New Year’s Eve 1961
Snow. The AA (kind of like AAA in the States) called it “the most disastrous start to a new year we can ever remember.” Brian Epstein had hired a bigger van than Neil Aspinall’s for the trip, but Neil would still take the wheel carrying all four Beatles to London. It took eleven hours. Pete said that Brian drove his own car to London, though Mark Lewisohn reported that Epstein took the train. In any case, the boys arrived at The Royal Hotel on Woburn Place at around 10pm and set out to find something to eat and drink, window shop, and head to Trafalgar Square for New Year’s celebrations. They didn’t stay out too late since they had to be at West Hampstead Studio before 10am for what they were sure promised to be the most important day of their careers, the day they would get signed to a recording contract.
Decca’s Mike Smith was on the label’s A&R team and reported to Dick Rowe. He had seen The Beatles perform at The Cavern on December 13 and arranged with Brian Epstein to set up the official audition. Importantly, this meant that The Beatles had passed the first test. They had already proven that they were a capable live band. Now they would have to prove that they could handle themselves in the studio. And this studio wasn’t like the ones they had been in before, such as Percy Phillips’ living room where The Quarrymen recorded “In Spite of All the Danger,” or even the school auditorium outside of Hamburg where they had recorded “My Bonnie.” Decca was surpassed in stature and facilities only by EMI, and there was talk that EMI would soon be buying the smaller label.
New Year’s Day 1962
Smith, all of 26 years old, ran the session assisted by 20-year old engineer Mike Savage. The Beatles used the studio’s amplifiers and Pete’s drum set was set up behind screens so that their sound wouldn’t overpower the other instrument and vocal microphones. Though some sources suggest that the song list was written by Brian Epstein, John would later say that they basically just played the songs they typically played at The Cavern. Mark Lewisohn has suggested that if there was any additional thought put into the song list, decisions could have been made to demonstrate The Beatles’ versatility in terms of song styles, as well as to show that John, Paul, and George were all accomplished singers.
Fifteen songs were recorded. Eight of them were standards that they had been playing regularly, and ranged from current hits to classics: “To Know Her is to Love Her,” “Memphis, Tennessee,” “Sure to Fall,” “Crying, Waiting, Hoping,” “Money,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “’Til There Was You,” and “September in the Rain.” Four were more humorous, or were at least played that way: “Searchin’,” “Three Cool Cats,” “Besame Mucho,” and “The Sheik of Araby.” And three were Lennon/McCartney originals, Paul’s “Like Dreamers Do” and “Love of the Loved” and John’s “Hello Little Girl.”
Over the years there has been a lot of agreement that The Beatles were extremely nervous about performing in this unfamiliar way. Neil Aspinall would say “They were pretty frightened. Paul couldn’t sing one song. He was too nervous and his voice started cracking up.” Pete was somewhat more optimistic: “Our nervousness showed during some of the takes…but we ploughed on…giving it our best.” Mark Lewisohn pulled no punches in his assessment of the performance. Paul would over-enunciate words. John went back and forth between belting out too much and being too timid, and at one point his nerves led him to yell at Brian Epstein about staying out of musical decisions. George sang well but stumbled on some of his solos. Pete played the same rhythm on every song and his tempo was erratic. Mike Savage would later say that “if Decca was going to sign The Beatles, we wouldn’t have used Pete Best on the records.”
Mercifully, those negative thoughts about the performance didn’t seem to have manifested themselves at the time. Pete remembered that “Mike Smith said the tapes were terrific.” He went on to say that both Smith and Brian were “extremely happy with the way the session had gone…everybody was in high spirits, convinced that the audition had been a great success and that stardom was lurking just around the corner, and no one was more jubilant than Brian.”
Well, the decision wouldn’t come for a few weeks. Mike Smith could make decisions about who to audition, but he still needed to consult with department head, Dick Rowe, to sign any contracts. And Rowe was busy. He was heading to the United States to try to pick up on what trends were starting in America and might therefore begin to trend soon in the UK. The Beatles would head back to Liverpool to get back to their usual schedule, starting with The Cavern on January 3. And they would wait. A month or so later, Dick Rowe would communicate with Brian and out would come the words that solidified his place in history. We’ll be talking in a few weeks about that and about the surprising and often unspoken set of circumstances that led to Rowe and Decca defining their future relationship with The Beatles.
Next week we’ll have our annual preview of the coming year, in this case, 1962! 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. Special thanks to Hunter Davies for his The Beatles. And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
John, Paul, George, and Ringo
It was time for The Beatles X-Mas Party, Wednesday, December 27, 1961 at The Cavern Club. Also appearing on the coldest night in Liverpool in eleven years were Gerry and the Pacemakers as well as Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes. Who wasn’t appearing that night was Pete Best, who had called in sick. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had the night off so Ringo was free. He may have even been at The Cavern Club to see the show, but that’s not definitively known. In any case, instead of asking Fred Marsden of The Pacemakers or Dave Lovelady of The Dominoes to sit in, they asked Ringo. Legend has it that Pete often called in sick and that Ringo was regularly asked to be the substitute, but dates have not really been pinned down so it is unknown how many times it happened or even if this night may have been the first time the Fab Four played together as a group in front of an audience.
One thing is known for sure. John, Paul, and especially George had become great friends with Ringo starting with their time playing alternating sets at The Kaiserkeller in the Fall of 1960. And they spent a lot of social time together after shows at which they had both played, and often hanging out at Rory Storm’s house, Hurricaneville. George would say in 1998 that “[when Ringo] sat in with us it felt complete…after the shows we were all friends with Ringo and we liked him a lot and hung out with him, whereas Pete – he was like a loner. He would just finish the gig and then he would go.” According to Ringo, this scenario played out a few times in 1962. He would be called and picked up by Brian Epstein to fill in for the sick Pete. We’ll get to that…
Three days after the Christmas show, Ringo quit Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. He would later say about playing with the group, “I thought I had done everything our band could do at the time. We were just repeating ourselves.” His plans to move to Houston, Texas in the good old USA had fizzled out when he realized just how complicated the immigration process was. “[The forms] were ridiculous, too crazy to bother with, so we ripped them apart and said, ‘Sod it!’” He had also turned down an offer to join Derry and the Seniors, but he wouldn’t refuse Tony Sheridan’s offer to bring him to Hamburg to join his backing band.
Aside: Ever since the June 1961 recording sessions with The Beatles, Sheridan had taken to always calling his backing band The Beat Brothers, as The Beatles had been credited on the “My Bonnie” single. This gave the impression, though there were rotating members of the group, that there was something stable to them. It’s funny to think that in this way, Ringo was a member of The Beat Brothers just as John, Paul, and George had been the previous summer and on a record label.
Eckhorn and Sheridan
Right after Christmas, Top Ten Club owner Peter Eckhorn and Tony Sheridan paid a visit to Liverpool. They each had their reasons. Eckhorn wanted to talk to The Beatles about a return trip to Hamburg. Instead of dealing with Allan Williams, he would have to talk to Brian Epstein. They tentatively agreed upon a one to two month residency starting in March of 1962. Tony Sheridan was looking for a drummer. He first asked Fred Marsden. But Marsden wasn’t prepared to leave his brother, Gerry, and the Pacemakers, so they sought out Ringo. Ringo said, “Okay.” Eckhorn, Sheridan, and Ringo took the train to London and then flew out to Hamburg (Ringo’s first-ever flight).
