There’s Another Place … A Beatles Tour Of The Georgian Quarter

Following on from my last post about Woolton, there is another part of Liverpool where there is a lot of Beatles’ history concentrated into a walkable area. This zone, much more central than Woolton, is known as the Georgian Quarter for its many buildings in that elegant style.

In 1800, city surveyor, John Foster Snr., started to work on a development of the Canning area of the city, to create luxurious residences for wealth citizens close to the city centre. The construction of these town houses took place during the whole of the 19th century.

Nowadays, the spine of the quarter is Hope Street, a winner in the Academy of Urbanism Awards for ‘Best Street’, which takes its name from a Liverpool merchant, William Hope, whose house was where the Philharmonic Pub now stands. At each end of the street are two remarkable cathedrals. At the south end, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, the world’s second largest after the incomplete Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, which dominates the city skyline. At the north end is the modernist Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (Roman Catholic), nicknamed ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’, alluding to the large Catholic Irish population of the city, and to its tepee-like design.


Opposite the Anglican Cathedral is our first stop:

1) 3 Gambier Terrace (below). This was the flat rented by Stuart Sutcliffe and his art school colleague, Rod Murray in 1960, with John Lennon as an unofficial tenant. Lennon had also asked Murray to join the group as a bass player, around the same time he asked Sutcliffe, and Murray set about making his own instrument. However, when Sutcliffe won an art prize, and sold a painting to John Moores, the Liverpool entrepreneur, he was able to buy a new bass, and beat Murray to the job. Another art-school student living in the flat was Margaret Duxbury, who later as Margaret Chapman became successful, selling limited edition reproductions of her northern street scenes in more than fifty countries. She later recalled Paul and George often entering the flat via the fire escape to rehearse with John and Stu.


2) 9 Percy Street. Stu Sutcliffe lived here with Rod Murray before moving to Gambier Terrace. He had also lived in two different flats in Canning Street when he started at the Art College in 1956.

3) Liverpool College of Art (below). After failing all his GCE O-level examinations, John Lennon began to attend the art college in 1957 when his headmaster at Quarry Bank School and his Aunt Mimi tried to find a better way of using his talents. Here he met Stuart Sutcliffe, Bill Harry, later the creator of the Liverpool music newspaper, Mersey Beat, and his future wife, Cynthia Powell. After taking time out from his studies in 1960 to go to Hamburg for the first time, he never returned to the college. Ironically, the failed student later had a school of art and design named after him in nearby Duckinfield Street, adjacent to the Metropolitan Cathedral.


4) Liverpool Institute (below). Right next door to the College of Art is the Liverpool Institute attended by both Paul McCartney, starting in 1953,  and George Harrison, in 1954. Paul and George often travelled on the same bus to the school, and became friends, Paul later introducing his younger friend to Lennon. The two buildings were only separated by two side doors, and the two Institute students would often slip through into the basement canteen to get together with John, much to the latter’s embarrassment of being seen associating with schoolkids.

The Institute closed in 1985, and became derelict. Paul wanted to do something to save his old school, and on the advice of George Martin, partnered with educator, Mark Featherstone-Witty to create Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), based on the New York ‘Fame’ school made famous by the 1980 Alan Parker film of the same name. Paul often goes back to Liverpool to attend the graduation ceremonies. Another Beatles’ connection was made when actress, Leanne Best, niece of former Beatle, Pete Best, and granddaughter of roadie-cum-Apple CEO, Neil Aspinall (himself a classmate of Paul for English and Art classes), graduated from LIPA.


5) Ye Cracke Pub, Rice Street (below). One block from the Institute and Art College, halfway down narrow Rice Street on the right-hand side is this unassuming 19th century pub. The ‘Y’ is a ‘Thorn’ (Þ – the Old English “th” sound), so the name is pronounced ‘The Crack’. This was the regular local watering-hole for John Lennon and his art school friends, and was the place where he came to drown his sorrows when he heard that his mother had been killed. It was also the location of his first date with Cynthia.

