Friday, December 31, 2010

End of a Very Big Year

December 31,1960

The Beatles play their last gig for this year at their old standby, the Casbah, in Pete Best's basement.  For these last three engagements, they press into service the bass player for Pete's old band the Blackjacks to replace the absent Stu Sutcliffe.  His name is Chas Newby, and he becomes one of the short list of musicians with a legitimate claim to being a member, however briefly, of the biggest pop group of the century.  (I recon, Paul wasn't yet ready to become the official full-time bassist for the band, but that is coming soon.)

Next up, 1961, and the Beatles continue to build their fan base.  Meanwhile, best wishes to you for 2011.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Litherland Town Hall - Remember

December 27, 1960

Cold and damp outside, there was something white hot going on inside Litherland Town Hall this evening.  The denizens of the Liverpool rock scene were being shaken awake by this home grown band that had obtained something special over in Hamburg and now was bringing the magic home.  Those who were there remember a hysteria that seemed to come over the crowd.  When the Beatles began to play instead of dancing to the music, they surged forward to be closer to the stage.  Screams of excitement were heard.  No one knew it yet, but it was the first manifestation of the movement that would later be called "Beatlemania".  It was just the shot in the arm the rather despondent group needed to be re-energized.

This was the first show at which the Beatles appeared that was organized by an important person on the developing Merseybeat scene, Bob Wooller.  Because they were booked so late, posters advertising the show were amended to say "Direct from Hamburg - The Beatles!" prompting some of the patrons to comment on the boys remarkably good command of the English language.

Me, Outside Litherland Town Hall in 1998

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Gig

December 24, 1960

Happily, the Wallasey Corporation must have gotten the violence associated with jive shows under control at the Grosvenor Ballroom.  The Beatles last played there back in July, just before the left on their German odyssey.  They, along with Derry and the Seniors, play a Christmas Eve gig at that venue.  The Seniors are the band that preceded the Beatles to Hamburg and were heard to complain to Allen Williams, "Why are you sending that bum band the Beatles over to spoil it for everyone?"  In their defense, they later became friends and supporters when they saw the progress the boys were making musically.

Happy Christmas, Beatle fans everywhere!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Come With Me to the Casbah

December 17, 1960

The year is rapidly approaching it's end and the Beatles are in a very different situation from when it began.  At the beginning of this year, they were really nothing more than a hobby.  They end it with a very wide repertoire, an exciting stage presence, and also very importantly, exposure to some new styles and ways of thinking.

So it is appropriate that today, the first place they should play on their return to their home country is the Casbah, the coffee club that Mona Best established in the basement of their Victorian Mansion in Hayman's Green.  She founded the club as much to satisfy her own desire to be among young people as to provide an outlet for the musical ambitions of her son, Pete.  (In fact, she would become pregnant by the Beatles friend and designated road manager Neil Aspinall, but that comes later.)

Incidently, today is the day that my Beatles tribute band (the Buntles) returns to the stage of our Alma Mater, AJs Music Cafe in Ferndale, Michigan, USA.  See the link to the right.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


December 15, 1960

After a suitable (and short) period of inactivity, John Lennon again feels the tug of the creative urge.  Today is the day that he re-establishes contact with Paul McCartney, who doesn't even know that he is back in England.  In fact, it is interesting to speculate on what the world would be like today if John had fallen in with Tony Sheridan, a fellow Englishman, and just stayed on in Germany where he was developing a fan base, playing with whomever opportunity presented.  After all, that just what Tony did for the next 40 years.  I wonder if circumstances prevented it or if he just became homesick without the company and support of his "gang".

In any case, now here he is back at Aunt Mimi's, just across Calderstones Park from his partner Paul McCartney.  He must have trod the well worn path across to the McCartney's council house (public housing to us Americans) on Forthlin Road, probably with his guitar under his arm and amp on his back.  After catching up with each other, they begin to talk about the possibilities of playing some local gigs.

