Saturday, April 26, 2008

Their Road Manager Neil Aspinall

Neil AspinallHave you ever wondered who gets The Beatles out of bed in time to catch early trains and planes to distant destinations? Who feeds them with supplies of coke and hot dogs when human barriers of stage-door fans fasten the foursome in theatre dressing rooms? Who supervises the plugging in of the group's battery of amplifiers and the assembly of Ringo's precious drum kit?

The busier-than-busy man responsible is Road Manager Neil Aspinall who celebrates his 22nd birthday this month (13 October). Since May 1960 Neil has travelled everywhere with The Beatles attending to vital details ranging from passports and throat lozenges to rail reservations and hotel keys.

Looks After Reporters

When The Beatles are away from London and the West End offices of their press representative, Tony Barrow, Neil also looks after local reports and photographers who want to collect up-to-date backstage quotes and pics from the four most important names in British pop music today.

Neil Aspinall was born in Prestatyn. His father was in the Navy and his mother had moved from Merseyside to evacuation accommodation on the North Wales coast during the height of the blitz. In 1942 the Aspinalls returned to Liverpool and settled in a house situated only yards away from the Anfield pitch of the city's famous soccer team.

Lessons With Paul

Having passed his eleven-plus exams at West Derby School Neil went on to Liverpool Institute and found himself taking Art and English lessons alongside an equally youthful Paul McCartney. It didn't take Paul and Neil long to meet up with George Harrison who was just a year behind them.

Recalls Neil: "My first encounter with George was behind the school's air-raid shelters. This great mass of shaggy hair loomed up and an out-of-breath voice requested a quick drag of my Woodbine. It was one of the first cigarettes either of us had smoked. We spluttered our way through it bravely but gleefully. After that the three of us did lots of ridiculous things together. By the time we were ready to take the G.C.E. exams we'd added John Lennon to our 'mad lad' gang. He was doing his first terms at Liverpool College of Art which overlooks the Institute playground and we all got together in a students' coffee bar each lunchtime."

Passed 8 G.C.E.'s

Neil took nine G.C.E. subjects and passed all of them except French. He stayed on at school until he was almost eighteen and then left in July 1959 to study accountancy. he spent two years with a firm of chartered accountants and during the second of those years he was augmenting his salary of fifty shillings a week by driving The Beatles to and from local dates on the Mersey Beat ballroom and club circuit.

Raved About Beatles

At this time Neil was living in a large old house where drummer Pete Best ran a cellar club called The Casbah. The Beatles used to dump their equipment in the basement because it couldn't be stored in their own homes. While Pete was in Germany Neil helped to run The Casbah Club. "Nobody had heard of The Beatles," says Neil, "but we put up posters saying, 'Coming Soon - Merseyside's Most Fabulous New Group.' We raved about The Beatles to local compere / deejay Bob Wooler when he visited the club with Gerry And The Pacemakers. Then we crossed our fingers and hoped they'd live up to our lavish praise when they got back from that first Hamburg trip! When they returned George had started to sing with The Beatles. Before those long eight-hour sessions in Hamburg John and Paul had handled all the vocals. By the time they came to The Casbah they had three regularly featured vocalists instead of two!"

Full-Time Job

It was the group's first post-Hamburg appearances which convinced both Neil Aspinall and Bob Wooler that The Beatles were destined to become permanently popular. Bob set up what turned out to be a historic booking for The Beatles at a suburban ballroom - Litherland Town Hall - in December 1960. The capacity crowd of dancers came away having been unexpectedly knocked out by rip-it-up performances of things like "What'd I Say" and "Long Tall Sally." The word spread and The Beatles were on the road to success.

The sharp increase in bookings meant that Neil had to choose between accountancy and working with The Beatles. He chose the full-time job of Road Manager, a decision which, he admits, has brought him a rewarding mixture of excitement, fun and very hard work. FREDERICK JAMES.

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