Alex Mardas

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The mysterious Alex Mardas, often known as "Magic Alex," does not have any solid credit tying him to the production of any record, and was not a musician. Nevertheless, he deserves a place in history…
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The mysterious Alex Mardas, often known as "Magic Alex," does not have any solid credit tying him to the production of any record, and was not a musician. Nevertheless, he deserves a place in history as one of the most colorful characters of the many that drifted into the Beatles' orbit. For a brief time he was head of Apple Electronics, though none of his off-the-wall inventions really took hold with the public. If for nothing else, though, he was the guy behind one of the most priceless anecdotes behind the dark days of the Beatles' gradual dissolution in 1969.

Mardas' background is shady, with even in his age in dispute; some accounts have him in his early 20s when he met the Beatles in 1967, others in his late 20s. For certain, however, he was Greek, and working in London as a television repairman for Olympic Electronics, where he was known as Yanni Mardas (though he was known to the Beatles as John Alexis Mardas, or Magic Alex). Through a mutual friend, he met John Dunbar, whoseIndica Gallery put on various contemporary art exhibitions (including one by Yoko Ono, spurring the first meeting between her and John Lennon in late 1966). Dunbar was also Marianne Faithfull's ex-husband, which gave Mardas the connections to do lighting on the Rolling Stones' spring 1967 European tour, incorporating spotlights that were supposed to change color and rhythm with the music. "Magic Alex" Mardas shared a flat with Dunbar, which led him to meet Lennon, who had been a friend of Dunbar's for a while.

Paul McCartney, in Barry Miles' book Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, remembers that shortly afterward Lennon introduced Mardas to him as "my new guru." Lennon was taken by Mardas' fanciful electronic inventions, particularly a box with lights that flashed on and off without repeating patterns, which Lennon could be entertained by for long periods as he tried to guess which lights would flash next. Mardas had other ideas that were just as useless for most people, but far less achievable, like a force field of colored air to keep onlookers from seeing into buildings, and making a flying saucer. Some of his ideas, actually, would eventually come into use, like telephones that could dial a number with spoken instructions and display the numbers of incoming calls.

None of this would have had any impact on the Beatles' music, except that Mardas had highly impractical ideas for futuristic equipment that could be used in their recording sessions, and as head of Apple Electronics he became part of the general directional and financial chaos that plagued Apple. Mardas had insinuated himself into their private lives as well, urging them to relocate to a Greek island, an idea the Beatles considered seriously enough to make a collective excursion to Greece in mid-1967. Jenny Boyd, Mick Fleetwood's first wife and George Harrison's sister-in-law, remembered that while Lennon and Harrison were studying with the Maharishi in India in 1968, Mardas helped spread rumors about the Indian guru that led the Beatles to leave before their course of study had been completed. That was also the perspective of Lennon's first wife, Cynthia Lennon. When the Lennons divorced in 1969, John actually threatened to sue Cynthia for her brief fling of adultery with Mardas, a ridiculous position considering that Lennon had committed adultery far, far more often than she had.

Mardas went too far, and got into conflict with the Beatles' longtime producer George Martin, when he heavily criticized EMI's studio equipment as inadequate, and built a 16-track recording studio for them at Apple's offices (though he'd apparently boasted that he could put together a 72-track one). His idea of a 16-track studio, as it turned out, involved putting 16 small speakers around the room, which had to be disposed of and replaced by the standard two required for stereo sound. More seriously, he had neglected to put in connecting ports between the control room and the studio, which made it impossible to connect the studio mikes to the mixing desk. The studio was also not adequately soundproofed.

When the Beatles tried to use it for the first time on January 20, 1969, the results were so patently inadequate that George Martin immediately called EMI's Abbey Road studio for sufficient replacement equipment. As engineer Dave Harries recalled in The Beatles Recording Sessions, "The mixing console was made of bits of wood and an old oscilloscope. It looked like the control panel of a B-52 bomber. They actually tried a session on this desk, they did a take, but when they played back the tape it was all hum and hiss." The mixing console, according to engineer/producer Geoff Emerick, was sold as scrap to a secondhand electronics shop for a mere five pounds.

The Beatles were able to resume recording with standard equipment at Apple's studios a couple of days later, but Mardas' days in the group's inner circle had come to an end. He was removed from Apple and nothing's been heard from him since. If he ever is located, he'd certainly make a hell of an entertaining guest speaker at a Beatles fan convention.