Celebrating 60 Years of The Beatles
As we talked about a little last week, Stu returned to Hamburg sometime between March 15 and March 23, 1961. He moved back into Astrid’s house and helped her, along with Peter Eckhorn, appeal to the German authorities to allow Paul and Pete to return. Meanwhile, in Liverpool, Allan Williams, along with Pete and Mona Best did what they could to argue the case of our young criminals. Obviously, Stu was going to do everything he could to help his friends, but his longtime commitment to playing in the band was another story. He had been saying for months that he was planning to leave the group. At this point, he had been denied a fifth year at Liverpool College of Art, had written about his general unhappiness with Liverpool, and Astrid wasn’t planning to leave Hamburg. It was not likely going to be a surprise to anyone that the Top Ten Club residency would end his time as a member of The Beatles.
John and George
John had, surprisingly enough, been given permission by Aunt Mimi to travel to Germany, which was technically necessary since he was not yet 21 years old. No more temporary passport for him. George had turned 18 in February, so he was no longer in danger of being deported from Germany for being underage. Things looked good for the two of them. The Beatles (without Stu, of course) played at The Casbah Coffee Club on March 26 and after a day to get themselves packed and ready to go, John and George set off on March 28. Allan Williams wasn’t driving them this time. They carried their guitars and amplifiers and took the train from Liverpool Lime Street station to London Euston station and then onwards across the continent. They reached Hamburg early in the morning on March 30, Stu and Astrid waiting at the train station to pick them up.
At the time that John and George left Liverpool, Paul and Pete had still not heard anything about their status. So it was assumed that the residency would go on with just John, George, and Stu. Two guitars and a bass. As funny as it is to imagine in hindsight, it seemed that Paul was the one member they really wouldn’t need. He often didn’t have a working guitar anyway, and John and George certainly knew enough songs that they could sing to fill up their time on stage. But drums were an issue. Maybe they could hire the drummer that had played with Derry and the Seniors back in October when they were split into two groups. But we’ll never have to know the answer to that…
Paul and Pete
On March 30, 1961, the day John and George arrived in Hamburg, Allan Williams received an official letter from the Hamburg police department. Paul and Pete had received a probationary pardon. They would have to show their passports at the Hamburg immigration office and pay a DM195 fine (£320 or $425 today). They were to be on probation for a year. As Stu would tell Pete, “If you have any trouble with the police, no matter how small, then you’ve had it forever (drunkenness, fighting, women).” Upon receiving the news from Allan Williams, Paul and Pete immediately gathered their belongings and equipment and were on the last train out of Liverpool Lime Street Station late on March 30.
I’ve got to say that I’ve gone through the process of catching trains in Europe and transferring from one to another, while carrying a family’s worth of suitcases, computers, backpacks, and more, all ready for a three week trip. That is stressful enough. Imagining two young men carrying their clothes, a guitar and amplifier, and an entire drum kit is mind-boggling. Pete called it “manhandling all our gear ourselves along the way.”
They arrived on the morning of Saturday, April 1, 1961. Tony Sheridan let them into The Top Ten Club, where they discovered that their accommodations would be somewhat better than where they had stayed the previous year. George rated it, “a really grubby little room.” So clearly far better than the Bambi Kino. There were bunk beds along with a couple of camp cots. Since Stu was staying with Astrid, the room was occupied by John, Paul, George, Pete, and Tony Sheridan. And there was a bathroom, so no more washing in the public restroom sinks. The last time Paul and Pete had been in this room was the day they were arrested in November. For now, they tried to get a little sleep. They would be playing the first show of their second Hamburg residency that night.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Top Ten Club contract. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And, of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
George, John, and Tony Sheridan
Rock, It’s Not Just For Lunch Anymore
After the first three weeks of March 1961, The Beatles had played eleven lunchtime shows at The Cavern Club, and were scheduled to do a lot more. But they hadn’t been invited yet to play at night. The Cavern was different at night, since it had a long history of being a jazz club. The lunchtime shows had been owner Ray McFall’s first attempt at bringing rock music to the club, and it had gone very well. Next was Wednesday night rock shows. Unfortunately for The Beatles, they were booked solid on Wednesday nights, usually playing at Brian Kelley’s jive dances. So the opportunity didn’t come up.
The next stage of the transition was Tuesday nights. McFall hired The Bluegenes to play each week. They could play several different styles, primarily jazz but including rock as well. Tuesday became known as Bluegenes Guest Night. The gimmick was that there would be a different supporting group each week, and they would generally be more on the rock side. The Beatles had been pretty busy on Tuesdays, but an opening did occur on March 21, 1961. That would be their opportunity.
Oh, Not That Kind of Blue Jeans…
There was another thing they had to deal with more in the evenings at The Cavern Club: the dress code. The doormen had strict instructions not to let anyone in wearing jeans. The Beatles, of course, arrived in jeans, leather jackets, and cowboy boots. It took some convincing that they were playing that evening and needed to be let in. The Bluegenes were not amused. Ray McFall would say that The Bluegenes “wanted good, well-organized, clean beat groups, ones that weren’t too loud and wild, and they would suggest groups to me.”
Bluegenes lead singer Ray Ennis said that “all the bands tried to be like professionals in the way they conducted themselves, but The Beatles were smoking!” He also said that “Beatle fans had annoyed our fans by getting there early and sitting in the front rows. They watched us and it was like, ‘What’s all that?’ They wanted The Beatles.” While The Beatles played, The Bluegenes confronted Ray McFall outside on Mathew Street. McFall said he was told, “This is our Guest Night and you shouldn’t book bands we don’t want.” The club owner reasoned with them that there were over three times as many people (around 600 to 700) in the club as on a typical Guest Night, and that it was great exposure for them. “You’ve got an army of Beatles fans there who have never seen you!”
For what it’s worth, Bob Wooler remembered that The Beatles performed Chan Romero’s “Hippy Hippy Shake” that night. Two and a half years later, the band then known as The Swinging Blue Jeans recorded a cover of the song that would hit #2 on the UK Singles Chart. So maybe they learned something from The Beatles in the end. Ha!
Not Quite Getting It
It’s not like The Beatles’ behavior should have been a surprise to Ray Ennis and the other Bluegenes. They did know who The Beatles were. Ennis had seen The Beatles play at least once at a lunchtime session, possibly as early as the first show on February 9. He said that “Stu was sitting at the piano, facing Pete Best on the drums and not even looking at the audience. Paul was just strumming a Rosetti guitar. By way of contrast, we rehearsed a lot and I suppose we were perfectionists.” I hate to try to get inside people’s heads. They remember what they remember. But I feel that the Ennis memories seem to not get past what The Beatles looked like and their unprofessional behavior. There’s no doubt that The Beatles were not the well-organized, clean, and un-wild group that Ennis wanted, but Ray McFall would tell Spencer Leigh that Bob Wooler said, “They were different and they were very well rehearsed because they had come back from three months of torture in Hamburg.”
