The Old Man In Penny Lane: The Story Of Colin Hanton

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.

A young Colin Hanton

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.

Hanton’s Broadway drum kit

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.

The Rosebery Street performance (Hanton, left)

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.

Whatever Happened To … Geoff Rhind

The photo above shows Geoff Rhind with Rod Davis, who was part of Rhind’s famous photo (the one in Rhind’s left hand!) taken on 6th July 1957 at the Woolton Village Fete.

To the casual Beatles’ fan, the name may not ring a bell, but thanks to Geoff Rhind, we are lucky enough to have a record of that famous day when, in effect, The Beatles story really started. When a journalist, blogger or social media poster writes about those events, it is usually Rhind’s amateur photo of The Quarrymen performing in the afternoon that accompanies the story, mainly because it is the only one – or at least it was until Rod Davis found photos of the parade that wound through the the streets of Woolton before the fete among the negatives that he inherited from his father. Not much has been written about Geoff, and unlike many, he hasn’t publicized his story too much, so the following is a short summary of the information available.

Geoff Rhind was born in Liverpool in May 1941, and first knew Lennon when they both attended a class at St Peter’s Sunday School in Woolton which also included Pete Shotton, Nigel Walley, Ivan Vaughan (who later introduced Lennon to McCartney), Barbara Baker (eventually John’s girlfriend) and Bob Molyneux (who made the recordings on 6 July 1957). He was later in the same class as Lennon for five years at Quarry Bank School. Like Lennon, Rhind wasn’t too academically inclined, so the two boys found themselves together in the C-stream, sitting next to each other for an hour and a half every week in art class, the one subject at which they were both excelled. Geoff’s memories of Lennon were much the same as those of all the other people he came into contact with:

“He had charisma, he was funny but could be cruel. Sometimes he would pick on other boys, or maybe one of the teachers, as the butt of his jokes … He was very much a leader and trendsetter. John was always getting into trouble, he wouldn’t apply himself to the things he was supposed to be interested in … he was brilliant in his own way and more concerned with getting people to laugh. His musical genius was already coming to the fore – I remember him saying how easy pop music was, and how easy it was to write songs.”

Lennon would also often go to the Woolton Picture House in Mason Street, just around the corner from St. Peter’s Church, with Rhind and his father. After leaving Quarry Bank, both Geoff and John went to the Liverpool College of Art. The last time they ever spoke, John was in trouble again. Rhind remembers:

“I came across him in the corridor, he was standing outside the principal’s office; there was this guy glaring at us all the time and, in the end, John said: ‘I’m in the sh*t, I think you’d better go’, Geoff.”

A Kodak Cresta Camera like the one used for the famous photo

On the afternoon of 6th July 1957, 16 year-old Geoff Rhind was among the Woolton residents attending the annual fete. Seven weeks earlier, he had been given a Kodak Cresta as a birthday present, a basic camera intended for casual snapshots, and as a friend of many of the Quarrymen, he naturally wanted to capture them in performance, little realizing the significance of the photo he was taking. As on the 40th anniversary of the day, and again on the 60th, the 50th anniversary was celebrated with a series of events in the same place, also involving The Quarrymen. The PTA of the neighbouring Bishop Martin School, under the leadership of Angela Gillespie, was responsible for organizing the events. A camera crew from BBC-TV Manchester was present, filming for a documentary about the Quarrymen, and spoke with Geoff Rhind, who was also attending, trying to identify the exact location of the stage all those years before. Finally, Angela identified a tiny detail in Geoff’s photo which no one had noticed before, a small cross on the roof of the nearby St Mary’s Catholic Church which was visible in the background (good luck with finding that in the photo!). It is now possible to arrange future events knowing with certainty that the stage is in the right place.

Geoff Rhind in 2007, with Beatles’ Author and Radio Presenter, Spencer Leigh, to his right.

After college, Rhind enter the printing trade and moved to the Churchtown area of Dublin in the late 1960s to work as a Colour Lithographic Proofer. In 1970 he became a full-time painter which he continues to do, exhibiting his work most Saturday afternoons in the market in Marlay Park, Rathfarnham, in the southern limits of Dublin. He has developed his own technique, using oil-based inks and acrylics on board and canvas, painting in a wide range of styles, including landscapes and abstract pieces. His work (examples below) has been exhibited in many galleries over the years, including the Royal Hibernian Academy and his paintings are in collections around the world. He is also a valued member of the Beatles Ireland Fan Club.

Derelict Cottage – Geoff Rhind
Chimney Stacks – Geoff Rhind

When he is not painting, Geoff still takes photos, and like many of his old friends he enjoys making music. He is a fine harmonica player, as well as playing the guitar and singing. Like his old friend, Rod Davis, he prefers folk and blues music, and many Wednesday nights, he can be found playing at the Blue Light Pub in the Dublin Mountains. Below, Geoff sings ‘Ain’t Got No Honey Baby Now’ by the American blues and folk musician, singer, and songwriter, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten.

© 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.

John Duff Lowe And The Famous Kensington Recording

Paul McCartney (first left), Liverpool Cathedral 1953

Ronald Woan, born in 1919, sang in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral Choir from the age of 11, and in 1948 took over as the Director of Music, which included the direction of the choir. In his distinguished connection with the choir, lasting more than 50 years in total, until his retirement in 1982, he achieved many things, but achieved fame, or notoriety, as the man who failed to recognize the singing talents of Paul McCartney. In the Coronation year of 1953, McCartney, aged 10, attended a choir audition at the cathedral. Woan remembered:

“He was one of about 90 boys who were auditioning that day, so I don’t really remember him, but there was a photograph of him watching a mock Coronation (photo right). He would have been required to sing a verse of ‘Once In Royal David’s City’, but he wouldn’t, at that stage, have been required to read music. Not reading music was not the reason he failed his audition, as is often supposed.”

