Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ROCKIN' up and down Great Britain (and over to Germany) with The Beatles

(above) The Quarry Men, atop a coal lorry on Rosebery Street, Liverpool, June 22, 1957
(above) August 16, 1960, at the ferry. This is then-manager Allan Williams' van,
loaded with the Beatles' gear, headed for an extended run of gigs at the Indra Club, Hamburg

(above) Must have been quite a moment in their lives, for two photos to have been taken
(above) In Germany, the four lads meet Gene Vincent ("Race With the Devil");
note that the foursome includes pre-Ringo drummer Pete Best (right)
(above) While in Germany, the Beatles meet photographer Astrid Kirchherr,
who took this photo and became lovers with erstwhile bassist Stu Sutcliffe (center)
(above) September, 1962. The Fab 4, now w. Ringo. Photo by Les Chadwick,
commissioned by then-publicist Peter Kaye; photo known as "the rubble."
(above) A typical British band-and-van scene in 1962, this with the N'Betweens.
(above) a popular choice for young bands, the Commer van.
(above) The Beatles, with their Commer van, early 1963
(above) Modern-day Beatles' merchandising with classic Corgi,
this with a Bedford van, covered in fans' graffiti, complete with two 'birds' and a placard
(above) the scene in front of the London Palladium, 10-13-63;
photo by Terence Spencer; fans swarmed every approaching vehicle. . . hoping
photo by Terence Spencer
(above) "She's A Must To Avoid." Yes, that song by Herman's Hermits. Similar hysteria
followed Frank Sinatra, and boybands like Duran, Duran; New Kids; Backstreet Boys, NSync
photo by Terence Spencer
(above) 1963. The Boys escape in their Austin Princess, with a Bobby looking tough
photo by Terence Spencer.
(above) All in, and headed for the concert, The Beatles, November 16, 1963
photo by Terence Spencer
(above) en route from their hotel in Bournemouth,
to their Coventry Theater show, 11-16-63
photo by Terence Spencer, five photos above from IT WAS THIRTY YEARS AGO TODAY
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There are hundreds of stories about the Beatles arduously making their way by van to shows all over the UK, beginning in 1960, and then, within scarcely three years, more stories about their out-maneuvering their fans as they sought to get to the stage, or escape from the concert buildings. Here are just some of which I found, while thinking about the life and times of driver, road manager, and ultimately Apple's Managing Director Neil Aspinall (previous blog).
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Saturday, June 22, 1957 (top photo here): "An unusual engagement, even by Quarry Men standards, playing from the back of a stationary coal lorry in the afternoon and evening during street celebrations for the 750th anniversary of King John issuing a Royal Charter "inviting settlers to take up burgages or building plots in Liverpool." Electricity to the lorry atop which they played was supplied by the man at #76, who ran the microphone lead through his front-room window." (On July 6, Lennon first met McCartney after a Quarry Men appearance, and on October 18, Paul made his first on-stage appearance with them. George Harrison would not join them until the following February).
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May 20, 1960. The beginning of the Beatles' (then the Silver Beetles) first out-of-town tour, to Scotland, backing singer Johnny Gentle. "Johnny Gentle was shocked upon meeting the Silver Beetles. They wore black jeans and black t-shirts, and appeared as if they had been sleeping in them for weeks. Also, they had no amplifiers for their electric guitars. While driving to Scotland, with Gentle at the wheel, their van hit an automobile. The Silver Beetles were shaken but uninjured--except for the drummer, Tommy Moore, who had been struck in the mouth by an instrument case and lost his front teeth. He was taken to a local hospital, while the group continued onward to their first engagement. It would be their official baptism in show biz, and were thoroughly elated to see their name, although in small print, on the advertising posters."
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August, 1960. "One evening in August," recalled Pete Best, "the phone rang and my mother, Mona, answered it. The caller was Paul McCartney, who asked to speak to me. I was not in, but got his message. Paul said the Beatles had been promised a trip to Hamburg, but would have to get a permanent drummer. He told me to meet him at the Jacaranda Club for an audition. I auditioned, and became the group's drummer on the spot. I had a Blue Pearl Premiere kit and was very proud of it. We played two gigs at the Jacaranda before going to Hamburg."