The Sutcliffe Question
Dale Roberts of The Jaywalkers would remember that audiences loved Stu. When he was featured, singing “Love Me Tender,” “the place went wild. They loved it!” But did he sing it on March 21? Was he actually even there that first night at The Cavern? Several sources say that Stu left Liverpool to go back to Hamburg on March 15, 1961. But Ray Ennis has said that he is 99.9% sure that Stu was present on the evening of the Guest Night show. If he wasn’t there, that would suggest that either Paul had to borrow a bass guitar or else play the three-piano-string Rosetti guitar as a bass, like he had done in January. By all accounts, whatever day it was that Stu left for Hamburg, he took his Hofner bass and his Gibson amplifier with him.
Whenever it was that Stu did arrive back in Hamburg, he moved back into Astrid’s house, where he would remain throughout The Beatles’ second Hamburg residency and beyond. He joined Astrid in trying to persuade the German authorities to allow Paul and Pete back into the country. No matter what the actual date Stu arrived, it would be only one to two weeks before The Beatles were scheduled to start playing at The Top Ten Club.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles’ return to Hamburg. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Spencer Leigh for his The Cavern. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
A more recent night at The Cavern Club
A Bad End to 1960
Allan Williams’ role in The Beatles’ operations diminished quite a bit as 1961 went on after having been an integral part of their progress in 1960. He had begun letting them play at his club, The Jacaranda. He had secured them a spot in an audition with Larry Parnes that resulted in them going on the Scottish tour with Johnny Gentle in May of 1960. And, of course, he had gotten them their first residency in Hamburg, at The Indra and then The Kaiserkeller, from August through November of 1960. He had even personally driven The Beatles to Hamburg in his van. Things were beginning to change now, though.
Williams’ life took some bad turns starting around December of 1960. He had decided to open his own Top Ten Club in Liverpool. The idea was that his club could share bands with Peter Eckhorn’s Top Ten Club in Hamburg. Unfortunately, he had not been too wise about choosing a location. Though he wanted a club that would be close to the city centre, he chose a building on Soho Street that was not in the nicest area of town. He would tell Mark Lewisohn, “I knew things weren’t right when I went around the area in the van, making announcements about the club’s opening, and people started throwing stones at me.” In addition, the ceilings were low, “I had to put signs up everywhere telling people to duck their head.”
The worst thing (or the best, depending on your point of view) was the highly suspect electrical system. Less than a week after opening, the club was destroyed by fire. Fortunately it was after hours, so no one was present. Some, including Bob Wooler, who had been hired to work at the club, have suggested that Williams intentionally set the fire, but an investigation determined it was caused by an overloaded electrical system. Nevertheless, the stress aggravated Williams’ ulcers and he found himself in the hospital. While convalescing, Williams told Wooler to “get [The Beatles] some work.”
After coming out of the hospital, Williams turned his attention almost completely to jazz, at The Jacaranda, at another new club called The Blue Angel, and with concert promotion. Though his phone number appeared on The Beatles’ business cards, so did the Best’s, and as we’ve talked about before, it was Pete and Mona who actually dealt with the huge number of bookings The Beatles were getting in the first part of 1961.
Hamburg on the Horizon
It’s not like Allan Williams turned his back entirely on The Beatles, especially when there was an easy commission in it for him without much work. He knew that The Beatles were trying to get things worked out to go back to Hamburg and begin a residency at The Top Ten Club there. That was still a contract that Williams had a hand in, so it was in his best interest to help get them there. In January, he had drafted letters from Paul and Pete to send to German official Herr Knoop, the chief officer of the aliens police. Knoop was the one they would ultimately have to convince to let them back into Germany. Unfortunately, the letters arrived on January 12, several days after the deportation appeal deadline, so it was still going to take a good amount of convincing.
On March 1, 1961, Williams sent a letter to the German consulate in Liverpool to attest to our boys’ good behavior: “all the musicians have very good characters and come from first-class families, and they have never been in trouble with the police in this country.” Yeah…only in Hamburg! Then, on March 2, 1961, he had a contract drawn up that would take the place of the handwritten agreement The Beatles had made with Peter Eckhorn. This contract laid out the dates and times the group would be playing as well as how much they would be paid. An important reason that Williams wanted this contract typed up in an official way was that it would be another piece of evidence to convince the German authorities to let Paul and Pete back in the country. But it also laid out specific terms for a £10 per week commission to be paid to Allan Williams. Can’t forget to include that!
The Stubborn Beatles
As it turned out, that specific contract that Williams had typed up would cause some problems in the coming months. First, Eckhorn had no intention of paying the DM40 (£65 or $87.50 today) for each band member per night as stipulated in that contract. His verbal agreement with The Beatles had set the pay at DM35 (£57 or $76.50 today) each per night. And as far as The Beatles were concerned, if Eckhorn was going to use their verbal agreement instead of the Williams contract, then Williams should be owed no commission. The fact is, before they even went back to Hamburg, Paul had told Bob Wooler that they had no intention of paying Williams a commission, that they were severing ties with him. Wooler told Paul that he would have to tell Williams about it, but it is unclear if he ever did.
Well, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here. Suffice to say at this point that in the next couple of months there will be some more blog posts that talk about the Beatles/Williams relationship, and they will include Williams’ efforts to get The Beatles to pay the commission after all.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles’ evening debut at The Cavern. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Allan Williams (right) with his wife, Beryl
Astrid Kirchherr in Liverpool
Astrid travelled to Liverpool to visit Stu for a few weeks beginning in February of 1961. They had planned that she would stay with Stu and his family, but that idea was nixed by Stu’s mother, Millie. Millie retained a hatred for Germans, and that feeling was only escalated by the fact that her son was planning to marry a German woman. Astrid would say, “She never said she hated me, but…I felt uncomfortable whenever I was in her company.” Allan Williams said that Astrid and Stu showed up at his house late one night looking for a place to stay. Williams and his wife, Beryl, allowed the couple to stay in their house for the duration of Astrid’s visit.
The Beatles played almost every night that Astrid was there, and some lunchtime shows as well. She came with them to all of the shows, all of them packing into the cars or vans that were transporting them all around. Unfortunately, it seems that an amazing opportunity kind of got by them. There are very few photographs of The Beatles during this period, and Astrid would have been a great person to take some. Maybe she felt she was on vacation or maybe there are some photos out there that have just never made it into the public eye.
During The Beatles’ time off, during the day before shows or on the few days they had off, Stu and Astrid spent almost all of their time together. They would dress almost identically in black leather, sometimes even wearing each other’s clothes. Bill Harry, one time fellow Liverpool College of Art student and soon-to-be publisher of Mersey Beat, found them in the Jacaranda, “white as a sheet and dressed in black.” Stu’s friend, Rod Murray, in an interview with Mark Lewisohn, would say that Stu “was obviously happy. I thought, ‘What a lucky guy.’”
Many of The Beatles’ biographers will talk about how Paul never like Stu. They’ll say he didn’t think Stu was a good enough musician, but also that he was jealous of John’s relationship with Stu. I don’t particularly think it’s fair to try to make some authoritative proclamation of what was going on inside Paul’s head, so I can only relate what witnesses saw and what Paul has actually said.