The arrangement didn’t work out as smoothly as Ringo likely would have wanted it to. He didn’t really care for Sheridan’s antics and temper. According to Michael Seth Starr, Ringo “quickly grew frustrated with Sheridan’s habit of changing songs mid-tune – particularly alarming for a drummer.” He would also get into fights with audience members, especially when he thought they were getting too close to his girlfriend, Rosi. After about six weeks, Ringo headed back to Liverpool. Rory Storm was thrilled to have Ringo back, and his temporary replacement, Derek Fall of the Blackpool band, The Executioners, was sent back home. Things were back to “normal” for Ringo. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes would play the same old places for the next few months before heading to another Butlin’s Summer Camp. Then, in August, Ringo would get an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles’ audition for Decca Records. 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. And thanks to you for reading this! We really do appreciate it. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
Things were definitely getting started. The contract itself was made from a sample one that Brian Epstein had sent away for. He was appalled by the terms of the sample, “an inhuman document providing simply for the enslavement of any artiste eager and gullible enough…” It was modified to become a more fair document and it was signed by all, with Alistair Taylor serving as witness to the signature of the three Beatles who were still under 21. Well, I should say, almost all. Brian himself didn’t sign the document (it wasn’t the only time that would happen). No particular reason was suggested by Brian, but Pete thought that it may have been because he feared the responsibility if something went wrong.
Brian’s initial priority was to attract representatives from the big London record companies to come see The Beatles play. In order to do that, he felt he needed some ammunition. He set up a meeting with Graham Pauncefort, an assistant manager of the British office of Deutsche Grammophon, who happened to be visiting Liverpool on December 5. Pauncefort was already a friend of Brian’s and had been present during the visit to Hamburg by British retailers the previous Spring. He was able to convince his superiors that it would be a good idea to release “My Bonnie” in the UK. The date was set for January 5, 1962.
With the date set, Brian sent a letter to Ron White at EMI informing him of the release. He told White that Deutsche Grammophon felt that the release “will be worth summoning all the efforts and promotional activities that DG can muster in this country.” Possibly the most important thing that was accomplished in his talks with Pauncefort, and very important in trying to sell The Beatles to UK labels, was that the release would go out under the name “Tony Sheridan and The Beatles,” as opposed to “The Beat Brothers.”
Brian then contacted Decca, since he enjoyed his best relationship with the sales people there among all of the companies. On Wednesday, December 13, 1961, Mike Smith from Decca came to The Cavern. Brian took him to dinner, timing it perfectly so that they would miss seeing the performance of Gerry and the Pacemakers, who he feared Smith might like enough to distract him from The Beatles. By all accounts, Smith liked The Beatles very much and was able to arrange an audition for the group in London on January 1, 1962. As Pete would say, “It was some way to start a New Year.”
The Decca news resulted in a second letter to Ron White at EMI. He told White he was disappointed that he had not yet heard back from him, after about a week. And, of course, to instill a sense of urgency, he wanted White to know that Decca was coming to see The Beatles. He wrote, “As you may appreciate, if we could choose, it would certainly be EMI.” He also stressed the point that there were publishing rights to be had since The Beatles “played mostly their own compositions.” Just a bit of an exaggeration. But he followed that with, “one of the boys has written a song which I really believe to be the hottest material since ‘Living Doll.’” Ha!
Starting to Change the Image
Much has been said over the years about how Brian Epstein made The Beatles start wearing suits (though remember, before they started wearing leather, they regularly wore jackets). But that wasn’t first on the agenda. His first directive, which was not given as an order but as a polite suggestion, was, according to Mark Lewisohn, “If they really did want to get somewhere they had to stop eating, drinking, smoking, and cussing on stage and start to put a little more care in their presentation – and, above all else, they had to turn up for bookings on time.” Evidence that clothes were not yet on Brian’s mind could be found in the photo session that he had set up for December 17, 1961.
The First Official Photos
Brian liked Jürgen Vollmer’s photos that The Beatles had been using, but there was a problem. They included Stu, and Pete wasn’t in very many of them. He sent The Beatles to Wallasey, to the studio of wedding photographer Albert Marrion. Marrion instructed them to keep a straight face and look right into the camera. They were looking their dour best in their leathers. Brian requested a quick turnaround so that he could choose the one shot that could be used for publicity. You’ve seen it.
The year was coming to an end. And it was pretty much all they could have imagined. Their playing was at its peak. They had a real manager. They had a single coming out. And they had their first real interest from UK record companies. It would all be smooth sailing for all four Beatles from here, right?
Next week we’ll be talking about how Ringo finished out 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Brian Epstein for his A Cellarful of Noise. Thanks also 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! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
Last week we talked about the problems with The Beatles’ show at The Palais Ballroom in Aldershot on December 9, 1961 that had been put together by promoter Sam Leach. In the course of putting together the Beatles60 podcast about the show (coming soon to a podcast outlet near you!), some new information came to light.
When Sam Leach, driver Terry McCann, and The Beatles showed up at the venue in Aldershot, the flyers that McCann had put up the previous week to announce the show had been taken down. In addition, the ad that Leach had put into the Aldershot News had never run. Because of this lack of promotion, no one showed up to see the show. To add insult to injury, the other band scheduled for the evening, Ivor Jay and The Jaywalkers, also didn’t show up. There had been some mystery as to why all of these things happened.
The common stories about the ad are that either Leach’s check to the newspaper bounced or that the Aldershot News required first-time advertisers to pay in full, and that they couldn’t reach Sam Leach to tell him that fact because he hadn’t left any contact information. He actually had no phone and his business was generally conducted on pay phones. One more alternative story was presented to the Beatles60 Facebook site by Bill Molloy, who worked with photographer Dick Matthews, who took several photos that evening. He said that Leach was expecting the paper to send Leach an invoice.
Leach himself, in an interview with Beatles historian David Bedford, said that he was told by Alan Hope, a member of Screaming Lord Sutch’s band, that their group was playing a show nearby and had torn down all of the flyers. In addition, they had called the newspaper to cancel the ad, and even called Ivor Jay and the Jaywalkers and told them that the show had been cancelled. It was sabotage.
London and Home
If you remember from last week’s blog post, there was a question about where The Beatles headed after finishing up in Aldershot. To London, that much is sure. But either the Blue Gardenia Club or the All-Nighter Club. Leach had said that it was the latter, and that at some point John and Paul took the stage. Terry McCann at one point took the other side, and said that it was most certainly the Blue Gardenia and that all four Beatles played. Interestingly, David Bedford has said that the two names actually refer to the same club. It was The Blue Gardenia during regular hours and became the All-Nighter Club after midnight. McCann would tell Bedford in that same interview mentioned above that only George went onstage, thereby contradicting his own earlier story.
Sometime around 3am it was time for The Beatles to head back to Liverpool. But the van was out of gas. Last week we saw competing stories from McCann, saying he had an emergency £5 note, and therefore crisis averted. Leach had claimed that they actually siphoned gas from other cars. Very naughty. But McCann ultimately told David Bedford a different story. Someone among them, maybe all of them, he doesn’t say, knew how to manipulate a pump at a closed station in order to get the petrol flowing. McCann said that it was John who did it.
That’s basically it for information that hadn’t made it in last week. They did make it back to Liverpool very late, likely in the afternoon sometime. And they were so late that evening to their Hambleton Hall show that they only played for fifteen minutes, but were paid in full anyway. Brian Epstein made it up to the promoters, Wally Hill and Vic Anton, by scheduling a show for January at which The Beatles would perform for free. Back now, to our regularly scheduled blog posts.