Also among the hopefuls was a boy from the West Derby area of Liverpool called John Lowe, known as “Duff” to his friends. Lowe also failed the audition, but tried again later, and was accepted. McCartney gave up at the first hurdle. According to Woan:

“If I had taken him on, he would probably have ended up teaching music in a comprehensive school. Under the circumstances, he went on to do other things … (joking) I think he owes me an awful lot of money!”

John “Duff” Lowe

In fact, it was Roan that later taught music in schools in Crosby, and McCartney remembered him when his classical composition, ‘Liverpool Oratorio’ was performed at the cathedral on 28 June 1991, inviting him to the event. Later in 1953, McCartney and Lowe were to meet up again, as two of the year’s new intake at the Liverpool Institute, Woan’s old school. The two boys became friends. At the beginning of 1958, McCartney, impressed with Lowe’s ability to play the piano arpeggio at the beginning of Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Mean Woman Blues’, invited him to join The Quarrymen.

In 1957, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Byrne, later of The Hurricanes, had recorded a recent hit, ‘Butterfly’, at a home recording studio at 38 Kensington. Percy Francis Phillips was a World War I veteran who had set up the studio in his house, catering mainly to amateur acts that wanted to make vanity records. Byrne showed the disc to George Harrison, who was impressed, and informed the members of his new group that they should do the same. The group, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Lowe, and drummer Colin Hanton got together at Paul’s Forthlin Road home to rehearse Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be The Day’, and according to Lowe, they also rehearsed Paul’s composition, ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’ although at that point they were unsure what to put on the B-side. Lowe also commented that Paul was very much the arranger, telling him exactly how to play the piano part – echoes of McCartney’s domineering attitude in the studio ten years later. On a rainy day, Saturday 12th July 1958, the group arrived at the Kensington studio by tram, having picked up Lowe from outside the Hippodrome Cinema in West Derby Road. Many accounts, including the plaque which is now above the front door of the building, mention the date as Monday 14th, but the studio log (photo below) clearly shows the relevant details – 12th July 1958. Skiffle. 10inch double sided. Direct – confirming that as the date. The cost of the recording is given as 11/3d (56p in decimal currency), differing from the often-reported 17/6d (87½p), but it has been confirmed that the latter figure was the price for recording on tape, then transfering to disc, which the group originally intended to do, but finding themselves short of money (as usual), they settled for cutting the recording directly to an aluminium and acetate 10″ disc.

The Kensington Studio logbook

The money was paid upfront, and they had the benefit of a brief “rehearsal” in the soundcheck, after which they launched into ‘That’ll Be The Day’. Given that it had to be a one-take performance, the result was remarkable. Without faltering, they produced an urgent and accurate rendition that Holly himself would have been proud of, given the circumstances. They finally decided on ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’ for the B-side. McCartney had written this song with clear influence from Elvis Presley. The verse shows great similarity to ‘Trying To Get To Get To You’ from the Sun Sessions, as well as the B-side of ‘Too Much’, ‘Playing For Keeps’. The ‘ah, ah, ah’ backing, sung by Harrison, appears to have been lifted from the chorus of ‘It Is No Secret What God Can Do’. Again, the band put in a great performance, and their joy at having made their ‘first record’ knew no bounds. (Lennon’s joy was shortlived as, just three days later, his mother, Julia, was knocked down by a car in Menlove Avenue and died at the age of only 44).

The record was passed around among the members of the group, who showed it off to their friends, and even got some outside ‘airplay’ when Colin Hanton lent it to his friend, Charlie Roberts, who played it endlessly over his company’s P.A. system – to mixed reviews. The last member of the group to have the disc was Lowe. Arthur Kelly, George Harrison’s friend, and erstwhile member of his first group, The Rebels, remembers John, Paul and George returning to the studio in early 1960 to cut a single-sided disc of ‘One After 909’, but the whereabouts of the recording is unknown.

Lowe left the group shortly after, when he was poached by Ricky Tomlinson for his group, ‘Hobo Rick & The City Slickers’. Tomlinson later because a famous face on British TV in series such as ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’, ‘Cracker’, and ‘The Royle Family’. The Kensington disc remained with Lowe, and with new and better things happening to the emerging Beatles over the next few years, was largely forgotten about, including by Lowe himself, who stored it in the bottom of a drawer. Leaving school, he joined a firm of stockbrokers, later working in financial services. He married and had a son and two daughters, later divorced, and had a son and daughter with his second wife, Linda. In 1975, work took him south to live at his current home in the village of Yatton, near Bristol. He kept in contact with his old bandmates until about 1960, being a regular at The Casbah when it opened in 1959, and at The Cavern during his lunch breaks from work.

In 1981, Lowe got a valuation of the long-forgotten disc from the London auction house, Sotheby’s, who offered him the chance to put it in a Rock & Roll memorabilia auction. Paul McCartney read about the sale in a newspaper, and Lowe soon received an amicable letter from Paul’s lawyers, warning him that the disc was not his to sell, and advising him to contact Paul about the matter. When Lowe received a call from McCartney, inviting him out to discuss old times, he got the impression that Paul was fishing to get his hands on the record for nothing, but he was adamant it was for sale, and asked McCartney what he was prepared to pay for it. They eventually settled on a price, widely reported to be in the region of £12,000, although the real figure is not known, Lowe keeping his promise to McCartney not to reveal the price publically. It is now considered one of the most valuable records in existence, with an estimated value approaching £250,000. Paul wasn’t present for the handover of the disc, sending an employee of his production company, MPL Communications, and a lawyer to do the transaction. Before he sold the record to Paul, he took photographs of it and later used them to reproduce exact replicas of both sides, although they were blanks and made of plastic. Owing to the interest in the record, he produced a number of ‘framed acetates’, which had the A and B sides set in a mount, with the story and his signature below (photo below).