It was commonplace for The Beatles to jab at each other in what was usually a playful way. John would make faces when Paul sang the “oldies” such as “Over the Rainbow.” They would even sometimes have “pretend fights” on stage. When it was Paul’s turn to deliver, he would often aim at Stu, and it would seem as though it wasn’t completely all in good fun. Neil Aspinall remembered that Paul would tell Stu he had to practice more because he was “dragging us all down.” Paul would say in a couple of interviews later that everyone in the band knew that “there were practical reasons for my not wanting Stu in the group…but I was the man who had to say it. It became my role.”
As for Stu himself, his time in The Beatles was already winding down anyway. They would be heading back to Hamburg for a residency at The Top Ten Club, but Stu had talked repeatedly about leaving the group, and he would soon run out of reasons to return to Liverpool after that contract ended. As much as he had worked to become an acceptable bass player during the previous year, it seemed that there wasn’t much reason to take it to the next level. If you’d read my previous posts about Stu you will know that I have defended his bass playing quite a bit. But his progress does seem to have stopped at this point.
Disappointment and Anger
The original plan had been that Stu would take his fifth year at Liverpool College of Art and receive his Art Teacher Diploma. After that he would return to Hamburg, marry Astrid, and live a life with her. But Stu had not been having a great time back in Liverpool. His mother was unhappy with his choice of Astrid, he was not having a great deal of fun in the band, and he was beginning to have bouts of headaches and a “grumbling appendix.” His reinstatement interview went poorly, and he was not invited to come back for his fifth year of college. One of his tutors, Nicholas Horsfield, said, “It would have been no good for him as an artist, and frustrating for him as a person.”
There was no real reason to stay in Liverpool. There were art colleges in Hamburg and Astrid would be there. He didn’t plan to be a bass guitarist anyway. And whether it was already brewing in his mind or just a result of his experience of the last two months, he would write “I hate Liverpool in all its trivialities.”
Meanwhile, it was not lost on The Beatles, nor on Astrid, that there were still some touchy details to work out if the whole group was to be able to return to Hamburg to fulfill their contract at The Top Ten Club. Mo and Allan Williams were already working on the details on the Liverpool side, and when Astrid returned home from her Liverpool visit, she joined Peter Eckhorn in working things out on the German side. She made phone calls to the Bundeskriminalamt to argue that Paul’s and Pete’s bans should be overturned. As the days counted down to April 1, the start date of the contract, it was unclear whether Paul and Pete would be able to join John, George, and Stu. You may be able to guess if it all worked out…
Next week we’ll be talking about the role being played by Allan Williams at this point in The Beatles’ career. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Astrid and Stu
The November 30 Contract
As well as things were going in Liverpool, The Beatles were aware, and not unhappy, that they had a contract with Peter Eckhorn to return to Hamburg in April to play at The Top Ten Club. That was all perfectly fine for John, Stu, and even George, who would be 18 by the time they went back. All that was necessary was for them to do some paperwork. John’s would be somewhat difficult, since he still had only a temporary passport. But it wasn’t easy at all for Paul and Pete. They had arrest records to deal with. They had been told that they needed to file an appeal within 30 days of being deported in order to restore their rights to travel to Germany. They hadn’t done so.
Paul wrote a letter to the chief officer of the Fremdenpolizei in which he claimed that the fire at The Bambi Kino was not as serious as it was being made out to be, and that they didn’t even drink alcohol! Allan Williams was not really involved with The Beatles’ dealings in Liverpool, but he was still anxious to keep his relationship with Eckhorn, so it was in his best interest to help out The Beatles. He had Paul’s letter edited into something more formal and sent two letters, one each for Paul and Pete, off to the authorities. This was around mid-January, which meant that the appeal was technically a couple of weeks late. The waiting game was on, and an answer did not come quickly.
Behind the Scenes
As The Beatles played several nights per week and didn’t pay much of a thought to the preparations for Hamburg, they had a whole crew working on their behalf. Peter Eckhorn was making sure that there was a real, professional contract. He had actually spent a few days in Liverpool in mid-January to make sure that his business arrangements with Allan Williams were settled and to check out bands that he might invite to play at The Top Ten Club.
Williams himself, after taking care of Paul’s and Pete’s letters, set out to make everything more official with authorities in both Liverpool and Hamburg. He got a license as a Theatrical Employment Agent, which would have a look of importance to officials in Hamburg when they were perusing his contracts with Eckhorn. On March 1, 1961, Williams wrote a letter to the German Consul in Liverpool to try to help Paul’s and Pete’s case, saying “all the musicians have good characters and come from first-class families, and they have never been in trouble with the police in this country.”
Even Astrid got involved. When she returned home after a visit to Liverpool to see Stu, she began making calls to the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Police) to plead Paul’s and Pete’s case. But as time went by, and it was getting closer and closer to April, there was still no response from the German authorities.
On February 28, 1961, on a day on which they played three shows at three different venues, The Cavern Club, The Cassanova Club, and Litherland Town Hall, all five Beatles filled out visa applications that they had picked up from the German Consulate in Liverpool. George and Stu were all set. John still had the little matter of his passport to sort out, and Paul and Pete had no idea if they’d be allowed to go back to Hamburg. John took care of his part on March 3. Amazingly, John’s Aunt Mimi had finally given in. She gave assent to international travel, permission which, if you remember, was necessary for anyone under 21. John was the only one who had not already received that permission, which was why he had only a temporary passport up to that point, and that document had expired.
Other than the passport, which would absolutely be necessary, it may be confusing why there was this sudden attention to having everything in place properly. On their first trip to Hamburg, Allan Williams “had ‘talked’ us into Germany,” said Pete, “but it could never happen that way again.” The German Consul in Liverpool, who had helped arrange the visas, was aware of Paul’s and Pete’s story, and told them, laughing, that if they went back to Germany, “…this time you go with visas and work permits.”
Williams, in the meantime, was not solely working hard for The Beatles to get them back to Hamburg. There was something in it for him, as well. And rightly so. The contract that Williams and Eckhorn agreed to on March 2, 1961, stated that The Beatles were to be paid DM35 each per night (about £55 or $75 today). Williams was to receive a commission of £10 per week (about £190 or $250 today). The Beatles were planning to cut Williams out and not pay him his commission, but that’s a story for a few weeks from now.
Next week we’ll be talking about Stu and Astrid and their time together in Liverpool. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The Top Ten Club, Hamburg
The Best of 1961
Jack Good was a music producer, television producer, columnist, and member of Lord Rockingham’s XI, who had put out “Hoots, Mon,” #1 on the UK charts for three weeks in 1958. Good wrote in 1961 in Disc about a song he called “the most magical record I have heard for months. The song was called “Long Time Boy,” a West Indian folk song sung by Nadia Cattouse. It didn’t reach the chart. The song’s producer was lucky enough that his bosses at EMI let him put out what he wanted. But what he really wanted was success in the level of his colleague Norrie Paramor, who produced Cliff Richard.
It wasn’t like George Martin had no success at all. In fact, he had turned the Parlophone Records division of EMI into a viable resource in the six-plus years he had been running the label. It had just been frustrating that while Paramor and Cliff Richard, on EMI’s Columbia Records division, could do no wrong, Martin had a hard time even getting a song onto the UK Singles Chart at all. “Long Time Boy” had just been the last in a series of “failures”, including “Earth Angel” by The Southlanders and “Maggie May” by The Vipers Skiffle group, among others.