Tomorrow’s post will be all about Brian Epstein’s early work trying to get exposure for The Beatles. Thanks to David Bedford for his interview with Terry McCann, which can be found at https://davidabedford.com/rare-beatles-interview-terry-mccann-and-the-beatles-in-aldershot/. More thanks to Gary James for his interview with Sam Leach, which can be found at http://www.classicbands.com/SamLeachInterview.html. 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! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
Promoter Sam Leach liked big shows. He ran shows at The Cassanova Club and at the Iron Door (which operated as the Liverpool Jazz Society or LJS). Those were good and hundreds of people would be in attendance, but he wanted even more. On March 11, 1961, he had put on a show called “Rock Around the Clock All Night Ball” at LJS. It ran from 8pm until 8am and featured twelve groups including The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and The Big Three to name a few. In the Fall of 1961, Leach began putting together the “Operation Big Beat” shows at The Tower Ballroom in New Brighton, Wallasey. The Beatles were featured prominently at these shows, which would apparently bring in as many as 3000 people. Leach liked The Beatles very much and even considered the idea of becoming their manager at one point. Bob Wooler, without a specific reason given, felt that they would not have gotten along in that type of relationship.
Setting Up the Show
Though Leach had not ended up managing The Beatles (there is no indication that the idea was ever actually seriously considered), he did want to do what he could to help their career. And he felt that it would be a good idea for the group to play in London, since his experience was that it was hard to convince London record company executives to travel all the way to Liverpool to see a band. Leach fixed a specific date of December 9, 1961 with The Beatles before he actually booked a venue, and found that it was difficult to find a location that had availability.
Leach ended up booking several Saturdays, beginning with December 9, at The Palais Ballroom in Aldershot, about 40 miles southwest of London and 230 miles south of Liverpool. He also invited, by his count, about ten London record executives, with “we’ll see, maybe I’ll come” being about the best response he was able to get (they didn’t come). The show was advertised on posters as “Liverpool vs. London Battle of the Bands,” listing The Beatles and from London, Ivor Jay and the Jaywalkers. “Two other groups” were promised, though it is unclear if and unlikely that Leach ever booked anyone else.
Nightmare at The Palais
Neil Aspinall didn’t drive on this occasion and Brian Epstein had no interest in going at all. Not only did he think it was an ill-advised idea, he didn’t fancy spending time in Aldershot, where he had been stationed during his National Service. Leach hired a driver to take him to Aldershot and asked his friend, Terry McCann, to drive a van containing The Beatles and their equipment. It was a nine hour drive with no highways, according to Mark Lewisohn. They arrived in Aldershot to discover that their posters had been removed and that a planned newspaper advertisement had not appeared, apparently because the Aldershot News required a cash payment and Leach had sent a check.
Ivor and the Jaywalkers didn’t show up, and neither did “two other groups.” And to add insult to injury, no one showed up to see the show. By going around to local pubs and coffee bars, they were able to get a few people to come to the show. History records the number as eighteen. To their credit, The Beatles did play. For how long is up for debate. According to Paul in 1987, they played an entire 4-hour show, from 7:30pm until 11:30pm, “We did our whole thing for about twelve people.” Terry McCann remembered that they only played until 9:30pm, at which point Sam Leach brought in bottles of Watney’s brown ale. Interestingly, Dick Matthews, a friend of Leach, took several photographs of the evening, as you can see. Quite an inauspicious evening to be captured for posterity…
Oh, It’s Not Over Yet
The Beatles had no place to go after the show, so they stayed at The Palais, drinking and playing with a set of bingo balls. The police arrived at around 1am and told them it was time to go. So they packed up and headed…into London. Maybe. Mark Lewisohn casts much doubt on the commonly told story, citing a lack of evidence about what actually happened. But here’s the way it has been told: Sam Leach says that they headed to the All-Nighter Club, Wardour Street, London. Terry McCann says it was The Blue Gardenia Club, which was operated by Brian Cassar, formerly of Cass and the Cassanovas (now The Big Three without him).
If we accept the All-Nighter Club story from Leach, at some point John and Paul took the stage for a few numbers, a Nerk Twins revival. The Blue Gardenia version says that The Beatles all took the stage. Either way, they stayed until about 3am, at which point the trip home started. Nine plus more hours on the road, including the van running out of gas. McCann said he was able to get gas with an emergency £5 note he had kept. Leach said McCann siphoned gas from other cars. These guys really should have gotten their stories straight! In any case, they arrived back in Liverpool around mid-day on the 10th. Or was it later?
On Sunday, December 10, The Beatles were scheduled to play at Hambleton Hall, Huyton, Liverpool. For whatever reason, the trip back from London taking too long or them just being too tired to get going, they arrived at the venue so late that they could only play for fifteen minutes. And by that time, so the story goes, the crowd was once again down to about eighteen people. They were paid their full £15 for the performance, but only played there one more time, five weeks later, and they played for free to make up for the error. It was Brian Epstein, embarrassed by The Beatles’ behavior, who arranged that show. They likely wouldn’t have done it on their own, possibly underlining the prospect that they really did need a proper manager, and Epstein had arrived just in time.
Next week we’ll be talking about Brian Epstein’s early progress as the manager of The Beatles. 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. Special thanks to Joe Goodden for his https://www.beatlesbible.com/1961/12/09/live-palais-ballroom-aldershot/. 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! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
John didn’t care if Mimi was in favor of Brian Epstein or not. That was nothing new, he never really cared or went along with what she thought. But now he was 21, so it mattered even less. According to Pete, all of the other Beatle parents were on board. Of course, a subject that needed to be addressed was that Pete and Mona really had been acting as close to managers as anyone else. It was their hard work that resulted in the number of shows The Beatles were playing. Pete says that Mona knew that it was time to step aside, and she said about Epstein “He was so keen and full of enthusiasm. He was also young and certainly seemed to be the type of who could do something for The Beatles. I had tried to help them as much as I could along the way and perhaps now he might be able to push them along further. I could see nothing but stardom ahead for the group.”
Paul said that Jim McCartney was all for Brian, though he expressed it in a way that played off of the ages old stereotype, “he thought Jewish people had a flair for money.” He meant it as a compliment, but it still maintains somewhat of a cringe element. Interestingly, despite his father’s approval, in a couple of interviews in the 1970s, John cast some doubt on whether or not Paul himself was actually on board. He said, “Three of us chose Epstein. [Paul] wasn’t that keen on [Brian], he’s more conservative, the way he approaches things. He even says that. It’s nothing he denies.” Though not mentioning Epstein specifically, but in a more general way, Paul would say in a 1990 interview regarding John’s tendency to just dive right into things, “John always had a strong instinct to do that, but it’s not my personality.” December 3, 1961 Now everyone can decide for themselves whether they think that Paul’s attitude entered into this part of the story, but either way, a meeting at Nems was schedule for 4:30pm on Sunday,
December 3, 1961.
The Beatles would be playing their home base, The Casbah Coffee Club, that evening. But when meeting time came, only three Beatles arrived. They waited for Paul for 45 minutes before Epstein asked George to call him at his Forthlin Road home. George reported that Paul had just gotten out of bed (at 5pm!) and was in the bath. Epstein remembered becoming particularly angry, as punctuality was a trait he expected from people. “I shouted a bit, and I thought, ‘This is very disgraceful indeed!’ [harsh words for Mr. Epstein!]” The tension was broken by George, who had the tendency to be able to do just that: “Well, he may be late, but he’s very clean.”
Paul eventually arrived, likely close to an hour and a half late, and Brian was able to explain what he had been doing, namely, that he had been in touch with both EMI and Decca to try to arrange auditions. He had not yet managed to contact Bert Kaempfert to discuss the details of their German recording contract, but that was on the way.
They discussed the pay that they were receiving at the various venues they were playing. Epstein was surprised by how little he believed it to be. He later said, “I hoped that even if I were not to run their affairs completely I could at least secure a decent rate for their performances.” If they were to take him on, he would arrange a private meeting with Pete so that they could discuss bookings and so Epstein could take over those responsibilities. He would also meet with Keith Smith, the accountant The Beatles had been using, to learn about their finances. But first, the biggest priority would be working on a recording contract and getting them into a photo shoot to get some publicity photos.