20 Forthlin Road in 1998

Friday, December 10, 2010

Taking Stock

Early December 1960

No doubt, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best are using this time to "take stock", trying to put the extraordinary experiences they have just shared into the context of their lives.

They left for Germany less than 5 months ago, a small time band, amusing themselves by playing community events and in friends basements.  At that time they were still heavily influenced by American country music, heard through the earpiece of the British do-it-yourself music called skiffle.

The center of their band has to be understood as the friendship between John and his best friend, artist Stu Sutcliffe.  The trip to Germany was for them a chance to break out of the limiting provincial environs of Liverpool, which has so dominated their lives to that point.  They know they are looking for something but, like all true searchers for the future, they are not quite sure what it is.  The others follow along under the influence of John's irresistible personality.

In Germany they were all to find the novelty and stimulation they sought, in no small measure in the company of the post-war kids of that country, also on a determined quest for the future. Klaus Voormann, Astrid Kircherr, Jurgen Volmer and their friends were sophisticated companions for working class lads from the north of England.

Of course, in the process they've come into greater contact with many complex ideas.  Sex and love, drinking and drugs, competition and cooperation, entrepreneurship and showmanship (spiced with a generous measure of exhibitionism).  They have had not altogether positive experiences with local law enforcement. At the same time their musical development has taken a giant leap forward.  Because of the long hours spent in front of an audience, their repertory has expanded exponentially.  They have met and befriended lots of like minded prototypical rock and rollers who became their influences and who they must have influenced in return.  For a musician, this is the essence of the development of new music.  No one has consciously moved toward any definite goal, nonetheless the momentum has been gathering in earnest.

The Beatles have not yet fully adopted the fashions of their new German friends.  They are just not yet ready to make that big a change in themselves.  But, they have seen those fashions.  And they do understand that they are an alternative. 

Stuart has fallen very much in love and is staying behind in Germany, for the moment, with Astrid.  John, also in love, has returned to live once more with his Aunt Mimi and to spend time with his girlfriend, Cynthia.  The others return to their comfortable normal lives and loving families.

It is as if a violent earthquake has suddenly subsided.  Silence prevails.  The dust settles slowly.  What will happen next?

Work of Stuart Sutcliffe

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Straggler

December 3, 1960

The game is up for the Beatles in Germany.  Because of an oversight (or by design)  proper work permits were never obtained for any of them.  Now that official notice has been taken of these foreigners, none of them will be able to stay on indefinetly.

So a couple of days after his band mates are deported, John Lennon leaves for home, via more affordable modes of travel, bus,  train, and ferry.  He carries his Rickenbacker guitar and his amplifier with him.  Years later he would remember how he was constantly on his guard, afraid they would be stolen during the journey.  But he does make it back to Liverpool and drags himself back to Aunt Mimi's semi-detatched house in a middle class part of Liverpool.  One can only imagine the reception he received from his rather straight-laced aunt.  Especially after he had bragged to her about the hundred pounds a week he would be pulling down in Hamburg.

A collective depression seems to settle over the boys now, there is no evidence that they even talked to each other for the next two weeks.  It must have been some comfort to John to have a steady girlfriend, the pretty and devoted Cynthia Powell,  to return to and one gets the impression that for John, Paul, George and Pete, this was a time to quietly reconnect with friends and family outside of their musical circle.  To recharge their spirits and re-experience life in a northern town after the high energy, exhaustion producing world of the Reeperbahn.  Stuart Sutcliffe, however, his relationship  with Astrid in full flower, remains in Germany, laying low at her house in Hamburg for a while, yet.

John's Aunt Mimi's house in Woolton (left half of this building)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Low Point

December 1, 1960

The two Beatles, Paul and Pete, unceremoniously deported from Germany, arrive in the early morning at the London airport.  They catch a airport shuttle to London and make their way to the Euston Railway Station for the long rail journey to Lime Street Station, Liverpool.  Worn out, down, pathetic, they stumble to that place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in... home.

The Great Hall at Euston Station, London (still in use in 1960)