Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Tale of Four Beatles - Part II

The Beatles at the Indra, Hamburg, Germany - August 17, 1960by Billy Shepherd

And so the Quarrymen, featuring John, Paul and George worked on until the end of 1958. Around November, they disbanded. The skiffle boom was slowing down--fast! And dates getting harder to find. Lots of groups that had suddenly sprung into existence during the boom period began to disappear as fast as they had come.

Says John: "There was no point in rehearsing for non-existent dates. But we went on playing together just for kicks. Usually in each other's homes. We kept the record-player going a lot of the time playing the latest American hits. We'd try and get the same effects and sounds with the equipment that we had.

But something did get the boys out of their private musical sessions and into the public eye again. A Carroll Levis "Discoveries" audition. George says: "For this we dreamed up a new name--'Johnny and the Moondogs'. There were just the three of us. And I remember we were on a Buddy Holly and the Crickets kick at the time. So, of course we sang "Think It Over" and "It's So Easy".

Carroll Levis looked the boys over when he met them and asked: "What's a Moondog." The boys didn't have the foggiest idea so they murmured something about it being a Red Indian, who sat around banging on tin cans.

They did NOT win the contest. In fact they gained almost nothing from entering. True, they wom through to the finals, but lost out to the Gladiators. They remember there was another young Liverpudlian who also failed to get anywhere . . . and his name now is Billy Fury!

Says John: "Those contests seemed to go on for months. You'd do an audition, then hear nothing more for months. Just when you had begun to forget all about it you'd get a letter saying the next heat was going to be held."

George reckons that the Gladiators deserved to win. "They had all the real gear; drums, a bass and amplifiers," he recalls. "You were real gear in those days if you had all the equipment. We only had one amplifier with me and Paul both plugged into it. Also we borrowed some corduroy jackets . . . and they looked as if they'd been borrowed, too."

It was another slice of experience, though.

For a while, the trio thought of calling themselves the Rainbows, mainly because they all had different coloured shirts. Already they were specialising in their distinctly-different line of dress that marks them out today. But the Rainbows' idea fell through. John, Paul and George seemed to be up against a brick wall, career-wise, once again.

None of them realised that they were near the first important step to stardom. The formation of the original Beatles' group.

In Liverpool, the Cavern was ticking over nicely on the trad craze. A jazz haunt, and, like lots of other clubs, attracting big crowds of followers.

John, Paul and George thought "Why not try all over again?" But they realised they needed a bass player. Which is where Stu Sutcliffe, a fellow student at art school with John Lennon, comes into the story. He wanted to join the boys but the trouble was he didn't really play anything.

Stu was a darned good artist, though. One of his paintings was sold at the John Moore Exhibition in Liverpool for around 65 guineas. He said nothing at first about what he'd do with the money. But one day he returned to his flat, where John was waiting . . . and he clutched a bass guitar.

"He wanted me to teach him how to play," recalls John. "But I really didn't have enough patience to go far with it. However, slowly but surely, he fitted into the scheme."

The boys liked the idea of calling themselves the Beatles. Not everybody was similarly enthusiastic. Especially Cass, of Cass and the Casanovas, then the "guv'nor" group in Liverpool.

He thought it was ridiculous. He suggested they should be "Long John and The Silver Men". But the boys wouldn't have that.

Says Paul: "In those days, we had a succession of drummers. None of them were very good and it's hard to remember all their names." But those drummers were specially useful in that they'd often leave parts of their equipment behind after a one-shot appearance--and gradually we got near building a full kit.

Stemming from those early days, all the boys in the Beatles now can acquit themselves reasonably well on drums. All of them like banging around from time to time. It could prove useful when the group make changes in their stage presentation . . .

But the first big job for the Beatles was an audition for Larry Parnes for a tour in Scotland. He wanted some outfit to back Johnny Gentle, who recorded first under that name and is now Darren Young. The boys, on the posters as the Silver Beatles, landed the tour engagement but could hardly be said to have set the fans alight. It was a backing job, purely and simply.

However, it meant they were starting to work together . . . and edging towards the professional field. Around this time, Stu and John were at college, nearing the end of their stay; George was working at Blacker's electrical firm in Liverpool; Paul was in the process of leaving school.

And if that art school had, indirectly, helped Stu get his start as a musician by providing him with funds, it also helped the group sound better. For John had persuaded the Art Committee to lash out money to buy what he called "public address equipment"--to be used for the college dances. In fact, it was an amplifier and was to prove very useful to the Beatles.

A short tour, a fair number of Liverpool "dates" . . . things looked better for the Beatles, who were often mis-spelled as "The Beetles" on club posters.

But something else happened which was to mean a lot to the boys . . . though they hadn't the foggiest idea of that at the time.

They were in the cellar of a Liverpool club--Stu with his bass guitar, the others just strumming and fooling around. Not a serious rehearsal but simply a gathering of mates knocking out a few of the tunes of the day.

And in came Rory Storme, then leader of the Texans, now front-man for the Hurricanes. With him was his drummer. Dark-brown hair, smaller than the others in the cellar. He collected some bongoes and starting beating out a gentle rhythm. Richard Starkey was his name then, now, of course, he's Ringo Starr.

Recalls George: "We didn't know his name at that time. He didn't know ours. But it was the first time we'd ever met up with him. Nothing much happened. Nothing was said. It's only since, when we've had hours of travelling and plenty of time for chat, that we've realised he was there on that evening. Funny how things have worked out . . ."

Now, in tracing the careers of John, Paul, George, and Stu, Ringo has been out of the picture. Let's fill in the details of which way his career had gone since his school days at Liverpool Secondary Modern and Riversdale Technical College.