In the summer of 1960, John attended a performance by the beatnik poet, Royston Ellis, at the nearby Liverpool University with some of his  friends, and they later returned to Ye Cracke to discuss his philosophy and life in general. Bill Harry’s idea was that any movement they were involved in should reflect their own environment and experiences, and they formed an informal group called ‘The Dissenters’, with the aim to make Liverpool famous through their particular talents: Bill through his writing, Stu Sutcliffe and Rod Murray with their painting, and John with his music – an aim which was ultimately successful for all parties involved. There is a plaque inside the pub commemorating this meeting, which was unveiled by Rod and Bill on 24th August 2003.


6) 36 Falkner Street (below). Although no definitive documentry evidence exists to confirm it, this was almost certainly the location of the flat that Brian Epstein owned for his … erm, liaisons, when such a thing was illegal in Britain. Epstein loaned it to John and Cynthia as their first matrimonial home, mainly to keep the fact that John was married from his adoring fans. Another legend says that John wrote ‘Do You Want To Know a Secret’ here, with the lyrics cryptically alluding to his marriage, Cynthia’s pregnancy … and possibly Brian’s own ‘secret’.


7) Philharmonic Dining Rooms (below). Despite the name, this is a pub frequented by John Lennon and his friends, which was built as a gentlemen’s club by Robert Cain & Son, the brewers, and opened in 1898. The faculty of design at Liverpool University College was commissioned to decorate and design the interior. Both the exterior and interior of the Grade II listed venue are a riot of Art Nouveau detailing and even the gentlemans’ toilets have marble urinals! Lennon once said that one of the prices of fame was, “not being able to go to the ‘Phil’ for a drink”.


8) 4 Rodney Street. While No. 62 is famous for being the birthplace of William Ewart Gladstone, four-time Prime Minister during the Victorian era, Beatles’ fans would probably be more interested to know that Brian Epstein was born on 19th September 1934 in the private maternity clinic that existed at that time at No. 4. The plaque commemorating the fact (below) was unveiled in February 2015.


9) Registry Office, 64 Mount Pleasant. Two Beatles-related marriages took place here. Firstly, on 17 April 1953, shortly after the registry first opened, Ringo’s mother, Elsie, married Harry Graves, the second marriage for both, then on 23 August 1962, John married Cynthia after she found that she was pregnant with Julian. Brian Epstein was the best man, and George Harrison and Paul McCartney also attended.

10) Former Oxford Street Maternity Hospital. John Lennon was born here on 9 October 1940. His Aunt Mimi later told Beatles’ biographer, Hunter Davies, that she had to dodge the bombs on her way to the hospital, as it was in the middle of a German air raid, but this has now been proven from wartime records not to be true. There were no raids between 21st September and 16th October. John, too, believed the story, writing in his inimitable way:

“I was bored on the 9th of October 1940 when, I believe, the Nasties were still booming us, led by Madolf Heatlump (who only had one). Anyway they didn’t get me.”

His father, Alfred, was away at sea at the time of John’s birth, and didn’t return until 1st November.

The hospital closed in 1995 and, after standing derelict for some time, is now a hall of residence for university students, part of the Unite Student Village, called Lennon Studios.


© Copyright 2017 Philip Kirkland. No original part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.

There’s A Place … A Beatles Tour Of Woolton

The most important visit for any Beatles’ fan is, of course, to Liverpool, but the Liverpool suburb of Woolton is worthy of setting aside a day all on its own. Most Beatles’ tours will take you to four of the sites connected with the history of the group, but I have identified at least seven more, all within walking distance of each other.

Originally a separate village, as in many big cities, it was eventually incorporated into the City of Liverpool in 1913. In the early part of the second millennium it was the property of a religious order, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem until it was confiscated in 1559 by Queen Elizabeth I. Her successor, James I sold it to William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. Older British readers will remember Bamber Gascoigne, the host of the TV quiz, University Challenge. His ancestor of the same name (albeit that his surname was spelt with a ‘y’), a Member of Parliament for Liverpool in the late 18th century, was among the later owners of the village, until the land rights eventually passed to the current owner, the Marquess of Salisbury.

