Let’s step into a time machine and travel back to February 1968…
Imagine standing outside Abbey Road Studios with a group of devoted Beatle fans. You’re hoping for a fleeting glimpse of the source of your fandom. Seeing any version of John, Paul, George, and Ringo will suffice as a sacred imprint in your memory. A photograph of a Beatle sprinting urgently into the recording studio is even better. An acknowledgment of your faithful presence from The Fab Four is akin to discovering the Holy Grail.
How about we raise the ante on the possibilities of an encounter with The Beatles? What if you were invited to participate in a recording session with them? Visiting London in 1968, Lizzie Bravo, a sixteen-year-old native of Brazil, can be heard providing background vocals on the original version of “Across the Universe.” Bravo’s voice is distinctly heard on the track along with another lucky fan, Gayleen Pease.
Recently, Lizzie Bravo was able to share her incredible experience via an e-mail interview.
What originally brought you to London in February 1967?
When The Beatles stopped touring at the end of 1966, my friend Denise and I realized we would never see them. She convinced her parents AND mine to send us to London as a gift for our 15th birthdays, which had happened in May and June. The sole purpose of the trip was to see the Beatles. She went a few weeks ahead of me since my father was abroad, and he needed to sign for me to travel alone. I saw the four Beatles, Brian Epstein, and Mal Evans the same day I arrived, leaving EMI Studios at night. They were recording Sgt. Pepper.
Describe the fateful invitation you received to contribute to a Beatles recording. What feelings and emotions were going through your mind when you got invited into Abbey Road Studios?
There were only a handful of us fans waiting for them to come out that night. It was a Sunday; they didn’t normally record on weekends. The doorman had let us inside the building. Paul came out of the glass doors and asked: “Can any of you girls hold a high note?” I went in and asked to bring my friend Gayleen. You have to realize that we were used to seeing them almost every day, so this particular night was just a much nicer situation since we were inside and not outside the studios. We were just enjoying our time with them (approximately two hours), we were too young to realize what was really going on: we were recording with the biggest rock and roll band that ever was… sharing a microphone with John and Paul (there were two mikes, I was with John first and then we switched).
How were you received by The Beatles during the “Across the Universe” recording session? What did you notice about their interaction as a band?
They were very nice and made us feel at home. They were funny and we laughed at the jokes and situations. They seemed to get on well. You have to realize we were 16 and 17, just enjoying our time with them. We weren’t there to analyze them as a band or as people.
What were your initial thoughts about “Across the Universe” as a song?
It took a long time for us to hear it for the first time. For me, it was on Kenny Everett’s radio show. I thought it was beautiful.
How did your family and friends respond to this extraordinary event of you singing on a Beatles song?
I personally didn’t tell very many people. There was a note in the March 1968 issue of The Beatles Monthly and that was it. For many years it never appeared in any books or magazines. I don’t remember anyone making a big fuss out of it. It happens a lot more nowadays.
What is the one lingering memory from recording with The Beatles that has stayed with you over the years?
There are many moments I remember vividly, too many to list here. Being beside John Lennon, my idol, singing on the same microphone with him, so close…
Please share any other encounters you have had with The Beatles.
As I said before, we used to see all four of them almost every day, it would be impossible to list. My book (Do Rio a Abbey Road, for now only in Portuguese and sold out) has my diary entries and photos. I left London in late October 1969. In February 1990 I saw Paul at a conference for Brazilian press in Indianapolis, Indiana. As he shook my hand, he asked me “why do I remember you?” So, I told him, and he remembered.
How do The Beatles still hold meaning for you today?
I love their music, I love them as people, and I have met countless amounts of fans all over the world that have become my Beatles family. Since 1964…
What caused you to leave London and return to Brazil?
The boys weren’t going to the studios or to Apple every day like before. It was kind of obvious something was going on. I wanted to get on with my life. I had been a maid at a 3rd class hotel, a maid at a family’s home and later an au-pair at another family’s home (this last family was very nice, and we have remained friends). This for a middle-class Brazilian girl who had a very comfortable life in Rio, we had a live-in maid, and I had never made a bed in my life.
How do you wish for today’s fans to carry on the legacy of The Beatles?
The Beatles sang so much about love. I hope young people can still feel that love when they listen to their music. And I don’t need to wish: all the time people tell me about their children or relatives that have started liking The Beatles even as toddlers! It will never stop, they are eternal.
Lizzie Bravo’s tale is eternally preserved on the original version of “Across the Universe.” The track was first donated by The Beatles on a 1969 charity album for the World Wildlife Fund, compiled by British comedian Spike Milligan. That album is out of print, but one can experience the original “Across the Universe” on The Beatles compilation, Past Masters. The epic Wall of Sound production of “Across the Universe” is on the 1970 Let It Be album. For whatever reason, producer Phil Spector deleted the original background vocals of Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease. Regardless, we have a wonderful story of one fan’s brief collaboration with her favorite band.
Photo: Lizzie Bravo and John Lennon in 1967