The Beatles 60 Years Ago - May 1962.
A Birthday Windfall
In today’s currency, it was more than £2200 or over $3000. In 1961, it was £100 cash. That was what John received from his Aunt Elizabeth (known in the family as Mater) in Edinburgh for his 21st birthday. John had a plan. He intended to spend his 21st birthday in Spain. And he would take Paul with him, a trip for The Nerk Twins. It wasn’t a secret, either. The September 14, 1961 issue of Mersey Beat announced that “John Lennon and Paul MacArtney [yup…] of The Beatles will be off to Spain for a holiday towards the end of September.” As excited as they surely were about how much fun was to be had on holiday, some of their associates were not very pleased at all.
Making People Unhappy
The original plan had been to go away for a month. Bob Wooler told them that “I thought this was disastrous because they would be away from the scene for too long and lose their fans…We argued a lot about this…in the back room of The Grapes pub…and they said, ‘Well, we’ll go away for a fortnight only.’” And then, not to be forgotten, what were George and Pete supposed to do? John had the money. Paul’s expenses would be largely taken care of on the trip. But George and Pete stood to lose in the area of £50 each by not being able to work for those two weeks. John would tell Elliott Mintz in 1976 that George “was furious because he needed the money.” According to Philip Norman, George and Pete even started looking for other bands to join.
Oh, and not to mention that The Beatles were booked to play shows during that time, so the lost money was not just an idea. They cancelled a total of around 15 shows between September 30 and October 14. That was seven at The Cavern, two each at Litherland Town Hall, The Aintree Institute, and Village Hall, and one each at Hambleton Hall and The Casbah Coffee Club. According to Mark Lewisohn, all of the promoters involved, Ray McFall, Brian Kelly, Vic Anton, and even Mona Best, “were incensed by it.”
They were also leaving Cyn and Dot behind. According to Mark Lewisohn, though it may have been tougher for Dot to get away, Cyn was actually close to her school holidays and John wasn’t waiting for that to happen. I should say that Cynthia’s memory was a bit kinder, “I’d have loved to go along, but by then I was…busy with teaching practice.”
The Nerk Twins
In that same interview with Elliot Mintz in 1976, John called this moment “another time when the group was in debate, about whether it would exist or not.” These were the same feelings that he had when The Beatles returned from their first Hamburg residency in December of 1960. According to Mark Lewisohn, “This boredom, felt by Paul and particularly by John, was quite a problem now. As Philip Norman put it, “The Beatles seemed to have progressed as far as any group could outside the mystic sphere of London.”
John would write pieces for Mersey Beat and he would write impressively long letters to Stu in Hamburg. Their correspondence was full of both poetry and prose and they had a running joke throughout in which Stu would take on the character of Christ while John became John the Baptist. Some of John’s poetry became tellingly dark:
I can’t remember anything
without a sadness
so deep that it hardly
becomes known to me,
so deep that its tears
leave me a spectator
of my own STUPIDITY.
& so I go rambling on
With a hey nonny nonny nonny no.
But with Stu only available by letter, John and Paul’s bond started becoming closer again. Whereas in the past they would occasionally write a song, sometimes together but very often not, it would not be long before they became a real team. Johnny Gustafson of The Big Three would say about them, “You would always see them together, in the pub or walking down the street. They were a duo, and seemed each other’s equal.” Bernie Boyle would add, “They were like brothers…they’d look at each other and know instinctively what the other was thinking.” And now they were apparently off to Spain(?) together.
Next week we’ll have Part 1 of 2 on the actual trip to, uh, Spain? 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. Thanks to Cynthia Lennon for her John. Thanks also to Philip Norman for his Shout! and Paul McCartney: The Life. And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and upvote the post at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Life in Hamburg
During the Summer and Fall of 1961, Stuart Sutcliffe wrote a lot of letters. He was in regular contact with John and George and many Liverpool College of Art friends, as well as Paul’s brother, Mike, who had written to Stu to ask advice on how to find employment in Europe. His letter to the youngest Mr. McCartney (who would eventually become Mike McGear of The Scaffold) included a seemingly light-hearted jab at Paul: “No doubt you are labouring under the doubtfully bright shining wings of your multi-talented brother.” Ouch.
Stuart’s life seemed to be going well. He sold the Hofner President bass guitar that he had played during his year and a half or so as a member of The Beatles. The buyer was Klaus Voormann (a great day in and of itself, considering what Klaus would accomplish as a bass player). His relationship with Astrid was great, less a few arguments involving Stu’s jealousy. She would say, “His jealousy was the hardest thing for me to take, because there was never any reason for it.” His studies were moving right along. The course he was taking with Scottish sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi included sculpting, painting, and also making experimental films. He apparently made two films, but there is no sign that they still exist today. Paolozzi said about Stu in 1968, “He was imaginative, ultra-intelligent, and he was open to everything, not just painting or pop but to every media and experience possible.”
In hindsight, Astrid seemed to believe that Stu’s sometimes bad temper could be thrown in with all of the other symptoms of Stu’s obvious illness. His studies were often interrupted by headaches and bouts of nausea. And he was becoming even thinner than he already was. Astrid and her mother, Nielsa, convinced Stu to see their family doctor, who provided an eye opening list of what was wrong. Stu wrote to his mother, “I have [gastritis]…very bad heartburn. Now I’m on a diet of special foods, I have tablets and do exercises…I must not smoke or drink alcohol…my appendix must come out…my glasses were too strong and this caused me to have headaches. The glands in my neck are wrong – this causes me to be moody and neurotic…I have a shadow on the entrance to my lungs – it is not TB or cancer…the doctor said I am a nervous wreck…he has never seen anyone like me…”
The headaches didn’t go away despite new glasses. They were so bad that he collapsed on several occasions. In order to have his appendix removed, it was decided that Stu should return to Liverpool since he would be covered under the National Health Service and not subject to the expense of having it done in Hamburg without insurance. He and Astrid headed for Liverpool towards the end of August 1961, after asking Stu’s mother, Millie, to make an appointment for him.
The NHS responded that they would not schedule an appendectomy without running their own tests. They arranged for an X-ray to be taken to compare with one that had been done in Hamburg. According to Stu’s sister, Pauline, Stu thought that having to re-take the X-ray was “a waste of time, silly and bureaucratic.” He didn’t show up for the appointment.
He and Astrid travelled back to Hamburg with nothing done. The consultant surgeon at Sefton General Hospital had, apparently, studied the German X-ray and sent a note to Millie Sutcliffe on September 8, 1961, that stated, “…the X-ray which he had in Germany was within the limits of normal, and my impression was that most of his symptoms were nervous in origin.” Mrs. Sutcliffe had retained the German X-ray and medical notes and took them to other doctors, including a friend who happened to be the Dean of Liverpool University Medical School, who implied to her, according to Pauline Sutcliffe, that Stu was simply a hypochondriac.
