Celebrating 60 Years of The Beatles
Britain’s Allen Ginsberg
On July 6, 1961, the first issue of Mersey Beat, the music magazine founded by Bill and Virginia Harry, was released to the public. On page 2 of that issue was an item written by John Lennon called “Being a Short Diversion on the Dubious Origins of Beatles.” Part of that entry famously reads: “Beatles. How did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them ‘From this day you are Beatles with an A.’ Thank you Mister Man, they said, thanking him.”
On January 8, 2013, an interview with British novelist and poet Royston Ellis was published in the International Business Times. He was asked if it were true that he was the one that suggested that our boys use the name “Beatles.” He answered: “I don’t know whether John had already considered that spelling, but it was my encouragement that made him choose it permanently. His often-quoted story of the name being given to him by a ‘man on a flaming pie’ is a jocular reference to the evening I cooked a frozen chicken pie and mushrooms for dinner…and managed to burn the pie.” Incidentally, John must have already considered the spelling since a June 2 article about their Neston Institute performance, a full three weeks before they met Ellis, referred to them as “The Beatles.” So there’s that…
Royston Ellis was born on February 10, 1941 in Pinner, London, England. He quit school at the age of 16 and his first book of poetry, Jiving to Gyp, was published when he was 18. He liked to perform his poetry with live music in the background, both in clubs and on TV. He called it “Rocketry.” He was sometimes backed by The Shadows. Sixty years ago, on June 24th and 25th of 1960, he was booked to perform a poetry reading for an arts festival at Liverpool University. During the festival, he happened into The Jacaranda, where he met George, who he was immediately drawn to.
Though Ellis did not have the type of encounter he was initially hoping for, he and George did get along very well, and through our young guitarist Ellis was introduced to John, Paul, and Stu. Soon, Ellis was performing an unadvertised poetry reading at The Jacaranda, backed by our boys playing 12-bar blues progressions. Afterwards, Ellis was invited to spend a few days with them at John and Stu’s Gambier Terrace flat, where he talked to them about bisexuality and introduced them, John especially, to the notion that you could take apart Vicks nasal inhalers to find a Benzedrine strip that could be chewed for a pleasant effect.
The End of Liverpool College of Art Days
July of 1960 marked the end of the school term for John and Stu. It was Stu’s fourth year, so he could finish or have the option of attending a fifth year to get an Art Teacher Diploma. John was in his third year, but wouldn’t do well enough on his exams to be asked to stay any longer. Paul and George, in the meantime, had no real obligations. So Royston Ellis suggested the idea that when he got back to London that he would set up a series of readings, including ones on television, and invite our boys down to London to back up his “Rocketry” performances. He was serious. The July 9 edition of Record and Show Mirror said this about Ellis:
“he’s thinking of bringing down to London a Liverpool group which he considers is most in accord with his poetry. Name of the group? “The Beetles.”
Well, unfortunately (?), those London shows never happened. I have yet to come across any source that really talks about if Ellis really made any headway into making it happen, but by four weeks after the article in Record and Show Mirror, things would change for The Beatles in a pretty substantial way. I would imagine you know why. As we’ll get into in detail next month, on August 8, Allan Williams received a call from Bruno Koschmider about needing another band in Hamburg on August 17. That gave The Beatles little more than a week to find a drummer and prepare for their trip. It is said that John wanted to invite Ellis to come with them as a poetic compère, but Ellis had his own career plans.
A note if you’re interested. In 1963, Ellis wrote a novel called Myself For Fame. If you can find it, and that likely won‘t be easy, there is a chapter that is based on his Liverpool experiences with The Beatles.
Oh, by the way, Ellis also mentioned to John and Paul at one point that he was interested in becoming a paperback writer. Interesting… And one more thing, though I won’t go into detail on a family-friendly blog about an encounter that Ellis and John shared with a young woman that led to a little song about “Polythene Pam…” Yeah, yeah, yeah… 😉
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to The International Business Times for their interview with Royston Ellis that can be found at https://www.ibtimes.com/beatles-1960-liverpool-royston-ellis-remembers-996876.And, of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about the Braun Tape, the second set of recordings made at Paul’s Forthlin Road home in late June or early July of 1960. Stay tuned!
Over time, I’m planning to write about all of the different instruments that the members of The Beatles used between 1956 and 1970. But in my research, I have found it fascinating to learn how our boys first became interested in music and how they began to learn. So in this installment I’m going to talk about John, Paul, George, Stu, Pete, and Ringo’s first instruments.
Well, our George was a guitar guy right from the very beginning. Towards the end of 1955, at the age of 12, George spent six weeks in the hospital with inflamed kidneys. During that time, he heard that an ex-schoolmate named Raymond Hughes was selling his Egmond Toledo acoustic guitar. As encouraging parents, and perhaps feeling bad for their boy’s illness, Harry and Louise Harrison came up with the £3/10/ it would take to buy the guitar, and George came home from the hospital and had his first instrument. He soon broke it, but his brothers were able to put it back together, so all was good and it was the one he had from late 1955 until mid-1957. We’ll be talking a lot about his many, many subsequent guitars in future posts.
Stu, of course, didn’t really want to be a musician. John, Paul, and George talked him into buying a bass guitar and joining the band after he sold a painting to Sir John Moores during an exhibition. He actually did have some musical experience. He had taken piano lessons starting at age 9. He had also played the bugle and his father had taught him some chords on a Spanish acoustic guitar, which he still owned when he met John. But he didn’t have any interest in seriously pursuing becoming a musician. The bass guitar that he bought with his art money was a Hofner 500/5, sometimes referred to as the 333 model, which denoted it’s dark, “brunette” finish. It was a giant, almost four feet long, and Stu was only about 5 feet 7 inches, so he barely looked like he could handle it. This was the only bass he played with The Beatles, and it is currently owned by The Hard Rock Café and is on display in London.
As a young teen, Pete had received an acoustic guitar from his mother Mona Best as a gift, but he had never learned how to play it. He had always been more interested in drumming. His first opportunity came when someone whose name is lost to history left a snare drum and brushes at The Casbah and Pete began playing Sunday night Casbah shows with The Blackjacks, utilizing that snare drum and a pair of bongos. Mona soon (very likely at Christmas 1959) bought Pete a Premier Outfit 54 kit, a standard package with a bass drum, snare, and two toms. It also came with one cymbal. This was the set that he took to Hamburg, and once there he added a high-hat cymbal and a crash cymbal, both Zildjians. With the exception of little upgrades here and there and the cymbals, this kit was unchanged for Pete’s entire time as a Beatle.
Like Pete, Ringo really only wanted to be a drummer. In a 1998 interview with Andy Babiuk, Ringo said “My grandparents played mandolin and guitar and they gave me their instruments and I just broke them. I had a harmonica, I dumped it. We had a piano, I walked on it. I just was not into any other instrument.” At about the age of 15, Ringo bought himself a huge bass drum from a second hand shop and practiced with that. It wasn’t until the next Christmas, in 1956, that Ringo’s step-father Harry Graves bought him a kit that was being let go by a dance band. Ringo has also said that by the time he was 18, he had collected various drums, but when he played with The Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, he was a standing drummer (see the photo), basically just playing a snare drum and a floor tom. After he started playing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, he bought himself another full kit, this time an Ajax Edgeware Set. By the time he joined The Beatles, he was playing a Premier Continental 56. He was clearly very serious about his drum collecting.
The McCartney family had an upright piano in their living room that Paul’s father, Jim, played at family get-togethers. So Paul had an early introduction to playing piano, but Jim wanted him to learn properly and sent him to take lessons. But at the age of 11, Paul didn’t have much interest in doing music homework, preferring to just play what he wanted, so the lessons didn’t last very long. He also enjoyed playing his cousin Bett’s banjulele (I had never heard of it either…). Paul’s first own instrument was one he received from Jim for his 13th birthday. It was a trumpet. He enjoyed it, but didn’t like how it hurt his lips, and he couldn’t sing while playing, so that was the end of that. By the next year he had started writing basic tunes, but that was back on the family piano. Then in mid-1957, Paul started learning chords on his friend Ian James’ Rex guitar, and in July of that year he went to Hessy’s and traded the trumpet for a Zenith 17, the acoustic guitar that he would play until June of 1960, when he bought the Rosetti Solid 7 that he took to Hamburg.
