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Beatles scholar Martin Lewis quits as emcee of Beatlefest conventions

by Julian McKenzie, Beatles News Hollywood reporter

In the 22 years between 1992 and 2014, producer/humorist and Beatles scholar Martin Lewis has been the Master of Ceremonies at 40 Beatlefest conventions held in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston and Orlando. He has also been a prominent participant and de facto co-emcee at 16 Fest conventions held in Chicago. Now after 56 conventions, he is stepping down from his role.

In his 22-year tenure as emcee, Lewis - a protege of Beatles publicist Derek Taylor - is credited with bringing sophistication and a far greater professional presentation to the conventions. Prior to Lewis' involvement, the events had always been hosted by local radio deejays. Lewis brought to the conventions his experience as an international TV and radio host and producer, his extensive experience as an interviewer/moderator on TV and at major arts festivals in Manhattan, Hollywood and London and his encyclopedic knowledge of the Beatles that spans nearly five decades, from his work on the authorized Beatles biography in 1967 to being commissioned by Encyclopedia Britannica to write its 2014 entry about the Beatles.

Old friends Pattie Boyd and Martin Lewis at Beatlefest in February 2014

Drawing on his longtime, extensive work in the Beatles universe and his friendships he was also directly responsible for securing appearances at the Fest conventions by many of his friends, including Pattie Boyd, Neil Innes, Donovan, Spencer Davis, Tom Scott, The Quarrymen, The Rutles, Andrew Loog Oldham, Robert Freeman, Vince Calandra and Bill Maher.

Because Lewis worked as producer or consultant on many Beatles-related projects during the past 22 years - including the "Beatles Anthology," "Live At The BBC," the "A Hard Day's Night" theatrical reissue and first DVD edition, "Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show" DVD, reunion albums and tours by the Rutles and the Quarrymen, projects working directly for Paul McCartney and George Martin, the 40th anniversaries of Beatles' first US visit and "A Hard Day's Night", the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first US visit, the 70th anniversary of John Lennon's birth, Paul McCartney's Kennedy Center Honors etc etc - he was able to arrange special presentations at the conventions relating to all of these projects.

Among the many panels and sessions that Lewis conceived and moderated for the Fest over his 22 years was the popular "B.U.I. - Beatles Under The Influence" musicians' forum/jam session and the irreverent late-night panel show "Beatle-ly Incorrect!"

Neil Innes and Martin Lewis - producers of the Rutles' second album

On his decision to leave the Fest, Martin Lewis said, "I first became involved in Beatlefest at the urging of my dear friend, the late Harry Nilsson, who liked attending the conventions because it gave him a platform to promote the gun control cause that was so close to his heart. He thought I would be a strong asset as Master of Ceremonies. He'd complained to me that the Q&As at Beatlefest at that time were strictly 'local radio' level, conducted by deejays who were Fab Four fans giddy to interview celebrities but who were uncontaminated by technique. He felt that the convention attendees deserved much better.

"Harry also warned me that the promoters were rather ramshackle in their organizational skills - and that turned out to be a classic Harry Nilsson understatement! Coming direct from two decades of work as a producer on major TV, movie and theatre productions it was a massive culture shock to enter such a creaky mom-and-pop operation. The intentions were obviously good but as Harry forewarned me, the execution was distinctly provincial, small-town, amateur-hour. In terms of tone, style, artwork, promotional materials and stage design I had expected a classy Beatles version of Comic-Con and I discovered that what the promoters were staging were closer to Fab Four-themed tractor-pulls! Plus ca change! But despite my initial misgivings, Harry convinced me to continue hosting the events. He explained to me that they were really all about the fans who attended and the special guests. And I should just shrug off the amateurism of the organizers.

"He was absolutely right of course and I'm glad that I continued for another two decades. What made the conventions a joy was the professionalism of the guests from the Beatles world (especially the musicians) and the unbridled passion of the fans. The permanent gormlessness of the titular impresarios fades into insignificance compared to those heroes.

"I will miss the fans who have become like a second family. But having played an integral role in the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first US visit in February - and with the recent success of my 15-year campaign to get Brian Epstein into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (on which Beatles fans made a huge difference) - those are great highs on which to exit. 'See you 'round the clubs...'"

Published May 9, 2014

This article is Copyright © 2014, Julian McKenzie, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission

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