Back in Hamburg, and despite his German doctor’s advice that he rest completely, both physically and mentally, Stu tried to get as much work done as possible. He had been in contact with Allan Williams about putting on an exhibition of his paintings at one of Williams’ Liverpool clubs, The Blue Angel. Clearly, the legal problems that The Beatles were having with Williams did not carry over to how he felt about Stu. In addition, and somewhat surprisingly, Stu had put in an enquiry about enrolling in the Art Teacher’s Diploma course at Leicester College of Art (about 120 miles southeast of Liverpool) starting in September of 1962. This was the same type of course that he had been turned down for at Liverpool College of Art the previous year.
I find writing about Stu to be extremely difficult. With most of this 60 Years Project I can try to put myself in the position of vicariously and happily living through those times. Others who have read my social media posts and blog posts have said the same, and that makes me feel very good. And one of my favorite things about having completed the project up to this point is that I have added to my lifelong love of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, as much love for Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe. But the fact is, I’m sure almost everyone who reads this knows that Stu has less than seven months left to live in this very real story. I am already dreading writing about those events.
Next week we’ll be talking about John and Paul planning a vacation to Spain. 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. Thanks also to Philip Norman for his Shout and John Lennon: The Life. Special thanks to Pauline Sutcliffe and Douglas Thompson for their The Beatles’ Shadow: Stuart Sutcliffe and His Lonely Hearts Club. And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and upvote the post at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The August 31 issue of Mersey Beat featured a story about Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Their second Butlin’s Pwllheli summer was over, and it had gone well enough that they had already been asked back for the summer of 1962. No audition needed next time! In the meantime, they had ambitions of playing in Germany, Italy, and France. Despite apparent interest, none of those trips came about, and Ringo began thinking once again about whether his destiny would be found in staying with his current group.
You may remember that back in July we talked about the possibility that Ringo would join Gerry and the Pacemakers (as the bass guitar player!) and head with them to Hamburg. That was clearly not a great idea, as he couldn’t play a note. It would have been just like Stu joining The Beatles and having to start from the beginning. He was too valuable a drummer, anyway. In any case, in Ringo’s mind joining a different group in Liverpool was only one possibility for his future plans.
I’m just going to say it. As an American, I have never in my life understood why so many people from the UK seem to think that there is something magical about, well, here. I’ve spent a lifetime thinking that there was clearly something more magical about the UK! I know, it’s all just that the grass is always greener on the other side of the…pond, right? By the way, it’s not meant to be some kind of political statement or anything. I certainly have my views, but my love of the UK has always been based on my enjoyment of the movies, music, TV shows, comedy, etc. that have come out of there. They all just speak to me much more than most American entertainment. Granted, I was too young to appreciate the 50s music from America that inspired The Beatles as much as I appreciate it now, but that’s another story…
In any case, Ringo was enthralled by Western movies and country music. He had recently been getting into the blues and particularly liked Lightnin’ Hopkins, who was born in Texas in 1912, learned to play the guitar in Texas, went to jail in Texas, and played regularly for many years in Texas. He was the poet-in-residence of Houston, Texas for 35 years, and is said to have recorded as many as 1000 songs. Ringo decided that he really wanted to go to Houston.
Our drummer picked up immigration forms at the American Consulate in Liverpool and contacted the Houston Chamber of Commerce to get a list of employment agencies. He needed to show proof of income in order to emigrate, so he chose a factory job that would work at least for the time being. It is unclear whether he thought that he would find a way to be a drummer in Houston, but I would suspect that it was likely part of his plan. Either way, he now just had to wait to hear from the immigration office, which would take a couple of months.
Aside: I should say that the “couple of months” idea comes from Mark Lewisohn. The “really big forms” didn’t arrive until around December. However, Michael Seth Starr suggested that Ringo’s realization that Houston wasn’t going to happen came almost immediately. Sorry for the spoiler, you didn’t think Ringo actually moved to Houston, did you? 😉My best guess is that in hindsight, Ringo probably does look back and remember being pessimistic about Houston happening from just about the very beginning, but the decision was sealed when those “really big forms” that he would need to fill out showed up.
John, Paul, George, and Ringo
Rory Storm’s house was called “Hurricaneville.” No, really. It was registered with the post office in 1961 under that name. And it was very often the place to hang out after shows, no matter how late, for both Rory Storm and The Hurricanes and The Beatles. Rory’s mother, Violet Caldwell (also known as “Ma Storm”), welcomed them any time of day. Stories abound about how supportive and encouraging certain Beatles mothers were, from Julia Lennon to Louise Harrison, Elsie Starkey, and Mona Best. Violet Caldwell was firmly in that category for Rory. On any given night, you were likely to find John, Paul, George, and Ringo hanging out at Hurricaneville with Rory, his sister Iris, and their parents. According to Iris Caldwell in 1965, everyone’s mood at these get-togethers was based on how Ringo was feeling that particular day. “If he was feeling happy, they all ended up happy. If he was sad, everyone seemed to be miserable.”
I find it particularly interesting to think about these times that John, Paul, George, and Ringo hung out together in 1961, particularly in the context of how they were all feeling at the time. As we’ve talked about in previous posts, John, Paul, and George were restless and there was talk that as successful as they were playing the Liverpool circuit, that if something didn’t change to take them to the next level, that it might be time to end The Beatles. So they and Ringo were having the same sorts of feelings. It was something that they had in common that would be a part of what tied them together. They were now less than a year away from taking on those feelings as one.
Next week we’ll be talking about how Stu’s life was going in Hamburg. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Michael Seth Starr for his Ringo: With a Little Help. And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and upvote the post at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Bernie Boyle was a 16-year old office worker who spent so much time at The Cavern Club watching The Beatles play lunchtime sessions that he lost his job. Fortunately, The Beatles gave him a little work helping to carry gear to gigs. Jennifer Dawes, 19, and Maureen O’Shea, 21, were also huge Beatles fans who would watch them not only at The Cavern, but also at other venues around Liverpool. Boyle told The Beatles and Bob Wooler his idea for starting a fan club. The Beatles were completely into the idea and Wooler introduced Boyle to Dawes and O’Shea, who he thought could do a professional job running the club. Boyle became president, Dawes was treasurer, and O’Shea was secretary.
Wooler was right. Boyle was extremely helpful with the gear, but was young and inexperienced. Dawes and O’Shea took over the main duties of the fan club and got to work. They set a seasonal (August to August) membership fee at 5 shillings (that would be about £5 or $7 today). They made up applications, membership cards, and badges, and had a great idea right away. They set up a photo session at The Cavern to produce materials that would be exclusive to club members.
The Beatles certainly liked the fact that they had people working just for them, but that didn’t make them particularly cooperative. In interviews with Mark Lewisohn, Dawes and O’Shea both had interesting things to say. Dawes: “We were dedicated to working for The Beatles and making them better and more professional. They just wanted to play and everything else was irrelevant to them…they were very difficult to organize.” O’Shea: “We said to The Beatles, ‘Look smart, wear clean shirts, and be on time. We were quite bossy with them. Of course, they showed up in their black leather and black T-shirts.” Indeed.
