The members of the classic Quarrymen line-up of 1957, John Lennon apart of course, left the group over the next year or so for a variety of reasons. Pete Shotton – because of his dislike of performing in public, Rod Davis – as he disliked the Rock & Roll direction the group was taking, Eric Griffiths – when the group found itself with four guitarists, and he refused to switch to bass, and Len Garry – due to a long recuperation from tubercular meningitis. This left drummer, Colin Hanton, as the last man standing – or rather, sitting.
Colin Leo Hanton was born in Walton Hospital on 12th December 1938, and initially lived in Bootle. After the war, the family, including his elder brother, Brian, moved to Woolton, where he met future Quarryman, Rod Davis. The two were among a group of friends that played football together in the street. Colin attended St Mary’s School in the village, next to the Catholic church of the same name – almost literally a stone’s throw from the site where he later played with The Quarrymen on that fateful afternoon of 6th July 1957. There is no record that Hanton knew any of the many other people later connected with The Quarrymen at this point, even given the close-knit nature of small communities in those times. While he was living in Woolton he gained a sister, Jacqueline, but his mother fell seriously ill with tuberculosis, later passing away in hospital. During his mother’s illness, the young family had gone back to live with his grandparents in Bootle, but he later moved back to Woolton, close to Eric Griffiths’ house, when his father remarried, going on to study at Horrocks Avenue Senior School, further south of Woolton, taking the Woolton Road towards Garston. Therefore he completed his formal education without attending any of the same schools as his future Woolton bandmates.
When he left school, Colin wanted to study carpentry, and secured an apprenticeship at Guy Rogers Ltd, a manufacturer of upmarket furniture, based in Speke. He later went on to become an upholsterer with the same company. He had become interested in jazz and, now working, he was able to afford to buy a drum kit from Frank Hessy’s Music Store in Whitechapel on hire purchase, a white Broadway model. When his near neighbour, Eric Griffiths, heard that he had a drum kit, he told him about the group that he was setting up with John Lennon and some of his friends, and asked him if wanted to join. Among the many skiffle groups emerging from Liverpool, having a drummer was a luxury, and anyone that had a professional instrument was a shoo-in, irrespective of their musical ability, so Hanton joined The Quarrymen, meeting the rest of the group for the first time at a practice in Griffith’s house. Although he never had any ambitions to have a career in music, Hanton nevertheless took the practice sessions very seriously, often finding himself at odds with some of the other members, who saw the get-togethers as an opportunity to “have a lark”. A friend of Colin’s, Arthur Wong, had a Grundig tape recorder, and the group would often go to his house in Mossley Hill where Wong would tape their sessions. Without the benefit of hindsight, Wong didn’t keep any of the recordings, denying us the opportunity of having a record of how The Quarrymen sounded at this stage – the 1957 Village Fete recordings being of poor quality.
It was through Hanton that The Quarrymen got one of their first gigs, and the first one that was photographed, the first photo of John Lennon performing. In 1957, the city of Liverpool was celebrating the 750th anniversary of its Royal Charter, effectively its foundation, and there were street parties held throughout the city. Hanton had a friend called Charles Roberts, who was a trainee poster writer and silk screen printer, and had stencilled the design on Hanton’s drumhead. Roberts lived at 84 Rosebery Street in the Toxteth area of the city, where his mother, Marjorie, was responsible for the organisation of the party, and invited The Quarrymen to provide the entertainment for the day.
Playing from the back of a flatbed truck owned by the resident of No. 76, with the microphone cable threaded through the window of the same house, the group played a peaceful afternoon session. However, when they started the evening session, trouble began to brew and, as usual, the target was Lennon. Crowds had started to gather from nearby streets, and Hanton overheard a local gang saying that they were going to get “get” Lennon, as he had been flirting with their girlfriends. When they’d finished playing, they took refuge in Roberts’ house, where his mother, in true British style, gave them tea. The gang wasn’t going to give up, however, and the police were called. The truck was driven around the block and the bands equipment was brought to safety through the back entrance of No. 84. Meanwhile the members of the group were given an escort to the bus stop, taking a No. 73 bus home to Woolton. Charlie Roberts took photos of the event on a Kodak Brownie camera, beating Geoff Rhind to the honour of taking the first photo of The Quarrymen performing by exactly two weeks! Charlie and Colin still occasionally see each other to this day.