The map below shows the most important places in the early Beatles’ story within the village of Woolton.

1) “Mendips”, a semi-detached house at 251 Menlove Avenue, needs little explanation, being the home of John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi and Uncle George, where John lived for most of his childhood and adolescence. It is now open to the public on private tours from the National Trust.

2) In the street behind Mendips, at 88 Vale Road, is the family home of Nigel Walley. Walley was briefly the tea-chest bass player in The Quarry Men, and was then charged by Lennon to find engagements for the group, effectively their first manager. He later became a golf professional at clubs in Kent, in the south of England, and in Austria.

On the left-hand side of the semi-detached house next door, and immediately behind Mendips, is No. 84 (below), the home of Ivan Vaughan, the mutual friend of John and Paul, who introduced them to each other at the Woolton Village Fete on 6th July 1957, thus igniting the touchpaper on the Beatles’ story.

3) Continuing along Vale Road, at number 83, on the opposite side of the street close to the junction with Linkstor Road is the childhood home of Pete Shotton (below), also a brief member of The Quarry Men, playing the washboard, and Lennon’s best friend until John went to live in the United States.

4) A few yards from Pete’s house, right on the junction of Vale Rd and Linkstor Rd, is the place where Shotton found Paul McCartney cycling home to Allerton, and relayed the message that John was inviting him to join the group, after impressing Lennon during his impromtu “audition” some weeks earlier at the Woolton Village Fete.

5) One block from that junction, and turning right into Quarry Road, we find the shop, now a hairdressing salon (below), owned by Pete Shotton’s mother. In the summer of 1957, Mrs Shotton overheard a conversation between the caretaker (janitor) of St Peter’s Church Hall, Harry Gibbons, and another customer about the upcoming Summer fete. She asked him whether her son’s group the Quarry Men could perform at the event and an audition was arranged with the organiser, Harry Foster. This was the chance conversation that led to the chance meeting that created history!

6) At 120a Allerton Road is ‘The Dairy Cottage’ (below – the small white annex), a small house which was a retail outlet for the dairy farm owned by John Lennon’s Uncle George (Aunt Mimi’s husband) and his brother, Frank. John lived here briefly with his mother Julia while his father was away on his voyages. Mimi’s sister Harriet also lived here with her husband, Norman.

7) At the other end of Allerton Road, number 23, is Woolton Village Club (below). The Quarry Men played one gig here on Saturday 24th January 1959, a 10 minute set of skiffle songs.

8) The field at the back of St. Peter’s Church in Church Road, the site of the famous performance of the Quarry Men on 6th July 1957, where a barely 15-year-old Paul McCartney saw the group play for the first time, and where he first set eyes upon his future songwriting partner.

9) The parish hall, opposite the church, where the group played an evening concert the same fateful day. Before the performance, a mutual friend and sometime tea-chest bass player, Ivan Vaughan, introduced John to Paul. Paul’s already accomplished playing impressed John enough to invite him to join the group.

10) Maybe a morbid site to visit, but on the evening of 15 July 1958, Nigel Walley went to visit John, and found his mother, Julia, and Mimi talking by the front gate. They told him that John wasn’t home, so Walley accompanied Julia to the bus stop further along Menlove Avenue. At about 9:30, Walley left her to walk to his house on Vale Road, and she crossed Menlove Avenue. A short time later, Walley heard “a loud thud”, and saw her body “flying through the air”. She had been hit by a car, and died on impact. The accident took place close to the junction of Menlove Avenue and The Vineries.

11) Strawberry Field, in Beaconsfield Lane, which needs no explanation!

Although it falls within the area of Calderstones, Quarry Bank School, the alma mater of John Lennon and Pete Shotton, is only a short walk away, too. A veritable Beatlefest within not much more than a square mile!