Meeting the Parents…and Aunt Mimi?
The Fan Club Officers, of course, needed all sorts of information about the boys so they could relate stories to members. So they were off to meet the families. Jennifer and Maureen mostly got along with everyone. They said that the Harrisons were very supportive of the fan club idea and would make them tea while telling stories of baby George. They found Mona Best to be exotic and a hard-nosed business woman, but very friendly. Jennifer Dawes would say that “Pete lived within her shadow – she always spoke for him.” Then there was Mimi. As Mark Lewisohn put it, “True to form, Mimi wouldn’t allow a Mendips visit…”
Jim McCartney actually became quite an ally of both The Beatles and the fan club. Jennifer and Maureen became regular visitors at 20 Forthlin Road. They would watch TV and have conversations and even listen to the elder McCartney play piano and sing. They became just like a part of the family. Soon, they invited Mr. McCartney to come to The Cavern with them to see The Beatles play, surprised that he had not yet been there. According to Jennifer, “He would say, ‘it’s not for me’” But after a while, Jim did tell Paul, “I’ll come down with the girls.”
Jim McCartney was not that impressed by the condition of The Cavern, the heat, the smell, etc., but he did understand why the younger generation like to hang out there and was suitably impressed by the musician his son had become. He became a regular. It got to the point at which he would buy the ingredients for the evening’s dinner on days when The Beatles didn’t have an evening performance. He would come to The Cavern and drop off the food with Paul in the band room “with instructions about how and when to cook them, and at what time he should start preparing the potatoes.”
At one point, very likely in October of 1961, Jim, in front of Paul, suggested to Jennifer and Maureen that they should manage The Beatles. He even had a plan for how much they should be paid to do the job. Paul didn’t object to the idea and Jennifer said that she was sure that the other Beatles “went along with it.” Maureen said that they did take it seriously with thought about how much they would have to learn. Of course, as we’ll be talking about in a few weeks, events are upcoming that would make the idea of Jennifer and Maureen becoming The Beatles’ manager a moot point.
Promoting the Band
The activities of Dawes and O’Shea were encouraged by no one more than Bob Wooler. He would have them come on stage at various shows to explain to the audience how they could join. The even set up a “Fan Club Night” at the David Lewis Club in October. We’ll also be talking about that when we get closer to that date. There would be a fan club in some form for the rest of the existence of The Beatles. In November, Dawes and O’Shea would be joined (or replaced as some would tell it) by Roberta “Bobby” Brown, who would be retained by Brian Epstein when he restructured the workings of The Beatles machine. It wasn’t long before Freda Kelly, who most Beatles fans are most familiar with, would enter the scene. We’ll obviously be talking about it all in detail as time goes by.
Next week we’ll be talking about Ringo’s thoughts on possibly leaving Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and upvote the post at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Mister Acker Bilk
Acker Bilk was born in Pensford, Somerset, England on January 28, 1929. He learned how to play the clarinet during a three year stint in the National Service in the Suez Canal Zone. He started playing in traditional jazz bands in the early 1950s, and by the end of the decade, Bilk was fully immersed in the “trad jazz” boom that was happening in the UK. Acker Bilk and His Paramount Jazz Band could be found playing in all of the London jazz clubs, dressed in their signature style of striped waistcoats and bowler hats. In 1960, the group released its first single, “Summer Set,” which reached #5 on the UK Singles Chart and would be the start of a run of eleven charting singles of the next 16 years, five of which landed in the Top Ten. Acker and his group never reached #1 in the UK, but interestingly, they did in the US, where “Stranger on the Shore” would claim the top spot in May of 1962. The band did also play outside of London, and could occasionally be seen in Liverpool at The Cavern Club, which you may remember was a jazz club before slowly starting to allow in rock bands in 1959. And this is where Bilk’s story meets The Beatles’ story.
Cavern Club owner Ray McFall would occasionally put on summertime events on the River Mersey. The Cavern would be closed for the day and one and all would head to Pier Head to board the MV Royal Iris for three hours of music, food, drink, and dancing. The events were called Riverboat Shuffles and were generally known to be 100% jazz. On August 25, 1961, there was a slight change in the program. The introduction of rock and roll to The Cavern had been very successful, so McFall decided that his parties on the Mersey should combine both popular styles of music.
On this particular evening, Acker Bilk and His Paramount Jazz Band were the headline act. They were the premier name in trad jazz with music on the charts, so that was completely fair. Second on the bill on this evening was The Beatles. Bilk gave each of our boys bowler hats, which they happily wore. George would remember that this was “a major gig.” But it did have one little setback right from the beginning. In order to save the time and effort of bringing his whole drum set onto the boat, Pete asked if he could use Paramount Jazz Band’s drummer, Ron McKay’s set for the evening. McKay agreed, but Pete did not discover until it was time to start playing that the drum set was set up for a left-hander. Pete would say, “I frantically re-arranged them… [and] it was a great night as the cabin at the back of the stage was crammed with beer and we had a great drinking session with Acker and his band.”
There were reportedly strong winds that night, so the boat and all of the musical equipment rocked back and forth as they travelled through Liverpool Bay. Bernie Boyle, who was in attendance, put it this way: “People were drinking and smoking and eating fish and chips and puking – it was an unbelievable night.” As for The Beatles’ performance, Bilk would say, succinctly, “They wore black leathers and I liked the tunes they played.” So all in all, a good evening!
A Sad Story
This story is not without its tragedy. And that tragedy involves the fate of the ferry itself, the MV Royal Iris. The boat was originally put into service in May of 1951. It was owned by the Wallasey Corporation and was used both for cruises and as a ferry ‘cross the Mersey (maybe someone would write a song with that title. I’m looking at you, Gerry Marsden (RIP)). It carried about 2300 people as a ferry, and featured a tea room, a cocktail bar, and a fish and chip saloon. In fact, the MV Royal Iris was locally known as the “Fish and Chip Boat.” On Riverboat Shuffle nights, the stage and dancefloor were opened up and the capacity at these parties was about 1000. The Beatles ultimately played on the Royal Iris four times between 1961 and 1962. On the last, in September of 1962, they were the headline act.
Plenty of other recognizable names played shows at various times on the Royal Iris, including Gerry and the Pacemakers (go figure…), Duke Duval, and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. And there were plenty of guests who set foot upon the “fish and chips boat”, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on their Silver Jubilee Mersey Review in 1977.
In 1991, the MV Royal Iris was taken out of service and sold to a group with plans to turn it into a floating nightclub. Then, in 1993, it was sold again to a group that wanted to use it for the same purpose in Cardiff. Unfortunately, the Cardiff Council rejected the plan. It becomes somewhat murky what the exact dates were after that. There were at least two attempts, in 1996 and 2010, to put the vessel back into service on the Mersey, but at some point, possibly in 2002, the Royal Iris was towed to Woolwich, London, on the River Thames. This is where it remains to this day, derelict and quite possibly beyond the point of repair.