John Lowe with his copies of the famous disc

In 1992, John Duff Lowe was the catalyst that brought the surviving Quarrymen back together. Rod Davis remembered:

“Some musicians in the Bristol area heard about one The Quarrymen living there, got in touch with him and invited him to play keyboards with them. One of these musicians has been in a band called The Four Pennies, which in England had had a big hit called “Juliet”. So, there was a chap who went around for his record company getting bands to re-form to make a CD. He did that with The Four Pennies and Mike Wilsh, who was the bass player for The Four Pennies said, “I’m playing with one of the guys who used to play in The Quarrymen. Why don’t you try to get The Quarrymen together?”

Lowe approached Rod Davis and Len Garry, and together with some of the other musicians, they made a CD which was never released. The same musicians, except for Garry, made another CD in 1994 called ‘Open For Engagements’, which was released. Although Lowe wasn’t involved in the 40th anniversary reunion in 1997, not being one of the original Quarrymen, he now plays regularly with Davis, Garry, Hanton, and recent addition, the one-time short-lived Beatle, Chas Newby, including at this year’s 60th anniversary concert at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton – where it all began.

© 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.

The Dissenters: Putting Liverpool On The Map

In Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter, between the city’s impressive Anglican and Catholic cathedrals, runs Hope Street, an essential destination for anyone doing a Beatles’ tour. Attractions include Gambier Terrace – Stuart Sutcliffe’s student digs which John Lennon shared from time to time, The Liverpool Institute – secondary school for Paul, George, and various other peripheral figures in the story, The Art College, The Philharmonic Dining Rooms – one of Lennon’s favourite watering-holes, and a dozen other places within easy walking distance. Just one block from the Art College, a left turn reveals Rice Street, so narrow that there is only room for one car to pass at a time, and virtually unpassable if the pub halfway down on the right is having a delivery from the brewery.

Rod Murray and Stuart Sutcliffe

Said public house dates from the 19th century and, at a time when many other pubs are being modernised into family-friendly establishments, Ye Cracke is largely unchanged from its mid-20th century bohemian heyday, both inside and out, down to the dated-looking brewery sign. The ‘Y’ is an Old-English ‘Thorn’ (Þ), meaning the name is pronounced ‘The Crack’. In October 1956, Stuart Sutcliffe was lining up for registration on his first day at college and started chatting to another new student, Rod Murray, an older boy from the West Derby district, striking up an immediate and long-lasting friendship. After signing in, a second-year student took them to the next street to introduce them to the pleasures of Ye Cracke. Stuart befriended another student called Bill Harry, who had come up through the Junior Art School in Gambier Terrace, and as a science-fiction fan, had already started to write a fanzine called ‘Biped’ with his friend, Mike Moorcock – later a successful writer. He also started his first magazine, Premier, while still at the Junior Art School. A year later, Harry was intrigued by a new student who, unlike the majority of the dufflecoat-and-scarf clad bohemian types at the college, dared to dress as a fully-fledged Teddy Boy, with greased-up hair and drainpipe jeans. John Lennon became friends with Bill, who later introduced him to Sutcliffe. John and Stuart bonded over their mutual love of music. Rod and Stuart rented a flat at 9 Percy Street but, after being evicted, moved into a first-floor flat (US second floor) at 3 Gambier Terrace, along with a talented classmate from Darwen, Lancashire, called Margaret Duxbury – known as ‘Duckie’ – who later became a sought-after artist as Margaret Chapman. In 1960, Lennon joined Sutcliffe in the sparsely-furnished apartment on an on-off basis.

Royston Ellis

On 14th June 1960, Harry, Lennon, Sutcliffe and Murray attended a reading by the poet, Royston Ellis, at the Liverpool University campus. Christopher Royston George Ellis was born on 10 February 1941, in Pinner, northwest of London and was a minor celebrity, having published his first work, Jiving to Gyp, at the age of 18, was the teenage pop pundit of the Record Mirror, and self-styled ‘King of the Beatniks’, but the four friends weren’t overly impressed. After the event, they went to Ye Cracke and discussed what they had seen. The concensus was that Ellis was a just a copy of the American Beat writers and poets such as Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, and any movement that Liverpool artists and writers belonged to should reflect their own city and culture. Bill Harry proposed forming an informal group called ‘The Dissenters’, whose aim would be to raise awareness about Liverpool: Bill through his writing, Rod and Stuart through their art, and John through his music. They later became known as ‘The Other Band (Which Never Played A Note)’. 

Royston Ellis stayed at the Gambier Terrace flat for a few days and introduced the Beatles to their first experience of taking a “drug”. He showed them how to open a Vick inhaler, remove a strip of Benzedrine and chew it. Ellis claims that he was taught the trick by a singer called Christopher Tidmarsh, who later had fleeting fame as one-hit wonder, Neil Christain and The Crusaders, and his young guitarist … Jimmy Page! Tidmarsh, Page and the rest of the group had backed Ellis during one of his poetry recitals, a mixture of literature and music popularized in the USA by the likes of Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and something that appealled to Lennon, combining, as it did, his two greatest interests. The Silver Beetles (with an “ee”) backed Royston in the same way at a recital at the Jacaranda Club. Another claim of Ellis, never fully verified, is that he suggested that, taking the name of “beat” poets, and “beat” music, they change the name to BEATles. John appeared to suggest this was the case when he late wrote his piece for Bill Harry’s Mersey Beat magazine, ‘Being A Short Diversion On The Dubious Origins Of Beatles (Translated From The John Lennon)’:

“…Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’. Thank you, mister man, they said, thanking him…”

The “Flaming Pie” pie refers to a pie that Ellis tried to cook at Gambier Terrace, but ended up burning. The phrase was also used by Paul as the title of this 1997 album. Ellis was also the inspiration for John’s ‘Polythene Pam’:

“That was me, remembering a little event with a woman in Jersey, and a man who was England’s answer to Allen Ginsberg [Royston Ellis] … I met him when we were on tour and he took me back to his apartment and I had a girl and he had one he wanted me to meet. He said she dressed up in polythene, which she did. She didn’t wear jackboots and kilts, I just sort of elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag. Just looking for something to write about.”

