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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 17:09 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are Brian Wilson (main picture), with Anna Neagle, Matthew Pinsent, George Galloway and Molly Weir.

Brian Wilson

The former Beach Boys leader, Brian Wilson, has been honoured this week by the US Recording Academy for his musical achievements and his charitable work. This year has been a momentous one in his life.

In February, fans from as far afield as Japan, South Africa and California, and including Sir Paul McCartney and Sir George Martin, packed London's Royal Festival Hall to witness one of the most poignant and memorable pop concerts of modern times.

They were watching Brian Wilson perform his legendary Smile, the eagerly-awaited Beach Boys album that had been shelved in 1967, an incomplete work.

Hearts were in mouths. Wilson's mental fragility is as legendary as his musical genius. But the standing ovation the artist received in London was borne not merely of a relief that he had survived the concert intact, but of a genuine artistic triumph.

They had seen the culmination of an extraordinary musical and spiritual odyssey. If Brian Wilson's place in the pantheon of great American songwriters had not already been assured beforehand, it was now.

"There's a continuum that goes George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson," says Elvis Costello.

The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys - Brian top left.
Formed in 1961, the Beach Boys comprised the three Wilson brothers - Brian, Carl and Dennis, their cousin Mike Love and high-school friend, Al Jardine.

The Wilson household had been dominated by their bullying father, Murry, who instilled a great sense of competitiveness in his eldest son, accompanied by plenty of physical abuse.

Brian Wilson and Mike Love were largely responsible for the early surfing songs. One of their best known, Californian Girls, Brian wrote on his first LSD trip. His subsequent acid use released a surge of creativity, but brought with it personal demons and depression.

Wilson suffered a breakdown and could no longer tour with the band. So he retreated to the womb of the recording studio where he began experimenting just as The Beatles were doing in England.

The resultant album Pet Sounds, released in 1966, was hailed as a masterpiece, "a 20th Century classic", according to McCartney. The Beatles, in an atmosphere of friendly rivalry, began raising their game, replying with Revolver and Sergeant Pepper.

State-of-the-art recordings

Brian Wilson continued pushing his own boundaries both physical and mental. He hired a young writer, Van Dyke Parks, whose lyrics had impressed him.

Together with session musicians, they worked on a concept album mixing doo-wop, jazz, choral music, and the use of bizarre instruments including whistles and animal sounds.

The recording techniques involved revolutionary stacked voices, ornate instrumentation and state-of-the-art multi-tracking - when several tracks are blended together in a studio. At one point, Wilson had a sandpit built in his studio so he could feel more comfortable.

He was hearing voices in his head that were threatening to kill him. The recording sessions lasted eight months and became increasingly chaotic.

Wilson performing Smile at the piano in London
Brian Wilson experiencing good vibrations in London
When the rest of the Beach Boys returned and listened to the bits and pieces Brian had laid down, they hated it... or most of it. A few songs were recorded, most notably Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains.

But Mike Love, in particular, couldn't understand Parks' obscure lyrics and dismissed Smile as "a whole album of Brian's madness".

The combination of drug-induced paranoia and a feeling of rejection sent Wilson, still only in his mid 20s, over the edge. The final straw was hearing the Beatles' Strawberry Fields track on the radio. He felt he'd been usurped.

He retired to bed for several years, got enormously fat and was unable to work. The Smile album disappeared into rock's mythology.

Wilson came under the wing of a therapist, Eugene Landy, whose control over him became so all-encompassing that court action was eventually required to wrest it from him.

Brian Wilson's story might have ended there, a life and career unfulfilled; another clichéd rock 'n' roll casualty.


But an improvement in his mental condition, and the recent collaboration with musicians Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko, both Beach Boys devotees, reawakened Brian Wilson's creative instincts. His marriage to Melinda Ledbetter in 1994 had given him emotional stability and it was she who persuaded her husband to work again.

His new band toured successfully, performing all the songs from the Pet Sounds album. It convinced Brian to look again at the Smile session tapes that had remained in the vaults. Sahanaja downloaded them on to his laptop, and the process began.

Enter Van Dyke Parks again to brush up some of the lyrics, and a group of top-notch musicians to defy Mike Love's assertion that these songs could never be performed, and a lost treasure was recovered.

The album, re-recorded in less than three weeks and re-titled Brian Wilson's Smile, was released last month. The burden of expectation on Brian Wilson had finally been lifted. "I felt healed by it," he says.

Popular, but no plaque: Anna Neagle
Anna Neagle

In a survey of the most popular films ever shown in Britain, the late Dame Anna Neagle features in no fewer than four of them. They include the nation's most popular movie, the 1948 Spring in Park Lane, produced and directed by her husband Herbert Wilcox, that exploited the need of post-war audiences for escapist melodrama. Despite this, English Heritage is reported to have refused to grant a blue plaque to their former home in, appropriately, Park Lane.

Matthew Pinsent: Rowed over
Matthew Pinsent

Four-times Olympic gold medallist rower Matthew Pinsent has decided to hang up his oars and deny himself the chance of emulating his former rowing partner Sir Steve Redgrave's achievement of a five gold-medal tally. He aims to devote more time to his wife and to media work. Pinsent led Britain to victory in the coxless fours in Athens in a 0.08 second photo-finish. His tears during the medal ceremony were one of the abiding memories of the Games.

Court victory: George Galloway MP
George Galloway

The former Labour MP George Galloway has won £150,000 in libel damages from the Daily Telegraph over reports that he was had been in the pay of Saddam Hussein. The Glasgow Kelvin MP had denied ever seeking or receiving money from the former Iraqi leader's government, which he said he had long opposed. Mr Galloway later said that he would stand for the Respect party in Bethnal Green at the next election.

Molly Wear: Writer and actor mourned
Molly Weir

The Scottish actress Molly Weir died this week at the age of 94. She made her name as a mimic in the 1940s radio sketch show It's That Man Again and, later, in Life with the Lyons. She became a favourite with another generation playing Hazel McWitch in the TV series Rentaghost. Molly Weir also enjoyed success as a writer. She wrote a best-selling cookbook, and her memoirs ran to eight volumes.

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Bob Chaundy



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