In 2010, the last known owner, James Jegende, said that his plans to refurbish the vessel had stalled, but that he had no intention to sell. Despite petitions and offers to buy the ferry, Jegende has remained silent for a decade, including not replying to an inquiry from the Liverpool Echo this past January, 2021. I have thought very hard about turning all of my attention towards saving the Royal Iris, but being in the US and with nowhere near the resources that have been put towards failed efforts in the past, it seems likely that the next destination for the MV Royal Iris, whenever that day comes, will be the scrapyard. And I can’t help but to be saddened by that idea.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles’ first fan club! As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Spencer Leigh for his The Cavern. Special thanks to https://mentalitch.com/abandoned-london-mv-royal-iris/. And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and upvote the post at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The Man With the Big Cigar
In his 1968 authorized biography of The Beatles, Hunter Davies stated that in the summer of 1961, The Beatles “were getting more and more depressed with their lack of progress.” Yes, they were playing several daytime shows every week along with evening shows almost every day. But it was always the same clubs, over and over again, and basically only in Liverpool. They were aware that there would be more doors to open if they were to set their sights on London, and John even said in 1970 that London was “something we used to dream of.” But it was an intimidating idea to try to break into the showbiz capitol of the country with no experience in how to do it and no help.
They thought about putting together publicity stunts to get their name noticed. Paul would say in a 1964 press conference, “We were trying to think of them, because we didn’t have a manager, so we’d just sit around, thinking of ones we could do. We were going to get one of us to jump in The Mersey and swim it…” John, incidentally, said he didn’t actually remember that one. Ha! But John did say, “We were always thinking we were better than whoever was famous, so why shouldn’t we be up there?...You always hope somebody will come along, we were always waiting for the man with the big cigar.”
Those men existed, but they were in intimidating London and didn’t care at all about Liverpool. The candidates they knew of in Liverpool just didn’t make the mark for one reason or another. Bob Wooler reportedly really wanted to manage The Beatles, but his own insecurities kept him from pursuing the job. Wooler would say that “Ray McFall, Bill Harry, and Sam Leach all toyed with the idea of managing them…[but McFall] wouldn’t have tolerated their behavior…Bill Harry was too preoccupied with Mersey Beat…and I think they would have fallen out with Sam.”
John made an interesting comment in 1965 about The Beatles’ struggles to find a manager. He told Malcolm Searle, “Anybody that tried to manage us early on couldn’t get through to us – they’d last about a week and we’d say, ‘We’re not having you.”
What About Mona?
It almost seemed like too obvious a choice. Pete and Mona Best were already the ones taking care of all of The Beatles’ bookings. She was instrumental in both retrieving Paul’s and Pete’s equipment from Hamburg in December of 1960 and helped get them back there in April of 1961. She was running her own Casbah Promotions shows at venues such as St. John’s Hall in Tuebrook, usually featuring The Beatles. Their equipment was kept in her house. She had even made sure that Neil Aspinall had a van to drive them to their shows.
But according to Pete, Mona didn’t want to take on that kind of job. And according to Bob Wooler, without really explaining, “John, Paul, and George would never have allowed it.” which leaves us to wonder if “machismo” had something to do with it. Pete would say about his own role, “I didn’t consider myself to be manager of The Beatles, although I dealt with all our business matters. I was acting manager and it wouldn’t break my heart to shed the administrative load…”
So for a while, they just kept moving down the same path. At least they were making decent money. They assumed that their Hamburg recordings of “Ain’t She Sweet” and “Cry for a Shadow” would be released sometime soon. Their boredom would take a toll, however. The less they cared about the shows they were playing, the lazier they got, very often showing up late at the venues and otherwise acting unprofessionally. As Bob Wooler would put it, “Whoever took on The Beatles had to knuckle down to The Beatles – and the breed of person who will submit to that sort of control is rare.”
I imagine that most everyone reading this knows what would happen in another three months, when The Beatles would find themselves on the radar of Brian Epstein. And it was just in time. Venues and promoters largely started to give up on The Beatles. Paul found himself in contact with Peter Eckhorn to see when they might be able to return to Hamburg. By November, almost all of their appearances were at The Cavern or The Casbah. But as much as it may not have seemed like it, things were about to change…
Next week we’ll be talking about The MV Royal Iris, or as the people used to call it, The Fish and Chips Boat. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Hunter Davies for his Beatles Authorized Biography. Special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and upvote the post at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
“He was one of those people that clicked” - John Lennon
Neil Aspinall was born on October 13, 1941 in Prestatyn, Wales, to where his family had been evacuated from Liverpool due to air raids. His father was in the Royal Navy. He and his mother returned to Liverpool in 1942 and he ultimately ended up in school at the Liverpool Institute with Paul and George. When he first started working for The Beatles in 1961, he was paid £7 per week. This work was in addition to his full time job as a trainee in accountancy and bookkeeping courses in which he was enrolled. He was, at that point, Pete’s best friend and, in fact, lived with The Bests above The Casbah. He got along well with the others, especially John and George.
The Beatles were clearly in need of a driver/road manager considering how many shows they were playing in the Summer of 1961. Frank Garner, who worked as a bouncer at The Casbah and had spent some time as The Beatles’ driver, found that he couldn’t juggle the responsibilities any longer. So Pete asked Neil, “Why don’t you get yourself a van and cart us around?” According to Pete, Neil bought an “old banger” for £15. According to Mark Lewisohn, the van was actually £65 and was bought on a hire-to-purchase basis by Mona, since Nel (as they called him) was only 19.
The van was a maroon and grey Ford with several problems including a leaky radiator that required them to keep a bottle of water under the seat in case they needed it. Since Neil lived with The Bests, it was easy for him and Pete to load the van with drums and amplifiers and head to The Cavern or wherever The Beatles were playing and to bring it all back after the shows ended for the day. A nice arrangement. John, Paul, and George just carried their guitars and Neil would drive them home in the van as well. Now The Beatles were very often playing both lunchtime shows at The Cavern and evening shows at other various venues. So Neil would be driving them around just about all day. I have yet to come across an explanation for how he was able to do that and still hold down his full-time job as an accountancy trainee, but it is what it is.
You might say that sometimes his driving duties should have come with hazard pay. One of my favorite stories from Neil involves what he would do in the very common instances when The Beatles would be playing at a venue that was not in the best of neighborhoods, such as Hambleton Hall, where they played seven times just in the second half of 1961. In a 2006 interview with Mark Lewisohn, Neil said, “…my trick at Hambleton Hall was to get a gang to help me [carry the gear into the hall], and in return I’d get them into the hall for nothing. Then if someone threatened us, these guys were on our side, right?” Sounds a lot like Paul making friends with the German gangsters in Hamburg when they wanted to sing on Amateur Night!