Royston Ellis left England soon after these events to travel the world. During his time in Moscow, he read his poetry on stage with the famous Russian poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko. He appeared as an Arab in Cliff Richard’s movie ‘Wonderful Life’ (Cliff’s group, The Shadows, had earlier also provided accompaniment for his poetry readings). He eventually settled in Sri Lanka in 1979, where he still lives in a colonial cottage with views of the Indian Ocean. He stll writes, and has added novels, travel guides and inflight magazine articles to his list of works.

Rod Murray went on to teach art, as well as continuing to produce and exhibit pieces himself. He later abandoned the static form of art in favour of movement – the applicat­ion of sound and movement to art. He carried out various commissions involving kinetics in an environmental setting. Exploring other art forms, he also moved into Holography, becoming Head of Holography at the Royal College of Art in London. Now retired, he also played a prominent part in the 2008 BBC4 TV documentary, ‘Stuart Sutcliffe: the Lost Beatle’, remembering those early days with his great friend. A lesser known fact about Rod is that, at the time when Lennon asked Sutcliffe to join the group on bass, he also extended the same offer to Murray. He was keen to do it, to the extent of beginning to build his own bass. Sutcliffe beat him to the job – the story of how he sold a painting to Liverpool businessman, John Moores has been well told in many places – and Rod’s bass remained unfinished, although it still exists! (photo below).

Rod Murray with his unfinished bass, and Sutcliffe’s acoustic guitar (yes, before the bass!)

John Lennon fulfilled his part of ‘The Dissenters’ pledge to put Liverpool on the map in spectacular fashion, of course, and in 2001, Liverpool returned the favour, putting John Lennon on the map by naming the city’s airport after him.

Due to his untimely death on 10 April 1962, Stuart Sutcliffe had no real time to do his part, although most experts agree that he would have succeeded through his art, and by association, he has become part of the Beatles’ story, and therefore part of the Liverpool story.

Bill Harry started to collect information about the local music scene and tried to point out what was happening in Liverpool to the national newspapers. Due to the lack of interest, he decided to start his own publication, ‘Mersey Beat’. It was an immediate success and later expanded to other Northern cities. He later acted as press agent for such acts as David Bowie, The Kinks, The Hollies, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and many other groups and singers. To this day, he remains one of the greatest authorities on the early Beatles’ story, having both seen the story first-hand, and actually been part of the story. He has particular reknown as someone who can dispel the many myths that surround The Beatles, and is an invaluable source of accurate information for Beatles’ historians and writers.

As the two survivors of ‘The Dissenters’, Bill Harry and Rod Murray unveiled the plaque on the wall of the bar of ‘Ye Cracke’ (main picture) on 24 August 2003.

© 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.

Chas Newby … First A Beatle, Then A Quarryman

The Quarrymen had a part-time (tea-chest) bass player who was born on the 18th June … his name was Ivan Vaughan. The Beatles had a left-handed bass player who was born on the 18th June … his name was Chas Newby. They later had another left-handed bass player who was born on the 18th June … his name was Paul McCartney. McCartney played in The Quarrymen before becoming a Beatle, as did John Lennon and George Harrison. Chas Newby has the unique distinction of being the only man who was a Beatle first, then later a Quarryman.

Paul and Ivan were born in 1942, but Charles “Chas” Newby came into the world exactly one year earlier on 18th June 1941, and lived with his family in the Everton area of Liverpool. In 1952, he began to attend the Liverpool Collegiate School, where he became friends with Pete Best, and another future collaborator, Bill Barlow. Taking up acoustic guitar, Newby, together with Barlow and four other friends, formed The Barmen Skiffle Group, playing on the Liverpool circuit with dozens of other skiffle groups, including The Quarrymen, who they later emulated by playing at The Cavern Club – The Barmen played in February 1958.

Leaving school in 1959, Chas gained a place at college to study Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. The Barmen disbanded, but he continued his hobby of playing music. His good friend, Pete Best told him about the Casbah Coffee Club, which was about to open in the cellar of his mother’s house in Hayman’s Green, West Derby. Chas and his ex-schoolfriends all went along for the opening night on 29th August, where The Quarrymen were the headline act, with Ken Brown a temporary member along with John Paul and George. After the well-documented argument over payments which resulted in Brown leaving the group, Chas, his friend Bill Barlow, and Ken were invited to join Pete Best in a new group, The Blackjacks. This project came to an end when Chas returned to his studies.

When Newby returned to college after the Christmas 1960 holidays, he and his close friends discussed what they had been doing during the break. His story was by far the most interesting. Although the term wasn’t coined until a few years later, he had been a first-hand witness to the first bout of Beatlemania – at least at a local level. Early in the year, the group had only just become known as ‘The Beatles’, but were considered just another of the many Rock & Roll bands in Liverpool, nothing special. At the beginning of August they had recruited Newby’s old schoolfriend, Pete Best, as their drummer, and set off for their first residency in Hamburg. Their time in the German port ended in a bad way due to a series of events at the end of November.

