On Sunday 25th June, 1967, the EBU (the European Broadcasting Union, for those who
didn’t know. I did’t) co-ordinated Our World, the world’s first live multinational multi-satellite
television production. It was two hours long, took ten months, involved over ten thousand
technicians, producers and performers, and had, predictably, its fair share of mishaps. In violation of
one of the ground rules, for instance, the Mexican contingent had pre-recorded their main segment –
including singers, dancers and a flock of white doves – and because recreating it for the actual
broadcast was deemed impossible, their section of the show was just them, live, watching their own
taped performance. High-octane stuff.
In all seriousness though, it was a technological milestone of broadcasting, using four
satellites, and was watched by an estimated audience, across twenty-four countries, of 400 to 700
million people, the largest television audience to that date, albeit these days likely exceeded by
TOWIE on a regular basis. Lots of celebrity creative artists stepped up to the plate; Northern Irish
opera singer Heather Harper, American conductor Leonard Bernstein, Spanish painter Joan Miró
and Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, to name but a few – but no-one as famous as the Liverpool
likely lads, The Beatles.
Because who could have come up with an idea as daft as this, apart from the BBC? The fab
four had a room at EMI studios in London, and were tasked with providing Britain’s contribution to
the effort. To ease the pressure somewhat, rather than performing their composition live entirely,
their producer George Martin decided to create an orchestral backing track to which the group could
perform along (and he really went to town, although more on that in a moment). This was the height
of Beatlemania and the Vietnam War, and they were asked to write a song with a positive message,
and John Lennon had just the one. Consisting of short, lyrical statements in ‘basic English’ which
could be understood by all the nationalities watching, he came up with ‘All You Need is Love’.
Apologies to those who perhaps knew the origin story of this song, but for me, it answers a
lot of questions that I had. The musical simplicity of the song seems incongruous from a band who
had just released the epic sprawling Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but given the brief, it’s
ideal. Lyrically, again, the humanitarianism seems to come out of nowhere, but Lennon felt moved
to create a propaganda piece advocating the all-importance of love, which provided the foundation
for his legacy as a revolutionary hero. As the band manager, Brian Epstein, said, & I quote ‘The nice thing
about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything’.
But the real mystery that this background unlocks for me is the bizarre instrumentation and
arrangement of the tune, and I think this comes down to the fact that Martin had the job of creating
this orchestral backing that would be full enough in case anything went wrong with the group’s live
performance. Firstly, it is colossal – backing singers, brass, strings, the kitchen sink. But secondly,
it’s full of little musical quotations. Listen carefully, and in the outro you may be able to hear
sections of the British folk song ‘Greensleeves’, American Glenn Miller’s & ‘In the Mood’, or German
baroque composer J.S.Bach’s & ‘Invention No.8 in F Major’;, as well as references to some other
Beatles tunes, and the pan-continental nature of these choices is surely no accident for a production
focussing on multinationality.
The part of this unconventional arrangement that stands out the most for me, however, is the
opening few bars, which is lifted from ‘La Marseillaise’, famous not only for being the national
anthem of France but also, in the early twentieth century, the anthem of the international
revolutionary movement. What before had appeared an incongruous tack-on to the start of the song,
makes so much sense when you see it as setting up a mood of positive change, and an advocacy of
the all-importance of love that knows no borders.
Enter Richard Curtis, thirty-six years later, and his seminal romantic comedy, Love Actually.
The film’s ubiquitous tagline of ‘Love, actually, is all around’ is only a paraphrase of Epstein’s
‘Love is everything’, and it is no surprise that Curtis chose to feature the song at a key moment in
the plot. At the wedding ceremony of the characters played by Keira Knightley and Chiwetel
Ejiofor, Lynden David Hall, along with a host of singers, brass players and string players popping
up, surprises the bride and groom with a rendition of the song. And it couldn’t be more perfect.
Curtis expertly includes a few bars of Mendelssohn’s popular ‘Wedding March’; to George
Martin’s arrangement before La Marseillaise, adding his stamp to the diversity of the source
material. Meanwhile, the choice to have a black soul singer perform it at a mixed race wedding is a
definite reference to the boundless and borderless love that Our World was espousing. Finally, the
fact that Ejiofor and Knightley’s characters love for one another forms possibly one of the only
relationships in the film that is at no times in any danger shows the sincerity with which the initial
message of the Beatles is channelled. Add to that a genuinely wholesome bit of good-humoured
theatricality through the increasing supply of musicians emerging, and you have one of the most
heart-warming scenes in a heart-warming film.
It’s a story any celebration of love would want to be a part of, and an important statement
that any couple planning one would want to make.
And here’s how High Row can help.