Where Martin had found some success was in his comedy releases. He had been working with Peter Sellers as far back as 1953, when Sellers had voiced a character in a fantasy play recorded for children called Jakka and the Flying Saucers. In 1957, Martin had Sellers back in the studio to record “Any Old Iron,” (remember “any any any old Einstein” from the Yellow Submarine film?). It reached #17, which was good enough for EMI to allow the recording of a full-length album in 1958, eventually entitled Best of Sellers. The album would be the first of three albums in three years by Sellers that would make it into the top five on the UK Albums Chart.
Soon, Parlophone Records, under the leadership of George Martin, would become the main outlet for the top comedians of the late 50s and early 60s. Sellers was quickly followed by Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, Sellers’ partners on The Goon Show radio series, a favorite of The Beatles. Also on the scene was Bernard Cribbins, who would go on to appear on Fawlty Towers and would play one of my favorite all-time roles on Doctor Who, Wilfrid Mott. Impressively, Martin scouted and put out the first album from Beyond the Fringe, featuring Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, and the two people who American readers will likely know best, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
One of Martin’s comedy productions was a version of the novelty song, “Mr. Custer,” about a soldier who didn’t want to go into battle. It was recorded by comedian Charlie Drake and would reach #12 on the UK Singles chart. As a matter of interest, it just so happened that there was a record retailer in Liverpool who would occasionally like a record enough to monopolize its sales. So it was with “Mr. Custer.” Record distributor John Mair remembers a phone call from Mr. Brian Epstein, who asked him how many copies of the record he had available. Mair told Epstein there were “a couple of hundred.” Epstein said to Mair, “I’ll have them all…now everyone in Liverpool who wants this record will have to come here [Nems], because EMI in Manchester tell me no one else has any.” Epstein was a keen businessman.
Many a 35-year old producer would be very much satisfied with what Martin had accomplished. But there was still that nagging desire for a relationship with some musical artist who would make the kind of impact Cliff Richard had made. Enter Matt Monro. Monro generally sang ballads and was well known around the BBC. At thirty years old, he had been singing with the BBC Show Band for about five years, and had appeared as a Frank Sinatra impersonator on the Peter Sellers hit album, Songs For Swingin’ Sellers, produced, of course, by George Martin.
Martin got Monro into the studio to record “Portrait of My Love” and “My Kind of Girl.” The songs would reach #3 and #5, respectively, on the UK Singles Chart, and Martin thought he might have finally gotten his start. Before long, Martin discovered a jazz band, a nine-member group who “drank like fishes” called The Temperance Seven. They would record “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” a straight-out 1920’s style jazz piece that Martin probably didn’t have in mind when he was looking for a new Cliff Richard. Nevertheless, it was the first George Martin produced track to reach #1 on the UK Singles chart. Things were heating up. Of course, he had no idea what would happen in another year and a half…
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles’ plans to get back to Hamburg in April. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Kenneth Womack for his Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
George Martin, not yet Sir...
One of the amazing things about Hamburg was how many songs The Beatles learned how to play. They had made a decision not to play the same song twice on any given day, and many of those days found them on stage for six hours. So they had to learn an enormous number of songs. They played very few originals at this point, so there was little help there. They would learn whole albums, but remember, a whole album those days was often less than half an hour long. So they would also extend songs, making two minutes pieces into ten minute pieces, and so on.
Back in Liverpool, certain songs became crowd favorites. For example, they would typically open their shows with “Long Tall Sally,” “What’d I Say,” or “Good Golly Miss Molly,” among others. Bob Wooler would play a recording of “The William Tell Overture” while The Beatles stood behind the curtain. Wooler would announce “The Fabulous Beatles!” and they would be rocking and stomping in full force as the curtain rose. The thing is, though, unlike in Hamburg, many groups were playing the same songs. Once a song was a hit, most every group would learn it. So The Beatles went searching for songs that were not as well known.
Certain ones were easy. Elvis Presley’s “Wooden Heart” had been featured in his film, G.I. Blues, which had been released in Germany but not in the UK. When they played it, Paul would announce, “Here’s the new one by Elvis, it’s out in a few weeks.” By the time the Elvis version hit #1 on the UK charts, Beatles fans had heard it for two months. Even when a song came out that was sure to be one that every band would play, The Beatles beat everyone else to the punch. Another by Elvis, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was released in the UK on January 13, 1961. The Beatles played it the next night.
The Obscure and the Unexpected
There was one pretty effective way of playing songs that other groups weren’t playing. While the others concentrated on the hits, The Beatles looked for the lesser known songs. These would include just about anything American, from doo-wop to R&B, and they felt no trepidation in playing songs by “girl groups.” The one that started it was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles. When a song became a big hit that all of the bands were playing, they would learn the B-sides as well. In the case of The Shirelles, that B-side was “Boys.” John sang lead on both songs by The Shirelles, but you’re no doubt aware that by the time The Beatles recorded “Boys” for their first album, Please Please Me, that it was Ringo who took the lead. It was, in fact, a song that Ringo had been singing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
Much to the chagrin of John, Paul liked to add in classic old tunes from musicals and movies, his father’s influence showing. They would include “Over the Rainbow,” during which John would make fun of Paul behind his back. John’s reaction was much the same when Paul sang “’Til There Was You” from The Music Man. To Paul’s great credit, he had no problem putting up with John’s wit, and knew very well that there was an audience for the sappy and older songs, and not just for the rockers. And when it was time for Stu to sing “Love Me Tender,” Paul was right there with John making fun of their bass player. And the audiences loved it.
A favorite story is of how when The Beatles played at The Cavern, it was not uncommon for the aging electrical circuits to cut out. As they were being fixed (often by George), John and Paul would entertain the audiences any way they could. They would initiate sing-alongs, singing songs such as “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Paul would sometimes sit at the piano and play a little ditty he wrote when he was 14, a song that wouldn’t have lyrics for a few more years when it became better known as “When I’m 64.” They were also known to play the theme song from the children’s television series, Torchy the Battery Boy. Anything to keep the audience entertained!
A Set List
A fantastic document exists thanks to the efforts of John Cochrane, drummer for Wump and his Werbles…yup… Cochrane would make lists of the songs played by the bands he saw, and so there is a song list from a one-hour set that The Beatles played sometime in February or March of 1961. The list was handily included by Mark Lewisohn in his book listed below. There are 19 songs on the list:
What’d I Say – Ray Charles (sung by Paul)
Boys – The Shirelles (sung by John)
Will You Love Me Tomorrow – The Shirelles (John)
Wooden Heart – Elvis Presley (Paul)
C’Mon Everybody – Eddie Cochran (John)
Twenty Flight Rock – Eddie Cochran (Paul)
Hallelujah, I Love Her So – Eddie Cochran (Paul)
New Orleans – US Bonds (John)
Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues – Buddy Holly (John)
Red Sails in the Sunset – Ray Sharpe (Paul)
Crying, Waiting, Hoping – Buddy Holly (George)
Over the Rainbow – Meredith Wilson (they knew the Gene Vincent version) (Paul)
Mean Woman Blues – Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis (John)
Lucille – Little Richard (Paul)
Hey, Good Lookin’ – Gene Vincent (George)
Blue Moon of Kentucky – Elvis Presley (Paul)
Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley (Stu)
Don’t Forbid Me – Pat Boone (Paul)
Corinne Corinna – Ray Peterson (John)
Quite an interesting list!