On the 21st, George Harrison was deported when it was discovered that he was only 17 years-old, and too young to play in the clubs. Having been served the notice the day before, he spent all night teaching John Lennon his lead guitar parts, and The Beatles continued playing without him. They played their final date on Monday 28th – their 56th appearence in total. They were about to transfer to the Top Ten Club, where they had been offered a new residency, and were to be given rooms in the attic. John and Stuart were the first to move out of the Bambi Kino, where they had been staying, and on the 29th, Paul and Pete were packing up their belongings. Due to lack of light, they lit an object on the wall. The walls were damp, and the fire burnt out quickly, leaving just a small scorch mark, but Kaiserkeller owner, Bruno Koschmider, accused them of trying to burn the cinema down. They were arrested and they, too, were deported the next day. John finally left Hamburg on 10th December, but Stu decided to stay with Astrid over Christmas and New Year. All of them had spent what little money they had left getting home to Liverpool, but for John, it was touch and go whether he really wanted to continue with the band. Eventually, they did get back together, and dates were confirmed for the 17th Decemberr at The Casbah, The Grosvenor Ballroom on Christmas Eve (with Derry and the Seniors), Litherland Town Hall on the 27th (with The Del Renas, The Searchers and The Deltones), before returning to The Casbah on the last day of the year. In the absence of Stu, The Beatles were in need of a bass player. None of George, Paul or George wanted to do it, so Pete suggested his old school and Blackjacks friend, Chas Newby.

Chas Newby in 1960

The show at The Litherland Town Hall was a revelation. Chas recalled:

“They were not prepared for the post-Hamburg tightness of the band, or the performance experience of playing virtually every night for four months. Litherland Town Hall was a public dancehall, with a sprung floor and elevated stage. People went there to dance, the bands were there just to provide the music. We were billed as ‘Direct From Hamburg’, and there were some people in the hall who thought we were German. Bob Wooler introduced the band, set up behind the stage curtain, along the lines of ‘Ladies and Gentleman, direct from Hamburg, the B…..’ He got no further, the curtains opened and Paul nudged him off the microphone and blasted out the opening line of Long Tall Sally.”

The Beatles were dressed in their Hamburg leathers and cowboy boots, something Liverpool hadn’t seen before, and stamped on the stage along to the music, the way they had in Germany. Chas recalled that he was wearing ordinary shoes and by the end of the 30-40 minute set, his feet were aching. John Lennon later summed up the night:

“It was that evening that we really came out of our shell and let go. We stood there being cheered for the first time. This was when we began to think that we were good. Up to Hamburg we’d thought we were OK, but not good enough. It was only back in Liverpool that we realised the difference and saw what had happened to us while everyone else was playing Cliff Richard shit.”

They played pretty much the same set for the four dates, opening with ‘Long Tall Sally’, and ending with Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say’. In between, apart from the usual Chuck Berry and Little Richard songs, they included the Eddie Cochran-inspired version of Ray Charles’ ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’, and Paul’s rendition of Elvis’ ‘Wooden Heart’. Following this performance, they acquired a fanatical local following. They had arrived, and Chas Newby had been part of it.

The story goes that what happened next was that Lennon asked Chas to join the band, and to go with them on their next trip to Hamburg in April 1961, but Newby maintains that John was only advising him to taste the scene in Germany, not specifically to become a Beatle. In any case, he could see that his future would be much brighter if he continued his studies – his education was being paid for by Pilkington Glass, the company based in St. Helen’s on Merseyside, as well as them paying him £500 a month salary, a good package in 1960. The wages on offer in Hamburg were meagre in comparison. A week after playing his fourth and final date with The Beatles, he returned to college.

He continue working for Pilkington, and completed a masters degree in Chemical Engineering in 1970. In 1968 he had married Margaret, and they had two children, Steven and Jacqueline, and eventually, four grandchildren. In 1990, he changed careers, becoming a Mathematics teacher at Droitwich Spa High School, close to his home in Alcester, Warwickshire. Margaret died suddenly in 1992.

Chas Newby’s return to music occurred in 1999 when the Best brothers reopened The Casbah Coffee Club to the public on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary. All of the Blackjacks got together to play that evening, and later Chas and Bill Barlow formed a new group called ‘Blue Suede Feet’. Two years later, using a self-built bass, Chas joined a group called ‘The Racketts’ that played in pubs and clubs in Warwickshire. Taking his musical interest in another direction, Chas, who has a fine singing voice, joined The Alcester Male Voice Choir, fittingly enough, as a bass! As of writing this blog, he is still listed on their website as a member.

In 2016, by now playing a Hofner bass identical to Paul McCartney’s, Chas was invited to join the re-formed Quarrymen … thereby becoming the first person to be a member of both the Quarrymen and The Beatles … in reverse order!

© 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.

Smile, And Buy A Bass … The Eric Griffiths Story

The photo above shows Eric Griffiths (circled), next to Rod Davis (with glasses) at the Quarry Bank School Fete in 1955.

The famous photo of The Quarrymen at Woolton Village Fete, taken some two years after the one above, shows Eric standing extreme left with a serious expression, trying to coax a respectable sound out of his guitar. By all accounts, that sound wasn’t much to write home about, but at least Eric could say he was there at the birth of The Quarrymen, and by association, the birth of The Beatles – at the very beginning, the ‘Bottom-most of the Poppermost’, as it were!

Eric Ronald Griffiths, “Griff” to his friends, was born on 31st October 1940, three weeks after John Lennon, in a small village close to Denbeigh in North Wales, some 30 miles as the crow flies from Liverpool, but separated by both the Rivers Dee and the Mersey, and a million miles from the big city life. His father, a Liverpudlian and an RAF pilot, died in action during World War II, when Eric was a few months old. After the war he moved with his mother and his sister, Joan, to Bootle, north of Liverpool, moving again to Halewood Drive, divided from Woolton Village by Kings Drive. At the age of 11, he won a scholarship to Quarry Bank High School, and under the ‘house’ system of British schools, became part of the small group of friends that also included John Lennon and Pete Shotton.