John’s first two instruments were both harmonicas. Aunt Mimi started taking on college students as boarders at Mendips in 1947. One of the first was an English Literature student named Harold Phillips (that’s not the same Harold Philips who was better known as Lord Woodbine, whom we will be talking about again soon). He had a harmonica and John was enthralled. Phillips told him that if he could learn a song in one day that he could have the instrument. John learned two, and so he became a musician at the age of 7. He kept that harmonica until the summer of 1954, when he took it with him on a summer trip to see his relatives in Scotland. The bus driver was impressed with John’s playing of “The Happy Wanderer,” and told him that a passenger had left what turned out to be a very high quality harmonica on the bus months earlier, and that John could have it. Of course, harmonica wouldn’t ultimately be enough. By 1955 he was being taught banjo chords by his mother, Julia. By 1956, he was borrowing a friend’s (name unclear) Egmond acoustic guitar, and then in March 1957, Julia bought him his first own guitar, a Gallotone Champion acoustic, famously “guaranteed not to split.”
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Bob Spitz for his The Beatles: The Biography. Very special thanks to Andy Babiuk for his Beatles Gear. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about poet Royston Ellis and the influence he had on The Beatles. Stay tuned!
Stu with his Hofner 500/5 bass guitar
The Rhythm is in the Guitars
If you read Finding the Fourth Beatle by David Bedford and Garry Popper (and you should, it’s full of great information, analysis, and interviews!), you’ll see that they have identified 23 people who one way or another played drums with The Beatles. They actually start with The Quarrymen. And though I want to tip my hat to Colin Hanton, the drummer for The Quarrymen from 1956 to early 1959, because he is really a great guy full of wonderful memories of the young Beatles, I’m going to focus here mostly on the process that took them from no drummer in 1959 to Pete Best in August of 1960.
The exact date of Colin Hanton’s departure is not exactly known. Hanton himself says that though he doesn’t remember the date, that it was sometime towards the beginning of February 1959. Thus began the age of Japage 3, when it was just John, Paul, and George. No bass player. No drummer. And very few shows. When they played their weekly shows at The Casbah Coffee Club between August 1959 and January 1960, they were The Quarrymen again, but still with no drummer. It wasn’t until May of 1960 that they reached the point at which they couldn’t continue without one.
The Auditions and Tommy Moore
On May 10, 1960, our boys would audition to be placed on a Scottish tour backing one of a few singers who were managed by Larry Parnes. But they had to have a drummer. Tommy Moore, who we’ll talk about in a minute, was hired to take part, but he was late on audition day because he had to work at his full-time job. So for the first few songs, Cass and the Cassanovas drummer Johnny “Hutch” Hutchinson sat in. Moore did show up to finish the audition. The next week, our boys had another audition, this time to have an opportunity to play at Lathom Hall in Liverpool. Whether Moore didn’t show up or wasn’t invited isn’t clear, but he wasn’t there and on that date our boys borrowed King-Sized Taylor and the Dominoes drummer Cliff Roberts to play (not to be confused with the leader of Cliff Roberts and the Rockers. Same name, different guy). Details of these auditions were in our blog post of May 15, 2020 (https://barmybeatleblog.com/f/after-the-parnes-audition).
Let’s add some detail to the Tommy Moore story. Tommy Moore was born on September 12, 1931 in Liverpool. If you’re doing the math, that made him 28 years old when he joined our boys, nine full years older than John. In addition to that, he was married with two young daughters and had a full time job as a forklift driver at the Garston Bottle Works. So from the outset, he didn’t really fit in with John, Paul, George, and now bass player Stu. Moore was a very experienced jazz-trained drummer, and didn’t generally play with one particular band. Instead, he was well known for playing with anyone who needed him, jazz or not, and had even substituted on occasion with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
Moore, of course, was the drummer on the Scottish tour on which our boys backed Johnny Gentle. He did not have a great time. The fact that he did not fit in was made clear to him by having to deal with John’s “wit.” It’s not so much that John treated him much differently than anyone else. John was always kind of an “insult comic.” But Moore wasn’t particularly used to taking it, like Paul, George, and especially his usual target Stu were. What was worse was when the band van crashed before the third night of tour, Moore suffered a concussion, two lost teeth, and several cuts and bruises. John couldn’t look at him, even on stage, without bursting into laughter.
Just as an aside here, I have no interest in defending nor demonizing John’s actions as a 19-year old. He was immature, insecure, and in a world of hurt from his dysfunctional family situation. I think most Beatles fans would say that he vastly improved as a decent, caring human being closer to the end of his life. But the story is still the story.
After the Scottish tour, Moore played with our boys a few more times, most likely through around mid-June. Ultimately his job, family responsibilities, and relationship with John added up to his leaving the group after just about six weeks. Interesting note here. Though Allan Williams would always promote and refer to our boys as “The Silver Beetles,” our boys referred to themselves by this time as simply “The Beatles,” including in interviews at the time. So for those of you who are sticklers for precise detail, you could argue that it was Tommy Moore who was officially the first drummer for The Beatles.
Temps, Norman Chapman, Paul McCartney, and Pete Best
After Moore left, there were a couple of months of madness involving who was going to play drums. I’ll just quickly mention for the sake of accuracy that there was one show at The Grosvenor Ballroom at which our boys pulled a young Ted named Ronnie Hoolihan from the audience to drum that evening. And there was Jackie Lomax, who was signed by Apple Records and would go on to record George’s song “Sour Milk Sea” in 1968. He played just one song on one night at the Grosvenor. But by June 18, 1960, the drum problems were very temporarily suspended by the arrival of Norman Chapman.
Chapman was born in Liverpool on December 31, 1937. He was a picture framer at R. Jackson and Son Art Shop, across from The Jacaranda, and played drums for fun, not in a group. Our boys happened to hear him playing and quickly asked him if was available to sit in, which he was. By all accounts, he got on much better with all four lads than Tommy Moore did, and Allan Williams remembered him as “one of the best they had.” It is basically agreed that he played three dates with “The Silver Beetles” at The Grosvenor Ballroom in June and July. As for others, it is possible, but no official record remains. The band did play several times at The Institute in Neston during this period. Unfortunately, conscription came calling. Chapman was drafted into the Army in late July and so ended his chance to be one of The Fab Four (we’ll be talking about UK conscription in detail in early September).
Once again, no drummer as July headed towards August. Sources suggest that there were as many as eight shows between mid-June and the end of July for which there is no record of who played drums. One thing we do know is that Paul did play a certain number of times. In theory it could be on all of them, but interestingly, George only remembered Paul playing drums once, and that was a date in August on which our boys were providing background music for a stripper. More fuzzy memory problems. Fortunately, by mid-August, The Beatles’ drummer problem would be solved, for a couple of years at least. As we’ll get to when the time comes, August 13, 1960 is the day Pete Best joined and the story of The Beatles really gets going.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to David Bedford and Gary Popper for their Finding the Fourth Beatle: The 23 Drummers Who Put the Beat Behind the Fab Three. My eternal gratitude to Colin Hanton for his incredible book with Colin Hall, Pre:Fab! And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about the earliest instruments owned by The Beatles. Stay tuned!
Coming soon, Pete Best!