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Then-Manager Allan Williams recalled, "Prior to the trip, I got an old cream-and-green-colored van. It was dented, but had a roof rack to store the equipment." The group departed Liverpool about 10:00 am on August 16. Eight people, including Williams, his wife Beryl, a Liverpool club owner named Lord Woodbine, and an interpreter, Herr Steiner from the Heaven and Hell club, were crammed into the van headed for Hamburg via the ferry port known as the Hook of Holland. "We pulled into New Haven just in time to make the night ferry," Williams remembered. "The dockworkers were not very happy with the bundle atop the van and asked about its contents. The problem was whether they could get it on the crane. Lennon, always the leader, said, 'Come on mates, you can do it.' And they did." Rolling through the flatlands of Holland, the group sang songs to pass the time and arrived in Hamburg that evening."
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Remembers George, "It was cramped, that van. It didn't even have seats; we had to sit on our amplifiers. We drove down to Harwich and got the boat to the Hook of Holland. Driving through Holland, I remember we stopped at Arnhem where all the people had parachuted out to their deaths in WWII."
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Remembers Paul, "The strangest memory for me was being asked at the borders if we had any coffee. I couldn't understand it. Drugs, yes, guns, yes--we could understand booze or something like that, but a roaring trade in contraband coffee?"
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1961. "Aspinall had the odious duty of loading and unloading the Beatles gear at the clubs, under the watchful eyes and heavy breath of the local toughs, who would have been only too pleased to wade in for some action at the drop of a word. Every time Aspinall humped the gear into the hall, he had to lock the van very carefully, in case he returned to find the remaining equipment--indeed even the van itself--gone."
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January 1, 1962. "At 11:00 am on Monday, January 1st--a cold and icy New Years Day--John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best sat in the reception area at Decca Studios in West Hampstead, north London, and waited for the summons that would take them into the big time. While Brian Epstein had travelled down by train and stayed overnight with an aunt, for the four Beatles it had been an uncomfortable ten-hour journey, hunched in a van already crowded with their equipment, and battling against heavy New Years Eve snowstorms which caused road manager Neil Aspinall to lose his way near Wolverhampton."
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January 21, 1963. "Three months after starting as a bouncer at the Cavern Club, Mal Evans was hired by Brian Epstein as a driver and assistant road manager. Evans and road manager Neil Aspinall's duties were to drive the van while the band were on tour, set up and test the equijpment, and then pack it up again. The Beatles were being driven back to Liverpool from London by Evans, through a heavy fog on January 21, when the van's windscreen was hit by a large pebble and shattered. Evans had to break a larger hole in the windscreen to even see the road up ahead. The Beatles huddled in the back with a bottle of whisky and tried to stay warm in the freezing temperature.
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"Lennon later told Aspinall, "You should have seen Mal. He put a bag over his head with just a big slit for eyes. It was freezing, perishing. Mal looked a bank robber."
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The group had a gig at lunchtime, and a show that night. But Mal showed up at Aspinall's that afternoon with the van in perfect condition, windscreen repaired. Noted Lennon, "We never knew how he'd managed to get it fixed again so quickly. Ten out of ten for Mal for not just leaving the van for someone else to get the repairs done."
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From the personal diary of Mal Evans, same day: "Lads went shopping. Paul and George bought slacks. George a shirt in Regent St. This was before the Sat Club recording and we lost them for awhile. Back to Lower Regent Studios for recording a talent spot. At about 8:15 pm the boys went to Brian's room in the Mayfair for a Daily Mail interview. I parked the gear and joined them later. We left London at about 10 pm, stopping at 'Fortes' on the M1 for dinner, and so homeward bound to Liverpool. Met a lot of fog, and suddenly the windscreen cracked with a terrible bang. Had to break a large hole to even see. Stopped for tea at transport cafe, and arrived home at about 5:00 am. I was up at 7:45, but the lads laid in till about five that afternoon. Lucky devils. They were on that night at the Cavern as fresh as ever with no after-effects. They are all great blokes with a sense of humour, and giving one the feeling they are a real team."
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1963. Remembers Ringo: "There are lots of driving stores. This is how a band gets close: in the van, going up and down the M1, freezing your balls off, fighting for the seats. A lot of madness went on in the van, but it got us together. We had a Bedford van, and mostly Neil would drive, sometimes one of the band. There'd be the passenger seat for one of us, and the other three--whichever three, the rest of us--would sit behind in the back on the bench seat, which was pretty miserable. We would go everywhere in that van and with the amps and gear, and everything would have to fit in with us. I remember sliding all over Scotland. It was bloody freezing in the winter."
