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torsdag 2 juni 2016

Mercblecket beats The Beatles

This entry is dedicated to Justine Saint-Jalmes and Daniel Llatas Spiers of Wijkmanska Blecket, hence the English. On Wednesday June 1st, Justine presented her arrangement of “When I’m sixty-four” to the orchestra and later Daniel pointed out that it was coincidentally the 49th anniversary for the record's release. To top it off, I present you with the amazing meeting between The Beatles and the Swedish student orchestra culture.

This is one of the most well-known record covers in history:

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by the English pop band The Beatles. Released on 1 June 1967, it was an immediate commercial and critical success, spending 27 weeks at the top of the albums chart in the United Kingdom and 15 weeks at number one in the United States. Time magazine declared it "a historic departure in the progress of music", as it is the first concept album ever. Professor Kevin J. Dettmar, writing in the Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, described it as "the most important and influential rock and roll album ever recorded".

There are tons of stories about the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album and its influence on music history, including the following:

The song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" provided the name “Lucy” for the first specimen of Australopithecus afarensis as the paleontologists heard the song on the radio as they were excavating the skeleton in 1974.

During the 1970s, glam rock acts co-opted Sgt. Pepper's use of alter ego personas and in 1977 the LP won Best British Album at the first Brit awards.

The album was recorded in 129 days, unusually long for the mid 60’s. It was also the first time ever all of the song lyrics were included in a record cover.

The final cost for the cover art was nearly £3,000, an extravagant sum for a time when album covers would typically cost around £50.

Just before the last track is a recording of a high-frequency tone that can be heard better by dogs than humans. According to John Lennon, it was put there "just to annoy your dog".

The album also provides “clues” to the tinfoil-hat theory about Paul McCartney’s death in 1966 and subsequent replacement by a look-a-like. If you hold a mirror perpendicular to the cover and let the top half of the word “Hearts” be reflected in the mirror, it produces the message “HE DIE” below Paul. On Sgt. Pepper's inner gatefold Paul can be seen wearing a badge on his left sleeve that bears the initials O.P.P.. Proponents of the Paul is dead theory read them as O.P.D., which they interpret as "Officially Pronounced Dead". According to manager George Martin, the badge was a gift from a fan; the initials stand for "Ontario Provincial Police". On the run-out groove on side B of the LP (after the final chord of A Day in the Life" has died down) there is a short recording that will be repeated indefinitely on record players that don’t have automatic pick-up return. Played forwards it sounds like The Beatles chanting "Never could be any other way", but if you play it backwards by rotating the record counter-clockwise you can hear (or think that you hear) "We'll fuck you like a superman" or "Will Paul be back as superman?"

But the most amazing story connected with this album is far less known…

The cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band , depicting the band posing in front of a tableau of celebrities and historical figures, was designed by the British pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth from an ink drawing by McCartney. It has inspired countless other record covers since 1967.

Now take a look at the cover of “Mercblecket beats The Beatles”:

The student orchestra Mercblecket from the Stockholm School of Economics.

At first glance, this is obviously inspired by Sgt. Pepper. It’s not surprising, given the way Swedish student orchestras often parody contemporary music acts. After all, the whole genre is a sort of parody. But turn it over and look at the recording date. It’s from 1964! A full three years before The Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper!

In itself, this is not evidence that Mercblecket inspired The Beatles. It was pretty common that brass bands lined up in this way for photos since the camera was invented. Bass drum with logo center front was standard, which can be seen in this photo of Paul McCartney’s father’s marching band, the Jim Mac Band. But there is more to the story.

Jim Mac's band, the brass band of Paul McCartney's father. Jim McCartney is circled. This picture has traditionally been assumed to have inspired the cover of Sgt. Pepper.