You Do What?
Until 1961, The Beatles only rarely played any original songs, and mostly only at The Cavern Club. More recently, they had finally decided to do them everywhere. The most commonly played ones were “Like Dreamers Do,” “Cry For a Shadow,” Hello Little Girl,” and “Love of the Loved.” When Brian Epstein realized that these songs were originals, he lit up. It was rare that artists in the UK played their own material. It could be (and in the end it actually was) a primary point in making his case to London record companies and he immediately began to share that information.
It’s not crystal clear when The Beatles gave Brian Epstein a definitive answer as to whether they would take him on as manager, but it did happen around this time. Epstein had already been working as if he were manager anyway, and it was clear that The Beatles were impressed. In John’s words in 1970, “We certainly weren’t naïve. We were no more naïve than he was. It was a mutual deal. You want to manage us? Okay, we’ll let you. We allow you to. We weren’t picked up off the street, we allowed him to take us.” Epstein said in his autobiography that what John actually said at the time was, “Right then, Brian. Manage us now. Where’s the contract? I’ll sign it.”
Next week we’ll be talking about an ill-fated plan by promoter Sam Leach to show off The Beatles in London. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Brian Epstein for his A Cellarful of Noise. Thanks also 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! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
November 29, 1961
It has been most commonly suggested that Brian Epstein and The Beatles arranged to meet at Nems on December 3, 1961. This arrangement had been made when Epstein went to The Cavern on November 9. And they did meet on that day. But in whichever way it was arranged, apparently the first sit-down meeting between The Beatles and Epstein took place on Wednesday, November 29, 1961.
By this time, Nems had received 25 copies of “My Bonnie” from Deutsche Grammophon. After setting aside the copies for Raymond Jones and two other people who had already ordered it as well as keeping five for Epstein’s own use, they were put on sale with, according to his assistant Alistair Taylor, “a notice in the window of Nems saying BEATLES RECORD AVAILABLE HERE.” Taylor continued, “literally within hours we had sold out, so we rang up and I think ordered another fifty.” Epstein himself said, “In the intervening days I sold over 100 copies of “My Bonnie” and after the initial success, sales snowballed and the record went quite well for a first effort in a provincial city.”
Epstein, in his autobiography, doesn’t mention the November 29 meeting. He goes straight to December 3. Of course, that doesn’t mean the first date didn’t happen. Mark Lewisohn goes into detail about that first meeting. The Beatles had played a lunchtime show at The Cavern Club and were going to play there again in the evening. The meeting was placed in between the two, but there was still time after the lunchtime show for The Beatles and Bob Wooler to head over to The Grapes Pub. They overstayed their pub visit a bit, and as Lewisohn put it, The Beatles turned up for the meeting “late and lubricated.” Wooler made formal introductions, which had previously been lacking, and Epstein got down to business.
Epstein came right out and asked about The Beatles’ management arrangements. It was likely the first time that it was confirmed in the minds of our boys that this was what he had in mind. They described their basic lack of management, mentioning Allan Williams and the fact that Pete and Mona Best did their bookings. Epstein also asked them about how “My Bonnie” had come about. He told them that he had made some inquiries already about trying to get the group an audition with British record companies, but he had to know the extent to which they were under contract with Bert Kaempfert.
He was completely up front with them. He told them that he had no actual experience managing a band, but he was determined that if they agreed it would be a partnership, that he welcome and expect their input and it would in no way be a dictatorial arrangement. Bob Wooler would say that the end of the meeting that the management idea was left with them agreeing to get to know each other. “If you like me and I like you and we can get on, well okay, we’ll clinch it.” According to Pete Best, John left the meeting with a “We’ll let you know.” They finalized a next meeting for Sunday, December 3, at which point Epstein hoped to have some answers regarding possible auditions.
The Next Few Days
The Beatles definitely didn’t want to betray their cool, leather-bound exteriors. But there is no doubt that there was a level of excitement about this meeting that they had not enjoyed when talking to Nigel Walley or Allan Williams or Jennifer Dawes and Maureen O’Shea about managing them. George said, “See the suit he’d got on?” Pete said someone else chimed in, “And the shiny shoes!” Pete continued that “we all agreed he was a bit ‘antwakky,’ a bit of Liverpool dialect that meant Mr. Epstein was pretty out of step as far as we were concerned.” But, as Mark Lewisohn would put it, “he had London connections, knew the record business, and had money, which meant he knew both how to make it and how to hang on to it.” Or as John would so eloquently say to promoter Sam Leach, “He’s a [bleeping] millionaire!” 😉
Brian Epstein wasn’t neglecting his due diligence. He would have to figure out exactly what to do about Bert Kaempfert. That was on the agenda. But locally, he went to visit Allan Williams at The Blue Angel Club to ascertain his story of what happened between him and The Beatles. Williams would make no claims over having any control over The Beatles. He was through with them. But he did have some thoughts about the situation along with a warning, as related to Mark Lewisohn: “He [Epstein] wasn’t a typical showbiz manager who’d rip them off. He loved them. I could see that. Brian Epstein was the best thing that could have happened to The Beatles because he was devoted. In the end, as he was leaving, I called out, ‘Just make sure you sign them up, because they’ll let you down.’”
Next week we’ll be talking about the December 3 meeting and what that meant for the future. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Brian Epstein for his A Cellarful of Noise. Thanks also 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!
“You’re Driving Me Crazy” by The Temperance Seven had sold 200,000 records. It was not only George Martin’s first #1 single as a producer, it was also one of EMI’s overall best-selling singles. But it wasn’t rock and roll or even “modern” pop. It was almost a straight out 1920s style jazz piece, actually written by Walter Donaldson in 1930. Music critic Tom Ewing would succinctly call it, “one of the strangest number ones.” Nice. However, Martin was still looking for that artist who would compete with Cliff Richard. There had been some success with Matt Munro, but not on the scale he was looking for. He would later write, “There was no real rock and roll in Britain…Jim Dale’s “Be My Girl” was as near as we’d get to rock and roll…but American rock and roll was way ahead of us.”
In his years running EMI’s Parlophone Records division, George Martin had enjoyed at least some success across several genres of recordings. he had recorded jazz, like The Temperance Seven, classical music, pop music, and had his greatest continuing success so far with comedy. Even if it was not the success he was hoping for, it was enough for EMI to keep him on and to give him carte blanche to do any recordings he wanted, like when he started experimenting with electronic music and combining that with instrumental music to form what he called “reinforced concrete music.”
A considerable frustration, though was how British music was being treated by EMI’s American division, Capitol Records. Despite being owned by EMI, Capitol Records had a “first turn-down option” on anything coming from the UK. During 1961, Capitol was sent approximately 200 British recordings with the hope that the label would release them in the States. Capitol accepted a grand total of eight of these recordings. Only one of them charted, just barely. Helen Shapiro’s “Walkin’ Back to Happiness” spent exactly one week at #100 on the US Singles Chart despite the fact that it had sold over a million copies in the UK.
EMI’s answer to the problem was to reconfigure their US operation to seek out other labels on which to release their material and bypass Capitol Records completely. Some of George Martin’s acts made that transition. For example, The Temperance Seven’s “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” was released on Verve Records, at the time a jazz based label in California. Another label that EMI formed a strong relationship with was Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records, who agreed to take on several Capitol rejections. You may already know one band who ended up releasing several records on Vee-Jay and its subsidiary, Tollie Records…
I’m not going to go into any great detail here. I kind of believe that there are some details that are none of my or anyone else’s business. But in terms of things that are fairly widely known, in 1961 George Martin was separated from his wife and two children and living in a flat not far from EMI House in central London. Money was an issue. His total pay from EMI for 1961 was £2800 plus a small Christmas bonus (that’s about £51250 or $69000 today). It wasn’t poverty level, of course, but he was also not becoming wealthy. And he was well aware that though EMI did not allow him a way to make any royalty earnings, that there was an American producer he had heard of who had made $70,000 (that’s around £476,800 or $641,000 today) on royalties alone.
