During the summer of 1967, The Beatles‘ Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club album had shot straight to the top of the UK and US album charts. A few weeks later, All You Need Is Love topped the singles charts around the world.
Still only in their mid-20s, John, Paul, George and Ringo had surpassed their wildest dreams and were the most famous band on the planet. But all four shared an uncomfortable feeling that something was missing.
In search of an answer – and encouraged by George Harrison whose wife, Pattie, was interested in the teachings – they turned to Eastern spirituality and the Transcendental Meditation movement popularised by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Invited by the Guru to attend a week-long conference in Bangor, North Wales, The Beatles jumped on the 3.15 pm train to Holyhead on Friday 25 August and headed West.
At London’s Euston Station, Cynthia Lennon was about to board the train with John when she was stopped by a police officer who had mistaken her for a fan.
Left standing on the platform, she watched the train pull out. “It was hugely symbolic,” said Cynthia. A few months later, John met Yoko Ono and his marriage to Cynthia ended.
The four lads had hoped their visit to Bangor would be a quiet, anonymous affair, but word soon got out that The Beatles were attending the conference and fans and the press flocked to the small city to catch a glimpse. At Bangor Station, the group were greeted by an excited crowd – exactly the kind of welcome they had hoped to avoid.
On Friday evening, the group visited a local Chinese restaurant, but when the bill arrived, they realised they couldn’t pay as they had no money (The Beatles were like the Royal Family in that regard and didn’t carry or use cash – everything was usually taken care of on their behalf).
Fortunately, George Harrison recalled the emergency £20 note he had hidden in the sole of his sandal.
The next day, after an introductory seminar, the Beatles joined the Maharishi in a press conference at which they announced they were giving up hallucinatory drugs.
George added: “We don’t know how this will come out in the music. Don’t expect to hear Transcendental Meditation all the time. We don’t want this thing to come out like Cliff and Billy Graham.”
Fans set up camp in the grounds of the college where the conference was being held, and staff complained of naked people sitting cross-legged amongst the bushes and flowerbeds stripped bare by the fans to make garlands for their heroes. Their week of quiet spiritual reflection had become a circus.
During the conference, the Beatles and their wives and girlfriends all shared a student flat in Bangor Normal College (now the Management Centre of Bangor University) and enjoyed cooking and sharing communal meals together in the cramped student kitchen.
After a late Sunday lunch together, the payphone in their dormitory rang. Their manager, Brian Epstein, had been found dead at his London home. He was 32.
The Maharishi attempted to console them, telling them that Epstein’s spirit was still with them. Yet in the press conference that followed (without Paul who was already on his way back to London with Jane Asher), their grief was plain to see.
Looking dazed and shellshocked, they struggled to answer the questions that were being fired at them. When one reporter asked what their plans were after Brian, Lennon snapped back: “We haven’t made any . . . we’ve only just heard”.
Cutting their stay short, The Beatles returned to London that evening.
Epstein’s death was a blow from which The Beatles would never recover. Described by McCartney as “the fifth Beatle”, he had been the glue that held them together. Without his steadying influence, the group’s differences – particularly those between Paul and John – began to surface.
While the Beatles’ public support of the Maharishi helped to make Transcendental Meditation a worldwide phenomenon, Brian’s death sparked a chain of events that would eventually lead to the group’s acrimonious and very public demise less than two years later.