© Copyright 2017 Philip Kirkland. No original part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.

Hey Ringo, You’ll Love This One – The Lost Song Of George.

When you live in a mansion with around 120 rooms, that is set in 62 acres, I guess it’s quite easy to forget where you left things.

It turns out that George Harrison used to leave notebooks with song lyrics all over his home, Friar Park, in Henley-On-Thames, which would later appear in kitchen drawers, cupboards and desks. He did eventually decide to keep a folder under his piano bench. It is therefore probably no surprise that his widow, Olivia, would eventually find some unreleased treasures. One such song came to light this February in the shape of a composition dating from 1970, called “Hey Ringo”. The song is an imaginary conversation of mutual admiration between The Beatles’ drummer and George, and appears to be either a plea to keep the band together, or more likely, for the two musicians to continue working together outside of the group which, of course, they did. The lyrics are:

Hey Ringo, now I want you to know, that without you my guitar plays far too slow.
And Ringo let me say this to you, I’ve heard no drummer who can play it quite like you.
Wait a minute Mr G, stop flattering me. My drums sound bare, when your guitar’s not there.
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, let me hear you playing.
Hey Ringo, there’s one thing I’ve not said, I’ll play my guitar with you till I drop dead.
Well Mr. G, it’s really nice the things you say. But when you drop please stop the other way.

Once she found these pages, Olivia decided to give a copy to Ringo during George’s birthday celebration in Los Angeles last February, apparently a big surprise for Ringo, as he had no idea about the existence of the lyrics. George and Ringo were always close friends within the group,  George had been the main advocate for recruiting Ringo in the first place.


As George, like the rest of The Beatles, didn’t read or write music – they relied on just writing down the chords, and working out the song in the studio – so the song isn’t ready for recording. Olivia has promised to “dig a little” to see if George left any tapes that might have home demos of this, and other, songs. In the absence of finding a complete version, she hopes that Ringo and Paul might like to put the lyrics to music.

The words to “Hey Ringo” appear in an updated version of George Harrison’s book, I Me Mine, with some family photographs, manuscripts and interviews that were never published. This book is as close to an autobiography as any member of The Beatles wrote.

Let’s hope that Olivia finds that tape, and that we haven’t heard the last of George … in more ways than one!

© Copyright 2017 Philip Kirkland. No original part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.

Paul Becomes Companion of Honour!

originalIn the Queen’s Official Birthday Honours 2017, announced today, Sir Paul McCartney has been awarded the distinguished title, ‘Companion of Honour’. This is one of the highest honours that a British or Commonwealth subject can receive, second only to the Order of Merit, and therefore represents an even greater achievement than his knighthood. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Order of Companion of Honour, which was founded in 1917 by King George V as a reward for outstanding achievement in various fields, including music, literature, art, science, politics, business and religion. It is limited to 65 holders at any one time, and places only become vacant upon the death of a current holder. He joins the current company of the likes of Stephen Hawking, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Maggie Smith. This allows the holders to use the post-nominal letters CH, hence, Sir James Paul McCartney CH MBE.

“I’m very happy about this huge honour, and with the news coming on my birthday weekend and Father’s Day, it makes it colossal!”, said Paul upon receiving the news.

My So-Called Career Is A Haphazard Thing – McCartney At 75

As Paul McCartney approaches three-quarters of a century of life, this Sunday, 18th June, it seems as good a time as any to appraise the ‘haphazard career’ that he mentioned when talking about preferring spending time with his youngest daughter, Beatrice, some years ago, and infinitely preferable to thinking about discussing the same subject at some, hopefully, distant time in the future when he is called to the great choir in the sky.

