Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Early Days

by Raymond McGhee

The early Beatles were wild. Really wild. During their frenzied act John might kiss the microphone or suddenly jump several feet into the air, splitting his old blue jeans in the process. It was just an occupational hazard.

The jokes came hard and fast, too. The group quickly built up a fervent following on Merseyside. They worked without a continuous barrage of screams--and so they could exploit their musical Goonery to the full.

Many of today's screaming fans fail to realise how much zany Beatle comedy they're missing by simply not giving the group a chance to speak between numbers.

Mainly For Kicks

But back to those formative years on Merseyside, when they played for a few shillings whenever work happened to turn up. Most of the people who knew them got the impression they liked to play and sing mainly for kicks.

It was fun. But they didn't really have a driving ambition to get to the top.

What they needed (and they admit it themselves now!) was a little discipline. Says John of himself: "I know I went a bit off the rails when I was about 14. I more or less drifted about, and when I was put in for nine GCE's at school I was a terrible failure.

"I was like that all the time I was at school. Art was the only thing I was interested in, and in the end my headmaster said that if I didn't go to art school I might as well become a labourer!"

Art Student John

Even though art was his strongest subject, John still confesses that he wasn't too happy at the idea of studying it for any length of time. He felt that he would be surrounded by a crowd of bearded, would-be Van Goghs with whom he would have little in common.

"It didn't turn out quite like that," he adds, "but I was so concerned with music that I hardly spent any time there. I suppose I was a bit of a contrast to Paul--he liked art, too, but he studied his other subjects and got through his exams."

The free-and-easy student life had a great effect on John.

For a time he used to rehearse with George and Paul, quite casually, in a room in Gambia Street across the road from the Liverpool College of Art. And for a while he had a flat that looked like something from the Left Bank in Paris when you stepped inside . . . rather untidy, with paintings hung all over the walls. Another artist lived next door.

Bob Wooler

Someone who's known the Beatles almost from the start of their musical career is Bob Wooler, a good friend and the genial host of the Cavern beat club in Liverpool. In fact, the group would be the first to admit that he helped them a lot in their early days by lining up bookings. Without the work he got them they might have drifted apart.

"My impression? Well, they were dishevelled and unkempt. They looked sort of beatnik-y, with leather jackets and faded jeans. People thought they were German.

"Their hair was long then, but not in the style they have it now. It just went anywhere, more or less!

"In spite of their scruffiness, though, they had a sound and a visual impact that left its mark. You might even say they were turning back the Rock-Clock at that time, but they didn't care. Their attitude was that they liked what they were doing, and you could take it or leave it."

Early Friend

Recalling his first booking for teh group, Bob says he asked the dance promoter for £8; the promoter offered £4; and they settled for £6.

Bob is as happy as anyone at the Beatles' fantastic success today. "They were always an electrifying act," he adds, "and they still are. I suppose I could have had the opportunity of managing them at one time, but I was content just to get bookings. And to be quite honest, I don't think I would have been temperamentally suited to managing.

"Brian Epstein has done a really tremendous job for them and I have nothing but praise for the way he has handled their career."

The Beatles looked on Bob as more than a friend in those days. They would call him in whenever there was a particularly big decision to be made.

As time went by, Beatlemania hit Merseyside. Hundreds, sometimes a couple of thousand, would turn up to see the group at local dances.

It had never happened before--it was like a fanatical devotion to some big national idol, but on a strictly-local scale. Quite often visiting national stars didn't stand a chance when the local pride and joy, the Beatles, were appearing in the area the same night.

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