On lunchtime at the school, probably in late 1956 – accounts vary – Eric was involved in a conversation with Lennon about the emerging skiffle and Rock & Roll scene, while enjoying an illicit “ciggie”, when they were joined by fellow student, George Lee. Lee suggest they form their own skiffle band. John and Eric were immediately taken by the idea, but seeing Lee as an outsider, conspired to put the band together without him, recruiting those friends that were truly part of their gang. By now, they both had guitars, and decided to take lessons in Hunt’s Cross, south of Woolton. Finding the classes too structured, and too complicated for their immediate needs, they stopped after just two lessons and visited John’s mother, Julia, for advice. Julia played the banjo, and quickly taught the two boys the basic C, G and D7 chords, suitable for a passable rendition of many current songs, but using banjo tuning rather than guitar tuning. They would continue playing in the same manner until Paul McCartney joined the group a year later, and showed them the correct way to tune a guitar.

At this stage, Rock & Roll was beyond them, but they found they could manage the skiffle of Lonnie Donegan without too much trouble, and spent each day after school trying to build up a repetoire to be able to perform in public, adding such songs as Midnight Special, Wabash Cannonball, Worried Man Blues, and Cumberland Gap. While two guitars could reasonably perform publically, they wanted a band, so John persuaded the non-musical Shotton to provide rhythm on the washboard, while Pete, in turn, got his friend, Bill Smith, to add more depth to the sound by plucking the tea-chest bass. Eric recruited Rod Davis, who had just acquired a banjo. Griffiths also brought in Colin Hanton on drums, and various changes of bass player resulted in Len Garry getting the job, so Eric had played his part in putting together the “classic” Quarrymen line-up, and forming the group that would eventually become The Beatles.

Eric stayed with the Quarrymen through 1957, seeing the recruitment of McCartney, and into 1958, staying with group after the arrival of George Harrison on 6th February, but his brief musical career was coming to an end. McCartney and Harrison were accomplished guitarists, and Lennon was the leader, but four guitars were too many for a group that aspired to be a Rock & Roll band. Eric’s last appearance with the Quarrymen was probably caught on camera, although it isn’t immediately obvious. On the 8th March, McCartney’s cousin, Ian Harris, son of his Auntie Jin, got married and The Quarrymen were invited to provide the music at the party at his parents house at 147 Dinas Lane. From this party emerged a now-famous colour photo (below) taken by Mike McCartney. Although the photo shows the three future Beatles, and to the right, Dennis Littler, best friend of Harris, what is apparent is that overlapping George’s elbow is the headstock of another guitar, almost certainly Eric’s, given the line-up of the group at that moment. Would it be speculating too much to think that the younger McCartney was instructed to take the photo this way, given what happened next?

Eric’s headstock in front of George’s right elbow … probably!

John Lennon’s way of keeping his old school friend in the group was to suggest that he buy an electric bass – and amplifier. This would make them one of the few group with such a luxury, and give them more prestige, especially as Paul had recently fitted a pick-up on his guitar. The outlay was too much for Griffiths, and he refused, thereby sealing his fate. De facto manager, Nigel Walley, was dispatched to do the dirty work, and Eric was out of the group. According to Walley, Griffiths blamed him, and never forgave him, but Walley opines that it was for the best anyway. It appears that although Eric had a humorous and lively personality, the moment he got onstage, all that disappeared and a serious, unsmiling version took over. He did leave one more legacy, and a pretty important one … if it’s true! According to a story Griffiths used to tell, John, perhaps feeling his leadership was threatened, had once spoken to Eric about forming another group … without McCartney! Eric persuaded him it wasn’t a good idea!

By this time, Griffiths had already left school and, following the custom of those times for boys whose lack of academic success precluded them from going to university, started an engineering apprenticeship at the aircraft engine manufacturer, D. Napier & Sons on the East Lancashire Road. He found this unfulfilling, and in 1958 he joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet navigating officer. Griffiths left the navy in 1964 for a career in the prison service, introduced new manufacturing procedures for prisoners’ work. The same year, he married Relda at Woolton Parish Church. The couple would go on to have three sons, Tim, Matthew and Daniel. In 1972, the family moved to Edinburgh, where he lived for the rest of his life, working in a similar post in the Scottish prison system.

In 1985, he bought a launderette which he eventually developed into a chain of dry cleaners around Edinburgh, called CareClean. He finally left the prison service in 1993, and realizing that his lack of formal qualifications would prevent him from rising further in the ranks of the civil service, decided to concentrate on his business. In 1997, he attended a party for the 40th anniversary of the Cavern. He was reunited with Shotton, Garry, Hanton and Davis and, after an impromptu set, they reformed as the Quarrymen to recreate the also 40th anniversary of the famous fete at St Peter’s Church. Griffiths recalled having to buy a guitar and re-learn some chords after so much time being musically inactive. They toured the UK, the Americas and Japan and in 1997, they recorded their first album, ‘Get Back – Together’, followed later by a second CD, ‘Songs We Remember’. 

Eric, extreme left

During the Quarrymen’s last gig of 2004 at the SAS Royal Garden Hote lin Trondheim, Norway, he began to feel a lot of pain in his back. Although he had had this problem before, the pain was more intense, and he sought medical advice. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After stabilising the pain with morphine, he spent Christmas and the New Year with his family, but eventually had to move to a hospice. Knowing the end was near, he returned home in Edinburgh, where he died peacefully at around 11:00am on Saturday, 29th January 2005. Eric Griffiths was buried on a hillside in Scotland on Monday, 7th February surrounded by his friends and family after a secular service celebrating his life. The Quarrymen’s recording of The Beatles’ ‘In My Life’ and John Lennon’s recording of ‘Watching the Wheels’ were played at the service.

© 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.

The Enduring Mystery Of John Lennon’s School Cap

One of the interesting things about being a Beatles’ historian, writer, or author, is that there is a always a new angle to explore. So much has been written about the group, and such is the thirst for knowledge, that articles delve into the minutiae of their lives and times. One of the stories that has been doing the rounds this week on social media is the mystery of the logo on the cap John Lennon is wearing in one of his earliest photos.

