‘Now & Then’: entrepreneurship meets tech meets improv

The last time ‘new’ Beatles songs were released, on demos left behind by the late John Lennon, was 1995 – Free as a Bird and Real Love. The songs appeared in the Anthology documentary and CD. Now and Then was abandoned due to the inability to separate vocals and piano which were of mixed quality. However, in 2022, AI was used to develop the Get Back documentary to disconnect Lennon’s vocals from the demo tape, and has been re-recorded using his vocals, and released as the ‘Final Beatles Song’.

The sound of Lennon’s reconstituted voice is stunning. While his vocals on the 1990s recordings only emphasised his absence, here the recording is punchy and crisp. The song itself is a little lethargic and downcast, the melancholic tone captures some of the tension between despondent and chipper which powered the partnership’s finest work. Giles Martin – producer, and George Martin’s son – brilliantly recreates the austere and string arrangement of Strawberry Fields Forever.

Now and Then was released on the day that the British Prime Minister sat in on an AI summit at Bletchley Park with Elon Musk. The Beatles remain a high-profile case in the debate on AI’s application in music. Neil Tennant has used AI as a tool against writers’ block to finish Pet Shop Boys songs, the US composer Holly Herndon has forged a niche through machine learning experiments, while Brian Eno has been crafting some of the least interesting ambient records of his career through generative experiments. 

Here, it simply enables two musicians to complete an overwhelming legacy. It becomes an affecting tribute to their bond. With a new middle eight sung in tandem by Lennon and McCartney, it expresses a yearning for their bond. McCartney now has an act of closure underlined by one of the lyrics he appended to Lennon’s: after the lines about missing you and wanting you to be there for me, he adds always to return to me. If you squint, you can imagine it’s the Beatles playing together.

Its entrepreneurship meet tech meets improvisation in the best cultural mash of any startup endeavour. It took me back to Peter Jackson’s 2021 documentary, Get Back, a 468 minute deeply affectionate film of the band assembled from sixty hours of footage the Let It Be documentary, along with 150 hours of audio recordings.

In January 1969, The Beatles gathered to rehearse for an album, a live show and a documentary. The pressure is on to find their creative mojo – to write fourteen new songs and perform them live, in two weeks. Get Back is a beautifully intimate portrait of the band at a crossroads, between sticking together or breaking up. It captures the alchemy of their collaboration, offering many learnings for startups regarding team dynamics, the vitality of improvisation, and how talent combined with hard work produces something of value.

It’s fascinating insight into the fab four asking for sarnies, talking about last night’s television, and generally mucking about. In-between, it focuses on the song-writing process, the ad-hoc and incremental nature of creativity, the slow chiselling of songs and Eureka! moments. There are endless band meetings that go round in circles, and it doesn’t flinch from the micro-tensions between the four.

A lot of the running time is four friends enjoying making music together, often just playing for play’s sake, or mates desperately trying to make each other laugh with a silly voice or wordplay. The film ends with the famous concert on the roof of Apple HQ and the attempts of young coppers, wearing helmets with straps too short for their chins, to get the gig shut down. They finally get past Apple’s decoys on reception and climb the stairs to the top floor.

The scene they encounter is extraordinary. There are cameras and cables strewn everywhere. In the midst of the chaos, the Beatles themselves are having a ball. the simple joy of playing a gig is written all over their faces. The police don’t know what to do, they’re not sure whether they’re witnessing a breach of the peace or history being made. John’s joy that the rozzers have arrived is priceless.  It’s a big, bittersweet ending – it’s the last time the band played together in public. It’s a joy to watch albeit you know the poignancy of it being a sad finale.

There’s a lesson there for spotting the potential cracks in founding startup teams, but ultimately it’s much more rewarding to analyse how the Beatles blossomed and why they burned as brightly as they did during their decade of innovation, evolution and reinvention than it is to obsess over why they imploded. Get Back is an extended look at the act of creation, both the magical moments when inspiration strikes, and the more arduous work-at-it sessions when tenuous sparks are fanned into flames. This is an inside view of the world’s most celebrated band at a hiatus, and so I keep turning it over in my mind as to the lessons for startup teams, so here are my five takeaways. 

1. Team dynamics Paul has the most ambitious vision, the most indomitable work ethic. Get Back makes clear that while Paul’s controlling tendencies were unhelpful for George and John he was the impetus for the Beatles to be where they were doing what they did. John just turns up, often a bit late, and gets on with it. He seems fully committed, funny, generous, always ready to help sort out a line in a song that Paul’s struggling with, to pick up any instrument, polite to whoever brings him his umpteenth cup of tea.

Takeaway: You need to sweat and invest in the team dynamic, it can happen spontaneously, but reflect on the individuality brought to the collective; refreshing the team is a good tactic when things settle, bring a new perspective and help refocus the direction with catalytic thinking.