Bruno Koschmider Heads to London
If you remember from the January 31, 2020 blog post, archived on this site, Allan Williams had made a trip to Hamburg and talked to Bruno Koschmider, owner of the Kaiserkeller Club, about bringing bands from Liverpool over to play for the German audiences. Though nothing solid came of that trip, it planted a thought in Koschmider’s mind, and that thought brought him to London in late May of 1960 with one mission: hire a band. Upon his arrival he found himself at the 2i’s Coffee Bar. Why there? A specific answer isn’t known. He may have been made aware of its reputation as a showcase for musicians who were about to be signed. Or it may be that Allan Williams had mentioned it in their first meeting in Hamburg. Seems quite beyond coincidence that Koschmider happened to stumble into that particular venue in all of London, a place where Williams had contacts. On this occasion, however, Williams wasn’t there.
Koschmider soon met Iain Hines, a pianist who knew all of the local musicians and often put together his own bands, all of which were called The Jets. Hines told Koschmider that he could easily put together a group to go to Hamburg, and he did so in a matter of hours. The initial group consisted of Hines on piano, Pete Wharton on bass, Jimmy Ward on drums, and three guitarists: Rick Hardy, Colin Melander, and the best lead guitarist in town according to many, and a name that will come up quite a few times in the next couple of years of Beatles history, none other than Tony Sheridan. Interestingly, most accounts, including the one from Rick Hardy himself, say that no one was particularly happy with Sheridan being included. He had a history of lateness and general unreliability. But he was a great guitarist!
A Whole Lot Happening on June 4
On Saturday, June 4, 1960, The Silver Beetles were playing their first show at The Grosvenor Ballroom in Wallasey with Tommy Moore on drums. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (with Ringo Starr on drums) were traveling to Wales to begin their residency at Butlin’s Pwllheli the following evening. Also traveling that day were The Jets. They made the trip from Liverpool Street in London (ha!), by boat and train, and arrived in Hamburg early on June 5. One of their members, however, was missing. Iain Hines hadn’t shown up, so The Jets were reduced to a five-piece without a piano player. Koschmider said that was okay, so they began their residency at The Kaiserkeller with three guitars, bass, and drums.
It may be a bad idea to ignore how important it was that The Jets had lost a member. As is probably obvious, over the next few months and years, many bands from London as well as Liverpool did their residencies in Hamburg. This was just the beginning. The next one, Derry and the Seniors, who started on July 31, was also a five-piece band (this time backing a singer). By the time that it was The Beatles’ turn to make the jump, Koschmider required that every band be a five-piece (as with Derry, it was okay if the five pieces were backing a dedicated singer). Other bands that likely would have been chosen before The Beatles, such as Cass and the Cassanovas or Gerry and the Pacemakers, were out of the running because they each only had four members. So imagine if The Jets had remained a six-piece. Koschmider may have begun to require that number. What would The Beatles have done? It was hard enough finding a full-time drummer. What if they had been required to find a piano player or a singer? Maybe they would have asked Johnny Gentle to come along! 😉
Those of you who follow The Beatles fairly closely will be at least somewhat familiar with the name Tony Sheridan. A little background: Sheridan was born in Norwich, Norfolk, England on May 21, 1940. He started playing the violin at age 7, followed by the guitar, and by 1956 he was playing in bands that appeared at the 2i’s Coffee Bar in London and was even making television appearances. As mentioned above, many sources suggest that he had a reputation for being late and unreliable. But no one doubted his ability to play the guitar. He is best known for bringing The Beatles into a recording studio in Hamburg to record several songs, including “My Bonnie,” which was released under the name Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. As you may know, that record is the one that legend has it introduced Brian Epstein to The Beatles, as a young man named Raymond Jones walked into Epstein’s Nems store and requested the single.
Of course, we have little control over how history remembers us, and Tony Sheridan will always be mainly a side note in the history of The Beatles. But if you ask people who were there, they may tell you that he was tremendously important to the music scene. There are sources that suggest that the first band to go to Hamburg was Sheridan and his backing band, not even mentioning The Jets by name. To be fair, Rick Hardy wrote in 2001 that this story was put out by Sheridan’s manager years later when no one else from the group was asked to challenge it. On the other hand, Jets bass player Pete Wharton does credit Sheridan. He stated that the audience at The Kaiserkeller increased from 20 or 30 to packed houses in just a week, and that Sheridan was the reason: “He was the guv’nor. Without Sheridan, the Hamburg scene would not have happened.” (Lewisohn).
Sheridan himself was quoted as saying “We had a Midas touch. There was no question of failure.” (Clayson). By the time The Jets had been in residency at The Kaiserkeller for about a month, they were poached away from Bruno Koschmider by rival club owner Peter Eckhorn to play at The Top Ten Club in Hamburg. That meant that a new band was needed at The Kaiserkeller. As mentioned above, that band was Derry and the Seniors, from Liverpool. Both bands were so popular that Bruno Koschmider decided he needed yet another band for his second club, The Indra. You can probably guess who that band was. And so you could argue that without Tony Sheridan, The Beatles may have never even gone to Hamburg, they never would have recorded “My Bonnie,” and Brian Epstein may have never found them. Yeah, I know. Lots of what ifs and supposition. But it’s fun, isn’t it?
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks also to Alan Clayson for his John Lennon. And very special thanks to Jets guitarist, the late Rick Hardy for his blog post about The Jets in Hamburg (http://www.bootlegzone.com/beatleg/thejets.html). Great insights there! And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about all of the different drummers our boys ended up using through the years. Stay tuned!
Okay, hands up. How many of you know these things about Ringo in 1960? First, he was four years into a five year internship as a fitter in the metalworking department of H. Hunt and Sons. And second, at the ripe old age of 19, he was engaged to be married to one Gerry McGovern. These two things would both play a significant role in the big decision he had to make: Butlin’s Pwllheli for the summer with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. To go or not to go. Spoiler, he went. I guess that’s not a surprise.
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (at least some of them) had been so intent on getting a summer holiday camp booking that they had already auditioned for camps in Morecambe, England and on the Isle of Man when they went to Liverpool’s Grafton Ballroom on February 16, 1960 to audition for Butlin’s. When they heard the next week that they had passed the audition and had been offered the summer season at Butlin’s Pwllheli in Wales, Ringo wasn’t sure what to do. He apparently told Johnny Guitar that he didn’t know if he wanted to go.
It must have been quite stressful for Rory, not knowing if his drummer was on board. And Ringo didn’t make up his mind quickly. On one hand, nineteen year old Richy was in the engineer’s union and looking at having a secure job after one more year of his five-year apprenticeship with H. Hunt and Sons. On the other hand, the summer contract would net him more cash for playing 25 hours per week than he was making at his full time job and his drumming gigs with Rory combined. Towards the end of May, Rory set out on a mission. He bought Ringo a couple of drums to add to his kit and went to visit mother Elsie and stepfather Harry to get them to give Ringo permission to go. They grudgingly told Ringo that it was his decision. He would finally tell them that he “wanted to take the chance.”
Gerry was a year older than Ringo and worked at an upholsterer’s. They’d met sometime in 1958 at a Liverpool dance. And so started Ringo’s first long-term relationship. By late 1959 they were engaged to be married. That is not to say that there were no obstacles to their happiness. Ringo had grown up in a Protestant family. Gerry was Catholic. Gerry’s parents had questions about how the children would be raised. It was to the point that Richy agreed to convert to Catholicism, which, of course, didn’t sit well with his own mother, Elsie. In a 1964 interview with Larry Kane, Ringo said that his family would say “you’ll never have any luck because you’re marrying a Catholic.”
As if that weren’t a hard enough situation, Gerry was not onboard with the idea that Ringo would continue trying to be a professional drummer. That secure job that was just a year away seemed very inviting. And she was frustrated that she often felt that if she wanted to see him at all she would have to go see him play. And it clearly was not an easy decision for Ringo. Johnny Guitar’s May 14, 1960 diary entry says about Ringo: “he’s not going to Butlin’s now, getting married next June.” Within two weeks, Ringo’s mind had clearly changed. He told Gerry that he was going to Butlin’s and that she could wait for him if she wanted to, but he would be gone for three months either way. Ultimately, when Ringo returned back to Liverpool in September, they officially decided on a permanent split.