At Christmas 1946, John went to Lewis’ department store in Liverpool city centre with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George to have a series of photos taken. In the resultant snaps, John appears in a standard British schoolboy’s cap. It was normal for young boys in the 1940s to wear their school uniform as smart dress, even when not actually at school – the junior version of an adult man’s formal suit, if you will. The problem is that this cap has an embroided logo which appears to be an interlocked “S” and “F”. This doesn’t correspond to any school that the young Lennon attended. John started school at Mosspits Lane Infants School on 12th November 1945, and transferred to Dovedale Road School on 6th May 1946, where he’d be at the time this photo was taken, and there is no record of either of these schools ever having such a logo. When even the acknowledged premier Beatles’ authority, Mark Lewisohn, doesn’t have the answers, the Beatles’ community adopts Sherlock Holmes mode, and tries to come up with its own theory. Some of those theories put forward so far include:

  • The cap, of unknown origin, was loaned by Lewis’ store to complete the outfit. This seems unlikely given that every boy had his own, and if he came without it, he’d simply have the photo taken bare-headed. In the photo, John is wearing a sweater over a casual shirt buttoned at the neck, and no blazer. Therefore it doesn’t seem probable that a cap was necessary to complete a uniform.
  • The letters stand for ‘Semper Fidelis’ (Always Faithful), a common motto in Latin, but neither of the schools had this motto.
  • It stands for ‘Strawberry Field’, referring to the orphange. I can find no evidence that the orphanage boys wore a uniform, but even if they did, although John went there with Aunt Mimi to the garden party that took place each summer, it’s hard to believe that they’d want to acquire such a cap.
  • It is actually “SP”, and refers to St. Peter’s Church, where John sang in the choir, attended Sunday School and joined the Bible Class. Close inspection reveals the “snake’s tongue” of both horizontal strokes of the “F”, so that can be discounted.
  • It has been photoshopped for some reason, but again, the original contact sheet (image below), although blurred, shows the same form of logo when magnified.

  • It is a cap from Minor League baseball team, The San Francisco Seals, which has an almost identical logo. For me, this falls down on many levels. Although baseball originated in England, it was not a popular sport there by that time, so to believe a minor league teams cap would be a choice of souvenir is far-fetched. It is possible that Alf Lennon could have bought it in New York during his many merchant navy trips, but again, why would a minor league west-coast team sell caps on the east coast? … and in a child’s size? This was long before the age of such advanced marketing. In any case the logos don’t match exactly, and the font used was common for sports teams, both in the UK and in the USA.

…and so it goes on. I can’t leave without putting forward a couple of theories of my own … they are only that – more theories :

This is definitely a school cap, which means searching Liverpool schools that have those letters in their names. The first thing to say is that they are all Catholic schools, and although John was raised an Anglican, his father’s family were Catholic. This opens the possibility that one of them could have attended such a school, and the cap was passed via Alf Lennon to John. The logos of these schools don’t match with the current ones, but given that this occurred over 100 years ago, it is not beyond belief that one of could have had this logo at some time. In 1888, Jack Lennon married Margaret Cowley and they had two children: Mary Elizabeth Lennon, and Michael Lennon. Margaret died giving birth to Michael (who also died 15 days later) on 19 August 1892. Shortly after, Jack began living with Mary “Polly” Maguire in a common-law marriage. In total they had fifteen children, eight of whom died young. They lived in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, and at least five of their children were born there: George Lennon (1905, in Denton Street), Herbert Lennon (1908), Sydney Lennon (1909), Harold Lennon (1911) and Alfred Lennon (1912) were born at 27 Copperfield Street. The family moved to Everton when Alfred was 3 years old.

  • St. Francis de Sales Infants School: This school is in Walton, just north of the Everton area, but there are other schools nearer, so it seems unlikely that any of Jack Lennon’s family attended.
  •  St Francis Xavier College: The school was originally in Everton, so any number of Alf’s younger brothers could have attended. It later moved to Beaconsfield Road in Woolton (near Strawberry Field) some time around 1950, but to late to have any relevance in this photo. The problem here is the absence of the “X” in the logo to distinguish St. Francis Xavier from the more famous St. Francis de Assisi.

More likely is St Finbar’s Catholic Primary School, less than a mile from the area where the grandparents of John were living. The other possibility is the De La Salle Academy. Although this was established in 1954 in Carr Lane East, a long way from any place that has a connection with the Lennon family, before that it was the De La Salle Grammar School, and based Breckfield Road South, Everton, so members of Jack and Polly Lennon’s family could have gone there. The motto of the current school is indeed ‘Semper Fidelis’, therefore giving a match. It has always been an exclusive school, however, so given the circumstances of the Lennon family at the time, St. Finbar’s is more probable.

As I said, just a theory … so I look forward to it being reproduced verbatim as the truth in other articles on the web! The mystery continues, and we will probably never know the truth, but if anyone can get to the bottom of it, he/she will be immediately elevated to the Beatles Historians’ Hall of Fame!

© 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.

The Ex-Quarryman Who WASN’T Turned Down By Decca

Superstardom and fabulous wealth have much to recommend them, but being one of the original members of a group which later becomes a phenomenon, and not staying around long enough to taste that fame, is not necessarily a missed opportunity, especially when your true talents are destined to shine through in another field. When that person then reaches the later years of his life, he can then look back with satisfaction and say, “Yep, that was a worthwhile life.” Such a person is Rodney Verso Davis, AKA Rod Davis of The Quarrymen.