2. Use creative tension to ensure you don’t settle for second best. The film has its tense moments. The group were disintegrating, they weren’t at each other’s throats, but there were underlying  ‘issues’, yet the overall mood is creative and collaborative.  It’s a revelation how gentle the bandmates are with one another. The sessions were not marred by shouting matches but rather a series of smouldering hurt feelings and strangled misunderstandings.

Paul’s compulsive musicianship is everywhere evident, taking over even the arrangement of John’s best song, Don’t Let Me DownIt should be different beat and all onto light things and cymbals; and of the bridge, coolly reminds John That’s a weak bit of the song, that. The twinship between Paul and John, the core of the band, remains intact even when John seems disabled by drugs, and Paul testily but jokingly asks him to pay attention in a way that makes it plain Paul isn’t joking.

Curiously, the music does not always improve with work. When the tension eases, it enables the songs to become more settled and certain, ready to be played in public. On the final day of filming, with everyone exhausted by the pressures, Paul demos a mesmerising first version of Let It Be

Takeaway: Creative tension in a startup team isn’t a bad thing if it can be harnessed and doesn’t become all consuming. Recognise its existence, and know when to let it play out, and when to step in and curtail its influence.

3. Intentionally improvise Paul’s talent as a musician dominates, but he does so mostly by cajoling and including rather than by insisting, and you can see he is doing it for the band, not his ego. The sequence in which Paul, playing full chords on his bass, a difficult thing to do, composes Get Back in less than four minutes is stunning.

George mutters, and on his Telecaster instantly answers with a sharp, upstroke riff; Ringo starts clapping out the rhythm. Then John walks in, late, and without saying a single word, listens for two minutes and then immediately finds the A dominant-seventh chord on his Epiphone electric rhythm guitar, and casually starts filling out his part. Watching them muster Get Back out of thin air, led by Paul, is a truly magical moment, but it just happens – they are writing Get Back in front of your eyes.

Takeaway: As George says, You just go into something and it does it itself. Whatever it’s gonna be, it becomes that. The improv offers true insight for startups into the new product development process.

4. Don’t let deadlines compromise innovation Its hours painfully constructing new tunes, hours of repetition and the testing of tentative lyrics, all the while mildly bickering and talking past one another in a broth of warm memories and clouded quarrels. They are heroically dedicated to coming up with new material. Apart from the songs that make it onto the Let It Be album, we hear snatches of several unfinished songs that will be on Abbey Road. It’s as if they never stop writing, haunted by competing with their own previous masterpieces.

Time is pressing, but the Beatles remain unperturbed. They know they’ll come up with something memorable. They’re not bothered about deadlines. This is where Paul’s strengths come to the fore. He chivvies the others along. He’s constantly pushing things forward. His mentality is that he likes to achieve something new every day, and that’s his focus.

Takeaway: Hold your big vision whilst taking baby steps, get your hands dirty as an innovation practice of disciplined entrepreneurship, where innovation outcomes not deadlines are your goals.

5. Humility spurs creativity All the creativity is achieved with a modest self-consciousness, self-praise is understated. George’s approval of Get Back is muttered to himself; when Paul brings Let It Be, it is greeted only by more workmanlike playing from John, and some gentle mockery of its pious opening words.  The Beatles work first, praise modestly or not at all. It sounds lovely, that, now, George eventually says.

This isn’t about talent, it’s humility and working collectively. The genius of the Beatles happens between Paul and John, not inside of either of them. Paul wants the group to be excited, that’s his fuel, and his practice is simple: bring the work forward, play a song before it’s ready, because in the moment before it’s ready, that’s when it’s ready.

Paul shows humility by bringing music that’s half-baked to the table, he takes a risk. It means that George might become critical or John mopey. But the risk is worth it, because work-in-progress shared in a trusting environment, is the fuel that created the works of genius. And it begins, as it usually does, by having the guts to share something new and put yourself out there.

Takeaway: a creative team is one in which praise is made second to the work, and one in which work retains all the dignity of praise.


Now and Then closes The Beatles songbook. The use of AI, curiosity and determination creates the sandbox for entrepreneurial opportunity and endeavour, a lesson for all startups. Its spontaneity bathed in the incandescent creativity at the nexus of ’60s culture.

As with many startup teams, the initial spark faded. When George walks out of Get Back saying he’s left the group, Lennon observes George said he didn’t get enough satisfaction because of the compromise he’s making to be together. It’s a festering wound that we’ve allowed, and we didn’t give him any bandages.  Lennon then walks out of the room, and Paul sits back in his chair and says and then there were two as his eyes fill up with tears. It’s too much.

The Beatles catalogue is a chronicle of creation that speaks for itself, Get Back leaves you with a wistfulness of what might have been, Now and Then gives us one last tune to celebrate their legacy. Make sure your startup leaves a mark and doesn’t just burn brightly with a short life.

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