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes Get Ready for Butlin’s
On Friday, May 27, 1960, Ringo worked his last shift at H. Hunt and Sons, turned in his union card, and set off to drink with his now former co-workers. He had a few things to do before the trip started. He would need to join the Musician’s Union. They had to be members to play at Butlin’s. And he needed some proper clothes. See how smart Rory and the Hurricanes look in the photo? They would head to Pwllheli on Saturday, June 4. The only thing left was for them to make sure they all had cool, made-up names (just like everyone else at the time!). Of course, Ringo had made his choice already, along with Alan Caldwell, who had been using the name Rory Storm for a while now, and Johnny Byrne, he of the amazing diaries, who had been Johnny Guitar for a while as well. To finish things off, bass player Wally Eymond became Lu Walters and lead guitarist Chas O’Brien became Ty Brian.
It was a wild summer for them all, starting with their first performance on Sunday, June 5, 1960. It was so wild, in fact, that Johnny Guitar didn’t write in his diary the entire time they were there. You can only imagine what he would have had to say. Maybe we don’t want to know. 😉We will be talking more about the summer in a couple of months, though.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Couldn’t do this without that book! And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about the beginning of the British invasion of Germany, as The Jets, featuring Tony Sheridan, travel to Hamburg to start a residency at The Kaiserkeller. Stay tuned!
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes at Butlin's 1960
On May 17, 1960, Larry Parnes called Allan Williams to see if he had someone who could take a last minute spot backing up Johnny Gentle for a nine-day tour in Scotland starting in three days, May 20. Cass and the Cassanovas and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had already been booked for shows that they couldn’t back out of. Gerry and the Pacemakers and Derry and the Seniors had band members with day jobs from which they couldn’t get time off that quickly. So on May 18, Williams asked Stu if “The Silver Beetles” were available.
Though John, Paul, and Stu all faced some parent/guardian opposition to them missing a week of school, it was really only George and Tommy Moore who had big decisions to make. George made his quickly. He quit his Blackler’s apprenticeship, much to the dismay of his father, Harry, but George usually won their arguments. Tommy Moore had to either beg for time off from the Garston Bottle Company or else pretend to be sick. Whichever way, he ultimately he did say he would go. So they were off to Scotland.
Our boys didn’t really know much about Johnny Gentle. He was actually John Askew from Liverpool and had released a few singles on the Philips label, none of which had made the charts. To be fair, Gentle had no idea who the band was who would be backing him either until they showed up at the Alloa Town Hall in Alloa, Scotland on the night of their first show together. They had a total of half an hour to rehearse the songs Gentle would be singing, none of which they had ever played before. The first night apparently went badly enough that Larry Parnes’ local promoter, Duncan MacKinnon, called Parnes to tell him that “they’re a scruffy, no-good group.”
There had been no time to promote “The Silver Beetles” on posters or newspaper ads, so for the entire tour the band was simply known as Johnny Gentle and His Group. Our boys, though, had taken to the idea of re-naming themselves to sound more cool, the same thing that most artists of the time did. John didn’t change his name much. He was “Johnny Lennon.” Nor did Tommy Moore who simply used “Thomas Moore,” Paul became “Paul Ramon,” George was “Carl Harrison,” and Stuart took to the name “Stuart de Staël.” One positive for our boys is that Gentle would actually turn the show over to “His Group” during the show and they were able to play several songs, including two originals, “Hello Little Girl” and “One After 909.”
On May 21, the second night of the tour, Johnny Gentle and His Group played at The Northern Meeting Ballroom in Inverness. Oops, they had never told Brian Kelly that they were not going to be at Lathom Hall in Liverpool that night. This was the show that they had auditioned for the previous week. Understandably, it would be several months before Kelly agreed to book them again. But on a good note (another of the few for this tour), they had improved a little. Now to be sure, everyone involved, especially George, always remembered that they played horribly throughout this tour. But on the other hand, after this tour was over, Gentle would specifically ask if our boys could back him up again. It never happened, and we’ll see why this August. Spoilers!
The Problems Keep On Coming
On the way to the third show, on May 23 at Dalrymple Hall in Fraserburgh, Gentle had decided to drive the van himself and promptly got them into an accident with another car. It wasn’t that horrific a crash, but bad luck for Tommy Moore, as he was hit in the face by a flying guitar case. He lost two teeth and had a concussion, but was convinced to play that evening’s show anyway. This may have marked the beginning of the end of Moore’s desire to keep playing with our boys. John had a pretty twisted sense of humor and found his drummer’s swollen face, stitches, and missing teeth hilarious. Moore would later be quoted as saying “I’d had my belly full of Lennon. You know, I think he was sick…”
The biggest problem they were facing at this point was their lack of cash, though Tommy Moore may not have fully agreed with that assessment as he recovered from his injuries and put up with John’s needling. Their contract stated that they were to receive £15 per week (about £350 or $425 today). And apparently Larry Parnes had told them that he would send an advance, which didn’t seem to be coming. When they checked into The Station Hotel in Fraserburgh, they had no way to pay the bill. They were supposed to stay for two days, including one day off from performing, but by the next afternoon they were kicked out when the hotel didn’t get paid. In the end they were forced to scrounge for food and sometimes slept in the van. And at least once, John ordered a meal and ran out without paying.
Apparently, the money eventually showed up. George and Paul years later both implied that they had never been paid, but Parnes was able to show the documentation that they had. When exactly, who knows? But they did finish the tour. They played in Keith, Forres, Nairn, and Peterhead and arrived back in Liverpool on May 30. They were tired, hungry, and the ribbing of Tommy Moore had turned into full-scale bickering among themselves, Stu taking most of the damage. As for the whole experience, Paul would put it this way: “It taught us a lot of lessons.” Indeed.
As much as our boys had some reasonable anger at Allan Williams for putting them through the tour ordeal without preparation and without helping to get them their money on time, Williams had actually been doing some work for them that would at least help to make it all worth it. While the Scottish tour was happening, he had set up several performance for The Silver Beetles, including a couple of extended contracts.
First, he decided that The Silver Beetles would play at Williams’ own club, The Jacaranda, on Monday nights when the Royal Caribbean Steel Band had the day off. That one started immediately, on May 30, and didn’t pay much at all, but the others were somewhat better. In addition to at least one featured night with Gerry and the Pacemakers at the same location, The Silver Beetles would play every Saturday night starting on June 4 at The Grosvenor Ballroom in Wallasey at their “Dances For Youth” shows. Also, they would play six consecutive Thursday nights starting on June 2 at The Neston Institute in Neston. That first show on June 2 was of interest because our boys talked to a local reporter who wrote that the band was called “The Beatles.” That despite the fact that Williams had put them under contract as “The Silver Beetles.”
So now they were playing fairly regularly, having as many as three gigs per week. Of course, that would be nothing compared to what they were going to be doing by August, but let’s not jump ahead quite yet. There is still plenty of drama coming before that. And most of it has to do with the drummer situation. More about that to come.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to David Bedford and Gary Popper for their Finding the Fourth Beatle: The 23 Drummers Who Put the Beat Behind the Fab Three. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about Ringo’s decision to head to Butlin’s with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Stay tuned!
George with Johnny Gentle
Well, we left off last week talking about the results of the May 10 audition for Larry Parnes. That included mentioning that Cass and the Cassanovas would be chosen to go on tour with Billy Fury and Duffy Power in June. And we talked about how the pictures from the audition planted a myth about Stuart Sutcliffe’s playing that many still believe to this day. But there were a couple of other interesting stories to come out of that day. How accurate they are depends on how much you trust the possibly embellished memories of the people who were there.