Next week we’ll be talking about what a certain producer named George Martin was up to in the first part of 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The Beatles in 1961
Mona Best, Ray McFall, and Bob Wooler
It was a case of perfect timing and knowing the right people. Mona Best knew that to increase the exposure of The Beatles, they needed to be playing somewhere as a home base that was more centrally located than The Casbah Coffee Club, which is about 5 miles north of the city center. Ray McFall owned The Cavern, whose previous owner, Alan Sytner, had banned The Quarrymen in 1958 for playing rock in a jazz club. McFall, though, was more accepting and was already putting on Wednesday night rock shows that were quite popular. Mo called McFall to try to convince him to hire The Beatles. Coincidentally, McFall had recently added lunchtime rock shows to take advantage of the market and had hired none other than Bob Wooler to host the lunchtime shows as well as to book the talent.
Wooler, who had been instrumental in getting The Beatles booked for the Beekay Promotions jive dances where they were playing sometimes several times per week all over Liverpool, quickly added our boys to the list of bands that were available during the day. They included Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Derry and the Seniors, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and The Big Three (formerly Cass and the Cassanovas, but now without Cass). There was the slight little hurdle that Paul actually had a day job, but he would try to work around it until he finally gave in to John’s ultimatum of choosing his job or his band.
The first lunchtime show played by The Beatles took place on Thursday, February 9, 1961. As we talked about last month, Paul had to run off from his day job at Massey & Coggins to make the date. Ray McFall remembered that he didn’t allow jeans in The Cavern, but that was just how our boys showed up, leather jackets and jeans. “I said to Bob, ‘How did they get past the door staff?’ However, The Beatles were sensational and I was smitten. Completely. Absolutely. Instantly. From the very first day there was no stopping them. I said to Bob, ‘We must have them regularly’”
The next lunchtime show was on Tuesday, February 21, 1961. Paul called in sick for this one, and they played on. Since these were lunchtime shows, the crowds were not the same as the ones who frequented the venues The Beatles generally played. They were more professional and well-dressed. They were on their lunch hours, so there was no drinking. The Cavern did not serve alcohol anyway, just hot dogs, soup, bread, and tea. As a result, at first very few of the people there knew who The Beatles were. Mo was right, they would need this central location to become better known, and that would happen.
A week later, on the 28th, the crowd was a little bigger and it had become apparent that McFall was planning to have Bob Wooler schedule The Beatles as much as he possibly could. They were booked for three to four lunchtime sessions per week starting in March. Paul had to make his decision, and John made sure he knew it. Paul quit his job at Massey & Coggins, and he was a dedicated to only The Beatles once again.
Ignoring Contracts Again
Other promoters had figured out that there was money to be made putting rock shows on during the day. Sam Leach started putting on afternoon shows at the Liverpool Jazz Society (LJS), formerly the Iron Door Club, located about 500 feet from The Cavern. He wanted The Beatles to play. The word was that The Beatles had a verbal agreement with Ray McFall that they were exclusive to The Cavern at lunchtime. That piece of information was even included in Cavern advertisements in the Liverpool Echo. The wiggle room The Beatles found in their agreement was that when playing at the LJS, they wouldn’t arrive until after 2pm, therefore after lunchtime. Sam Leach would remember that Ray McFall was angry enough to give The Beatles an ultimatum, The Cavern or LJS, but McFall said that never happened. And the fact that The Beatles did continue to play at LJS through March in addition to the fact that The Beatles would ultimately play at The Cavern 292 times kind of backs McFall’s story.
An interesting side note. Since The Beatles couldn’t play at LJS before 2pm, Leach hired other bands to be there at the beginning of his shows. One such band was Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. According to Mark Lewisohn, Leach sometimes put together a band to play at lunchtime at LJS called Rory Storm and the Wild Ones. Leach has said that this band consisted of Rory, Ringo, and Hurricanes guitarist Johnny Guitar, along with other musicians. On at least two occasions, those other musicians were “John, Paul and maybe George.” Though there is little detail available about this happening, there is the possibility that once again John, Paul, and George were playing with Ringo.
Next month, we’ll get into this in more detail, but it is worth mentioning that as The Cavern lunchtime shows became more popular and The Beatles started building a fan base there, McFall wanted to get our boys into some nighttime slots as well. Simply due to scheduling headaches, that first evening show would not take place until March 21. And it would be the only one scheduled until The Beatles returned in July of 1961 from their second three month residency in Hamburg.
Next week we’ll be talking about the songs that The Beatles were playing during the first three months of 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The Cavern Club stage
Home From Hamburg
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes arrived home in Liverpool on January 2, 1961. They had faced a somewhat similar situation as The Beatles when their time in Hamburg ended. Rory had not been playing with his own group since mid-November, when he was banned by Bruno Koschmider from The Kaiserkeller for breaking the stage. Since then, he had spent time hanging around The Top Ten Club, sometimes appearing on stage with Tony Sheridan’s band. Rory and crew tried to arrange a move to a different club in Hamburg for the new year, but Koschmider shut them down, saying they had an exclusive contract. So that was that and they left for home.
Because they had spent the summer of 1960 at Butlin’s and most of that fall in Hamburg, Rory and the guys had only played a few shows in Liverpool in a seven month period. Those had been in September. When they arrived home at the beginning of 1961 they discovered that they were no longer the #1 band in town. They played some shows around the area, including some of Brian Kelly’s “jive dances,” where they shared the stage with The Beatles, just like old, well, not that old times in Hamburg. But it was The Beatles who were getting top booking. Ringo would go out during The Beatles’ sets to watch them play. He would say in The Beatles Anthology, “I just loved the way they played; I loved the songs, the attitude was great, and I knew they were a better band than the one I was in.”
The Elephant in the Room
Obviously, as the next year and a half goes by we will have to start talking about Pete vs. Ringo. That’s simply a fact. So we may as well get started now. But let me say this. I’ve been a Beatles fan since I was ten years old, several decades ago. Ringo was one of my first favorite singers when I was a kid. I’ve seen him live four times, as recently as 2019. Once in Paris! So you should have no doubts about my affection for him, and you’ll not hear an argument from me when someone (usually a famous drummer) calls Ringo the greatest rock drummer of all time. But I am also a fan of Pete Best. I’ll not be putting in any of my own thoughts on the quality of his drumming, I will simply quote what other people said who were there. That’s not the point. Pete Best lived through what for anyone would be one of the greatest disappointments someone can go through, and was still able to end up a classy, humble, and funny individual who adds nothing but pleasure to the study of The Beatles. So that’s where I stand.