What is clear is that in writing the history of popular music in the 20th century, McCartney will stand comfortably in the company of the likes of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein et al., and remarkably, he reached that status by the age of 28, with the break up of The Beatles. What stands out is that he was a natural, both as a musician and a songwriter. As an adolescent, he preferred to learn the piano by ear, despite his father advising him to take lessons, and could pick out the latest Little Richard tunes after a few listenings. The reluctant bass player then quickly became one of the instrument’s leading exponents, and every new instrument was mastered with consummate ease.

paul-mccartney-young-1As far a songwriting is concerned, his first recorded composition, ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’, written around the time of his sixteenth birthday, although highly derivative, shows an incredible understanding of the genre for one so young, and could easily have been written by any number of seasoned Tin Pan Alley veterans churning out hits for the Elvis ‘impersonators’ of the era. Its atmospheric, bluesy performance was also an indication of what was to come, although hardly anyone heard the recording at the time, of course.

Moving forward to the prodigious output of hits in the eight active years of The Beatles as a group, we marvel at the apparent ease with which McCartney was able to create time and again sublime unions of lyrics and music, the kind of songs that I always consider not to have been written, but to have just “happened”, as if they had always existed. Musicologists, of which I am not one, will point to the wonder of techniques used in ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Penny Lane’ that appear to have been instinctive to McCartney, rather than the result of advanced musical knowledge. Although he wasn’t a student of musical theory as such, he was certainly a student of musicians, absorbing influences from the whole century. It is not too far-fetched to believe that he had his great predecessors in mind during the songwriting process, and had a single-minded ambition to create something to equal their best work, sometimes at the expense of being ‘contemporary’. Many, including his sometime songwriting partner, criticize the ‘granny music’ of ‘Honey Pie’, but the result was a perfect pastiche of a 1920s-style song, down to the ‘fruity’ vocals (Paul’s words), and would not have been out of place if it had been released forty years earlier – electric bass and guitar notwithstanding. It is interesting to note that Lennon produced one of his best, and well-fitting – lead guitar solos on the recording, in spite of his distaste for Paul’s ‘regressive’ music.

The solo McCartney years divide Beatles’ fans much more. Leaving the creative hothouse that was The Beatles and essentially striking out on his own as a songwriter, albeit sometimes sharing authoring credits with his wife, was always going to be a thankless task. The initial collaboration with the contrasting talents of John Lennon, bouncing ideas off him, and later the intense competition with him and, to a lesser extent, with George Harrison, inspired a body of work unparalleled in the rock era before or since. Such a talent was not going to dry up overnight, and there are certainly many songs in the first 10-15 years of his solo career that would have made it on to the very best of the Beatles’ albums. “Monkberry Moon Delight”“Maybe I’m Amazed”, “Live And Let Die”, “My Love” and “Band On The Run” stand out. Later efforts such as “Once Upon A Long Ago”, “Hope Of Deliverance” and “Fine Line” miss the mark by a very long way, especially lyrically. Attempts to be ‘contemporary’ or ‘relevant’, such as the experimental ‘The Fireman’ project, or the ‘Press To Play’ album, or collaborations with members of Nirvana, and Kanye West, seem to be unnecessary for someone already assured of a place in the pantheon of the all-time greats.

Nevertheless, any other artist starting a career in 1970 and producing a canon of popular music like McCartney’s would have good reason to proud of his work, but the point is that he isn’t ‘any other artist’, he is Paul McCartney, national (and international) treasure, forever to be judged against a younger version of Paul McCartney, part a phenomenon that can never quite be equalled, even by its own members. No one would have expected him to retire at 40 and count his money, nor would they begrudge him the opportunity to continue doing what he likes doing best, making and performing music and, of course, still reach people. As he said himself:

“I used to think that all my Wings stuff was second-rate stuff, but I began to meet younger kids, not kids from my Beatle generation, who would say, We really love this song.”

NOV24-Paul-McCartneyHigh praise indeed but it seems, however, that Paul understands the majority of his public very well, and recognizes what they want, given that his concerts consist overwhelmingly of Beatles’ hits and early solo efforts. He obviously also recognizes that age is not a friend of the vocal chords, now often not even attempting some of the higher notes, but that the truest fans forgive that just to be in the presence of a true great.

