Jef Hanlon: The man behind some of the most iconic musicians of our time
PUBLISHED: 14:34 23 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:53 03 November 2017
Jef Hanlon's band supported The Beatles in 1963 before he became an influential agent, manager and promoter. Now he's helped to recreate the magic of the Fab Four with new live show The Sessions
Outside of the music industry, few people know his name. But Jef Hanlon – agent, manager and promoter – is the man behind some of the most iconic musicians of our time, from B B King to Bob Hope, Don McLean, Bing Crosby and Rod Stewart.
The walls of his studio next to his elegant but comfortable home near Haywards Heath are plastered with multi-coloured pop posters testifying to his successes over the past 50 years. Now he’s about to add another to his collection, as The Sessions: A Live Restaging of The Beatles at Abbey Road Studios debuted at the Royal Albert Hall on 1 April and then arrived in Brighton on 6 April, before heading off round the world.
“Tickets for the Albert Hall went on sale last June and sold out in five days,” says Jef. “This is a unique show; nothing like it has ever been done before.”
Jef retired in 2012 but came out of retirement to become the producer of The Sessions, working alongside its creator, Stig Edgren. Aimed at every generation, Jef describes The Sessions as “like Disney On Ice with no ice”. It takes place in a flat arena with the audience on three sides, as the singers replicate exactly the Fab Four laying down their iconic, multi-layered tracks in the Abbey Road Studios.
As the music plays, dazzling cinematic effects transport the audience from early Liverpool to swinging London and the knicker-chucking phenomenon of Beatlemania.
“It’s not a concert, a play or a documentary but a mix of all those things,” says Jef, 72. “There’s a 21-piece orchestra, a six-piece band and a total of 45 people on stage, including the best Beatles singers in the world. The Beatles were world-changing – and this is a celebration of the greatest catalogue of songs in the world. You truly won’t believe your ears.”
As a teenage lad in the North, Jef and his band, Mr Smith and Sum People, played the same clubs as the Fab Four and were once their support act in Manchester. “We shared a dressing room with them in April 1963. We went on first and then last, because they did a runner to escape their screaming fans,” he remembers. “At that time, singers like Cliff Richard had nice suits and haircuts. The Beatles were cheeky Scousers and became a voice of their generation.”
Jef’s group broke up the following year and purely because he owned a van he became road manager to Wayne Fontana, and later tour manager for Herman’s Hermits. Other legendary names followed – of which Jef has fonder memories of some than others.
“B B King, that giant of the blues, was the greatest gent I ever worked with,” he says. “I was his promoter and he’d always say ‘Good night and thank you for the work, Mr Hanson’. Bob Hope was another gentleman. The biggest lunatic I ever worked with was Chuck Berry, but we got on. The nastiest person was Bing Crosby, who was like a spoiled child.”
As for Jef, his work on The Sessions is done, and for now he’s happy to relax back into retirement with his wife, Alice. “I’ve had the most wonderful, amazing life working with my hobby and my passion, popular music – and with the greatest artists in the world,” he adds.
• Janet Dibley on her dream role in the musical celebrating ‘Jackie’ and life in rural Sussex - East Sussex-based actress Janet Dibley says the much-loved magazine Jackie was a must-read for women of her generation. Now she has landed a dream role in the musical celebrating the teen journal.
• Caroline Lucas on what she loves most about Sussex - Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, made history when she entered the House of Commons as the UK’s first Green MP in 2010. Here she tells Amanda Riley-Jones what she loves about Sussex and the unique city she’s proud to call home. Photo by Jim Holden