Another job Neil was stuck with came about because of the faulty electrical systems at The Cavern as well as the moisture caused by the lack of ventilation. He once told the story of how the condensation coming off of The Cavern’s brick walls would short out an amplifier. Neil would be responsible for fiddling with the wires, sometimes having to hold them in place until The Beatles finished playing a song. He must have really liked working for The Beatles. Despite these inauspicious beginnings, Neil Aspinall would work for The Beatles and ultimately Apple Corps for most of his life.
Neil, Mona, and Roag
The full nature of the relationship between Neil and Mona Best was a closely held secret. Their nearly eighteen year age difference, the fact that Neil was not yet 20 years old, and you might say especially the fact that Mona was technically still married, made for some raised eyebrows in early 1960s Liverpool. As much later as in 1985, when Pete Best and Peter Doncaster wrote The Pete Best Story, the specific details surrounding the relationship were not mentioned. I don’t feel like I need to know any details. That was their business and up to their family if they wanted to talk about it. Neil and Mona did not stay together forever, only for a few years, but they did, together, make a contribution that would have lasting effects on telling the stories of the early years of The Beatles.
Vincent “Roag” Best was born on July 21, 1962. Pete’s youngest half-brother would sometimes also use his father’s name and be known as Roag Aspinall Best, but these days is best known as simply Roag Best. Roag, with help from both of his half-brothers, Pete and Rory, fulfilled what Pete had said in his 1985 book, “It wouldn’t take long to clear The Casbah and restore it to its former glory.” To this day, you can visit The Casbah Coffee Club and take in the atmosphere of what it was like to be there in the early days. As I write this, the building is undergoing more renovations that will allow people to stay the night in the rooms in which The Beatles rehearsed and hung out. On my 2017 trip to Liverpool, Roag was my family’s guide and told us so many stories that I have been and will continue to put in this blog.
Roag also opened The Magical Beatles Museum on Mathew Street, very near The Cavern, in 2018. I was lucky enough to go there in 2019. The memorabilia on display is staggering. Roag has said that in addition to so many items that were in The Casbah itself back in the day, that when he was young his father would bring back items from tours, trips, and filming and he would collect them. He accumulated so many items that he ran out of places to store it all. The idea to start a museum began to develop.
I don’t want to get too far out of the scope of the 60 Years Project here, but be assured that the name Neil Aspinall is going to be with us throughout the rest of this journey, and I expect my indebtedness to Roag Best for his knowledge and promotion of The Beatles will continue to grow.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles’ search for a manager. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Special thanks to Jay Jay French’s article at https://www.goldminemag.com/articles/roag-best-and-his-magical-beatles-museum. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and upvote the post at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The Only Lunchtime Shows Left
Before The Beatles spent the Spring of 1961 back in Hamburg for their residency at The Top Ten Club, they played lunchtime shows at The Cavern Club, but they would also play some afternoons, slightly after lunchtime, at The Liverpool Jazz Society (formerly the Iron Door), shows that were put on by promoter Sam Leach. You may remember that on at least one occasion, possibly more, members of The Beatles played with members of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, including Ringo, as Rory Storm and the Wild Ones. Unfortunately, those LJS shows were no longer happening by Summer 1961, so the only place to play in the afternoon was The Cavern Club.
The timing worked fine for them. The lunchtime shows started at noon. Pete and Neil Aspinall (who we’re talking about next week!) would arrive in the van with drums and amplifiers at around 11am to start setting up. John, Paul, and George took separate buses from their homes, carrying their guitars, and rolled in around 11:30am to get themselves set up. After the shows ended at around 2pm, the van would be loaded back up unless they were playing again in the evening. If not at The Cavern, the gear would be transported to whatever club they would playing at that evening or else taken back to The Casbah if it was a free night.
Gathering A Following
The Beatles were playing just about every night and they were regularly featured at several venues including St. John’s Hall in Tuebrook, The Aintree Institute, Litherland Town Hall, Blair Hall, Holyoake Hall, and The Casbah Coffee Club, of course. But nowhere were they more present than at The Cavern, playing both lunchtime and evening shows several times per week. There were, in a sense, two lunchtime sessions, the first from 12:15pm until 1pm and the second from 1:10pm until 2pm. There was generally a larger crowd for the second half, but either way, most of the patrons had limited time and had to get back to work.
To a large degree, the same people came regularly. You might argue that since you could get a cheap lunch and hear some music, that The Cavern would be busy no matter who was playing, but the fact is, people were coming just to see The Beatles. There were typically 200-300 patrons on any given afternoon. As we’ve talked about before, The Beatles knew so many songs and were so wild and unpredictable that you would never see the same show twice. This was very much unlike other professional bands such as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, who basically played the same show every time. If you remember, last year we talked about how this led the German audience to prefer The Beatles to The Hurricanes when they were playing together at The Kaiserkeller, much to the dismay of Rory. I am sure that the same thing was helping The Beatles in Liverpool. Of course you should go see them over and over again, it’s always different!
The Downsides to The Cavern
Consider this a public service for those of you who, like me, never got to see The Beatles play at The Cavern and want to feel better about that… We talked last Fall about how bad The Beatles themselves tended to smell in Hamburg considering their long hours playing, their lack of a place to bathe or wash their clothes, and the smoke. Well, in the case of The Cavern, the smell just permeated the whole place. Once The Cavern started to fill up with customers for the lunchtime show, the fragrant aroma was made up of a combination of perspiration, hot dog steam, cigarette smoke, and the lovely addition of the smell from the toilets, of which there were three, plus one urinal, to accommodate the entire crowd. The “sewage system” basically just ran into the ground. Ventilation was not to be found. According to Bob Wooler, “ventilation was State of the Ark [a hilarious phrase that I am going to start using all the time!] and had packed it in long ago.” Cigarette smoke had nowhere to go. When he learned that the sewage system was also inadequate, he added, “My God, not only am I going to get TB, I’m going to get the plague as well.”
Then there was the fire risk. The Cavern was made a test case on tightening regulations after a fire at a club in Bolton, thirty miles away, had killed 19 people in May of 1961. As for the specifics at The Cavern, to start, the electrical system was not fantastic. As we mentioned before, sometimes George would have to fix fuses while John and Paul entertained the crowd. But there was not only that. There was no fire escape. In fact, there was only one way in and out. The information that was sent to the court looking at the test case stated that, “the only means of access is a doorway from Mathew Street, then along a passage 3 ft. 6 in. wide, through another door 2ft. 6in. wide, and then down 17 steps…[we are] extremely worried that the one staircase is utterly inadequate as a means of escape…”
So, everyone want to go back in time and head to The Cavern? Well, I still do, at least. To finish off the sobering thought about the fire danger, though the court found that The Cavern should have renovations, the issue wasn’t pressed because, as Mark Lewisohn put it, “it was felt that because the place was entirely stone, there was little that could catch fire.” Sound familiar? That was what Paul said about starting the fire at The Bambi Kino back in 1960! Ha!