Rod with his brother and sister

As was the case with most of his fellow bandmates, Davis owed his performing debut to the simple fact of owning a serviceable musical instrument. Rod first knew John Lennon from St. Peter’s Church Sunday School, Woolton as a small child, but went to a different primary school, Springwood, in Allerton. He later joined Lennon at Quarry Bank High School. Like many British teenagers in the mid-1950s, Rod heard the skiffle of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’, and was inspired to try to make music himself. He had taken piano lessons as a child, but in 1956, his uncle’s brother-in-law, one Emrys Jones, had a banjo that he wanted to sell, a ‘Windsor Whirle Victor Supremus’ five-string, dating from the 1920s, and as Donegan played banjo, Rod was interested. His father bought it for £5, but Davis had to share it with his brother, Bernie, and sister, Rosemary. John Lennon and Eric Griffiths, who already knew how to play the banjo, taught Rod the basic C, F and G7 chords. He bought a banjo tutor book to learn more, but says that Lennon didn’t want him to play the more advanced chords, probably for fear of being upstaged. Some of the early performances, before the famed Rosebery Street and St. Peter’s Church events, included Lee Park Golf Club, where Nigel Walley was an apprentice golf professional, the Locarno Ballroom, and a prefects dance at Quarry Bank, but Davis’ involvement didn’t last much beyond the summer, as he was more interested in country, blues and jazz, while the Quarrymen were playing more and more Rock & Roll. He was effectively replaced by a younger guitar player called Paul McCartney.

Unlike his erstwhile bandleader, Rod was studious, staying on at Quarry Bank to take his GCE (General Certificate of Education) ‘A-levels’ with a view to entering university. While in the 6th form, he played in a jazz trio with Gerald Greenwood (piano) and Les Brough (drums). At the end of 1957, he and his brother sold their electric train set to finance the purchase a Spanish guitar, and he became increasingly interested in folk music.

In 1960, his studies paid off when, much to the surprise of his friends, the boy from Liverpool was awarded a scholarship to study French, Spanish and Linguistics at the prestigious Trinity College, Cambridge. This rarefied environment allowed him to increase his musical education and explore new genres. He joined the St. Lawrence Folk-Song Society, eventually becoming its president and also had a jazz group called ‘Earthquake McGoon’s Dogpatch Seven’, named after the character and town in the movie version of the Al Capp comic strip, L’il Abner. Later remembering his time with the Folk-Song Society, he reminisced:

“We played all kinds of music. We even played Russian music. There was a Slavonic society and they had an end of year punt party which we played at. The punt party launched off to Granchester, laden down with vodka, and by the time we’d got through our six tunes, everyone was so totally legless that we spent the rest of the evening playing the same six tunes and we got this totally unwarranted reputation for playing Russian music. But it was a really great party.”

The ‘Trad Grad’ record

A friend at Trinity College introduced him to Bluegrass, which he hadn’t heard before, and this became a new passion, leading him to take up mandolin and fiddle, but meanwhile he was about to achieve something that would elude The Beatles just a few months later. He joined a jazz group called the ‘Trad Grads’, and made a record with them on the Decca record label in October 1961. The A-side was a composition called ‘Runnin’ Shoes’, based on a 1865 tune called ‘Marching Through Georgia’, and written by two other members of the band, Richard Brown and Paul Williams. The title, though not verified, obviously owes a lot to the fact that yet another member of the group was Herb Elliott, the Australian athlete and one of the world’s greatest middle distance runners of that era, who won the Gold Medal in the 1500m at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. The B-side was an adaptation of a 17th century English folk song, ‘Come, Lasses and Lads’ (heard in a Warner Bros cartoon of Robin Hood with Daffy Duck and Porky Pig!) retitled ‘Rag-Day Jazz-Band Ball’. The record was released in November 1961, and the group appeared on Cliff Michelmore’s Tonight TV programme performing it. Early the following year, Davis met John Lennon in Liverpool and boasted that he had made it onto record first (not counting the unofficial recordings in Liverpool and Hamburg, of course). He also told Lennon that he now played mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar, concertina, and melodeon. In a reply that suggests that The Beatles’ dissatisfaction with Pete Best’s drumming pre-dated their first recording sessions by some time, Lennon asked, “You don’t play the drums, do you? We need a drummer to take back to Hamburg.” He decided to stay at university, meaning he ended up being the only man to walk away from The Beatles twice.

After graduating, Rod continued playing in bands. He taught English in Regensburg in Bavaria from 1963-64, where he played banjo in a trad jazz band, and after returning to Liverpool in 1964, joined ‘The Bluegrass Ramblers’. This band appeared on the famous British TV talent show, Opportunity Knocks – hosted by Hughie Green – without success. Later adventures in music included playing fiddle in a Ceilidh band, and in the early 1980s, playing guitar in a Tex-Mex band called the Armadillos. Also in the 1980s, he revived the name of the Bluegrass Ramblers, along with some musicians from Liverpool. They were very successful, playing Britain’s top Bluegrass Festival at Edale, and supporting big US names such as the Johnson Mountain Boys when they played in London.

In the 1990s, Rod Davis’ career came full circle. Firstly, in 1994, he got together with ex-Quarryman, John “Duff” Lowe, under the name of ‘The Quarrymen’ to record the album, ‘Open For Engagements’, then in 1997 with all of the original Quarrymen (except, of course, John Lennon) to celebrate, at The Cavern, the 40th Anniversary of the day that John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met. What was originally a one-off has lasted for the past 20 years, and the revived Quarrymen have played in such places as the USA, Russia and Japan.

Professionally, Rod has been a teacher of English, French and Spanish, and worked in the tourism industry. This later led to him lecturing in Tourism at Uxbridge College, later moving to Brunel University where he lectured in Tourism and Marketing. He retired in 1996. When asked how he feels about living in the shadow of The Beatles, he has no regrets, but recognises the responsiblity to their fans:

“I wouldn’t be here otherwise. You’ve got to be nice to them and answer. Back then, we were the spotty grammar school guys, the target for all the rock ’n’ rollers, and now they’re terribly charming to us…but occasionally it does get a bit tedious, people asking what Lennon was really like.”

Having achieved so much professionally, and playing the music that is his passion, he has little to regret. Indeed a life worth living.

© 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.