Monday, January 31, 2011

String of Pearls

February 1, 1961

The Beatles play Hambleton Hall, tonight, then Litherland, St John's in Bootle and Lathom again.  All with John possibly favoring an injured finger.  Well, the show must go on.

We are in the middle of a string of 18 straight days of gigs without a day off.  Admittedly, playing music to adoring audiences is not quite the same as pulling 10 hour shifts in the salt mines, or even in a car factory or bank office, but I do think this demonstrates a high level of commitment from all the members of  the band.  Most especially when you factor in all of the unglamorous, logistical trouble of toting equipment from home to venue and back each day.  Not to mention the unseen effort of always learning new material to keep the sets fresh and exciting.

By now, the promoters are getting the message that the Beatles are lads who can be relied on to show up and deliver the goods.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

One Version of Events

January 30, 1961

Nobody can seem to agree 50 years after the fact.  There are many dissenting voices.  I'll just present the most likely scenario as I see it.

Today, a Monday, is the day that Stu Sutcliffe is beaten up by a gang of toughs after a show at Lathom Hall in Seafort, a borough of Liverpool.  Frequently, tough teenagers, know as Teddy boys because of their penchant for pseudo-Edwardian style clothes, would use the dance halls to exhibit their testosterone fueled agressive impulses.  Band members were natural targets for them, as they would frequently be the focus of attention of the "birds", who are, after all, the people the Teddy boys want to impress in their caveman-like way.  It's one of the hazards of the job of being a musician in that time and place.  All of the Beatles are of  rather slight build, and Stu is positively wispy. (In Hamburg, he would share clothes with his girlfriend Astrid.)  He doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell against a bunch of jealous thugs.  All he can do is to cover up as best he can while they knock him to the ground and go to work on him with their boots.

His friends, John and Pete, come running when the word reaches them and wade in to the melee, but only after poor Stu is bleeding profusely.  John sustains a broken finger in the cause of the defense of his best friend.

Does it have a bearing on the early death of Stu a little more than a year later?  No one can be sure.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Traveling Band

January 26-29 1961

The Beatles play five gigs in four days, at the usual venues.  Thursday the 26th, they appear at the scene of their recent triumph, Litherland Town Hall.  Friday, they are back at the Aintree Institute. Saturday, they play a gig there as well as another at Lathom Hall (which will soon occupy a infamous niche in Beatles lore, due to the violence that was likely to break out there).  Finally, on Sunday, they bring the music to the Mona Best's basement Cavern Club.

The Beatles are still making do with whatever transportation arrangements that can be made, including using city buses when necessary.  Tony Bramwell, a friend from the earliest days and one of the Beatles later entourage remembers meeting with George who was carrying his own guitar on the way to a Litherland gig on the number 81 bus.  Tony offers to carry George's ax in anticipation of gaining free admission to the club ("I'm with the band").  Of course, George agreed.  Scousers are loyal to friends that way.

Note for the cognoscenti.  I just received in the mail a book that I'm really looking forward to reading, direct from Liverpool.  (Homeland security did open the package to make sure there was nothing dangerous in there.)  It's called Twist and Shout - Merseybeat, The Cavern, The Star Club and The Beatles, written by Spenser Leigh, who was in attendance at the birth of the Merseybeat and has more recently tracked down all the the denizens of the beat scene to document their memories of events.  (As of 2004, the live music was still going strong there.)  You can order the book direct from the author and he will personalize it for you.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hambleton, Hill and Anton

January 25, 1961

The Beatles play for the first time at Hambleton Hall in Huyton the first of their engagements for a team of promoters, Wally Hill and Vic Anton.

Stuart Sutcliffe was born here.  Huyton is also the location of Yew Tree Cemetery, where Paul McCartney's mother lies buried perhaps a half mile away from the hall.  I wonder if that fact crossed his mind on the way to the gig.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cynthia Gets a Leather Coat

January, 1961

John Lennon, on his return from Germany, has moved back in with his rather severe widowed Aunt Mimi.  How his suburban middle class living arrangements must have clashed with his after dark rock and roll life.

One of the best sources for information about John's development as an artist and as a person during this time is Cynthia Lennon's book called simply "John".  She was raised in rather privileged style and so views the whole crazy time with a certain detached rationality, but because she was a member herself of his generation, she also understands the rebellious lifestyle that John was so deeply involved in.  She is the perfect go-between.

John is obviously deeply (if somewhat immaturely) in love with her at this time and decides to use some of his musicians earnings to buy her a leather coat, such as he has seen German girls wearing.  They go together to a local department store and pick out a chocolate brown 3/4 length coat.  Then, they buy a roast chicken at a deli nearby and head for Mimi's to proudly show off their purchase.

When Mimi sees the coat she is enraged at his, in her view, foolish purchase.  She throws the chicken in their faces and orders them out of her house.  In the street, John puts his arm tenderly around Cynthia and comforts her saying "All she cares about is f_cking money and cats."  What an pithy insight into his life and emotional state echoes down to us via this episode!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hardest Working Band in Show Biz

January 19-21, 1961

The Beatles do four gigs over the next three days.  Tonight, a Thursday, at Alexandra Hall, tomorrow back at Lathom Hall and on Saturday at Lathom Hall and the Aintree Institute.  Brian Kelly and the Beatles are obviously made for each other.  And a pattern is emerging here that the Beatles would come to live by until 1965.  Lives of constant touring would be their lot and anyone who looks at it objectively begins to wonder how they did it.  From the outside, it looks like such a lark, but inside the performance pressure cooker that the band was developing into, it was very hard (although rewarding, personally if not financially) work.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cashbah and Aintree

January 18,1961

The Beatles play another gig on the 15th at the Casbah.  Probably more of a practice really, since they have really risen above playing a basement coffee bar, but isn't is fun to imagine what it must have been like to have  heard  them in that cramped space at the top of their rave-up game.

