intoxicating “prism” to emblazon some of the best minds of academia. Suffice it to say that the Beatles were the tip of the iceberg which, titanically, smashed down the Berlin Wall and that we, their early fans, including those from Indonesia, were the hidden base of that iceberg. And this happened because of the sheer creativity, originality, vitality and musicality of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

The first poem I ever wrote was a rather rude response to a notorious article, The Menace of Beatlism, by journalist Paul Johnson, who was following a familiar trajectory from the strident left to the strident right, retaining only the stridency. Here’s a quote from Johnson:

What were we doing at 16? I remember reading the whole of Shakespeare and Marlowe, writing poems and plays and stories. At 16, I and my friends heard our first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; I can remember the excitement even today. We would not have wasted 30 seconds of our precious time on the Beatles and their ilk.

I wonder what Johnson, whose name eerily contains those of the two most creative Beatles, and who does come across as an honourable man and honest journalist, however wildly wrong he was about the Beatles, is thinking now.

Fast forward to 2008, and in my English class at TBI Jakarta is Awan Garnida, who tells me that he has a Beatles tribute band, G-Pluck, and invites me to one of their concerts. I was gobsmacked. Other Beatles bands were performing, but when I closed my eyes I was back there in the Cavern “all those years ago”. G-Pluck are so authentic. Awan and I became firm friends, as I did with the rest of the group, and with his family. His “moniker” then was “the Paul McCartney of Indonesia”, and he looked like Sir Paul, with his baby face and the same left-handed Hofner 500/1 bass guitar.

In August 2008, G-Pluck were invited, as one of Asia’s two representatives, to take part in the Beatles Festival in Liverpool. I accompanied them, as a guide to the city, and as a rather ageing roadie, for which my duties seemed to be fetching tankards of water for the band while they were playing. We were also accompanied by one of Awan’s staff, a journalist, Lovelli Ariesti, and a lady official from the Indonesian Embassy in London. The two girls provided a noisy and glamorous encouragement to the band.

The first gig was at the Cavern Pub, and Awan, Lovelli, and I took a taxi down to the Pier Head to catch our breath before the performance. Awan was understandably nervous. The Mersey was bereft of ships, unlike the days when Liverpool was the world’s greatest port, with liners and cargo vessels constantly departing to and arriving from the four corners of the world. The famous ferry was still running through, as was the Isle of Man boat, onto which motorcyclists were loading their machines to take part in the island’s famous TT races.

Awan needn’t have worried. G-Pluck went down a treat, as they began by roaring into Twist and Shout. I was so proud to be with them. Fans of the original Beatles were telling their kids, “If you want to know how the original Beatles sounded, take a listen to these guys.” Lovelli and I enjoyed chatting to the Norwegian Beatles and a girl Beatle band from the USA. What I have found is that Beatles’ fans all over the world form a special community, a family.

Over the next few days, the band played at other venues including the Cavern Club and the Adelphi Hotel. When the lads were walking through the streets in their wigs and suits there were shouts of There go the Japanese Beatles, with one wag claiming to recognise his long-lost son from Yokohama. We visited for a meal at the oldest Chinatown in Europe, and walking down Bold Street the boys became gathered up in the fond embraces of some large ladies who were spilling out of the pubs. On the other hand, for spiritual sustenance, the lads attended Friday prayers in the oldest mosque in Britain.

Another highlight was when G-Pluck was interviewed by Billy Butler on Radio Merseyside. Billy is a well-known, affable local personality and former beat singer, and he was really impressed when G-Pluck played “Because” for him and all of the listeners.

Back in Indonesia, G-Pluck, who have also played in Singapore, Australia, and Belgium, continue to promote the Beatles through live concerts, restaurant appearances, and TV shows. Even in these masked-up times, they are giving Zoom concerts from Awan’s Lontar studios, together with other singers and musicians from Indonesia’s thriving Beatlemania community. And these performers are not, as you might expect, all “seniors” from the first generation of Beatles fans, but also “juniors” and teenagers.

And as a schoolteacher here, I find that all my students, from Infants to High schoolers, like and admire The Beatles. The beat goes on, the Beatles go on…

G-Pluck can be contacted through their Facebook G-pluck, Instagram @gpluckbeatles, and Twitter @GPLUCKBeatles.

Dahlan Cartwright  [About the author] Dachlan is a Liverpool Welshman who first came to Indonesia for the Subud World Congress in 1971. He returned in 1973 to work in Bandung, where he met his wife Srie. They have two children, Munadi and Rianti, a son-in-law, Cas, and a granddaughter, Cara Rose. Dachlan has worked as a librarian, editor, trainer and teacher in Britain, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Timor-Leste. Now retired, he focuses on writing. He has written seven collections of verse, including Ours is a God-Given Peace: Verse from the Mersey Beat Era, and Beatle Zevons: Verse for 54 Rockers.

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