Larry Parnes spoke about the auditions in a few interviews over the years. As you might expect, questions about that day would always come up, usually asking why he didn’t sign our boys up immediately, so Parnes developed an interesting story. He claimed that John Lennon begged him to allow his band to play some originals, which he allowed them to do. In a BBC Radio interview with Johnny Beerling in 1972, Parnes said that his memory was that “their vocals were good and they were better as a vocal group than as a backing group.” Apparently a good reason not to hire them to back up Billy Fury. Then, in a 1988 BBC Radio Merseyside interview with Bob Azurdia, Parnes added that he told John that they needed to find a new drummer. Presumably he was talking about Tommy Moore, since the other drummer they used that day, Johnny Hutchinson, was in Cass and the Cassanovas, who had won the audition, so Parnes couldn’t have disliked him too much. He went on to say that he told John “if something comes along, you will be the first that I will phone.”
As much as it may seem that Parnes engaged in some exaggeration with his story, the one from Allan Williams seems even more dubious, at least in the small details. Williams said that Billy Fury himself had chosen Long John and the Silver Beatles to be his backing band and not Cass and the Cassanovas, but only on the condition: that they drop Stu. John reportedly told them “you take all of us or you take none of us.” I must say that I would agree with Mark Lewisohn, who says that despite the fact that Williams always stuck to this story, that “the scenario seems unlikely.” The story was never corroborated by John, Paul, George, Billy Fury, nor Larry Parnes. In fact, the only supporting evidence comes from a report that Stu was very upset by his performance, but even if that is true (and it could be), that doesn’t mean that Fury would have chosen a pretty amateurish band with an inexperienced bass player and a questionable drummer to back him over another, more experienced band like Cass and the Cassanovas. Stu may simply have been unhappy with how he did and that was that!
Regardless of what the real story is, there is no doubt of the fact that Williams was now going about trying to find work for our boys. They had apparently almost settled on The Silver Beatles as a band name, though Williams, who was notoriously bad at getting spellings right (Jerry and the Pacemakers!) was now thinking of them, and promoting them, as The Silver Beetles. The next show they played would be yet another audition, this time for promoter Brian Kelly. It was an opening slot for King-Size Taylor and the Dominoes in which they would be considered for future dates.
The Lathom Hall Audition
In actuality, this show was kind of a mistake. Cliff Roberts and the Rockers were double-booked, both at Lathom Hall and the Casanova Club. Our boys, who had inexplicably decided to call themselves The Silver Beats for this evening, showed up at the Casanova Club believing they were supposed to play. They were instead sent to Lathom Hall to take the place of Cliff Roberts and the Rockers and to play four or five songs so that Brian Kelly could decide on whether or not to invite them back.
Could they possibly do one show without drummer problems? Apparently not. Depending on the source, Tommy Moore didn’t show up, or hadn’t been asked, or just didn’t have his kit for some reason and no one would let him borrow one. Well, however that actually went down, The Silver Beats ended up asking the drummer from King-Size Taylor and the Dominoes (who, by coincidence, was also named Cliff Roberts) to play with them.
As a short interruption here, I will tell you that Mark Lewisohn lists Dave Lovelady as the drummer they asked, but my research shows that Lovelady did not join King-Size Taylor and the Dominoes until later in 1960, and so the drummer that night was Cliff Roberts. This has been corroborated by both Roberts and Ted (King-Size) Taylor in interviews with David Bedford.
The story goes that the performance was not all that impressive, though it’s interesting that they apparently played two originals within the six songs they played. Which ones? Can’t be sure, but it’s likely that “One After 909” was one, I would guess. My favorite part of this whole story (though probably not Taylor’s favorite) was that apparently while King-Size and his band were performing, our boys sat together taking notes about what songs were being performed, including “Money,” “Slow Down,” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzie.” And in Taylor’s words, “the next time we saw them they were playing all our stuff.” However well or poorly The Silver Beats’ performance was remembered to be, it is certainly the case that it went well enough for Kelly to book them for the following Saturday, May 21. That wouldn’t go at all as planned, either, but it doesn’t seem that much did at this point.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). So many details and quotes can be found in that book. Special thanks to David Bedford and Gary Popper for their Finding the Fourth Beatle: The 23 Drummers Who Put the Beat Behind the Fab Three. Fantastic read. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about why our boys didn’t show up for the May 21 appearance at Lathom Hall. Stay tuned!
Larry Parnes with Billy Fury
On May 6 or 7, 1960, Allan Williams and Stuart Sutcliffe were in The Jacaranda talking. Stu had done some mural painting for Williams and they were discussing some more work to be done. John sat listening, but decided that he would take this opportunity to ask Allan Williams one of the most important questions that would ever be asked in the story of The Beatles. “Allan, why don’t you do something for us?” Williams was taken by surprise. He didn’t actually know that John and Stu had a band. But he liked Stu, so he told them that he would include them in the Larry Parnes auditions the following Tuesday as Parnes tried to find bands to go on tour with his stable of singers, primarily Billy Fury. There was a catch, though. Our boys didn’t have a drummer. Williams said he would try to find them one.
Williams did some asking around. One person who had a lead was Brian “Cass” Cassar from Cass and the Cassanovas. Cass told Williams that he was aware of a drummer who played jazz, but might be available in a pinch. He was nearly ten years older than John and Stu and had a full time job as a forklift driver at Garston Bottle Works. His name was Tommy Moore. Moore was known to play in several groups when they needed substitutes, including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and to be available at short notice. He quickly agreed to sit in.
That taken care of (or so it seemed), Williams went on to invite a few bands to the audition. He had already booked Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Cass and the Cassanovas, Derry and the Seniors, and Gerry and the Pacemakers. To these four he added The Pressmen, Cliff Roberts and the Rockers, and now, well, what name would our boys use? That remained to be seen. Three of Parnes’ stable, Billy Fury, Duffy Power, and Johnny Gentle, would be in need of backing bands almost immediately, so getting the audition right was a primary concern.
The auditions were to take place at The Wyvern Social Club, which Williams had recently bought in order to convert it into a nightclub that he would name The Blue Angel. Billy Fury, Larry Parnes, and Mark Forster, who worked for Parnes, were in attendance and the auditions began at 10am. The number of bands had dwindled from seven down to six because Rory Storm and the Hurricanes declined to play, seeing as that they would be leaving for their summer residency at Butlin’s Pwllheli at the beginning of June. Rory and Johnny Guitar did show up to watch. For John, Paul, and Stu, showing up in the morning wasn’t a problem. They had nowhere else they had to be. George had to call in sick to his job at Blackler’s. But Tommy Moore wasn’t to show up until he finished work for the day, so our boys begged to play last. That wouldn’t go perfectly.
Fun little aside about what our boys were thinking about what their name would be. “Beatles” was clearly already on their mind. We know that from the letters they were writing in March. But the story goes that Brian Cassar asked John what the name of their band was and John replied “Beatles.” Cass needed to put his opinion in on that idea (he had already been so helpful finding them a drummer!) and told them it was not a real name. A band must be called “Someone and the Somethings” (I know of at least two bands that have used exactly that as their name, by the way). According to Mark Lewisohn, the name that Cass recommended is not exactly clear, since John, Paul, and George all remembered it slightly differently over the years. John thought the recommendation was Long John and the Silvermen. George said it was Long John and the Pieces of Silver. Paul remembered that is was either John Silver and the Pieces of Eight or Long John and the Silver Beatles, the latter of which seems to be the most likely one that they actually used.
But back to the little problems they faced. Tommy Moore was late, and Parnes would wait no longer. So our boys asked Johnny “Hutch” Hutchinson of Cass and the Cassanovas if he would sit in. Hutch obliged, but wasn’t happy about, as may be obvious from the photo. Cass and the Cassanovas bassist Johnny Gustafson said “he hated them and thought they were posers.” Ha! Interesting thing about the photo. If you find it online, many sites suggest that the drummer pictured is Tommy Moore. It is not. The confusion is understandable, since Moore did eventually show up, as can be seen in the other photos. But to be sure, the unhappy looking drummer in the tan jacket is Hutch, not Moore.
