There was no reason to think that July 6, 1957 would be any different from the day that preceded it or the one that followed. And, admittedly, for a time nobody would believe differently, though history would eventually show that this was the day that John Lennon first encountered Paul McCartney, beginning what would be the initial steps toward formation of The Beatles and, ultimately, change the history books.
Tony Bramwell, a lifelong friend of the band and someone who worked with them throughout their collective career and beyond, points out in an exclusive interview that that meeting was, he says, “a rather unremarkable event. You really didn’t say, ‘Wow! I was there!’ The Quarry Men were playing and not very well, and it was the day Paul said, ‘Hello.’ It actually wasn’t exciting at all.”
Speak for yourself, Tony (not that we were there).
John’s half-sister (same mother, different father) Julia Baird reflects to us, “In Liverpool, and I’m sure it was the same in the States at that time, you wouldn’t say to any of your friends who had a brother, ‘Is your brother in a group?’ You’d say, ‘Is your brother the singer, the drummer, the guitarist or what?’ Because everyone was in a group. As I write in my book Imagine This, if you took an aerial view, there were all these groups playing on porches and in kitchens and garden sheds, and all the roofs would be jangling about. This was all the groups practicing. The only difference with John’s group was that they succeeded.”
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Though no one could have imagined the extent of that success on that July day in 1957. As noted by Julia, virtually every teenage boy had a group, John’s being The Quarry Men, the lineup of which included Pete Shotton, Eric Griffiths, Rod Davis and Len Garry. A devoted rock and roll fan, John was driven by his passion and fantasies — shared by innumerable others — of being the next Elvis.
Quite a Fete
The fateful day that would, at the very least, put destiny into play, was a celebration of Liverpool’s being signed to the Magna Carta by King John in 1215 (“We like our history here, don’t we?” laughs Julia). Taking place at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool, the annual fete was an opportunity for John and the band to offer a public performance. “We saw John play in the kitchen and practice in the bathroom and on [Aunt] Mimi’s porch,” she explains. “On that day, John and the Quarry Men were playing on the back of a lorre [truck]. My sister Jackie and I were running alongside the lorre, trying to make John laugh, because he could hardly stand up. Then, in the end, he sat down on the back of the lorre to keep better balance, because they were singing all the way up to the church field. Now Paul hadn’t appeared at that point when they were playing, and those are the pictures you’ve seen of John in the check shirt. Later, Paul was brought up and introduced.”
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Author Philip Norman in the pages of Shout! The Beatles In their Generation describes the setting as such: “The Quarry Men’s big numbers that afternoon were ‘Cumberland Gap,’ ‘Railroad Bill’ and ‘Maggie May,’ a Liverpool waterfront song in which the references to a famous tart and her beat along Lime Street were, fortunately, incomprehensible to the ladies of the Church Committee. The whole performance was watched keenly by Paul McCartney, standing with [mutual John and Paul friend] Ivan Vaughan next to the little outdoor stage. Paul noticed the tinny banjo chords which the leading Quarry Man played, and how, while singing, he stared about him, as if sizing up or challenging the rest of the world.
“While the police dogs were performing obedience trials, Ivan Vaughan took Paul across the road to the church hall, where the Quarry Men had made a small encampment of chairs and their coats,” he adds. “They were due to perform again, at a dance that evening, in alternation with the George Edwards Band.” Introductions were made, Pete Shotton remembers, a little stiffly. ‘”This is John.” “Hi.” “This is Paul.” “Oh. Hi.” Paul seemed quite cocky, sure of himself, but he and John didn’t seem to have much to say.’ The ice positively splintered when Paul revealed a brilliant accomplishment. ‘He actually knew how to tune a guitar,’ Pete Shotton says. ‘Neither John nor Eric Griffiths had learned how to do that yet. Whenever their guitars went out of tune, they’d been taking them around and asking a fellow in King’s Drive to do it.’ It impressed John further that Paul knew the lyrics of rock and roll songs all the way through. He himself could never remember words, which was partly why he preferred to make up his own. Paul was even prepared, in his neat hand, to write out all the verses of ‘Twenty Flight Rock,’ which Eddie Cochran had sung in the film The Girl Can’t Help It. Then, with equal obligingness, he wrote out the words of Gene Vincent’s ‘Be-Bop-A-Lulu.'”
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For his part, Paul described the events from his perspective in the pages of The Beatles Anthology, “One day I went with this friend of mine. His name was Ivan Vaughan. And I went up to Woolton, in Liverpool, and there was a village fete going on, and John and his friends were playing the thing. My friend Ivan knew John, who was a neighbor of his. And we met there and John was onstage singing ‘Come little darlin’, come and go with me…’ But he never knew the words, because he didn’t know the record, so he made up his own words, like, ‘Down, down, down, down to the penitentiary.’ I remember I was impressed. I thought, ‘Wow, he’s good. That’s a good band there.’ So backstage, back at the church hall later, I was singing a couple of songs I’d known. I liked their band, and then one of their friends, who was in the band, a guy named Pete Shotton who was a friend of John’s, saw me cycling up in Woolton one day and said, ‘Hey, they said they’d quite like to have you in the band, if you’d like to join.’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah, it’d be great.'”
Added John in a Rolling Stone interview, “I had a group, I was the singer and the leader. I met Paul and I made a decision whether to — and he made a decision, too — have him in the group; was it better to have a guy who was better than the people I had in, obviously, or not? To make the group stronger or to let me be stronger? That decision was to let Paul in and make the group stronger.” Obviously there were still several steps before the formation of The Beatles, but as John would point out, “George would join later, but everything started moving forward with Paul and I.”
An Instant Connection
Julia points out that Paul had an “enormous” influence on John, which was evident from the first day the duo met. “John was impressed with his looks, and probably slightly envious, as well as his ability to play the guitar and the fact that he knew a lot — note, not all — of the words to ‘Long Tall Sally,’ which sealed his fortune. Obviously the songwriting came slightly later. I called them the Dream Team, because John was the wordsmith and Paul is the melodist; he has beautiful melodies. You put them both together and you’ve got almost perfection — as has been proven.”
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Biographer Julius Fast adds, “The two boys hit it off very quickly. There was something both of them had that just locked together. Perhaps it was a crazy kind of attitude towards life, a contemptuous mockery that later became the trademark of the four Beatles, or perhaps it was just a teenage friendship that stuck. Whatever it was, Paul eventually was invited to join The Quarry Men. As far as John was concerned, Paul was not only a good guitarist — as good as John himself — but he also resembled their mutual idol, Elvis.”
Notes Tony, “There’s this whole legend about how great The Quarry Men were, but they barely played any gigs in their life. As soon as Paul joined, most of the others left because they wanted to play skiffly jazz and didn’t want to play rock and roll. Then George Harrison joined and completely demolished the idea of The Quarry Men as a folk skiffle band.”
Reflects Julia, “We were watching what happened, but without really knowing what was going on. It was all a gradually evolving process. It’s a bit like the auntie that comes every six months and says, ‘Oh my God, he’s grown.’ You don’t see it day to day, but it’s happening nonetheless.”
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