Mercblecket* was the student orchestra from the Stockholm School of Economics (Handelshögskolan). It was founded in 1962 when three representatives of the student union at the Stockholm School of Economics went to the student carnival in Lund to check it out. They found food and drink and most important of all, they found student orchestra music. This was during the first wave of student orchestras. The three students realized they must have an orchestra of their own. In the fall of 1962, they searched the school high and low for people who could handle a wind instrument. They came up with about 25 individuals of which some were rather good musicians and most were rather bad or even really bad. They decided on the name Mercblecket since it was the most difficult to spell. They learned two songs: Unga örnar and Käcka pojkar, both marches. Soon thereafter came the first gig, sending people from the union off at the Stockholm Central Station, as they were apparently going somewhere. It sounded like shit.
In the spring of 1963, Mercblecket acquired a large number of operatic fancy dress jackets, dolmans, from the Oscars Theatre. They would remain as the uniform for over 20 years, eventually being replaced by pin-striped jumpsuits.

*(No, the name has nothing to do with Wijkmanska Blecket. “Merc” is quite likely from the root of the Latin “mercabilis”, “mercator” or “mercatus”, meaning “market”, “merchant” and “trade”, respectively. “Blecket” means “the brass”, in Swedish. “Mercblecket” would thus mean “the merchant brass” or something like that. “Wijkmanska Blecket” would translate as “the Wijkman brass”. Don’t try these translations in Swedish 1, kids.)

The Beatles came to Sweden on July 28th, 1964 to play two shows at the Johanneshovs Isstadion and make an appearance on national TV. At Arlanda airport, they were met by a welcoming committee that included Mercblecket. Roger Wallis, English exchange student and Mercbleckets conductor and arranger at the time, had made five or six arrangements of the most famous Beatles songs, four of which ended up on the EP. He must have told The Beatles about the recording, because Paul McCartney requested a copy. Wallis has confirmed that he handed over the EP to Paul at the hotel where the band was staying. The person who tracked down this story was record dealer Jörgen Johansson, who has described the record like  “As this is from 1964 and performed by a student brass band, it’s sort of comedy style, kinda unique though.” 

After this, Mercblecket made "A hard day's night" their signature melody for years to come.

The Beatles Arrival at Arlanda Airport, Stockholm, Sweden - July 28, 1964

Mercblecket can be seen playing in close proximity to The Beatles throughout the clip. That’s Roger Wallis joking with Paul McCartney at 0:32

There is also supposed to be an interview where The Beatles are listening to the Mercblecket EP, but I haven’t been able to find it. In the interview, Paul McCartney says “I really like this one. They really got the beat. It’s really great!”

Sadly, Mercblecket didn’t survive the stormy 2000’s. Their last appearance was at SOF 2005. But if the theory stated above is correct, the title ”Mercblecket beats The Beatles” is to be taken literally, and the orchestra deserves to be remembered for their mark on music history. They really did beat The Beatles to some great cover art!


Mercblecket beats The Beatles  [EP]    1964     Philips 433 445 PE

A-01          I want to hold your hand    Lennon-McCartney    1964

A-02          This boy    Lennon-McCartney (Lennon)    1964

B-01          All my loving    Lennon-McCartney (McCartney)    1964

B-02          I saw her standing there    Lennon-McCartney (McCartney)    1964

All songs arranged by Roger Wallis.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band  [LP]     1967        Parlophone (UK)/ Capitol (US) 

Side one
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"  McCartney2:02
2."With a Little Help from My Friends"  Starr2:44
3."Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"  Lennon3:28
4."Getting Better"  McCartney2:48
5."Fixing a Hole"  McCartney2:36
6."She's Leaving Home"  McCartney with Lennon3:35
7."Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"  Lennon2:37

Side two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Within You Without You"  Harrison5:04
2."When I'm Sixty-Four"  McCartney2:37
3."Lovely Rita"  McCartney2:42
4."Good Morning Good Morning"  Lennon2:41
5."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)"  Lennon, McCartney and Harrison1:19
6."A Day in the Life"  Lennon and McCartney5:39
Total length:


Ahlberg, Axel W., Lundqvist, Nils & Sörbom, Gunnar, 1987. Latinsk – Svensk ordbok. 2:a uppl, 4:e tryckn. Esselte studium, Uppsala.


Linder, Gustaf, 1975. Studentorkestrarna i Sverige. Institutionen för musikvetenskap vid Stockholms universitet.

Lublin, Bengt, 1992. Mercblecket 100 år – en jubileumsskrift. Del 1. 1962-1992. Stockholm.

Sgt. Pepper’s phoney art sub-band. Mojo March 2016.

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