All right, as I said above, Tommy Moore did eventually show up. And so he played with John, Paul, George, and Stu for the first time ever, at an audition for a major promoter. Must have been fun! How did it go? Well, Johnny Gustafson would say that it was pretty bad overall, but diplomatically, “they were amateurish, but they could sing.” Cass and the Cassanovas would win the day. They were to start touring with Billy Fury and Duffy Power in June. Nothing known yet about Johnny Gentle. It’s unlikely that our boys had much hope for how the audition turned out, but at least they now had Allan Williams in their corner. More to come about that in the next few weeks.
But there is one more thing I want to say now about this audition. I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating in my opinion. There is a photo that I did not include here in which Stu is standing with his back to Parnes and Fury. The existence of this photo has fueled the rumor that Stu could never play bass and always stood with his back to the audience. According to Paul, it was his idea to have Stu look like he was “doing a moody” in order to deflect from the fact that he was playing like someone who had played for less than four months, which, well, was exactly the case. How that means that Stu could never play is something I’ll never understand. And I’ll let a Twitter post from the one and only Pete Best do the talking: “Stuart has taken a lot of criticism about his bass playing by people who weren’t there. I was, and there was nothing wrong with Stuart’s playing.” Thank you, Pete!
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to David Bedford and Gary Popper for their Finding the Fourth Beatle: The 23 Drummers Who Put the Beat Behind the Fab Three. Fantastic read. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about what happened in the days after this audition, including yet another surprise audition! Stay tuned!
Long John and the Silver Beatles with Hutch on drums.
We interrupt this blog detailing The Beatles’ lives sixty years ago to talk about ourselves a little bit. Don’t worry, next week everything will be back to the usual nonsense we put out here. 😊
It’s now been over a year since we released a new song. The last one was “I’ll Be On My Way,” written by Paul in 1959. You can hear it at https://soundcloud.com/barmy-old-codger/ill-be-on-my-way. As you may know if you’ve followed our posts for a while, we’ve been working on fixing up all of our old recordings for release on an album next year. And as much as we’ve tried to prioritize that, we have had our share of setbacks over the last 12 months. Equipment issues, construction issues, and, of course, this horrible pandemic and quarantine situation. But we plan to finish what we started and more. So here’s some background, for those of you who haven’t heard it before.
It’s now been over three years since I came up with the idea to do this project. The original idea was to record new impressions of every Beatles song in existence, and to release them on the 60th anniversaries of their original releases. We began by starting to record songs that John, Paul, and George wrote when they were teenagers, years before they had even come up with the name “Beatles.” I was very rusty. I had played in bands in Chicago in the 80s and 90s, but hadn’t seriously picked up a guitar in over twenty years. And that showed in the early recordings. But I thought that was okay. I figured that over time there would be an improvement in both playing and recording quality, as I also got ready to enter the modern age of recording by learning how to use Avid’s Pro Tools recording software.
By sometime over a year ago, the original idea had begun to change somewhat. It became more and more apparent to me that it was a monumental task to record so many songs. None of us involved could really spend all day every day working on these songs like The Beatles had originally done. Besides, a question kept annoying me, it just wouldn’t go away. That was: “who out there actually wants to listen to full-length cover recordings of Sgt. Pepper or The White Album, etc. I mean, it’s fun to go see cover bands play the songs live, but if someone wants to hear a whole album, why not just put on the original? And there was a third thing. Putting this much time into recording these songs meant that we wouldn’t have time to do other recordings, other songs that we liked, or even originals.
So the idea evolved. Instead of recording every single song, we would only record the ones that were not on official Beatles releases between 1962 and 1970. That meant the songs they wrote before they were famous, the ones that they gave away, the ones that they just gave up on, and the ones that the solo Beatles would record after the break up. We figure that’s about four full-length albums worth of material to be recorded and released over the next ten years. And that’s not only feasible, it allows us time to do other projects as well. There are two that we already have in mind. One is an EP of our favorite songs that The Beatles used to cover in their live shows before they were famous. Lots of Leiber/Stoller and Buddy Holly and more! And oh yes, we already have the songs in line to record a full-length album of originals. That album will likely not go out under the name Barmy Old Codger. Be very afraid…
Another notable thing has happened in the last couple of years that I wasn’t really expecting. I knew that we needed to use social media to make as many people as possible aware of our existence. So I started a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/barmyoldcodger) and a Twitter account (https://twitter.com/BarmyOldCodger), and there are actually also Instagram and Pinterest accounts, but I don’t use them very much yet. I probably should. In the beginning, I only posted on significant 60th anniversaries of Beatles related events, but that didn’t really tend to get us that many followers. So I decided to start figuring out a way to post at least once every day. I also thought it would be cool to kind of immerse myself in what else was happening in music 60 years ago, to get a feel for what The Beatles were experiencing. So I started posting about the UK and US Singles charts from 60 years past. My impression is that those have gone over fairly well, at least on Facebook.
The more research I did, the more I felt that there was really a lot more to say than what could be put into short little social media posts. And besides, I was really starting to like writing about the events of this particular little aspect of history. And so the Barmy Beatle Blog began last November. I hope you’ve enjoyed these extremely informative posts 😉. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed writing them. Much more than I was expecting. In fact, I sometimes think I’d be happy just doing this! But no, that’s not going to happen at this point.
So that’s about it for right now. Thank you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” and click on the “Recommend” button! You can also sign up for notifications if you are so inclined, and we would love that! Next week we’ll be talking about the preparations for the big Liverpool auditions that promoter Larry Parnes held in May of 1960 in order to find bands to back his stable of singers on tours of Scotland. Stay tuned!
A Couple of Beatles on a Trip to Caversham
Bett Danher was Paul’s cousin. She was twelve years older than young Macca and married to Mike Robbins, with whom she ran The Fox and Hounds Pub in Caversham, close to Reading, about 200 miles south of Liverpool. Mike and Bett invited Paul to bring a friend and come visit for Easter 1960. The friend that Macca chose was John. It would be the first vacation the two would take together.
The way they chose to get to Caversham was by hitchhiking. And that brings up an anecdote I remember hearing a long time ago, but it apparently turns out to be true. John and Paul were traveling with their guitars and the Elpico amplifier and found that no one wanted to pick them up. They looked like trouble. They soon discovered that they had to hide their equipment behind bushes until someone stopped, and then grab everything as fast as they could before the unsuspecting drivers could get away. Ha!
They did make it to Caversham, where they shared a room with one bed at the pub. Mike Robbins had spent some time in the entertainment business (he had done some singing with The Four Jones Boys and had been entertainment manager for Butlin’s in Filey), and he would tell John and Paul all about his experiences. Paul would say “he was the only one who would give us any information.”
Incidentally, as an aside here, the McCartney family had, around August of 1957, spent a family vacation at Butlin’s in Filey, where Mike Robbins supervised the auditions for the Butlin’s National Talent Contest. Fifteen year old Paul and younger brother Mike (with a broken arm) took to the stage and performed “Bye Bye Love,” followed by Paul doing his Little Richard impression, in what may have been his first public performance playing rock and roll. What’s most interesting to me is that this was just over a month after Paul had met John at St. Peter’s Church. And by some accounts, though he had not played with The Quarrymen yet, by the time of this family vacation he had already agreed to join the group.
So back to Caversham. Mike and Bett had John and Paul helping out at the pub while they were there. That meant serving drinks and food and cleaning up. They had their guitars and the amplifier, so they were offered the opportunity to play for the Saturday night crowd on April 23, 1960. Of course, they needed a name. They certainly weren’t going to use The Quarrymen. They settled on a name that Paul and brother Mike had used to describe themselves in the past, one that actually came from everyone’s favorite radio comedy, The Goon Show. They became The Nerk Twins.