A haphazard career, perhaps, but to paraphrase another legend, “Greatness is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”. Paul was effectively the driving force of The Beatles. He smiled and interacted with screaming fans while Lennon scowled, he conceived the ‘Sgt Pepper’ project when the group appeared to be faltering, and he never really wanted the dream to end, encouraging even greater standards and creativity, often to the point of annoying his bandmates. He was ever the optimist – “Thumbs-aloft Macca”.

A quick glance at the dictionary gives the following definition of genius:

“…very great and rare natural ability or skill, especially in a particular area such as science or arts, or a person who has this…”

Genius is creating some of the best music of all time despite a lack of formal training. Sir James Paul McCartney is a genius.

Happy Birthday, and many more of them!

© Copyright 2017 Philip Kirkland. No original part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.

Act Naturally … The Importance of Being Ringo

When Ringo Starr was a guest in 2008 on the BBC TV chat program, ‘Friday Night With Jonathan Ross’, he greeted each achievement that Ross mentioned with the self-satisfied answer, “I was great!”, eventually receiving the light-hearted admonishment from the host, “No, you weren’t!” When he claimed he “was great” as the Mexican, or maybe Spanish, gardener with a scouse accent in the film, “Candy”, maybe Ross had a good point. As a musician, however, Ringo’s hubris actually had some justification.

Perhaps fewer words have been written about Ringo than about any of the other Beatles, and many of those words focus on the fact that he was the ‘lucky Beatle’, that he was in the right place at the right time, and myriad other reasons why his role in the Beatles’ phenomenon was just a little less important than that of the others. This is obviously not the case, and those that were involved directly with the group knew it then, and continue to emphasize the point.

By 1959, Ringo was the drummer in the best group in Liverpool, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, at a time when The Beatles … or Moondogs, or Japage 3 … didn’t even have a drummer. “The rhythm’s in the guitars”, they claimed, but what they would have given to have the vertically- and nasally-challenged, bearded boy from the Dingle in their ranks! Paul later said:

“We loved him. And we just thought he was the very best drummer we’d ever seen. And we wanted him in the group. We were big fans of his.”

The Beatles assessment was later backed up by other professional drummers, too. Ginger Baker recalled:

“Whenever a new Beatles album came out, all the drummers would run out to get it to see what incredible new stuff Ringo was doing.”

And Steve Gadd, who has played with Eric Clapton, Simon & Garfunkel and Steely Dan, among many others, said:

“Ringo comes from a different kind of school, and I find that totally exciting and challenging. How he does what he does … it’s so different from what other drummers do. If somebody approaches music or their instrument in a way that’s unique, I want to be around that person. To me, there’s something to learn there.”

Phil Collins, who was a 14 year fan in the audience during the making of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, also approves:

“I think he’s vastly underrated. The drum fills on ‘A Day In The Life’ are very complex things. You could take a great drummer today and say, ‘I want it like that.’ They wouldn’t know what to do.”

One of the defining early recordings of The Beatles was ‘She Loves You’, which, due to George Martin’s intervention, appears to explode into life with the chorus and hook, but in fact is initially propelled by Ringo’s brief, and innovative, drum intro. Similarly, ‘A Day In The Life’ is frequently voted the quartet’s best song. Among its many distinctive features are mentioned the contrasting verses of John and Paul, and the orchestral interludes that tie the parts together and provide the climax of the song, but closer inspection reveals the imaginative drum fills that Phil Collins mentioned, during Lennon’s verses, which glue the lines together. The recent re-mastered version of ‘Sgt. Pepper’ really brings his contribution to the fore. The wild abandon with which Ringo thumps the tubs in various versions of ‘Long Tall Sally’, especially in the 1964 NME Awards’ performance, adds to the Little Richard-esque vocal abilities of Paul, making even the most conservative member of the audience want to scream his/her approval. In fact, it is that sheer joy of making music that was part of the appeal of The Beatles in the first place. A far cry from the shoe-gazing Britpop of the 1990s!