Next week we’ll be talking about the importance of one Neil Aspinall to The Beatles equation. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and upvote the post at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Brian Epstein was pretty good at what he did. In July of 1961 he was running the Whitechapel, Liverpool location of his family’s Nems store. He had previously been in charge of the music department at the Great Charlotte Street, Liverpool location, and selling records was still near and dear to him. Epstein had made an unprecedented and unduplicated trade deal with EMI in London in 1960 through which Nems would receive a 2.5% discount on records if they exceeded £20,000 in sales over a year long period. Brian received a check for £564 at the end of the first twelve months, indicating sales numbers of £22,560. That would be over £515,000 or almost $715,000 today. He would also occasionally buy every copy of a single that he particularly liked so that Nems would be the only place anyone in and around Liverpool could buy it.
He did exactly that with Charlie Drake’s #12 UK hit, “Mr. Custer,” which happened to be produced by one George Martin.
Epstein had made such a name for himself as a retailer that the UK Gramophone Record Retailer’s Association (GRRA) invited him to become part of their regional operations. GRRA chairman Walter Woyda remembered that “Nems was comparable with the major retailers in the West End of London…[Epstein] was one of the most imaginative and successful retailers in the country.”
As we talked about a while back, in late April of 1961, Epstein was part of a group of British record dealers who spent three days in Germany, including time in Hamburg, as the guests of Deutsche Grammophon, who you will remember was the company The Beatles recorded “My Bonnie” for in June along with Tony Sheridan. Epstein had been invited because Nems was one of the company’s biggest British retailers, with active “continental music” sections in their stores. And you’ll probably remember the story of how Epstein went out one night with some of the younger participants on the trip and spent at least a few minutes at The Top Ten Club, blissfully unaware that the band on stage was made up of boys who would regularly spend time listening to and buying records in his shops back home in Liverpool, and oblivious to the fact that in just a few months, their names would become intertwined for the rest of history.
As we’ve talked about before, though he may not have matched the achievements of arch rival Norrie Paramor and his team of hit makers led by Cliff Richard, George Martin had been enjoying some success on the pop charts by the Summer of 1961. Matt Munro’s “My Kind of Girl” had hit the top 5 in the UK and the top 20 in the US, and The Temperance Seven had given Martin his first #1 song on the UK charts with “You’re Driving Me Crazy.” Around the time The Beatles returned to Liverpool from their residency at The Top Ten Club in Hamburg, “Pasadena,” The Temperance Seven’s follow-up single, was making it to #3 on the UK charts.
Since Martin’s success had cut across various genres (comedy, pop, and jazz), he was given free reign over what he would produce. And he definitely did not want to be tied down to one formulaic type of music. He would later say, “I’m a person who gets bored quite easily. I don’t like doing the same things over and over again.” It would not be unfair to say that his attitude was a perfect match for what The Beatles would record and how they would experiment all through their time together with Martin. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. There was another interesting project that Martin was working on during 1961 that would also fit that same narrative of experimenting with The Beatles.
Very simply, the idea of musique concrète was to use recorded sounds as the basis for making a musical composition. Pierre Schaeffer, who had worked with the Resistance Movement in French Radio during World War II, began “to construct music from concrete objects.” This meant using musical instruments and voices, but also naturally occurring sounds. Eventually, this also meant incorporating synthesizers and digital signal processing. The sounds were manipulated to form a montage that would intentionally hide the sources of those sounds. Standard ideas of meter, melody, pitch, and so on were ignored.
George Martin applied his talents to creating concrete music by treating instruments with sound processing that would create new sounds. He began playing with adjusting tape speeds, adding echoing effects, and even backwards recording (again, hopefully not to press this point too hard, all things that he and The Beatles would use constantly).
Maddalena Fagandini of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (the ones who gave us the theme from Doctor Who) had been recording “interval signals,” short, percussive, electronic sounds to be used between programs. Martin took one of these sounds and added a melody provided by studio musicians. The result was a piece called “Time Beat,” which was released as a single in 1962 under the name Ray Cathode. Publicity shots were taken of Martin standing next to a robot called, of course, Ray Cathode. Martin made the comment that, since the electronic music was reinforced by studio musicians, “we’re calling it […wait for it…] reinforced concrete music.”
Next week we’ll be talking about the Beatles at The Cavern Club during the Summer of 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Kenneth Womack for his Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin. Special thanks to Brian Kane for his Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice. And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and upvote the post at the bottom of the page. Most importantly, sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Silverman, Livermore, and Co.
On July 25, 1961, John, Paul, George, and Pete each received identical letters from Allan Williams’ lawyers. Williams’ claim was that each of the four owed him £2 per week for the thirteen weeks they had played at The Top Ten Club, for a total of £104 (about £1985 or $2730 today). He did not report the group to the Agents’ Association as he had earlier threatened, which lends evidence to The Beatles’ belief that Williams was not actually a member and therefore could not make a complaint. The true facts of that issue remain somewhat unclear.
What the letter did make clear is that Williams was prepared to take the four to court if necessary. The letter demanded payment within a week, and stated, “We have our client’s instructions to commence proceedings without further notice.” Interestingly, Stu did not receive a letter. It has been stated that he had sent Williams some money while The Beatles were still in Hamburg, but Paul has said that he thought that it was for some other amount that Stu owed Williams. Nevertheless, The Beatles did have to take some form of action.
Charles D. Munro
Cavern Club and Mersey Beat owner Ray McFall, upon hearing the story, suggested that The Beatles hire a lawyer named Charles D. Munro to argue their side of the case. Munro agreed to represent them for a £10 advance fee, and told them that it would be unnecessary for all four Beatles to be involved. One would do to make the case. That job fell upon Paul. Paul collected for Munro’s perusal, among other documents, Bruno Koschmider’s notice of termination of The Beatles at The Kaiserkeller, Peter Eckhorn’s contract for The Top Ten Club, the Hamburg Police letter laying out the conditions for lifting Paul’s and Pete’s deportation, and the letter Allan Williams sent to them when he was advised that no commission would be coming.
Paul wrote the first statement to tell their side of the story, in which he called The Beatles “a jazz group,” since Munro felt that it would be ineffective to use the words “rock and roll” in a legal document. The statement goes on to say that Paul and Pete were deported “without any explanation being given although there had been some trouble about a fire at the Kaiser Club.” I guess they weren’t that worried about perjury at that point… It continues that although Williams did help them by typing their deportation appeals letters, that no mention of any pay was ever made. It finishes by stating that they were quite ready to fight in court and that “we are not afraid of any bad publicity Mr. Williams may give us.”
Munro wrote his own letter to Williams’ lawyers with just as hard-hitting statements. In it, he stated that there was no contract between Williams and The Beatles, and then followed by pointing out “the most unbusinesslike and threatening letter written by Mr. Williams to the group, dated 20th April last. The terms in which the letter is written are bad enough; the fact that my clients are all minors makes them very much worse.” Remember, the age of majority at that time in the UK was 21.