On the 18th they return to the Aintree Institute.  We have on good authority they were paid 8 and a half pounds sterling for this gig.  They must have felt like they were really making it, now.  Little did they know!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Plus ca change

January 13/14, 1961

The Beatles play two of their Bekay gigs this Friday and Saturday at the Aintree Institute. 

This gives me the opportunity to show you one of my personal favorite snapshots taken during my pilgrimage to Liverpool in 1998.  It is a picture of this building.  At that time, I think either it was being used as a school building or there was one nearby and classes were being dismissed as we arrived.  There are plenty of kids about.  Take note of the older boys on the steps leading up to the door, grabbing a smoke before heading for the bus home.  Are there any young rockers in the crowd?  Undoubtedly.  (Click the picture, then click it again to enlarge it.)

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.  (The more things change the more they stay the same.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Last Returning Beatle

Early January, 1961

No one knows exactly when, but it is likely that Stuart Sutcliffe has returned to Liverpool by now. It would have been difficult for him to remain in Hamburg, now that he has come to the attention of the police.  But he certainly left with the understanding that he would return to Germany to resume his life with Astrid as soon as possible.

As is normal for local bands, there are often musicians on the periphery who do make music with them but cannot exactly be called full band members.  At this time, Stuart seems to have willingly become one of those.  Sam Leach, a Liverpool promoter remembers a time when both Paul and Stuart would be playing bass, often with Stuart's guitar unplugged from the amplifier.  This does fit very well with what we understand of John Lennon's sense of loyalty to his inner circle.  The others may have gone along, not wanting to confront John about the phantom band member and content to let nature take its course.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Two Gigs in a Day

January 7, 1961

Today is Saturday. For an ambitious Liverpool beat group, that means the opportunity to play two gigs on the same day, one in the afternoon, one in the evening. Today, the Beatles play two of Brian Kelly's jobs, the first at the Aintree Institute. This was yet another local dance hall, where jive shows are featured. (The picture of Brian Kelly in a previous post was taken on the stage there.)  One is constantly struck by the number and diversity of local events that provided the opportunity for up-and-coming musicians in Liverpool of the '60s to hone their skills. That cultural environment is a very important element, often overlooked, in the development of the Beatles.  Rock music in the north of England at this time is not the mass quasi-religious experience of today, but very much a grass-roots thing.

The second is held at Lathom Hall, the place where the Silver Beatles, a much less accomplished band, played its first gig back in May of 1960. That was before the hot fires of Hamburg transmuted that silver into pure gold.

By now, it is becoming clear that something will have to be done to facilitate all of this travel. Schlepping guitars and amplifiers, to say nothing of a full drum kit, onto Liverpool buses is becoming a bit of a disagreeable chore.

Also at this time, it has become clear that the only viable solution to finding a bottom end for the group is to look within its ranks. Couldn't be John with his brand new Rickenbacker. George's reaction is, "I'm not doing it." The only logical choice is Paul McCartney. ("I was lumbered with it, really.") At first, Paul takes some scissors under the hood of an unlucky piano, and strings his cheap, upside-down Solid 7 guitar with them. Problem solved (temporarily).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

To Bootle

January 6, 1961

The Beatles "home base" is situated in  districts to the south of Liverpool city center (or is that centre?)  such as Allerton and Woolton.  Today they play a gig in the borough to the north called Bootle.  Bootle is a very ancient part of Liverpool, established in the time of Anglo-Saxon domination, before the revolution brought about by the Norman conquests that started in 1066.  In the 19th century, it had become an upscale suburb and is filled with Victorian buildings of that period.  Lately, since the decline of the shipping industry and rising unemployment, it has fallen on harder times and now has the reputation of being one of the rougher areas of Liverpool.  But today it was to witness something of the exuberance of Beatles rock and roll.  (Since 1960, Bootle has undergone something of a resurgence.)

A very young would-be promoter, aged 17 years named Dave Forshaw, was also in attendance at the turning-point performance at Litherland at the end of 1960.  He saw his chance and took it.  He booked the Beatles for some of the dates not reserved by Brian Kelly for shows organized by himself.  Tonight, he put them on at Saint John's Hall in the Bootle.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


January 5, 1961

At this point, Liverpool again takes a hand in the story of the Beatles, this time in the person of Brian Kelly.  After their return from Hamburg, the Beatles had asked Bob Wooler, a professional MC on the Liverpool rock scene, if he could find them work.  Bob Wooler knows everybody who is anybody in Liverpool entertainment circles.  One of those people is Brian Kelly, who organizes dances under his own brand name of Beekay.  Bob had weaseled the Beatles onto one of Brian's shows at the end of 1960.  Mr Kelly was immediately impressed by the enthusiastic audience response and booked the Beatles into shows this month through March.

The band  is being paid six or eight English pounds sterling for these shows, enough to encourage them to keep at it.  At a couple of shows a week, that puts their earnings right in the ballpark of the average for a UK male breadwinner of about 200 pounds per annum.  Better than a sharp stick in the eye!

Tonight, they perform a return engagement at he site of their recent "Direct from Germany" triumph, Litherland Town Hall.

Brian Kelly and Pete Best - photo by Dick Matthews