John, Paul, and George had been together for around three years. They were a cohesive unit. They were quick-witted, sharing the same sense of humour. They would hang out together when they weren’t playing. That had been the case both at home and in Hamburg. Pete just wasn’t one of them. They mostly only saw him at shows. Cynthia Lennon would write in her first book, “Pete hardly spoke or showed any enthusiasm…He really didn’t gel with their characters right from the very start.” John himself would kind of callously say a few years later, “We were always going to dump him when we could find a decent drummer.”
I’m not sure I believe that it was that cut and dry. When John had fired members of The Quarrymen early on, he always had someone do it for him. They had no one to do that now. Besides, the fact was that Pete and Mona were the ones that were actually doing the work. They got the bookings, arranged the transportation, and so forth. Without Pete, who would take on that role?
Ringo, meanwhile, was very well aware that Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were no longer the force they once were. As the group searched for more playing opportunities, Ringo considered his options. At one point he thought about finding some sort of flexible job that would allow him to take time off if the band were going to Butlin’s or Hamburg or anywhere else. He came up with the idea of being a freelance hairdresser. He didn’t follow through on the idea, but those kinds of thoughts were in his head. He would say about his situation, “I thought I had done everything our band could do at the time. We were just repeating ourselves.”
A couple of offers came Ringo’s way during that first half of 1961. For example, he was offered the drummer position with Derry and the Seniors. He turned that one down after serious consideration. Strangest of all was that after becoming friends with Fred and Gerry Marsden, he brought up the idea of joining Gerry and the Pacemakers. Fred Marsden, though, was not about to stop playing drums, so the only position open was as the bass player. The story is that Ringo actually did consider learning (which makes it even funnier that he included the line “I don’t play bass ‘cuz that’s too hard for me” in his 1971 song, “Early 1970”).
Ringo’s doubts about his commitment notwithstanding, he did ultimately decide to stay with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. They may not have been the #1 group in town anymore, but they still were getting work. They would even be heading back to Butlin’s for the next two summers. Ringo did spend a bit of time back in Hamburg playing with Tony Sheridan at the beginning of 1962, but that was just for a short stint. And on a number of occasions, he sat in with The Beatles when Pete was sick. We’ll be talking about all of that when the time comes.
Next week we’ll be talking about how The Beatles began to play at The Cavern! As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks also to Michael Seth Starr for his Ringo: With a Little Help. Special thanks to Cynthia Lennon for her A Twist of Lennon. And of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes
Litherland Town Hall Revisited
When The Beatles finished playing the legendary show at Litherland Town Hall on December 27, 1960, 17-year old Dave Forshaw, completely awed by the group as everyone else present was, rushed to the dressing room to talk to them. He could book them for three shows at St. John’s Hall in Bootle, once per month for the next three months. Brian Kelly, who had booked The Beatles to play at Litherland Town Hall in the first place, saw what was going on and had his people block any more access to the dressing room so that he could talk to The Beatles alone. If you remember, Kelly ran Beekay Productions, a company who regularly put on “jive dances” at several locations.
John, Paul, and George were happy to let Pete take care of the negotiations, as he had some experience dealing with bookings due to his father’s boxing promotions. In the end, The Beatles were signed up for 36 shows between January 5 and March 11, 1961. They would be paid between £6 and £8 per show to split among them (that’s between £115 and £150 or $150 to $200 today). The venues included Litherland Town Hall, the Aintree Institute, Lathom Hall, and Alexandra Hall. Combined with the shows set up by Dave Forshaw, that would be 39 shows in less than three months. But that was just the beginning.
Allan Williams, who had worked with The Beatles for most of 1960, wasn’t really interested in spending so much time with them anymore. To be fair, he did help with a few things here and there that we’ll get to, but as he put it, “I have a mind like a grasshopper. Once I’ve done a thing, I don’t go back.” Okay, I have no idea what that means, either. Maybe someone out there can explain to me just how that is “like a grasshopper…” Anyway, it was up to Mona Best to help Pete with the details. And those details, especially when even more shows were added, included making sure that equipment and band members could get where they needed to go. Enter Frank Garner. Garner was a bricklayer with a van, who happened to also work as a doorman at The Casbah. He would take the equipment to the venues in the van, while someone else, usually Neil Aspinall, would take the band members in his car.
Someone else who we mentioned before who was extremely important in making everything run smoothly was Bob Wooler. If you remember, Wooler was a DJ, compère, and friend of The Beatles, who had worked for Allan Williams, but was now employed by Brian Kelly. Wooler worked with the bands playing at the jive dances and made all of the stage arrangements. He would also introduce the bands. It was Wooler who decided that The Beatles should stand behind the curtain while he played a recording of “The William Tell Overture.” As it finished, Wooler would announce “It’s The Beatles!” as the curtain opened, and our boys would be playing a rocker like “Good Golly Miss Molly” or “Long Tall Sally,” etc., and stomping away like mad.
Wooler was soon hired to work stage shows for Vic Anton, a 20-year old car salesman who was acquainted with Brian Epstein. The result of this pairing was seven additional shows for The Beatles at Hambleton Hall in Huyton. Another independent promoter who soon got into the action was Sam Leach. Leach went to see The Beatles at Hambleton Hall on January 25 and saw what everyone was talking about. He rushed to the band’s dressing room and told The Beatles, “You’re going to be as big as Elvis!” John turned to Paul and said, “We’ve got a right nutter here, Paul.” Paul, however, recognized this nutter. He replied, “Yes, but I bet you’ve got some work for us, haven’t you, Mr. Leach?” They were signed on for twelve more shows, seven at the Cassanova Club and five at the Liverpool Jazz Society.
There were a few other shows picked up along the way, one at Blair Hall, one at Mossway Hall, one at the Merseyside Civil Service Club, and two that were actually put together by Allan Williams, both at the Grosvenor Ball Room, where they had frequently played before their first Hamburg trip. And, obviously, Mona was still having The Beatles play at The Casbah Coffee Club, generally on Sundays. They played there eleven times in the first three months of 1961. Mo had also hired The Beatles for two of her Casbah Productions shows at St. John’s Hall in Tuebrook.
We’ll be talking about it in great detail in a couple of weeks, but as long as we’re mentioning shows, we must, of course, mention the next great thing that Mona Best did for The Beatles. She was well aware that The Casbah was not in the most convenient area for people who wanted to come to shows. Her boys needed a place closer to the action. Mo learned that Ray McFall at The Cavern Club was looking for bands to play lunchtime shows. Perfect timing, since The Beatles were playing only nights. She called McFall and convinced him to book our boys. They would play thirteen lunchtime shows by the end of March as well as their first evening show at The Cavern. Needless to say, this was just the beginning of the reported 292 times The Beatles played at The Cavern in all.
All in all, between January 5 and March 26, 1961, The Beatles played 90 shows in an 83 day span. No big deal, right? They had played even more hours in Hamburg. The only difference was that they had to move their equipment, but now they had help for that. In the Spring, Hamburg would come calling again and then in July, the busy Liverpool schedule would continue.
