Friday, July 30, 2010

The End of the Grosvenor

July 30,1960

Today is the last of the steady Saturday gigs at the Grosvenor Ballroom for the Beatles.  Disorderly conduct that broke out during and after the dances resulted in a number of complaints against the venue, which was, after all, operated by the local government for the benefit of the citizenry.  Henceforth, it was decided, the dances at the Grosvenor should be of the "strict tempo" variety (e.g. foxtrot, waltz).  Even that term "strict tempo" gives me the willies.  I can easily imagine Sister Katherine Imelda standing there, her rosewood cane at the ready.  Patrons so foolish as to ignore the rules, beware!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The German Connection

July 26, 1960

While the Beatles continued to play Saturday jive nights at Grosvenor Ballroom and Monday night sessions in the basement of the Jacaranda, Allan Williams worked toward his vision of a new entertainment empire.  (From such little acorns mighty oaks are born.)  Allan suffered two catastrophic setbacks in a short space of time at the end of July 1960.  First, he was "convinced" by the local constabulary that strip clubs were not going to be condoned in Liverpool and then his house band at the Jacaranda up and decided to move to greener pastures on the mainland.  In Hamburg Germany, to be precise.

Like Liverpool, Hamburg was a bustling commercial port city, had been since the days of the Hanseatic League.  And where there were sailors, who spent their lives on the move, there had always been opportunities for practitioners of the world's oldest profession.  In Hamburg, the Reeperbahn district was where those practitioners were allowed, if not encouraged, to set up shop.  Since even a young man can't spend all 24 hours in that pursuit, rowdy rock and roll clubs, sort of like the major leagues to Liverpool's minors, were sprouting all over the Reeperbahn.

Allen began hearing reports of the developing demand for entertainment from friends who had made the trip, including his Royal Carribean Steel Band friends, who were too naive to imagine that running out on the gig at the Jacaranda without advance notice might result in bad blood with the management.  A club manager named Bruno Koschmider had earlier made a trip to England and booked a Liverpool band called Derry and the Seniors, through Williams, to play at his club, the Kaiserkeller.  Encouraging accounts were reaching Allan's ears from that quarter, also.

The snowball had officially begun rolling downhill.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lord Woodbine and Janice

July, 1960

Two more colorful bit players enter the Beatles story during this time frame.  The actual dates are lost in the mists of time, as the history of most such "underground" activities are.  By their nature, they are designed to slip in under the radar of polite, law abiding and civilized society.  These events are interspersed with their last few gigs at the Institute at Neston and the Grosvenor Ballroom.

Lord Woodbine was the nom de guerre belonging to a shadowy east Indian man of Allan Williams acquaintance.  He got this name by virtue of his never being seen without his trademark Woodbine cigarette dangling from a lower lip.  (For a few good laughs, don't miss that preceding link!)

Lord Woodbine and Williams decided at this point in time to try out a new idea in entertainment that was sweeping Europe, the strip club.  Williams christened his (no blasphemy intended) the New Cabaret Artists Club.  A young well endowed lady, known today as Janice, was hired to perform.  Unfortunately for the frugal proprietors, Janice refused to work without live music.  Records were simply too cheap for her to ply her trade with.

The idea entered Williams head that the Beatles were always hanging around and pestering him for work.  Why not kill two birds with one stone and get them to play the musical accompaniment?  Negotiations with the musicians resulted in their agreeing to play a number of gigs behind the featured ecdysiast. At their first rehearsal, Janice handed them musical scores for appropriate classical pieces like Ritual Fire Dance.  The boys hadn't taken the time to learn to read music.  It wasn't really required to produce great rock music.  So, she had to be satisfied with some of the more sedate numbers from their repertoire, like Moonglow and Besame Mucho.

The seedy bar was a low point for them, but fortunately, the club didn't last very long and the Beatles were soon on their way to (somewhat) better things.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Gentle on Their Minds

July 2, 1960

The Beatles returned to the Grosvenor Ballroom but tonight turned out to be pretty special.  Johnny Gentle, who was from Litherland, north of Liverpool and just across the Mersey from that venue, surprised everyone by showing up unannounced and doing a couple of numbers with the band.  With his popularity at its zenith at this time, professional singer Gentle spent most of his days touring all over England.  John, Paul, George and Stu's stock must have shot up after this gig, having pulled in such a big "star" to do a guest appearance.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Steel Drum Band Goes Over

Early July, 1960

The Beatles were still playing, more for fun and practice than anything else, on Mondays in the basement of Allan Williams' Jacaranda Club.  On the other nights of the week, the entertainment was provided by a steel drum band.  (Readers of a certain vintage will remember the craze in the early '60 for Caribbean music, the biggest example of which is Harry Belafonte.)  Apparently, the fad had reached Germany, because around this time, the steel drum band decided to abscond from Liverpool for greener pastures in Hamburg, Germany, of all places.  The band members remained on good terms with Allan.  They called him to let him know there was plenty of opportunity over there for budding rock and roll talent and their enterprising managers.  No doubt, that started the gears turning in Allan's fertile imagination.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Institutionalized again

June 30, 1960

The Beatles played again at the Institute at Neston on the Wirral, no drummer, really marking time, waiting for the lightning to strike yet again.  Don't worry, Beatle fans, the storm clouds are gathering.