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Ringo: "We never stopped anywhere. If we were in Elgin on a Thursday and needed to be in Portsmouth on Friday, we would just drive. We didn't know how to stop that van! If we had a day off and we were going to Liverpool from London, we would just drive. There was only a small piece of motorway in those days, so we'd be on the A5 for hours. Some nights it was so foggy, we'd be doing one mile an hour, but we'd still keep going. We were like homing pigeons, we just had to keep getting home.
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George: "There were a lot of good times in the van; all the rough-and-tumble stuff that happens. We had a good crash once. We were coming over the Pennines, the roads were icy, and I happened to be the driver. I was driving pretty quickly as we came through what turned out to be Goole in Yorkshire. Everything was fine until suddently I went into a right-hand turn. It was a bit sharper than it looked and we went up onto the grass bank, which then sloped down to the left. The whole van tipped as we went down the embankment, at the bottom of which was a wire-mesh fence with concrete posts. We bounced along--bump, bump, bump--knocking into all these posts, and finally came to a stop with Neil sitting in the front seat next to me, howling, 'Ow, ow, my arm!' The accident ripped the filler cap off and the petrol was pouring out. We scrambled out and had to shove t-shirts and things into the hole to try and stop the flow of petrol. We started to push the van back up on the road, when, out of nowhere, came 'Allo, 'allo, what's all this then?' It was a cop, and he booked us for crashing. A couple of months later I went to court. Brian came with me for moral support (He did stand by his lads!). But I think they banned me for driving for three months.
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Paul: "There were a lot of laughs in the back of the van, just naming albums and chatting about birds and other groups' music and things. I can't remember many deep conversations. There was a lot of giggling though!"
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Ringo: "When you're touring, things can be pretty tense sometimes, and the littlest things can suddently turn into a mountain. Once George and Paul were both planning to drive the van. George got into the drivers seat and Paul had the keys, and there was no way one was going to help the other. We sat there for, it seemed, two hours. If we were arguing, it was always about things like space. 'Who's going to sit on the spare seat?', because everyone else had to sit on the wheel arches, or the hard bench in the back, all the way to Scotland or somewhere. We used to get ratty with each other, pushing, protesting. 'It's my turn in the front!.'
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George: "Our early van became the centre of attention every time it pulled up at a show. It was brush-painted in red and grey, and from head to foot was covered in graffiti--girl's names and things like 'I love you John!!" It looked interesting, but the moment anybody saw it they would feel free to write all over it. It also presented the problem that if anything was going to get nicked, it was obvious where it was kept. Neil always had to worry about that."
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Paul: "On the longer journeys we would stop at service stations such as the Watford Gap to get a nice greasy meal. Occasionally we might see Gerry Marsden and the guys or other Liverpool bands there, and we'd have a laugh and exchange jokes."
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Finally, to cap off these automotive reminiscences, here's one last bit about Neil Aspinall, by Stephen Chupaska, writing in the New London Times:
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"Aspinall spearheaded the mid-90s 11-hour documentary, the "Beatles Anthology," along with the accompanying releases of outtakes and unreleased songs as well as the totally fun "Beatles at the BBC" double album. In the early days of the Beatles, he of course was the guy responsible for driving them from gig to gig. Who would've not wanted to be in that car? Presumably, he was waiting outside George Harrison's house, honking the horn, or helping John Lennon load in his Rickenbacker and amp. Maybe on the way to a show in Leeds, Paul McCartney asked him to turn up a Buddy Holly song on the car radio. He probably helped Ringo Starr look for the drum key he misplaced last night at the Cavern Club. Aspinall was part of the humdrum life in the Beatles before it all happend, and then, after the mania began. He never took a bow, never asked the swells to rattle their jewelry, and never said he was bigger than Jesus. He was just off to the side, wondering if he had enough gas money to get them home. And that's part of rock & roll, too."
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For the above tales, I consulted, among much else on the Internet and in my library:
THE COMPLETE BEATLES, by Mark Lewisohn
IT WAS THIRTY YEARS AGO TODAY, by Terence Spencer
HOW THEY BECAME THE BEATLES, by Gareth Pawlowski
FROM YESTERDAY TO TODAY, by the Editors of LIFE
THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY
THE BEATLES DIARY, by Barry Miles

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