It is unknown how many people were there, how long they played, or all of the songs that they played. I’d like to imagine that they played some originals, maybe even “One After 909,” but who knows? The three songs that there seems to be some agreement about were “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” which was their opener, “Be-Bop-a-Lula,” which they considered opening with until Mike Robbins told them they should start with something faster, and “How High the Moon.”
Another interesting aside. Sixteen years later, almost to the day, April 24, 1976, John and Paul were hanging out together at The Dakota in New York watching Saturday Night Live. If you’re not aware, that was the night that SNL producer Lorne Michaels did a silly little bit in which he offered The Beatles $3000 to come and play three songs on the show and to split however they wanted – “if you want to give Ringo less that’s up to you…” George later appeared on the show having a mock argument with Michaels about only receiving $750. In any case, John and Paul did actually consider heading to the studio, but decided they were too tired. If they had shown up, maybe they would have been introduced as The Nerk Twins. That would have been something!
Back to 1960. For the following day, April 24, 1960, there is some disagreement over whether or not The Nerk Twins appeared again. Mark Lewisohn does not seem to think so, but The Beatles Bible website says that they played a lunch show that Sunday from noon to 2pm. Whether they did or not, by that afternoon they were hitchhiking their way back to Liverpool and The Nerk Twins would never appear again.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Barry Miles for his Many Years from Now, which includes the quote from Paul. And special thanks as well to https://www.beatlesbible.com/history/for a huge amount of information. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about ourselves for once. You know you want to know what Barmy Old Codger is up to! Stay tuned!
The Fox and Hounds, June 2019
There’s a story of a legendary show played by The Sex Pistols in Manchester on June 4, 1976. There were only forty people in the audience, but those forty included Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, and Peter Hook, who would form Joy Division (and then New Order after Curtis’ death); Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, who would form The Buzzcocks; Morrissey; Mark E. Smith, who would form The Fall; producer Martin Hannett; and Tony Wilson, who would start Factory Records. I mention that show because those artists who were inspired on that day were some of the ones who inspired me when I was in college. So I’d like to think that I have some idea of what it must have been like to have been at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool between March 14 and March 19 of 1960. Well, just a little…
You can see some of the performers on the poster shown here, but maybe more interesting, as with the 1976 Manchester show, was the list of people who were there to witness the events. It seems certain that John and Stu were there. Stu’s girlfriend at the time, Veronica Johnson, remembered that John yelled at some girls who were screaming for Eddie Cochran because they were keeping him from hearing the music. Paul has said at different times both that he was and was not there, and Ringo hasn’t mentioned it. But Johnny Guitar from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes was there. And we also know that Pete Best and Neil Aspinall were there. George had the time of his life! This is what he had to say: “Eddie blew me away!” Most important to this particular story, though, is that Allan Williams was there.
The Williams Plan
Around March 20, 1960, Williams called promoter Larry Parnes to see if there were any open dates that the tour could come back to Liverpool. Parnes told him that Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran were available on May 3. Williams set up a show at Liverpool Stadium, the boxing arena that had been run by Pete Best’s grandfather, Johnny Best. Parnes would provide his two headliners along with eight other acts, and Williams could add local talent as he saw fit. Williams wanted to put on the biggest show that Liverpool had ever seen.
Then disaster struck. On April 16, Vincent and Cochran were on their way to London to fly home to America for a two-week rest before resuming their tour. On the way there, their driver (coincidentally named George Martin) lost control of the car and crashed into a lamp post. Vincent received fairly minor injuries, but Eddie Cochran suffered severe head injuries to which he succumbed the following day. Allan Williams thought that would be the end of his big show, but Parnes told him to go ahead with it if he wanted to, and that Gene Vincent was still willing to do it.
So the task began of adding several local acts to the show. Those acts were Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cass and the Cassanovas, Mal Perry, Ricky Lea, Johnny and His Jets, the Connaughts with Nicky Cuff, and Derry and the Seniors. They would all play the first half of the show, while the national/international talent would play the second, with Gene Vincent at the top of the bill.
The show went ahead as planned on Tuesday, May 3, 1960. It didn’t sell out, so Williams didn’t really make any money. But that didn’t mean that it wasn’t worth it, for a couple of reasons. First, the show really established that there was a Liverpool music scene. In the words of Adrian Barber, guitarist with Cass and the Cassanovas: “None of us knew of any other groups until Allan Williams’ gig at The Stadium. I’m sure we were vaguely aware there was something going on, but we weren’t a community by any means. At that Stadium show we became aware of all the other bands in Liverpool…” Well, all of the others not including The Beatles, but that would come soon.
Second, in terms of our boys, the most important thing to come out of this show was this. Larry Parnes was very happy with the results. He was always looking for bands to back up his stable of singers, and clearly the ones from Liverpool would cost less than the ones from London. At this show he had seen four bands that he thought he could work with: Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Cass and the Cassanovas, Derry and the Seniors, and Gerry and the Pacemakers. Three of Parnes’ stable, Billy Fury, Duffy Power, and Johnny Gentle, would be in need of backing bands almost immediately.
Parnes and Williams arranged an audition with all four of the bands he was looking at for the following Tuesday, May 10. We’ll be talking more about the auditions and who got added to the list next month, but at the risk of getting too far ahead of myself, I will say that on around May 6 or 7, John Lennon sat listening to Stu and Allan Williams discuss artwork for The Jacaranda when young Mr. Lennon asked Williams the question that would change the fate of The Beatles forever: “Allan, why don’t you do something for us?”
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Most of the details and the quotes can be found in that incredible book. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about a young duo known as The Nerk Twins. Stay tuned!
Empire Poster, March 14, 1960
If you remember the blog post from a couple of weeks ago, you may remember that the boys had very few gigs sixty years ago and had been trying to get some set up. With help of Bill Harry, friend of John and Stu who was a fellow student at the Liverpool College of Art (and his name is going to come up quite a few times in the next few years), our boys were commissioned to play the monthly Saturday night college dances. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a very complete record of how many of these shows they played or even when they started doing it. One thing is for sure, they were playing without a drummer. It was simply John, Paul, George, and Stu.
Now when they didn’t really have any shows to play, it didn’t matter a whole lot. But with four of them playing these shows it did start mattering that they only had one amplifier, Paul’s little green Elpico AC-55, which only had two inputs. Fortunately, both Bill Harry and Stu were on the committee of the Student Union of the Liverpool College of Art, known as Sulca. And so Sulca bought an amplifier (and possibly a PA system for vocals, but that’s less clear) that the “college band” could use. Our boys were the only “college band,” so they were the only ones who would use the new amplifier.
Typically, the Student Union was filled with jazz. John used to complain about how hard it was to get rock and roll played even on the gramophone. So, it was gratifying to be able to “get the snobs,” as he put it, by playing at these dances. But importantly, it gave Stu a chance to see what it was like to play in front of an audience. He had been playing for such a short time that he was certainly not performing at a professional level yet, but this was an opportunity to play in front of his fellow students, and he was well liked, so the pressure was low.
So, about that Sulca-owned amplifier. Well, let’s back up a bit. As stated above, we know that Paul had his Elpico. He had owned it since early to mid-1958 (and apparently he still has it!). When The Quarrymen were playing at the Casbah Coffee Club in 1959 and early 1960, they had a second amplifier courtesy of fourth guitarist Ken Brown. According to Brown, that amp was a Watkins Westminster, and it, of course, went away when Ken Brown stopped playing with them. The amplifier that was bought by Sulca for the Student Union dances was apparently also a Watkins Westminster. It would make sense since John had a hand in recommending which amp to get and the Watkins would have been one that he was comfortable with.