Ringo wasn’t a flashy drummer, and not as technically advanced as some others, but he was consistent, and by all accounts hardly ever made a mistake in recording sessions. D.J. Fontana, drummer for Elvis Presley recalled:

I was playing maracas or something behind him, just listening to him. I swear he never varied the tempo. He played that back beat and never got off it. Man, you couldn’t have moved him with a crane. It was amazing. He played a hell of a back beat, Man, and that’s where it’s at.”

George Martin, who was wary of using The Beatles new drummer in the second EMI session – Pete Best had still been in place for the first – soon came around:

Ringo always got and still gets a unique sound out of his drums, a sound as distinctive as his voice. … Ringo gets a looser deeper sound out of his drums that is unique. …This detailed attention to the tone of his drums is one of the reasons for Ringo’s brilliance. Another is that although Ringo does not keep time with a metronome accuracy, he has unrivaled feel for a song. If his timing fluctuates, it invariably does so in the right place at the right time, keep the right atmosphere going on the track and give it a rock solid foundation. This held true for every single Beatles number Richie played … Ringo also was a great tom tom player.”

I have refrained from re-opening the Pete Best or Ringo Starr debate, but if once-in-a-lifetime occurences such as the Beatles are preordained, then, personality-wise, Ringo was a Beatle in a way Pete could never have been. His laid-back charm, and knockabout wit dovetailed brilliantly with the constrasting the more cutting wit of George, or the sardonic John. The fact that he was seen as a slightly comical figure, and his distinctive stage name, chimed both with children, and older people for whom rock music in general was alien, thereby extending The Beatles’ appeal beyond the usual target market. There were in fact six tribute records made in his honour, including “Ringo I Love You”, recorded by a young Cher, under the name of Bonnie Jo Mason. He was happy to go along with this image, where more egotistical performers might have wished for a more serious persona to be seen, taking lead vocal on the child-oriented ‘Yellow Submarine’, and his own composition, ‘Octopus’s Garden’.

Far from the assertion that Ringo was ‘lucky to be in The Beatles’, The Beatles were indeed lucky to have had the opportunity to draft Ringo into the band. He wasn’t the most important Beatle, but neither were John, Paul or George. The four found each other through a fortunate stroke of serendipity, each bringing to the table something that the others couldn’t, creating a phenomenon that only happens once in a lifetime.

Enjoy Ringo rocking ‘Long Tall Sally’…

© Copyright 2017 Philip Kirkland. No original part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.

Having Read The Book…Hey Jude!

There are many Beatles’ authors, in fact that are dozens of them. Some are primary sources; they were there, and they saw it all as it happened. Brian Epstein was one, but he penned ‘A Cellarful Of Noise’ as early as 1964, when the US explosion was only just getting going. He also didn’t tell us all we needed to know, or what we know now. Where was the ‘Spanish Honeymoon’ episode, or the struggles with his homosexuality? Geoff Emerick had inside knowledge of the recording process, as did George Martin, and they both wrote books about it, but that still leaves us in the dark about the inspiration behind the actual protagonists. There are also gossip-mongers with an axe to grind, or simply a bank account to fill, but they aren’t even worth a mention, or rather only to warn the hapless would-be reader to give their efforts a wide berth.

judeFinally, there are Beatles’ historians. The best of them go back to whatever is better than a primary source, they look for the facts behind the facts and talk to the people that knew the protagonists, and know things that even the protagonists didn’t know. Mark Lewisohn is, quite rightly, lauded for his life work as a respected and authoritative chronicler of all aspects of The Beatles’ lives and career, and for his current project, ‘The Beatles: All These Years’, currently standing at one fat volume out of three. It is not an exaggeration to place Jude Southerland Kessler on the same pedestal as Lewisohn, for her similarly on-going project, ‘The John Lennon Series’ of nine volumes, currently standing at three: ‘Shoulda Been There’, ‘Shivering Inside’, and ‘She Loves You’, with the fourth, ‘Should Have Known Better’, imminent. It is the third of these that I will concentrate on in this review.