The way to get those royalties was to write music. He co-wrote Matt Munro’s “Can This Be Love,” which would reach #24 on the UK charts. Since that record was released by Parlophone, he used the pseudonym George Fisher. He continued using that name on other Parlophone releases that he wrote. But he also established a professional relationship with his friend, Dick James, an experienced “talent spotter” (and a name we’ll hear a lot later), who had recently started a publishing company called Dick James Music. Martin would write pieces to be published by Dick James Music and was able to use his own name. His piece, “Double Scotch,” was the first song listed in the Dick James Music catalog.
It should be said that somewhat unlike through the rock era, when we are used to most groups writing their own songs, before that time publishers played a significant role in the promotion of music. They would license songs and even sign contracts with songwriters, and it was their job to sell those songs to producers who would give them to their artists. It even became big business for the most successful artists to have their own publishing firms and require that any songwriter who wanted the artist to do that song would have to sign up with their publishing company. Both Cliff Richard and Elvis had their own publishing companies. But for most songwriters, they relied on companies like Dick James Music to push their songs. Martin was now a part of that system and as he moved towards 1962, his biggest success on every level came closer and closer.
Next week we’ll be talking about Brian Epstein’s attempts to convince The Beatles to take him on as manager. 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.. 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!
It would be a few more weeks after The Beatles and Brian Epstein’s informal meeting at The Cavern Club on November 9, 1961 before Nems would actually receive any copies of “My Bonnie.” But at least he had a lead on how to get them. And although thoughts of managing The Beatles were firmly in his head, more than three weeks were going to pass after that meeting before they would have their first “formal” session, sometime around December 3, but at least that had been arranged as well. So things were starting to move along.
Epstein wasn’t waiting for December to start checking more into The Beatles. He would say in a BBC interview in 1964 that “I commenced to go around with them almost a week or so after having first met them.” Though it is not specifically known which or how many shows Epstein went to, he could have seen them at one or more of the Merseyside Civil Service Club, Hambleton Hall, or the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton. And of course, there were multiple opportunities to return to The Cavern Club at both lunchtime and evening shows. Bob Wooler remembered seeing him more than once. “Brian knew straight away he wanted to manage them, but he didn’t rush in as he needed a getting-to-know you period first. He went to a couple of other venues to see what they were like and how they behaved…”
The more he saw, the more sure he became. Bob Wooler would say that Epstein described The Beatles behavior as “animalistic,” but that was apparently not a bad thing. He would remember in an interview with Time magazine in 1967, “I sensed something big, if it could be at once harnessed and at the same time left untamed.” Of course, convincing The Beatles that he would be a good choice as their manager was one thing, but there were a couple of other issues that he had to address if he wanted to make it work.
First, Brian Epstein simply had no experience managing a band. That could not only play into The Beatles initial decision on whether or not to take him on, it also meant that if he did get the job, he had a lot to learn. It was the same feeling that Jennifer Dawes and Maureen O’Shea had when Jim McCartney told them that they should manage The Beatles. Inexperienced as he was, though, he did have the advantage of already working in a part of the music industry and seeing how it was run. He felt very strongly that he understood the timing involved in the release of musical recordings. He had even written in his Mersey Beat column about Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” which was currently in the Top Ten on the UK Singles chart, that it was “a brilliant example of a disc being presented to the public at the right moment.”
It was also important that Epstein gain the support of his family, who owned Nems, or at least to make them aware of his plan. He often made impulsive decisions and then backed out of them, like the time that he was accepted into and attended The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, but dropped out after two terms because he “didn’t feel like being a student at all.” That fickleness was a concern. In addition, since he had found both success and respect running the Whitechapel Nems store, taking on a side project managing a rock group could very easily keep him away from his duties.
Epstein brought a copy of “My Bonnie” to the family home to play it for his parents, Harry and Queenie Epstein. He told them to “ignore the singer,” since Tony Sheridan wasn’t a member of The Beatles, and “just listen to the backing group.” He told them, “They are going to be a big hit and I’m going to manage them.” He further tried to assuage his father by saying that it wouldn’t really be that much of a time commitment, he estimated only two half-days per week (and who knows, he may even have actually believed that at the time. Ha!). As I’m sure he knew would happen, Queenie stood behind him. She could always be counted on to support her son. And her son’s mind wasn’t going to be changed at this point, anyway. All that was left now was to convince The Beatles.
Next week we’ll be doing one of our occasional check-ins with George Martin to see what he was up to in the Fall of 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Brian Epstein for his A Cellarful of Noise. Thanks also to Hunter Davies for his The Beatles. Special thanks to Spencer Leigh for his The Best of Fellas: The Story of Bob Wooler. 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!
Looking for “My Bonnie”
Whatever the specific truth is about whether Brian Epstein already had an idea of who The Beatles were (see last week’s blog), Nems now had three orders for the “My Bonnie” single and he had a promise to keep, that Nems would track down any record that a customer wanted. According to Epstein, he discovered through talking with his contacts that The Beatles were actually from Liverpool and had recently returned from Hamburg, “where they were well known.” Hence the German release of their record. He was told by “a girl I know,” “The Beatles? They’re the greatest! They’re at The Cavern this week.”
He was certainly familiar with The Cavern Club. He had been there on occasion when it was a jazz club and had actually grown up with Alan Sytner, the original owner of the club. He also knew that these days The Cavern was a place where teenagers hung out to listen to rock music. It was quite intimidating. It was determined that The Beatles were playing their normal ration of lunchtime shows and Epstein chose Thursday, November 9, 1961 as the day he would drop in to see what the fuss was about. He asked Bill Harry to speak to Cavern owner Ray McFall to tell him of the visit. Epstein was not officially a member at The Cavern, so the doorman, Paddy Delaney, would have to be expecting him.
Hearing and Seeing the Beatles
Epstein didn’t want to go alone, so he brought his assistant, Alistair Taylor, with him. The plan was to drop by The Cavern, talk to The Beatles about the “My Bonnie” record, and head to lunch. According to Epstein, after entering The Cavern and seeing how “dank and damp and smelly” it was, “I regretted my decision to come.” He surveyed the crowd of about 200 people eating their soup and rolls and noticed that the speakers were blaring out the latest hits, “mainly American.” As he talked to “one of the girls” there, she suddenly told him, “The Beatles are going on now.”
Bob Wooler remembered it slightly differently. He said the Delaney, the doorman, brought Epstein into the bandroom where Wooler was waiting. The music was loud, so they couldn’t speak to each other immediately. When there was a pause, Epstein asked if it was The Beatles on stage. Wooler replied, “They are they. They’re the ones.” Epstein made his way out of the bandroom to watch.
Brian Epstein: “They were not very tidy and not very clean.” He was shocked that “they smoked as they played and they ate and talked and pretended to hit each other. They turned their backs on the audience and shouted at them and laughed at private jokes.” Yeah, that sounds about right… It was the first time he experienced the things that had made The Beatles so popular in Hamburg and in Liverpool. The stomping, pounding bass beat as they played American hits, the ad libs, which, which he said were “excellent.” “Their presentation left a little to be desired…[but] I liked them enormously.”
Epstein would say that he thought it was extremely important that he had heard them before he met them. “I thought their sound was something that an awful lot of people would like…Star quality. Whatever that is, they had it – or I sensed that they had it.” Bob Wooler kind of unfortunately stated his opinion that Epstein was “attracted to The Beatles [especially John] physically.” That became a common enough thought that it was even specifically made fun of in Neil Innes and Eric Idle’s parody of the story of The Beatles, All You Need is Cash, the story of The Rutles. Manager Leggy Mountbatten was specifically convinced to manage the band because he liked their tight trousers.