"It was Christmas in 1959 and I got my first drum kit. I was eighteen-and-a-half at the time. My parents bought it as a present and they'd given ₤10 for it. It was a funny mixture of a lot of different parts but I loved it. Even when I was at school, I used to crash around on tin cans and biscuit tins and everything.

"Nobody taught me anything about it. I used to experiment for myself, trying to keep time with the records and the radio. To be honest, I couldn't make a lot of noise because we lived in a four-roomed house and there were neighbours to think about.

"I'd been working for H. Hunt and Sons as an apprentice engineer and didn't really have any thoughts about taking up drumming as a career.

"I remember my mum saying a neighbour was in a band and why didn't I have a go. I thought it was a jazz group--I was mad on jazz. When it turned out to be a silver band, playing in a park and sticking to the marches and all that, I chucked it in. I lasted just the one night."

But another neighbour, a lad named Eddie Miles, had a guitar. And there was a mate, Roy Trafford, who had a tea chest bass. They became the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group. Just the three of them. At one place, a man approached them, saying: "You're all right but you want to build yourselves up." He meant instrumentally--not referring to the smallness of Ringo. They did build up . . . to include three guitars, drums, washboard, and bass.

First date was at the Labour Club, Peel Street, Liverpool. Says Ringo: "I think the organizer got a bit drunk. Anyway, we weren't paid." But the Skiffle Group pressed on, coping with day time jobs between them--and, as the jobs weren't all that regular, Ringo used to sit in with other groups.

Including Rory Storme and the Texans, once Eddie Miles had left the skifflers and got married. Rory sang. Another group he was involved with was The Darktown, who cashed in on the last of the skiffle craze, then changed over to the Cadillacs when rock 'n' roll became the craze.

Said Ringo: "I went on playing with two groups most of the time--they didn't get many dates. One night, I remember, both those groups were on stage in the same hall on the same engagement. And a third group had a drummer who'd gone sick, so I sat in for him. I meant I didn't leave the stage at all . . . just sat up there changing jackets to fit the uniforms of all three outfits.

"Travelling the drums was the hard bit in those days. I used to take just snare drums and cymbals, 'cos we had to go by bus. Couldn't afford taxis--and few of the groups then had vans."

While Ringo continued on his separate way, working more and more regularly, with seasons at Butlin's holiday camps starting in 1960 and going on to 1962, the Beatles were approaching a break even bigger than the one which had taken them on tour in Scotland.

Germany. Hamburg. A Continental place so beat-happy that British groups were very much in demand there. However, their first visit there, in August, 1960, was NOT because the German promoters were mad-keen on having the Beatles. They were "deputies" for Cass and the Casanovas--who now provide the basis of recording hit-makers, The Big Three, with Cass leading his own group, the Engineers.

The Casanovas couldn't make it. The Beatles filled in and crossed to Hamburg with only two amplifiers. And they crossed, in their Minibus from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, with last-minute panic still fresh in their minds, because they didn't have a drummer until the very night before they left.

Enter, then, Pete Best. He'd played around the Liverpool groups previously and was called in to meet John, Paul, George and Stu and asked to go through his paces. He fitted. The panic was over and, just for a while, it looked as if the boys had solved their drumming problem on a long-term basis.

The Indra Club was the booking. A small club among many small clubs. Just along the road were Howie Casey and the Seniors. It was a veritable barrage of beat from morning to night and back to morning again. The boys had to work ridiculously long hours, all five of them.

Line-up problems were solved by Paul McCartney doing "fill-in" spots. He'd dance round the stage, play a little piano, do anything useful. Stu Sutcliffe was, of course, on bass.

"The wild ones went best in Germany", says John. They dug deep into their repertoire of Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, and the Everly Brothers.

"And that's where we really started on the sort of material we do today", said George. "Lots of stamping, lots of noise--that's what the German fans wanted. But for some reason or other, it seemed we were even noisier than the others in the area. At any rate, the police picked on the Indra Club to close down. Couldn't understand it at the time, because there was so much noise everywhere else."

Said John: "Oh, apparently a neighbour decided that he'd like to get some sleep every so often! Anyway, we had to transfer to the Kaiserkellar."

They were there for four-and-a-half months. One Beatle didn't last that long, though, for he was performing illegally. George Harrison. He was too young to work in Germany and didn't have a work permit. It took the police a long, long time to catch up with him but when they did he was sent back to England, to Liverpool.

With the five cut down to four, and with little time to do anything about it, the Beatles were in trouble. Said John: "George stayed up the night before he had to go home, trying to teach me the stuff he had been playing. Actually, we left the Kaiserkellar the night after George left Germany. And we went to the Top Ten Club not far away."

But while George was getting himself home, fed up and feeling out of things, there were more troubles in Germany. It can be put down to the popularity the Beatles enjoyed over there . . .

That was because the customers went from the Kaiserkellar along to the Top Ten Club. At the Kaiserkellar, the boys were tops. They created a brand of beat-raising enthusiasm that had the fans hollering for more.

Says George now: "This Liverpool sound . . . well, we tend to think it's a lot of rubbish, really. What happened at the Kaiserkellar was that Pete wasn't really all that good then, technically, as a drummer, and he'd joined us just before leaving so he didn't know our little ways. We'd often turn round and stamp on the stage to keep the tempo going right.

"We kept up that big heavy four-in-a-bar beat going all night long. We kicked up so much hammering that we just about ruined the stage. The floor boards had been bouncing up and down anyway and as we'd got a new amplifier going, we asked for a new stage. The boss refused. So we hammered away even more . . ."

But the overall effect of the stamping was popular. And the Kaiserkellar management was furious when the customers left. More complaints were put--"by persons unknown"--to the police. Result was that, eventually, Paul and Pete were ordered back to Britain. The Beatles were disintegrating fast!

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