To produce an extended biography of John Lennon, rehashing the known facts, dispelling others, and surprising the reader with a few new ones, would be a great feat in itself, but what sets Jude apart is that the painstakingly-researched facts are woven into a narrative, placing the reader in the thick of the action, and gifting the reader with something which is both a novel based on Lennon’s life and career, and an authoritative work of non-fiction at the same time. Bill Harry, who wrote the prologue in ‘She Loves You’, calls it ‘Factional. And that it is. Every descriptive passage could come from the author’s imagination, but in fact is the result of research, even when it is not directly related to the core Beatles’ story. We are aware of this right from the start, when Jude evokes images of the Spanish landscapes that John and Brian saw on their 1963 vacation. Jude footnotes even this, and explains:

“The descriptions in this chapter were written after 8-9 hours of viewing thousands of photos of The Spanish Riviera online and in books. I saved a folder of snapshots from each city that John and Brian visited and took notes on each photo.”

Notes and footnotes are the key to the success of this work. Rather than distracting the reader with page by page footnotes, Jude allows the reader to enjoy the flow of each section, before justifying her narrative with a series of references and discussion of the facts at the end of each chapter. There are 3281 notes marked in superscript throughout the book, testament indeed to the quality of research, which I recommend consulting in the appendix when you are disappointed that you’ve finished the book, and want more!

The actual conversations in the book are also discussed. Many come from readily available sources and are verbatim, while those that are conjecture are fully justified in the notes, leaving the reader with no doubt as to the likelihood that similar conversations took place, and giving us the peace of mind that we are living the actual experience.

‘She Loves You’ begins in April 1963 with the aforementioned Spanish vacation, and ends in February 1964, as The Beatles are flying home from their first, and triumphant, American tour. If this appears a short time to be covered in one volume of nine covering Lennon’s forty years on Earth, that’s because this is one of the most important periods of that life. It was the period of fruition of John’s dreams, the advent of Beatlemania in his land of birth with the spectacular success of the London Palladium and Royal Command Performance shows, followed by the conquest of the land of his initial inspiration, the USA. It also deals with The Beatles evolution from a provincial act with a few hit records, to their neccesary move to London, becoming a national phenomenon.

bookThe title of the book has a double meaning. Of course, it refers to one of their most-loved songs of this period, but more importantly, to the fact that Cynthia really did love John, and as Jude explains in the narrative, so much so that she was happy to put up with being largely confined, alone with baby Julian, to their eight-floor London maisonette by the attention of the ubiquitous, crazed fans outside, and to play second fiddle to John’s burgeoning fame, in the almost certain knowledge that the trials and tribulations would be worth it in the end. More surprisingly, we learn that that love was mutual, contrary to many previous reports. Cynthia was John’s rock, at least at this stage of his life, the one constant in an increasingly mad existence. This relationship provides a continuing theme for the book where it could otherwise be just part of a larger biography without beginning or end.

Another interwoven theme is Lennon’s constant struggle with the conflict between having become ‘bigger than Elvis’, and his disappointment about having been packaged as a family-friendly, besuited caricature, rather than the Liverpool rocker of his own self-image. This rollercoaster of emotions is expertly documented by Jude, and through the narrative, we feel his pain, sighing with relief in the moments when he is truly happy.

Needless to say ‘She Loves You’ is a page-turner. In my case, so much so that I likened it to that lust-after bar of chocolate of my childhood. So much wanting, and it’s over far too quickly. I wolfed down its 800 pages in four days! At least I can look forward to five more chocolate bars in the future! The Beatles’ story will continue to be written far into the future, and the devoted Beatles’ fan needs to be selective about which chocolate bars are worth sampling. I’d say, without reservation, that ‘The John Lennon Series’ by Jude Southerland Kessler should be in your candy store … oops, I mean ‘sweet shop’.

Jude’s website, where you can read more about her and order the books is at:

© Copyright 2017 Philip Kirkland. No original part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.