The extent to which Epstein’s attraction to John or The Beatles in general played a major role in his pursuit of a management role is questionable. Did it factor in at all? Perhaps. And we’ll certainly be talking as time goes by about things such as the Spain trip that Epstein and John took together, and the fallout over that. But to say that it was the only reason he got involved with The Beatles is ludicrous, and rightly parodied by The Rutles. Peter Brown, Epstein’s good friend, Nems manager, and a name we’ll be seeing for the rest of this 60 Years Project, told Mark Lewisohn, “I don’t believe for a moment that it was the motivation for him to want to manage them. Brian was far too honest to do that. That would be a Machiavellian thing to do and Brian wasn’t like that.”
Meet(ing) the Beatles
“Hello there. What brings Mr. Epstein here?” It’s always George Harrison, isn’t it. Wait until you see the first thing he ever said to George Martin… The conversation turned to “My Bonnie.” George got Bob Wooler to play the record for Epstein. He was less impressed by the recording than by seeing them play live, but even so, it was already entering his mind to consider the idea of management. He didn’t specifically bring that up with The Beatles at that point, but they did discuss meeting at Nems in a few weeks “just for a chat.” When he and Alistair Taylor finally made it to lunch, he did confide to his assistant that he was thinking about suggesting taking on the role of manager if they would have him.
Brian Epstein: “I knew they would be bigger than Elvis. I knew they would be the biggest in the world.”
Next week we’ll be talking about Brian Epstein’s initial dealings with The Beatles. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Brian Epstein for his A Cellarful of Noise. 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!
October 23, 1961
Just to be perfectly clear on the importance of this date. It wasn’t a release on Parlophone Records produced by George Martin, it wasn’t released outside of Germany at this point, and it wasn’t even sung by John, Paul, or George. Nevertheless, October 23, 1961 was the day of the first ever release of a professional recording on a professional record label by The Beatles.
Automaten Markt, the monthly trade magazine for the Musikbox market in Germany, gave “My Bonnie” “excellent chances” of being a hit (it would ultimately peak at #32 on the German chart). When The Beatles received their initial copies of the single (sent by Stu), they were somewhat taken aback. They were expecting the Polydor label to release their recordings of “Ain’t She Sweet” with “Cry For a Shadow.” Instead, it was “My Bonnie” with “The Saints.” Moreover, The Beatles weren’t pictured on the record sleeve and the artist credit was “Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers.” So as exciting as it was, the event wasn’t without its disappointment.
George would write a letter to Stu in which he asked for twenty more copies of the single to hand out. And he told Stu, “…no matter what anybody says, it’s ‘Beatles’ on a real record. I didn’t get the hang of ‘Beat Brothers,’ though.” No matter what, they did concentrate on the excitement of being on record. George would tell the NME in 1963 that “I didn’t stop playing it for days.” They even played “My Bonnie” at a few shows, with John taking the lead vocal. For some reason, they decided against playing it at The Cavern, but their fan Maureen Nickson said that it was her favorite song that they played at Aintree Institute.
Paul also had Bob Wooler play the recording on the Aintree Institute sound system and fan Jimmy Campbell would remember that Paul ran up the stairs of the venue shouting “This is our record!” As a youngster I know would say, “Understandable. Have a nice day” 😊. If you look at The Beatles show calendar, you know, like we do every day, you’ll see that during that time frame The Beatles only played at The Aintree Institute on one day, Saturday, October 28, 1961. Interestingly, that date is stuck in the books of Beatles history for another reason involving the release of “My Bonnie.”
Raymond Jones was twenty years old. he regularly saw The Beatles at The Cavern Club, Hambleton Hall, Aintree Institute, and Village Hall in Knotty Ash. He would regularly visit Nems on Saturdays and would often buy original artist recordings of songs he had heard The Beatles play. He learned of the existence of “My Bonnie” from his sister’s boyfriend, Kenny Johnson, who was the lead guitarist for Mark Peters and the Cyclones. On October 28, 1961, Jones proceeded to do his Nems shopping and asked for a copy of “My Bonnie.” [Incidentally, it is unknown if Jones attended the Aintree Institute show that evening, but it would, of course, have been after his Nems trip.]
The identity of Jones and the date have been pretty thoroughly proven, despite there having been some doubt over the years. According to Brian Epstein himself, Jones came into the store wearing jeans and a leather jacket and asked, “Have you got a disc by The Beatles?” As per Epstein’s well-established Nems policy, he would track down any record that a customer requested. He wrote himself a note: “’My Bonnie’. The Beatles. Check on Monday.” On that day, two young women came in and requested the same record. And that was the grand total at that point.
Writers have said in some books that Epstein claimed that he had never heard of The Beatles at all. But in his own 1963 autobiography, he clearly stated that though their name wasn’t on the forefront of his mind, that he did remember seeing it on posters and thinking that “Beatles” was “an odd and purposeless spelling.” Funnily, he would later realize that he had definitely seen and noticed The Beatles frequently coming into Nems to shop, and needed his employees to reassure him that the scruffy bunch was okay. He just didn’t know they were The Beatles.
The fact that has been pointed out many times at this point is that it is not really that likely that Epstein wasn’t aware of The Beatles beforehand. Nems carried Mersey Beat. He had been asked by Bill Harry early on to actually take part-ownership of the paper. He turned that down, but regularly ordered twelve dozen copies to be prominently displayed on the counter. As you may remember, John’s biography of the group, “Being a Short Diversion On the Dubious Origins of The Beatles” had appeared in the first issue of Mersey Beat. The second issue featured an Astrid Kirchherr photo of The Beatles in Hamburg with the front-page headline, “Beatles Sign Recording Contract.”
Is it possible that Epstein simply sold the paper and didn’t bother to look in it? Sure, but that doesn’t explain why he specifically invited editor Bill Harry to Nems to discuss beginning to write a record review column beginning in the next issue. Would he have decided to do that without actually perusing the contents? Possibly just based on feeling that enough copies were sold to make it a good promotional opportunity for him? Again, yes, it’s possible. But I would think it’s more likely that he was simply just starting to put together that this band he had seen the name of on posters and in the paper was one that he should start paying attention to.
Next week we’ll be talking about Brian Epstein’s first visit to The Cavern Club to meet the Beatles. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Brian Epstein for his A Cellarful of Noise. 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 Kelly ran an audio company called Alpha Sound and had started Beekay Promotions to put on “jive dances” at various ballrooms including Lathom Hall, Seaforth; and Litherland Town Hall. In May of 1960, John, Paul, George, Stu, and Dave Lovelady, a drummer borrowed from Kingsize Taylor and The Dominoes, auditioned for one of those “jive dances” at Lathom Hall using the name The Silver Beats. Kelly didn’t think they were very good, but reluctantly agreed to book them for the Lathom Hall show on Saturday, May 21. They didn’t show up. Instead, our boys (now with Tommy Moore on drums) had agreed to back Johnny Gentle on a short tour of Scotland. They neglected to tell Kelly, who was furious and vowed to never book them again.
Fast forward to December of 1960. Kelly, along with most of Liverpool’s promoters, had built up a relationship with Bob Wooler. Luckily, as you know, Wooler was a good friend of The Beatles. Kelly asked Wooler to come up with a list of groups for him to book, and Wooler was able to convince him to give The Beatles a second chance. The show he booked them for was the famous December 27, 1960 show at Litherland Town Hall that has been called the beginning of “Beatlemania.” Kelly still didn’t love The Beatles, but he understood that booking them for as many “jive dances” as he could would make a lot of money for everyone involved. And so he did.