Next week we’ll be talking about Rory Storm, Ringo Starr, and Pete Best in the first part of 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
John and Paul with Bob Wooler
The New, Improved Beatles
The difference in The Beatles after their return from Hamburg was striking. There were other bands who had spent time there who were now back in Liverpool, including Derry and the Seniors and, of course, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. But whatever it was that had changed The Beatles so much during their experience, it didn’t carry over to anyone else. Chris Huston, guitarist with The Undertakers and eventual Grammy-nominated recording engineer, told Mark Lewisohn, “I asked John what it was like in Hamburg and he said, ‘Fookin’ great! They roll up the pavements in Liverpool at 11, but in Hamburg they’re just rolling them out at midnight.’ But that didn’t answer what I saw, because Hamburg didn’t change anyone else in the same way.” We can speculate, but it will likely always be a mystery.
For the first couple of weeks in January, and a total of around six to eight shows, Stu had not returned yet from Hamburg, so Paul was on bass. Kind of. He re-strung his Rosetti Solid 7 with piano wire (just three strings). Paul would say that the piano strings would “make a nice sound, but kill the fingers.” The Rosetti still had the tendency to break down, so even with it strung as a bass, Paul would often not really be playing. People would comment about how big the sound was they were producing, though it was commonplace that the big sound was being made just by John, George, and Pete. Fortunately, by sometime around the third week of January, Stu was back, and they were once again at full Hamburg strength.
Our boys were unique on the Liverpool scene. First of all, shows in early January presented them as being “straight from Hamburg,” which caused the misunderstanding of many people at the shows that they were a German band. “You speak good English,” people would say. Their appearance and stage presence did nothing to dissuade people from believing that they must be from somewhere else. Their hair was long and swept forward, they wore leather and cowboy boots, and much to the amazement of other Liverpool bands at the time, they ate, swore, and smoked on stage. Tony Sanders, drummer for The Phantoms, told Mark Lewisohn in 2005, “Pete played the bass drum with his foot, hit the hi-hat with his right hand and smoked with his left. We were all smoking the next time we went on stage, but it didn’t go with our short haircuts and clean boy-next-door image.” Indeed.
Ahead of the Game
The Beatles’ repertoire had grown an enormous amount, mainly because of their Hamburg determination to never play the same show twice. They had learned huge numbers of songs and took pride in learning new ones as soon as they came out. Elvis’ “Are You Lonesome Tonight” was released in the UK on January 13. They played it the next night. They had done even better than that with another Elvis song, “Wooden Heart.” The song had appeared in the film, G.I. Blues, which had been released in Germany while they were there, but wouldn’t be seen in Liverpool until February. They would announce it as “a new one by Elvis, it’s out in a few weeks.” Interestingly, the song has a section sung in German, which Paul would perform perfectly, furthering the perception that they were from Hamburg.
There were a number of habits that they had picked up that suddenly many of the other Liverpool bands started copying. John McNally of The Searchers said that one of the ways that The Beatles increased their power and volume was that “they had their amplifiers on chairs, which I’d never seen before – we put ours on the floor and so did everybody else.” Not for long. Pete put a microphone near or even inside his bass drum to increase the volume of his constant pounding on every beat. Again, soon many a drummer was doing the same. They would loudly count off “1-2-3-4!” before starting every song (you know, like “I Saw Her Standing There”). Unheard of back then (but pretty common now). Paul would say “that was how we broke through, by being different.”
Bob Wooler, who was instrumental in getting The Beatles many a booking, and whose name will come up many more times in the next couple of years, would write a piece for Mersey Beat in the summer of 1961, in which he was asked to explain The Beatles’ sudden rise in popularity. He said that The Beatles “had resurrected original style rock’n’roll music, the origins of which are to be found in [African-American] singers.” (Just to be clear, he did not use words that we would consider extremely offensive, just ones that are generally not used these days to describe persons of color). The Beatles “hit the scene when it had been emasculated by figures like Cliff Richard… Gone was the drive that inflamed the emotions. In The Beatles was the stuff that screams are made of.” They were “musically authoritative and physically magnetic.” Yeah, not too much to live up to, eh?
To put a final touch on this idea, here’s what John said to Hunter Davies: “It was Hamburg that had done it. To get the Germans going…we’d really have to hammer. We had to try anything that came into our heads…there was nobody to copy from. We played what we liked best. But it was only back in Liverpool that we realized the difference and saw what had happened. Everybody else was playing Cliff Richard…” Poor Cliff…
Next week we’ll be talking about how The Beatles went about getting the incredible number of bookings they had for those first three months of 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Hunter Davies for his The Beatles. Special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
At The Casbah Coffee Club
From Delivery Van to Electrical Factory
As the holidays ended and 1961 got off to a running start, Paul’s day job as second man on a delivery truck for Speedy Prompt Delivery (SPD) came to an end. It was a seasonal job, so he wasn’t necessary any more. His father, Jim, told him that he had to have a job, that playing music was not good enough. Jim was talking from experience. He played in a group when he was younger and could truthfully say that no musician he knew, including himself, had ever “made it.” He sent Paul to the Labour Exchange at Renshaw Hall in Liverpool and told him he had to find something.
What he found was an opening at an electrical engineers firm called Massey & Coggins. Paul had initially applied for a custodial job, sweeping the factory floor, but his interviewer was impressed that Paul had studied at the Liverpool Institute and our young man was ultimately offered the position of apprentice electrician. It would be a five year apprenticeship ending in the Spring of 1966. Jim Gilvey, managing director at Massey & Coggins would say about Paul: “He never said ‘owt to me about being a musician. He…was a very polite young man. I said, ‘We’ll give you an opportunity, lad, and with your outlook on life you’ll go a long way.”
As much as Paul surely wanted to continue playing music, he did give considerable thought to what the future may hold for him if he kept his day job. He told Hunter Davies: “I imagined myself working my way up, being an executive if I tried hard.” He joined the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and started his new job by learning how to wind heavy coils for electric motors.
That musical group that he was in was soon playing several shows per week, but for over a month those shows would all be in the evenings, so Paul was successfully able to have both his day job and his band. Thanks to Hamburg, he was already quite versed in not getting a lot of sleep, so juggling his two positions wasn’t really a problem…yet.
Interestingly, George and Pete were not really receiving much pressure about finding jobs. As we’ve talked about before, George was lucky enough to have extremely supportive parents and, of course, Mona Best was quite involved with the band’s career, helping them to get bookings. So Pete was likewise unburdened. Aunt Mimi was absolutely giving John pressure to get a job, but unlike Paul, he was perfectly willing to have shouting matches with his aunt and he was not likely to do anything that he didn’t want to do.
It doesn’t particularly seem like Paul’s dedication to becoming an executive at an electrical company really lasted all that long. He wasn’t that good at winding coils. He would say in a 1964 interview with Chris Hutchins: “I was hopeless…everybody else used to wind fourteen a day, I’d get through one and a half and mine were the ones that never worked.” Looking at the bright side, he told Hunter Davies, “The tea breaks were great, though.” To make things worse, he was made fun of because of his hair and was called “Mantovani” by his boss and co-workers when they discovered he was a musician. His boss, Ron Felton, liked to give orders, so Paul’s time wasn’t all that pleasant. He would say, quite succinctly, in a 1985 interview with Janice Long, “I never liked bosses.” Paul was also starting to get some flak from his bandmates, well, especially John, who would say that they couldn’t believe that Paul wanted “a steady career.”