Well, there really was no verdict. There was no response from Silverman, Livermore, and Co. for about a month, until Munro finally demanded one from them. That response, which came on August 16, 1961, simply said that Williams was in London and couldn’t be contacted. Munro wrote to Paul that “it may be a little time before I can let you have a report of any substance.” In fact, Williams would later remember that “The Beatles were brazening it out and I caved in.” He did ban The Beatles from his Blue Angel Club and The Jacaranda, but in December of 1961 Paul received a letter from Charles D. Munro stating that the case against The Beatles had lapsed. He even refunded Paul £2 13s of the original £10 payment.
We won’t really be hearing much more about Allan Williams at this point. His name will come up in passing, sometimes occasionally with the somewhat surprising information about how he still had some social interaction with The Beatles, like the time he went bowling with them while Stu was visiting. But his place in the story is set. He thought of himself, as the title of his later book would say, as the man who gave The Beatles away. And it wouldn’t be long now before he would warn Brian Epstein against working with them, insisting that “they’ll let you down.”
Next week we’ll be talking about what Brian Epstein and George Martin were up to during the Summer of 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And 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!
Students at The Liverpool College of Art would commonly relax and blow off steam at Ye Cracke, a charming little bar that you can still go to today. If you do go there, make sure you sit at the table under a plaque that commemorates “John Lennon’s Other Band (Which Never Played a Note)”. The “band” was made up of John and Stu along with two other Liverpool College of Art students, Rod Murray and Bill Harry. Legend has it that the four sat in Ye Cracke after watching a reading by poet Royston Ellis and decided that they would put Liverpool on the map, each in their own way, and they would be known as The Dissenters. I think we are all pretty aware of the contributions to that idea from John and Stu, otherwise you would likely not be reading this! Ha! Rod Murray would go on to be an artist, painting murals in venues like The Jacaranda. He was also apparently a very bad snooker player… But today we’re going to be talking in more detail about the fourth member, Bill Harry.
Before the second Hamburg trip and before The Beatles were banned from the place, John was sitting in The Jacaranda with Bill Harry when Harry told him that he had an idea for a newspaper. It would cover sports and entertainment and the name wasn’t so much about popular music alone (although it sure was a good choice for that), it was supposed to be evocative of a policeman walking his beat and noting everything that was going on. And so, Mersey Beat. During their conversation, Harry asked John if he would be interested in writing a piece about how The Beatles came up with their name. That piece, called “Being a Short Diversion On the Dubious Origins of Beatles,” would appear in the first issue of the newspaper.
That first issue took a few months to come out. First, Harry needed a partner and some money. The partner was Virginia Sowery, another Liverpool College of Art student who also happened to be Harry’s girlfriend and eventually his wife. The start-up money came from Jim Anderson, a businessman and acquaintance of Sam Leach, the promoter who would book The Beatles at his Operation Big Beat nights at The Tower Ballroom. Anderson found Harry a small office space and put up £50 (about £1140 or $1570 today).
More business decisions were to come around the time of the release of the first issue. Harry had to try to convince venues to carry the paper. They were not that enthusiastic. As Mark Lewisohn would put it, “threepence spent on the paper was threepence not spent on refreshments.” According to Brian Epstein’s diary, on June 20, 1961, Harry met with Epstein to discuss the idea of him taking a financial stake in Mersey Beat. Epstein declined, but did agree to place them for sale at Nems. Despite not taking part ownership, he would continue to play a role in the success of the paper, and we’ll be talking about that in the future. Enter Ray McFall. The owner of The Cavern was certainly interested in any well-done publication that would promote music in Merseyside. He would ultimately take chief financial responsibility for Mersey Beat, but was completely satisfied to stay in the background and to let Bill Harry act with full reign as editor. Virginia Harry would ultimately become co-editor.
July 6, 1961 – The First Issue
Mersey Beat Vol. 1 No. 1 was dated July 6 to July 20, 1961 and featured Gene Vincent on the cover (should have been July 19 so the second could be dated starting July 20, but you know, math…😉. Brian Epstein ordered 12 copies and had to re-order when they sold out (he would automatically order 144 copies of the second issue). Of course, the most enduring legacy of that first issue was the piece written by John with a little help from George, laying out those “dubious origins.” I will not print the entire text here, but it is very easily found all over the internet. In fact, I would recommend checking it out here: https://www.beatlesbible.com/people/bill-harry/2/.
A couple more interesting thoughts about this. First, in this first issue there was an article about a local singer who worked at The Cavern Club named Priscilla White. However, Bill Harry accidentally wrote, “Cilla Black is a Liverpool girl who is starting on the road to fame.” Cilla decided to keep it, so there was a second origin story of a name tied to the first issue of Mersey Beat. Second, and this is a topic that I will go into far more detail about in a few months, but to put this question in your head… It is a commonly told story that when Brian Epstein was asked if Nems had a copy of “My Bonnie,” that he had no idea who The Beatles were. Interesting, because not only was there the origin story in that first issue of Mersey Beat, but The Beatles would also be on the cover of the second issue, the one that Epstein ordered 144 copies of and put them on prominent display in his store. Curious…
Next week we’ll be talking about Allan Williams and his further attempts to get his commission money from The Beatles. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Joe Goodden and his beatlesbible.com. And 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 Day Off
Saturday was changeover day at Butlin’s Pwllheli. Most of the time, Ringo and the other members of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes would say goodbye to the departing campers and hello to the new arrivals, especially the nice, young, single women. But this was a special occasion. Ringo had officially turned 21 on Friday, July 7. The party was to take place on Saturday. Ringo jumped in his Ford Zodiac the morning of the 8th and headed back to Liverpool, about 100 miles away. The party itself was to be held at the family home on Admiral Grove, a very small house for the 64 guests (according to Ringo’s informal count) who arrived.
Present were the rest of The Hurricanes, of course, along with members of King Size Taylor and the Dominoes, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and The Big Three. Priscilla White (soon to be known as Cilla Black) brought her friend, Pat Davies. The two of them had become close friends of Ringo’s family and Ringo and Pat had been an item for several months. Ringo and Cilla performed a version of “Boys” as a duet after they couldn’t decide which one would get to sing it. They each regularly sang it at their shows. Rumor has it that Ringo had the performance recorded and retains the tape to this day, unheard by the general public.
So where were John, Paul, George, and Pete? According to Mark Lewisohn, there is “no known explanation” for why they weren’t there. They were clearly close friends with Ringo, and they were not playing a show that evening, so it’s quite a surprise. Lewisohn conjectures that maybe the invitations had missed them in the transition between Hamburg and Liverpool. Lewisohn also points out that George was in a position in which he hadn’t seen his mother, who had been on a trip to America during the first part of 1961, in eleven months upon returning from Hamburg, so maybe he had family obligations. Or there was the fact that he was trying (unsuccessfully) to keep up his relationship with Pauline Behan, who had been lured away by Gerry Marsden while The Beatles were in Hamburg. There is a suggestion that Paul and possibly John may have been on a hitchhiking trip, but no specific evidence exists to back that up. So who knows? Maybe someone should ask Paul. Ha!