Litherland Town Hall – October 19, 1961
Kelly was angered again by The Beatles’ cancellation of four shows during John and Paul’s Paris trip, and decided that they would only be allowed to play a maximum of one show per week for Beekay Promotions. On show day for this week, Gerry and the Pacemakers were playing the lunchtime set at The Cavern Club. John and Paul went to watch and to show off their new look. After the show, they accompanied Bob Wooler and possibly one or more Pacemakers to The Mandolin, a newly opened drinking club. And drink they did.
Aside: Paul likes to say that the first song he ever wrote was “I Lost My Little Girl.” He, in fact, has included a middle section on that song that contains the lines, “Well, gather ‘round people, let me tell you the story of the very first song I wrote.” The fact is, though it may have been the first song he wrote on guitar, there were a couple of others that he likely wrote on piano somewhat earlier, when he was around 14 years old. And at The Mandolin, Bob Wooler caught Paul on the upright piano playing a jazzy little piece. Wooler would say, “He said it was called ‘Suicide.’ I told him it was a strange and uncommercial title for a song.” You can find clips on the internet of Paul playing it, and there is also a fragment that can be found on the McCartney album, attached to the song, “Hot as Sun/Glasses.”
Okay, back to the story. The loosened up musicians arrived at Litherland Town Hall, and Gerry Marsden, upon seeing their condition, decided to join them. He was off to the pub, and as Wooler said, “He got steamed as well.” They were not in the mood to hear Brian Kelly tell them that he wanted both bands to play full one-hour sets instead of the standard 45 minutes. But they had a solution. They had the full cooperation of Bob Wooler, who announced for the pleasure of the audience, the eight-headed monster with “a sound bigger than The Guns of Navarone,” The Beatmakers!
Paul, George, and Gerry Marsden played guitars. Les Chadwick was on bass. John played piano and Les Maguire played saxophone (though John apparently took his turn on sax as well – I guess all those lessons we’ve heard all about were paying off 😉). Pete and Freddy Marsden teamed up on Pete’s drum kit. It is unclear how long they played, or whether they separated to play their own songs at any point, but in any case, Karl Terry and The Cruisers, who were also on the bill that night, must have been suitably impressed. Brian Kelly, however, was not. Wooler would say, “Brian Kelly was fraught with anxiety over it. It was only a short episode and a bit of a shambles.”
The Beatles were doing themselves no favors if they wanted to continue playing as many shows as they had been during this year (of course, it was questionable if that was the case, anyway). For Kelly, it was the last straw as far as dealing with the group was concerned. The Beatles were already booked for four more shows by Beekay Promotions, but he said there would be no more after that. As it turned out, Kelly would book The Beatles twice more heading towards 1962. At that point it was actually Brian Epstein who ended the relationship due to Kelly’s practice of paying the groups in coins. But we’ll get to that later…
Next week we’ll be talking about the release of “My Bonnie” in Germany and a young man named Raymond Jones, who would make an historic request at Brian Epstein’s Nems store. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks also to Joe Goodden for his https://www.beatlesbible.com/1961/10/19/live-litherland-town-hall-liverpool-18/. 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!
I would just like to quickly point out that this is our 100th blog post. Thanks so much for reading them. We really appreciate your support. At this rate, we have a little under 700 to go! So stay tuned!
The Albany Cinema was in Maghull, about ten miles north of Liverpool City Centre. It was where John’s uncle Sydney Lennon lived with his family. For a short time in John’s youth, there was talk of him living with them. He had even been accepted into a school there. That was in 1945, and John had not been back since then. The Albany Cinema hadn’t been built yet. But now, in October of 1961, it was there, and as Paul would say, “The Albany in Maghull is very posh. A marvelous place. Talk about class…”
The charity show on the afternoon of October 15, 1961 was put together by Hessy’s guitar salesman Jim Gretty and was set to raise money for the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Appropriately, The Beatles received no payment. There were several acts booked, many of them amateurs, but the program was headlined by comedian and singer Ken Dodd, the Liverpool native who would enjoy a celebrated 60+ year career on radio, television and in the theatre and who would be knighted in 2017, at the age of 89. Gretty hoped to fill the 1400 seat theatre.
It didn’t go well. There were no more than 500 people there. And that audience included, in Mark Lewisohn’s words, “authority figures John couldn’t stand – the local mayor in his chains, the mayoress, aldermen, councilors, chairmen and their wives – and these middle-aged, rock-hating dignitaries saw The Beatles at their worst.” The group had no idea how to adjust their sound levels for such a theatre. They were too loud and their standard stage antics didn’t translate well. To make matters worse, the show had run long and they were last up. By that time, patience was thin.
They headed to Ken Dodd’s dressing room, Paul thinking it was “a big foot in the door for us.” Dodd would not remember which of The Beatles handed him their business card with Allan Williams’ name crossed out and the Best’s phone number written in. But he threw it out. One can only imagine the laugh they must have shared while they appeared together over the next few years. But not a very auspicious reveal of a couple of new haircuts.
The David Lewis Club
The next couple of shows, at Hambleton Hall and The Cavern, were much more normal, just back to business as usual. But somehow the prospect of doing a second disastrous show for no pay just two days after the Albany Cinema must have sounded good. This show was the first effort by Maureen O’Shea and Jennifer Dawes to schedule a “Beatles Fan Club Show” at the David Lewis Club. Unfortunately, since John and Paul had been away for two weeks, there were no shows at which to promote the fan club gig. And the only advertisement, in The Liverpool Echo, ran the evening of the show itself.
Ultimately, not enough people showed up to even pay for the rental of the hall. To add insult to injury, there was no PA system, and therefore no microphones. And they had problems with two of the amplifiers. Pete remembered that they spent most of the evening sitting on the edge of the stage talking, all of this in front of Paul’s father, Jim McCartney, who had come to see The Beatles play, as had become typical for him lately.
Pete remembers that they played what they could without power, and took requests. One of those requests was “Wild in the Country,” a song that Pete would regularly sing with The Beatles accompanied only by George on guitar and John and Paul singing harmonies. But Pete forgot the words. He says, “I went into a semi-Presley act, leaping around, then leaning down and greeting the fans with a handshake…” The ad lib impressed Jim McCartney, who said “You’ve broken the atmosphere, it was dying a death.” So there was that, at least.
For the next couple of months, bookings remained almost the same as they had been before the Paris trip. The Beatles would generally play anything from seven to ten times per week. But slowly, certain promoters stopped booking them so their workload after playing the shows that had already been booked was in jeopardy. They were lucky to have The Cavern Club and The Casbah Coffee Club to fall back on. That would usually be good for about five or six shows per week. Something was going to have to change. In a couple of weeks, it would.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatmakers and how The Beatles fell out of promoter Brian Kelly’s good graces. 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!
John’s 21st Birthday
If you haven’t figured it out yet, our lovely Nerk Twins never did get to Spain. They had promised to be back in Liverpool for a charity fundraiser starring comedian Ken Dodd at the Albany Cinema, Maghull, Liverpool on October 15, 1961. Miss that one and George and Pete may have never forgiven them. They were having a wonderful time in Paris and continuing on to Spain at that point would have just taken a couple of days away from the fun.
The Beatles had a pact to not give each other presents, though I’m not sure how long that lasted. But that rule did not extend to buying dinner, so when John and Paul went out to celebrate John’s 21st on October 9, Paul was buying. Though it’s not clear where exactly they went, John laid out the contents of the meal very succinctly in The Beatles Anthology: “Paul bought me a hamburger to celebrate.” And a coke, so they said at a 1964 press conference in Sydney, Australia.