We’ll be getting into more detail in the next few weeks about the situation with bookings and the number of shows The Beatles were playing by the time February rolled around. But just to finish up the story of Paul’s job, we’ll do a little time jump to a few weeks later. You may have already guessed that he didn’t become an electrician…
A Big Decision
On February 9, 1961, The Beatles played their first lunchtime show at The Cavern Club. Paul would be absent from his job for about three hours, and though it is unclear what kind of punishment he received for his disappearance, his absence was noticed, and Paul had to promise not to do it again. A second Cavern lunchtime show happened twelve days later, on February 21, and Paul called in sick for work that day. But he couldn’t keep that up. The next week, a decision would have to be made.
The next lunchtime show at The Cavern was scheduled for February 28. According to Neil Aspinall, John called Paul and told him: “Either [expletive deleted] turn up today or you’re not in the band anymore.” John remembered similarly, “I told him on the phone ‘Either come or you’re out.’ So he had to make a choice between me and his dad then, and in the end he chose me.” Aspinall’s story is that Paul showed up on time and got on stage. John said to him: “Right! You’ve given up your [expletive deleted] job.” 😉
And so he had.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles new found status as one of the top bands in Liverpool. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Also, thanks to Hunter Davies for his The Beatles. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
George and Paul at the Casbah
Happy New Year!
Welcome to our annual preview of the coming year. As you may remember, last year I wrote that it could be argued that 1960 was really a most important year in the story of The Beatles, and I stand by that. 1961 was extremely busy and would put them just a step or two away from the big time, all because of what they had accomplished the previous year. So now let’s take a look at what to expect from the year 1961 in the story of The Beatles.
As 1961 began, Chas Newby had gone back to college and Stu was still in Hamburg, so for a couple of weeks Paul was getting his first real experience at what it would be like to be the full-time bass player. He wasn’t that thrilled, but luckily Stu would come back to Liverpool in mid-January and take up his rightful position at bass for pretty much the first half of the year. Their number of bookings was enormous. By February, they were regularly playing six days per week, often twice and sometimes even three times in a day. On February 9, 1961, The Beatles would make their first of 292 appearances at The Cavern, a lunchtime show. Their first evening show at the famous venue would come on March 21. The reputation that The Beatles were building was already boding well for the future. They were headlining virtually every show they played and made three to four times the pay that they were making the year before. As big as they were getting in Liverpool, it wouldn’t stop them from spending another three months on the continent.
Back to Hamburg
From April to June of 1960, The Beatles would be the house band at The Top Ten Club in Hamburg. No more Indra or Kaiserkeller, and no more working for Bruno Koschmider. The owner of the club, Peter Eckhorn, did put them to work. They would play through July 1 without a day off. Interestingly, and I think something that people don’t really know, is that during that three month run The Beatles played with Tony Sheridan. They certainly did sets that were just The Beatles, but they also backed Sheridan for his sets. Bert Kaempfert, orchestra leader and producer for Polydor Records in Germany, whose name will be coming up a lot in 1961, thought of Tony Sheridan and The Beatles as kind of a version of Cliff Richard and The Shadows: a band backing a solo artist but also able to headline on their own.
On June 22, Kaempfert put them into the studio to record seven songs, five with Sheridan taking the lead vocals and lead guitar duties, and two with just The Beatles. This was the famous recording of “My Bonnie,” that would lead to a certain Mr. Brian Epstein noticing The Beatles later in the year. The Beatles’ songs included an original that was called “Beatle Bop.” Within a few years it would be better known to Beatles fans as “Cry for a Shadow.” Stu, by the way, was not part of the recordings, as he was finally leaving the band permanently.
At the beginning of July, John, Paul, George, and Pete returned to Liverpool and returned to their schedule of playing at The Cavern, The Casbah Coffee Club, and several other venues, not uncommonly playing as many as ten shows in any given week. Mona and Pete Best were in charge of managing the bookings and Paul was now the permanent, full-time bass player. Meanwhile, Ringo, still with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, was enjoying a second summer at Butlin’s Pwllheli. July 1961 also brought the first issue of Mersey Beat, which featured the famous biography written by John (with some help from George), “Being a Short Diversion on the Dubious Origins of The Beatles,” in which John claimed that the band name was brought to them by a man on a “flaming pie.”
Home Again and Mr. Brian Epstein
With the exception of a two-week break at the beginning of October, when John and Paul took a vacation to Paris to celebrate John’s 21st birthday, The Beatles’ busy schedule remained the same for most of the rest of the year. They were the biggest act in Liverpool, far more popular than even Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had been in during their reign. They even had a fan club, run by Bernie Boyle, Maureen O’Shea, and Jennifer Dawes. Dawes would say that they “were dedicated to working for The Beatles and making them better and more professional,” adding “they were very difficult to organize.”
An interesting note is that during 1961, much like 1960, though The Beatles learned hundreds of cover songs to play, they didn’t actually write much themselves. Of course, they were very busy with the shows, but it has also been argued that John’s friendship with Stu had kind of separated him from Paul. Now that Stu was living in Hamburg and no longer in the band, John and Paul really started becoming closer, and by 1962, the songwriting team would be fully active. But as successful as they were as a live band at this point, there were still some hurdles to overcome.
There were a lot of shows and a lot of money coming in. But they were just playing the same venues over and over again, all in and around Liverpool. There was something missing. There was actually talk during the summer of 1961 about giving it all up if they couldn’t find something to get them to the next level. Clearly, the piece that was lacking was real, professional management. They had friends who were interested in the job, but without experience nor connections. There was always Mona Best, but she had other things to think about (that we’ll talk about when the time comes) and some have said that she didn’t really want to take on that kind of job.
That professional management would come towards the end of the year. We’ll obviously be going into great detail when the time comes, but it begins with the release of the recording of “My Bonnie” in West Germany on October 23, 1961. A young man named Raymond Jones went to Brian Epstein’s Nems store and asked if they had the import. The store didn’t have any copies, but as you may remember, Epstein had a policy that Nems would track down anything that a customer asked for. By the time he had finished researching where he may be able to find the record, his curiosity about the Liverpool based band who played on it took him to The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time on November 9, 1961.
There would be a few meetings and negotiations over the next few weeks, but by early December, The Beatles had officially taken on Brian Epstein as their manager. Epstein got to work quickly. He took copies of “My Bonnie” around to record companies in London, he began to try to book shows for locations outside of Liverpool, and would soon secure them a live audition with Decca Records. It couldn’t have come at a better time. The venues that The Beatles were playing in and around Liverpool were tiring of their lack of professionalism and punctuality, especially since they were being paid top money for their performances. By the end of December, they were down to playing only at The Cavern and The Casbah. It wouldn’t all be smooth, but Epstein would soon have them headed in the right direction.
I’m very much looking forward to talking all about the coming year. Very exciting! Next week we’ll be talking about Paul’s day job during the first part of 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The Beatles at The Cavern Club