Ringo’s Thoughts About The Hurricanes
According to Johnny Guitar’s diary, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes played 140 shows in the 142 days from January 1 to May 22, 1961. And only then did they head to Butlin’s for the summer. They certainly had the look. Rory in bright turquoise and The Hurricanes in red. As always, they basically played the same, very well-rehearsed and professional show every night. But for some reason, Rory didn’t wow the promoters, talent scouts, and agents such as Larry Parnes the previous year or the ones who would regularly come to Butlin’s camps, where there was a history of stars being discovered.
Most of The Hurricanes were content with what they had. They were playing almost every day and at least making a living. And there was no doubt that Butlin’s was a fun place to play and meet people. But Ringo wanted more. We’ll talk in a couple of months about his very serious plans to move to Houston, Texas, and a few months after that about his hiatus from The Hurricanes to spend some time playing with Tony Sheridan in Hamburg. But for now…
Things Could Have Been Very Different
Ringo had struck up a close friendship with Gerry and Fred Marsden during the first half of 1961. They lived near each other and would often go for drinks together. Of course the Marsden’s were doing pretty well themselves with their own band, Gerry and the Pacemakers. Gerry played lead guitar and Fred Played drums. Les Maguire would join in 1961 playing piano, and their second guitarist was Les Chadwick, who would play bass lines on his guitar. And so a plan was hatched.
It is unknown (but, you know, you could probably guess) just how much alcohol had been consumed, but apparently Gerry and Ringo posited the idea that Ringo should join The Pacemakers on bass guitar. Just to be sure, let me repeat that to ensure that you read it properly…Ringo should join The Pacemakers…on bass guitar. No matter that he had no idea how to play. Ringo like the idea of being up front. Of course, it didn’t happen in the end. Just think of how the story would have gone. Ringo was stolen away from Rory by…Gerry and the Pacemakers! And what would The Beatles have done?! Just a bit of nonsense…
There are two more things to say about this particular story. First, just for full disclosure’s sake, is that while Mark Lewisohn puts the year of this story as 1961, Michael Seth Starr (no relation) puts it in 1962. That could be the case. It is reported that it was 1962 when Les Chadwick switched completely over to bass guitar for The Pacemakers. Second, just as a funny point, I like to look at this story in the context of Ringo’s later song, “Early 1970,” in which he sings, “I don’t play bass ‘cuz it’s too hard for me.” Ha!
Next week we’ll be talking about the launch of Mersey Beat, the music publication started by Bill Harry. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Michael Seth Starr for his Ringo: With a Little Help. 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!
“I was pretty nasty to him on the last day, [but] I caught his eye on stage [and] he was crying. It was one of those feelings when you’re suddenly very close to someone.” - Paul McCartney
Overall, things had been a lot different, mostly a lot better, during The Beatles’ second Hamburg residency compared to the first. The accommodations were a little better and dealing with Peter Eckhorn was a lot easier than dealing with Bruno Koschmider. The Top Ten Club had a better stage and sound system than either The Indra or The Kaiserkeller. Instead of arrests and deportations, they had gotten a recording contract and were hopeful that a single would soon be coming out. The one downside, at least in the eyes of some of The Beatles, was the loss of Stu. But even that could be thought of as a positive. Stu was happy to return to his art and to be with Astrid, and musically, they were a much better group with Paul on bass guitar.
After that last Hamburg show, on July 1, 1961, The Beatles and the Exis, with the exception of Jürgen, who was in Paris, hung out together as usual before John, Paul, George, and Pete left for home. Astrid remembered that there were tears and requests for forgiveness that morning. Klaus asked John if he could come with them and become their bass player. Of course, that was not to be. It was already decided that Paul would fill that role. The Beatles were a foursome, only one change yet to come, but not for another year.
Stu’s departure from the band meant that some rearranging could be done with their gear. Stu sold his bass to Klaus, but gave George his Gibson Les Paul amplifier. This was good news for Paul, since his faithful Elpico amplifier was not powerful enough to handle a bass guitar. He was able to use the Selmer Truvoice amp that the band had bought the previous year and that had been used up to that point by George. John and Pete were fine the way they were, though curiously, there seemed to be no sign of the Watkins Westminster amplifier that they had borrowed from Sulca (The Student Union of the Liverpool College of Art) the previous Fall. John would eventually say that they sold it in Hamburg at some point.
The journey back to Liverpool was to be done by train and by boat. Their trip to the train station in Hamburg was apparently a boisterous one. Mark Lewisohn says that Ellen Piel, who was leaving on the same train as our boys, described The Beatles’ friends and bodyguards, the three Fascher brothers, as carrying The Beatles through the streets on their shoulders. Pete describes “a dozen or so weeping girl fans” insisting that The Beatles write to them. Some, he said, ran after the taxi that took them to the station, where Astrid and Stu waited for them with “food and Cokes and lemonade” for the trip.
They arrived home on the afternoon of Monday, July 3, tired and ready for a nearly two-week break. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of information about what our boys did with their time off, but you couldn’t blame them for wanting to relax with their families and girlfriends for a little while. The strange thing is that none of them attended Ringo’s 21st birthday party on Saturday, July 8, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes’ day off from Butlin’s. We’ll be talking in detail about that party next week, but for now suffice to say that 60 to 70 people were present, including Cilla Black and members of The Hurricanes, Pacemakers, Dominoes, and The Big Three, but none of The Beatles.
The first show scheduled in Liverpool after their return was not until July 13, at St. John’s Hall in Tuebrook. By the following day they would be back at The Cavern and their schedule of playing as many as ten shows per week was back in full swing, for the time being. The pay was getting better as well. Before going back to Hamburg, The Beatles were generally being paid between £5 and £10 total per show (£10 would be about £190 or $260 today). John’s Aunt Mimi would complain, “Here he was at nearly 21-years old…touting round stupid halls for £3 per night. Early in 1961, he hadn’t even made that much…
But now, Pete and Mona Best had some leverage. The Beatles were the top band in Liverpool (a title they would be “officially” given by Mersey Beat in the next year). For the July 13 St. John’s Hall show in Tuebrook, Mona got them a staggering £20 total. Pete would say that though there were some promoters who said they wouldn’t book The Beatles at that price, “when the protesting promoters realized how many customers we could now draw there was no more holding back and we were paid the sum we asked.” On a typical week during the summer of 1961 they would play three lunchtime sessions and two evening sessions at The Cavern, one night per week at The Casbah, one or two nights per week for Brian Kelly’s Beekay Promotions, and two nights per week for Wally Hill Promotions. On a good week, EACH of the four members could pocket as much as £35 (around £670 or $920 today). There would be some changes over the next few months, but for now, things were looking up.
Next week we’ll be talking about Ringo’s 21st birthday and thoughts about his future with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And 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!