Donovan Leitch and Paul McCartney

Donovan and Paul had a close relationship in the 1960s for brief periods, and they enjoyed sitting around and jamming together, especially since the Beatles didn’t jam at that time, as they were more interested in making records.  When they got together at Donovan’s flat in Maida Vale the tape recorder was always rolling.  One day Paul pulled up in his 1966 Aston Martin, left the doors wide open, and parked, with a tape blaring, in the middle of the road at an angle so that the traffic was held up.  The result of this get together was ‘Eleanor Rigby’, which was released in 1966 as part of a double A-side single which included ‘Yellow Submarine’ and Donovan contributed the line “sky of blue and sea of green” to ‘Yellow Submarine’.  I wrote this post on December 4, 2018 and it was originally titled Truly Timeless Composition.

Truly Timeless Composition

Donovan Leitch was a neighbor of Paul McCartney and one day Paul stopped by his flat in London’s Maida Vale to jam, and Paul played this tune about a strange chap called ‘Ola Na Tungee’ that contained these lyrics, “Ola Na Tungee Blowing his mind in the dark With a pipe full of clay No one can say.”  Paul McCartney said that he came up with the initial idea for the song ‘Elenore Rigby’ while he was in the music room in the basement of Jane Asher’s family home in Wimpole Street, London.  The Beatles didn’t play any of the instruments on this record and all the music came from the string players, who were hired as session musicians.  Ringo was left out of this song as there is no drumming.  Paul McCartney wrote this song with some help and he sang vocals while John Lennon and George Harrison both sang harmony vocals.  The string section was scored by Beatles producer George Martin and it consisted of four violins by Tony Gilbert, Sidney Sax, John Sharpe and Jurgen Hess, two violas by Stephen Shingles and John Underwood and two cellos by Derek Simpson and Norman Jones.

McCartney came up with the line, “Picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been”, and that’s when he came up with the story of an old, lonely woman.  The lyrics, “Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door” are a reference to the cold-cream she wears in an effort to look younger.  The song tells the story of two lonely people.  First is a churchgoing woman named Eleanor Rigby, who is seen cleaning up rice after a wedding.  The second is the pastor, Father McKenzie, whose sermons “no one will hear”.  The song ends with Eleanor dying in the church and Father McKenzie buries her.

This song was originally written as ‘Miss Daisy Hawkins’, but Paul didn’t think that it sounded right.  He took the name Rigby from a Wine & Spirit Shippers shop in Bristol named Rigby & Evens Ltd.  He spotted the name while visiting Jane Asher, who was appearing in The Happiest Days Of Your Life at the Bristol Old Vic theatre.  Paul originally used the name Father McCartney as the priest and the name Eleanor was after Eleanor Bron, who played the female lead in the Beatles classic slapstick second movie Help!Help! was a spy spoof, where Ringo Starr is chased by a band of cultists from an unnamed eastern cult, because Ringo is wearing their sacrificial ring.  The cult is joined by a mad scientist who wants the ring so he can rule the world.  They’re chased across England, to Switzerland, and finally to the Bahamas before the end.  Ahme (Eleanor Bron) the beautiful High Priestess rescues the Beatles from Professor Foot wearing a pink leather jumpsuit.  The Beatles said Help! was inspired by the Marx Brothers’ movie Duck Soup.

On July 6, 1957 McCartney was introduced to Lennon, prior to a performance by The Quarrymen who were a skiffle group that played at the garden festival of St Peter’s Church, in Woolton, Liverpool.  Paul and John used to hang out in the Woolton Cemetery which adjoins St Peter’s Church.  Lennon had an uncle buried in the graveyard who was named George Toogood Smith and John loved the name, so he would take his friends there to show them.  The cemetery also contains a tombstone that marks the grave of an Eleanor Rigby, which has since become a landmark for Beatles fans visiting Liverpool.  Another gravestone nearby has the name McKenzie written on it.  Ringo Starr suggested that the renamed Father McKenzie be “darning his socks in the night”.  The “Ah, look at all the lonely people” refrain was reportedly coined by Harrison, and the final verse where the lonely Rigby and McKenzie are united through death was suggested by Pete Shotton a member of the Quarrymen and this was later written by McCartney.

Young Paul McCartney lived on a housing estate called Speke, in Liverpool, where there were these old ladies around and he became friendly with one of them.  He used to help her out by going shopping for her.  They would spend their time talking about her life, which fascinated Paul because she was from a completely different generation and she had these great stories about World War II.  Paul realized that she was young once and he was able to relate to her amazing experiences.  He used this relationship to develop the story of Elenore Rigby.

Eleanor Rigby is one of the many lonely people living her life in a pretend world that she made for herself.  She is probably a widow that lost her husband in World War II and she goes into the church courtyard after a stranger’s wedding is over and she grabs the rice to throw, pretending she knows the couple, or perhaps thinking about when she got married.  When she goes home, she sits by the window and smiles out, either hoping to grab someone’s attention, but she does not quite know who is it for, or exactly where she belongs.  Father McKenzie is a preacher that probably enjoys writing his sermons, but his congregation is never thrilled about them, which is demonstrated by the lack of patrons, thus no one hears his words as no one comes near.  He wants to write a good sermon and he wants to look good, not go around with holes in his socks, but one begins to wonder why does he care so much.  Eleanor dies from something, maybe just old age.  The song says that she “died in the church”, but this is used in a figurative sense, as her faith was strong and now she would be with God.  Her name is written on the tombstone, but nobody showed up for her funeral except Father McKenzie.  The vicar probably got down on his knees to pray over her grave, so he got dirt on his hands which he had to wipe off.  Father McKenzie wrote one of his famous sermons for Eleanor, but since he was the only person there, he was not able to deliver it, so no one was saved.

Ah look at all the lonely people
Ah look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
Of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks
In the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah look at all the lonely people
Ah look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Written for Fandango’s Friday Flashback.

10 thoughts on “Donovan Leitch and Paul McCartney

  1. I think Paul did get it from the gravesite…there couldn’t be that many Eleanor Rigbys around. The other story makes sense but I’m more inclined to think it was the gravesite.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I had read that too about the gravestone. A great song anyway.
    Donovan was just one of many friends of the Beatles, I guess; one of the Moody blues lived next door to George Harrison for awhile and so on. I’ve come to think that’s why some areas are real “hot spots” for music talent for brief periods, and then aren’t , and other cities aren’t at all. Think SF in late-’60s, LA in the mid-’70s, Athens GA in the ’80s. London much of our lifetimes… the snowballing effect of the various talents there hanging out together and helping along one another. If you were a singer/songwriter in LA in 1972 and hung out at the right clubs, soon you’d know Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles and guys who’d be in Toto and there’d be a lot of people to open doors for you and jam with you that wouldn’t have been around if you were the same person in say, Denver.

    Liked by 1 person

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