The Day Things Changed
The precise date is unknown, Mark Lewisohn believes it was likely October 12 or 13, 1961. It was surely sometime between John’s birthday and their trip back home to Liverpool. And it almost didn’t happen. Jürgen Vollmer had close relationships in Hamburg especially with George and Stu. He also said “I never felt uncomfortable with Paul.” Jürgen was “pathologically shy and insecure,” and often had a hard time dealing with John’s sharp tongue. There was a point during the trip that Jürgen “had a tantrum and went off” after a particularly biting remark by “that Lennon.”
But on this day he was back around, and John and Paul went to visit him in his room at the Hotel de Beaune with a thought in mind. According to Jürgen, “They asked me, ‘We like that funny haircut, Jürgen, can you cut ours?’ Because they knew that I always cut my hair myself.” According to Paul, “He said ‘No, boys, no. I like you as a rocker. You look great.’ But we begged him enough so he said ‘all right.’”
The reason John and Paul wanted the haircut, according to Jürgen, was “because they’d have more chance with the bohemian beauties on the Left Bank.” John, though, in thinking back about those days in 1969, implied that they really did want to get back home to Liverpool and to be like no one else there. It was new and different, and they were not particularly satisfied with what was accepted back at home. John would go as far as to say, “I was ashamed to go on the Continent and say I was British.” It was the same reason they started wearing the leather and cowboy boots in Hamburg and then in Liverpool. There was no one else like them.
Paul was first, followed by John. The shorn hair was swept under Jürgen’s bed where it would eventually be found by the concierge. In the inimitable words of Mark Lewisohn, “The quiet was pierced the following morning when the concierge discovered the debris under Jürgen Vollmer’s bed. She would not be the last to scream over The Beatles’ hair.” For the sake of detail, the haircut itself was called “Caesar style” by Jürgen, combed down and to the side. Paul would describe it as “a kind of long-haired Hitler thing.” When it began to grow out, it would form the fringe in the front, the highly recognizable Beatle haircut.
In the end, John and Paul did have to be back in time for that October 15 show. Paul would say in 1966, “We just flew home at the end; a real lazy hitch-hiking holiday.” Lewisohn points out that there were no direct flights from Paris to Liverpool, so the trip may have been slightly more complicated than that, likely involving buses and/or trains. When they arrived, they would have to deal with both George and Pete’s anger over the trip as well as how their new hair would be greeted.
Getting ready for the charity show, the van was sent to collect our Nerk Twins. According to a somewhat snarky Neil Aspinall in a 2007 Lewisohn interview, “We went to collect John and his hair was down. But it was when we went to collect Paul that we realized that something was going on, because not only was Paul’s hair down as well, but he skipped out of the house – in that way that he does [!] – pointing at his hair and generally unable to be subtle about it.”
If you remember, back in Hamburg George had actually experimented under Jürgen’s advisement with combing his hair forward, much the way Stu had done with the help of Astrid. Though the new coif didn’t stick back then, at this point it was only a matter of days before George joined in with John and Paul. Apparently, all was forgiven, or at least close enough for now.
Next week we’ll be talking about a couple of less than fantastic shows that happened after John and Paul returned from Paris. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Howard Sounes Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney. 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!
A Hitchhiking Trip
The bowler hats that Acker Bilk had given John and Paul when they played on the MV Royal Iris in August were going to come in handy. Seasoned hitchhikers that they were, John and Paul knew that drivers were less willing to stop for seedy looking characters. Apparently, it was much more effective if you liked like a couple of characters from A Clockwork Orange… So… the first train took them to London, the second to Dover. From there they took a ferry to Dunkirk before catching a third train into Paris. Well, at least their thumbs didn’t get sunburnt.
John had heard from Stu that Jürgen Vollmer had moved from Hamburg to Paris, so they sought him out right away. He was staying at the Hotel de Beaune on the Left Bank while he looked for a job as a photographer’s assistant. They found Jürgen, but also found that all of the cheap area hotels, including Jürgen’s, were full. Our young Mr. Vollmer tried to sneak them into his room, but was thwarted by the concierge. So off they were to Montmartre, where the hotels were generally used by Paris working women (John and Paul must have felt right at home, just like Hamburg). Paul would say, “We had to find a little flea-bitten hotel, and we got bitten.”
It is pretty safe to say that John and Paul loved Paris. They spent days sightseeing, Jürgen directing them to the best attractions. They went to the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre and nearby Kardomah Café, and L’Opéra Garnier, where they reportedly picked up Jürgen and carried him down the street while he pleaded to be put down, the shy lad. A highlight in Paul’s memory was their time at Les Deux Magots. This was a famous café on the Left Bank (of the Seine River) where it was said such historic figures as Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, and James Joyce spent time (and now, of course, John Lennon and Paul McCartney!). Paul would remember, “We were like Paris existentialists; Jean-Paul Sartre had nothing on us. Sod ‘em all – I could write a novel…It was all inside me. I could do anything now.”
There was another thing that kept their interest while in Paris. No surprise, it was the women. They were intrigued simply by the sound of a woman with a French accent. Jürgen would say, “John and Paul liked all the girls. They loved the style of what I called the ‘bohemian beauties.’” Jürgen did, however, have a friend who didn’t find John and Paul to be very appealing. He arranged a lunch that included his friend, Alice, who they were to meet at the Café Royale. When she arrived, she had quite a reaction. According to Jürgen, “she started to say how dare I bring her together with this kind of wild type…[John and Paul] were looking at us not realizing they were the cause of this French dispute, and then she left.” Hilariously, he added, “That was the last time I saw her until years later…and I told her that those two guys were John Lennon and Paul McCartney.”
Fashion and Music
In the Beatles Anthology, Paul said, “We saw guys walking around in short leather jackets and very wide pantaloons…They were tight to the knee and then they flared out; they must have been 50 inches around the bottom…” John and Paul each bought a pair and hurried back to the hotel to change into them. “[We] went out on to the street and we couldn’t handle it.” Needle and thread to the rescue. Back in the hotel, they sewed the pants up to a more pleasing 16 inches, more the drainies that they were used to. Other fashion choices did seem to work out for them. John found a green corduroy jacket that he liked and Paul bought a polo shirt. Those wouldn’t tend to raise quite as many eyebrows in Liverpool upon their return as they felt the flared trousers would.
Of course, as you may expect, John and Paul took in a couple of music shows during those first few days in Paris. One day they went to a music festival headlined by Vince Taylor, who had played with Tony Sheridan. They found Taylor and, bringing up their association with Sheridan, tried to convince him to let them play. Taylor said that it was up to management, who refused, saying that being big in Liverpool and Hamburg wasn’t good enough to rate playing in Paris. Also on the bill were copycat bands, one in particular called Dany et les Pirates, who mimicked Johnny and the Pirates right down to the lead singer’s eye patch.
They also went to see Johnny Hallyday, France’s top rock star, at L’Olympia, incidentally the same venue at which The Beatles would play an 18-day residency in January and February of 1964, right before flying to New York to play in America for the first time, on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9 [the day I was born! – Oh, and by the way, I saw Ringo play at L’Olympia in 2018, an historic venue!] The Beatles assessment of the shows they saw: A postcard that John sent home to a fan in Liverpool (likely Christine Carey) said, “Paris is great, only no ‘Rock.’ (Well, a bit of crappy French Rock).” Always the critic. 😉
There was much more to come on this exciting vacation. In fact, the second week of the trip would contain some very important events in looking forward to The Beatles’ image in the next couple of years. But wait, wasn’t it about time they headed to Spain?
Next week we’ll have Part 2 of 2 on the actual trip to, well, Paris. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Joe Goodden for his https://www.beatlesbible.com/1961/09/30/john-lennon-paul-mccartney-travel-paris/. 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!