Colin, of course, was present at the famous occasion two weeks later, and continued to play when Paul McCartney joined the band later in October 1957 – in fact, the first rehearsal with John and Paul together was held in at Hanton’s house. He could immediately see that McCartney was improving the group, and that he was ambitious, and had clear ideas how things should be done. When George came on board at the beginning of 1958, however, things began to change. Len Garry left the group due to his illness, and Eric Griffiths began to feel that the others were rounding on him due to the fact that he hadn’t improved as much as John, and there were now two more talented guitarists in Paul and George. Things came to a head when Eric was excluded from a rehearsal. He confided in Colin, who too could see that both he and Eric were on borrowed time, finding themselves in a group that, after all, contained three ambitious and improving musicians who would go on to be the nucleus of the most successful band of all time! After Griffiths was forced out, Colin stayed around long enough to be part of the Kensington recording session – which included John Duff Lowe, and when Lowe, too, left later in the year, Hanton found himself in a kind of proto-Beatles – John, Paul, George … and Colin! (without a bass player, of course). Three days after the Kensington recording, John’s mother, Julia, was killed in a road accident, and John fell into depression. Engagements were few and far between for the rest of the year, but Paul did his best to keep the band together. One of their regular spots was at the Friday night dances at the Art College … but Colin wasn’t even invited to the first ones they did.
Quite when the end of his time as the drummer of The Quarrymen came is somewhat surrounded in confusion. Several distinguished historians and writers, and Colin himself, have given their accounts, none of which seem to coincide in terms of place of date! The most likely time was in the second half of 1958, not on on New Year’s Day 1959, as mentioned in the ‘Beatles Bible’, and not at the Wilson Hall, mentioned in the same article. Taking all the available evidence into account, it was probably at the LCPT (Liverpool Corporation Passenger Transport) Social Club (which Colin claims), on the corner of East Prescot Road and Finch Lane, in the Dovecot area of the city, not in the Norris Green area (which he also claims). Whatever the place and date, the events that led to his departure seem to be the following: The group played the usual gig that consisted of two sessions. After the first session, the manager was impressed, and offered them free drinks. Given such hospitality, John, Paul and Colin got progessively drunk on Black Velvets – Guinness and Cider – and bombed in the second session. On the bus home, a drunken Paul got angry, a combination of his feeling that the group wasn’t progessing and the lack of gigs, and feeling that Colin was the weakest link in the band, he was chosen as the one to receive his anger. Pete Shotton, who had joined them at the gig as a friend, diffused the situation. Still some way from their destination, Shotton told Hanton that they would get off the bus, and take another bus to Woolton. The others never called again, and as Hanton says, “Somehow or other, that was that”. According to Hanton, he saw John sometime later, after Pete Best had become the group’s drummer, but lost touch after that. The next thing he heard about the group was, in his own words, “…when I turned on the telly and some bloke was going on about a group called The Beatles”.
His own take on his departure was as follows:
“It was just fun to be honest with you, but wasn’t actually that much fun toward the end as I was getting weary dragging the drums on and off buses and around town so eventually I got fed up. I didn’t have any ambition to be a rock star. I was an apprentice upholsterer, which is a good trade, and my boss said to me you have got to make your mind up whether you’re going to be an upholsterer, or someone in a band, because I had to ask for time off … I never spoke about it for the first 20 years, I just kept my head down. The lads I worked with knew I was in The Quarrymen because, when the Beatles became this mega thing, I got a lot of leg-pulling because I was an upholsterer and the others were becoming millionaires. I kept quiet for as long as I could until 20 years later, when people asked for an interview, and when we (The Quarrymen) got together.”
He joined up with the surviving Quarrymen for the 40th (Woolton Fete) anniversary in 1997, and continues playing with them to this day, also making himself available to tourist groups, along with Len Garry, to tell his story. In those intervening 40 years, he married his wife, Joan, in 1965, and had two daughters, Christine and Allison. He continued working as an upholsterer ay Guy Rogers until the company closed down in 1979, when he started up his own upholstery business. He now lives quite close to Penny Lane, and often sees the tourist buses passing by. “I usually wave, but no one knows who that old man is”, he says, not with sadness, but with amusement.
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.