This all brings up a bothersome question to me that I can’t really get an answer to. Various sources talk about how the Sulca-owned Watkins was only used by our boys. But I have yet to find a source that suggests whether the amp was left at the Student Union at this point or if the boys (at least sometimes) took it with them. By summer we know that it was at Sulca, and we'll get to that. But the reason that it bothers me is the Forthlin Road recordings that we talked about last week. On those recordings, it definitely sounds like all three guitars are amplified. John would have been playing his Hofner Club 40, Paul, his Zenith (unless he borrowed one of George’s guitars), and Stu, his Hofner 500/5 bass guitar. The problem? Paul’s Elpico only had two inputs. Did I mention that?
So, is it possible that one of the guitars was not amplified? Well, yes, it’s possible. If so, it must have been Paul’s Zenith, which was an acoustic guitar. An electric guitar or electric bass, without being “plugged in,” would never have been loud enough for the recording. Or there are a couple of other possibilities. One is that they plugged one of the guitars into a radio. In fact, I heard the story that they sometimes did that on a visit to Forthlin Road a couple of years ago. It is also theoretically possible that they had brought the Sulca amplifier to Paul’s house, effectively treating the amplifier as if it were their own. And so what ever happened to that amp? Well, we may never know...
As we’ll talk about in June, the boys at that time would buy another amplifier, a Selmer Truvoice Stadium TV19T. They would take that and Paul’s Elpico to Hamburg in August. But as the photo shows, there’s the Watkins. In Andy Babiuk’s amazing Beatles Gear, it is suggested that the Watkins belonged to Pete Best. Is that possible? Sure. I have seen it argued (by fans) that the Watkins was owned by The Casbah, who let bands use it, but that seems to be a conflation with the fact that The Quarrymen had used Ken Brown’s amplifier when they were playing there. June Harry, Bill’s cousin and a member of the Sulca committee, had a different story in an interview with Mark Lewisohn.
According to June Harry, in the days leading up to when The Beatles were to leave for Hamburg, in August of 1960, John begged her to give him the key to the Student Union cupboard in which the Watkins was kept. He promised her that he would have the amplifier back before anyone knew it was gone. As for the story of whatever happened to that Watkins Westminster amplifier, that will come up again another day, after we start talking about The Beatles in Hamburg.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Andy Bubiak for his Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend this post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about the plans for the May 3, 1960 rock show in Liverpool put together by Allan Williams. Stay tuned!
Liverpool College of Art
The Forthlin Road Tapes
Here’s what we know. At least twice between April and July of 1960, our boys recorded their rehearsals at Paul’s Forthlin Road house. Though we may never know the exact number of sessions nor the exact dates, the story goes that the recordings were ultimately copied onto three tapes. The first, alleged to have been recorded in April 1960, was given to Astrid Kirchherr in 1961 and finally returned to George in 1994. The second, alleged to have been recorded in late June of 1960, was given to their German friend Hans-Walther “Icke” Braun in 1961. It is unknown how it eventually turned back up. The third was, by some accounts, given to Charlie Hodgson, from whom they had borrowed the Grundig tape recorder on which the recordings were made. That tape, if it really exists, is said to have versions of “When I’m 64,” “Ask Me Why,” and “Winston’s Walk,” a song for which no other recording exists. The legend states that Paul acquired the tape in 1995 and has it under lock and key. The whole thing leaves a couple of questions. First, if there were only two rehearsals recorded, why were the recordings edited into three tapes? And also, since they were edited, how do we actually know on which date each song was recorded? Were all of the songs on the Kirchherr tape recorded in April 1960 and were all of the songs on the Braun tape recorded in late June 1960? Let’s look at the Kirchherr tape.
The Kirchherr Tape
As stated above, the date usually given for this set of recordings is April of 1960. The thing is, since there is no official release of the complete tape, you have to rely on bootleg versions to get an idea of what they recorded. And the bootlegs vary. Depending on where you find one, the number of songs comes in at as few as seven and as many as ten. Most of the songs either don’t have names and are identified as “Instrumental #1,” etc., or else the bootleggers have given them names based on the lyrics you can make out or sometimes what you can hear being said. Therefore, there are names out there such as “Turn the Switches Off,” “An Important Number,” and “I Don’t Need No Cigarettes, Boy,” among others. As a general rule, these are just 12-bar blues based instrumental jams that last anywhere from seven to over seventeen minutes.
On most of the tracks, you can only hear three instruments, two guitars and a bass. This would make sense for a few reasons. First, if these recordings were made during the day, which is likely, George would have been at work at Blackler’s, so it would only be John, Paul, and Stu at these rehearsals. In addition, Stu had been playing bass guitar for just over two months at this point, and it shows. He is generally just playing the root notes of each chord right on the beat. The story is that John, Paul, and George taught Stu to play by first showing him 12-bar blues progressions, and much of this tape sounds like exactly that, like someone learning how to play bass. One more note about personnel. It sometimes sounds as though there is some basic percussion being played, and this would also make sense with some of the stories that suggest that Mike McCartney was present and helping out with percussion.
An unfortunate thing about the bootlegs is that it seems that whoever put the recordings together did some editing. That may have been bootleggers or even our boys when they created the three tapes. There are fade ins and fade outs, and some specific times when you can tell that you’re listening to the exact same thing you already heard, that the repeated section was spliced on. Other than the jams, there does seem to be three songs on The Kirchherr tape that were actual songs in the making or even already completely written. Two even have lyrics. Let’s look at those:
I Don’t Know
This may or may not have been a completed song. It is 12-bar blues, but the guitar parts seem more practiced and not just noodling around like on many of the other tracks on this tape. In addition, Paul and John trade verses, and though the lyrics are mostly impossible to understand, they do seem to have a pretty good idea when each is going to take over the vocals as well as when a guitar solo is going to start. The name comes from a part in the song when Paul is singing a verse while John is repeating “I don’t know” as a kind of background vocal. Finally, the song ends in a very clean, tight fashion, as though everyone knew exactly what was going to happen. It seems to me, at the very least, that even if this was not what they would have considered a 100% completed song, that they had clearly practiced it before.
This one seems much more complete for a few reasons, possibly with the exception of finished lyrics. Another 12-bar blues progression, but the song starts with bass guitar, as if it were planned that Stu would begin the song. The opening guitar riff seems quite consistent and practiced. And most of all, from the very beginning John and Paul are singing in Everly Brothers style harmony. Clearly, they knew how that was going to sound before recording it. It is the most structured song on the tape: intro, chorus, Paul verse, chorus, John verse, chorus, solo, Paul verse, chorus, instrumental fade out. And it really does fade out. Again, unknown who made that happen, but it also brings up the question of how long the song really was. Did they keep playing or did they really intend for it to end at that point? Including the fade out, it comes in at about three and a half minutes.
An old favorite at this point, right? This is the only song from the Kirchherr Tape that can be found on an official release, that being Beatles Anthology I. So you may very well have heard it. And you may have even heard our version (if not, you can find it at https://soundcloud.com/barmy-old-codger/cayenne). This, to me, is the most out of place song on the tape, mainly because it’s not 12-bar blues. But it seems very obviously rehearsed. Paul plays some very specific lead lines in this instrumental. The odd thing is the length. On the Anthology version, the song lasts a minute and thirteen seconds including a fade out. On the Kirchherr tape, the song is over four minutes long. But there’s still a strange thing. At almost the two minute mark there is an obvious edit, after which the song just starts over. There’s no mistaking it, there are some muffed bass notes that are exactly the same. Whoever edited it simply decided to double the length of the song by playing it twice for some reason. Oh, well.
In the end, it’s fairly easy to find bootleg versions of the Kirchherr Tape if you really want to. I doubt that anyone except the most avid Beatles collector, like myself, will find much to listen to more than once. That being said, it is fascinating from an historical viewpoint. And I always love that!
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And extra special thanks to https://earlybeatlessongs.weebly.com/forthlin-road-tapes.htmland and https://www.the-paulmccartney-project.com/session/home-recordings-2/for their insight. Thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about some dances at which our boys entertained at the Liverpool College of Art and more! Stay tuned!
20 Forthlin Road, Liverpool