6th July 1957 – The Birth of The Beatles: John meets Paul
Saturday, 6 July 1957 has to be the most historic day in popular music. It was the day that John Lennon’s group, The Quarrymen, performed at St. Peter’s Church annual summer fete. That morning, John had spent hours arranging his hair just right, and squeezing into his skin-tight, leg-hugging drainpipe trousers. This was the prelude to a row with Mimi who didn’t know what he was up to. John stormed out of the house. This was his day and Mimi wasn’t going to ruin it for him.
Every year the church celebrated on the first Saturday on or after 29 June, which is the Feast of St. Peter. This was the highlight of the calendar for the village of Woolton. The festivities included a parade around the village on the back of lorries. There were usually five vehicles and in 1957, the last of these carried The Quarrymen. The parade also included children’s organizations like Brownies and Scouts, Sunday school and Youth Club members. In between there were Morris Dancers and the highlight for one young lady, in this case, thirteen-year-old Sally Wright, who was crowned as the Rose Queen.
At exactly 2 p.m., the bells of St. Peter’s Church chimed. The parade route headed down Church Road, left on to Allerton Road, right on to Woolton Street, and left down King’s Drive toward where Rod Davis, Colin Hanton and Eric Griffiths lived. It snaked along Hunts Cross Avenue and up Manor Road, turning right on to Speke Road and back along Woolton Street, turning left into Allerton Road and right up Church Road back to the church. Everyone paraded into the field at the rear of the church, where a small stage had been erected for the event. The Scout hut, which housed The Quarrymen’s instruments, was up the hill where the school currently sits. There were tents for refreshments and first aid facilities.
The Rose Queen was crowned, and, following a fancy-dress parade for the children, the Rector formally opened the summer fete. He introduced The Quarrymen and John took over on the microphone. He introduced himself and the band members and then performed “Be-Bop-A-Lula”. In the audience were his mum Julia and her two daughters Julia and Jackie, plus his good friend Ivan Vaughan. Ivan was standing next to someone John didn’t know: Paul McCartney, whom Ivan had invited there to see this group.
Ivan was the only common link between John and Paul. Ivan had to convince Paul to come and see The Quarrymen—Ivan’s clinching argument was that it was “a good place to meet girls”. With best jacket on, Paul set off with Ivan for what turned out to be a momentous day.
I was honoured when I had the chance to play washboard with The Quarrymen in 2007 at the 60th anniversary of the day John met Paul. We performed “Down by the Riverside” – what an experience!
I asked The Quarrymen’s banjo player Rod Davis what he remembered. “We were on the back of a lorry for the parade around Woolton, much to John’s disgust—how could we play and sing while moving? The acoustics were appalling. All John remembered was thrashing his guitar as loudly as possible as there were no amplifiers. Thrashing the guitars was the only way; some skiffle groups had four guitarists. As a rule, we had to keep telling Colin to play the drums with his brushes so he didn’t drown us out, now we have to urge him to ‘give it some welly’”.
Len remembers they entered the Scout hut with their equipment, and then walked around the stalls. John smashed a few plates at one of the game stalls (after putting his glasses on) and that made him feel better. When they heard the brass band finishing, they made their way to the stage and set up. They played at 4.15 p.m. after the Police Dog display team, which was the main attraction.
“John Lennon was at the microphone”, Len said. “He was centre stage and positioned in the front, saying before we started, ‘Len, get a bit closer’. I replied, ‘I can’t. Not with this thing,’ referring to the tea-chest with frustration”.
Standing in the crowd was one of their friends, Geoff Rhind, who had the foresight to bring his camera with him. He stood by the stage and took the famous photo of the young group of upstarts.
John then introduced the group. Nervously, he asked, “Is this thing on?” When the crowd replied yes, he decided against a long introduction and launched into “All Shook Up” followed by “Blue Suede Shoes”. When Mimi saw John on stage, he started changing the words to the song he was singing, and instead sang “Mimi’s coming”. John was happy with the show because this was the first time he had performed Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula”. John then smiled as he said, “This next song is dedicated to Prycey”, referring to Reverend Pryce Jones, vicar of St. Peter’s.
John launched into “Maggie May”, the famous song about a Liverpool prostitute. They played many popular skiffle numbers like “Cumberland Gap” and “Railroad Bill”, plus The Del-Vikings’ number “Come Go With Me”. Many books quote Paul McCartney saying how impressed he was that John was making up the words like “going down to the penitentiary” because they sounded right.Rod Davis disputes that claim and said John wasn’t making up the words. “They were the words that we always sang, as the only way we could learn words was by listening to the records—often in the NEMS record shop near to Penny Lane—or on Radio Luxembourg, and scribbling down the words we thought we were listening to. So when we performed these songs, these were the words we sang. What we couldn’t recognize we improvised, and penitentiary sounded bluesy so it went in. The problem was”, explained Rod, “that we couldn’t afford to buy all the records we wanted, so you had to get the words off the radio or in record booths”. However it happened, Paul was impressed by John’s performance, though he noticed John was playing some strange looking guitar chords. I also spoke to Quarrymen drummer Colin Hanton about his memories of that day.
“Pete’s mum was on the church committee I think, so she got us the gig. It was a brave decision by the church committee, because of course we were the first generation of teenagers, and skiffle was just in, and it was the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, and the music was frowned upon as the devil’s music. It was like a grey world before and suddenly it was Technicolour. I remember being bold and going down to town and buying two pairs of luminous socks: shocking green and orange. Such was rock ‘n’ roll.
“Now, everyone says that the meeting of John and Paul took place in the church hall later on that day, but I wasn’t in the hall then, so it must have been in the Scout hut. I couldn’t confuse the two. I reckon the first introduction happened in the Scout hut in the afternoon”.
This makes sense to me, as you obviously saw it happen, and you can’t have mixed them up, as you weren’t present in the church hall later. Plus, I’ve always thought, why wait until the evening? Paul watched you play, so why wait another few hours before being introduced?
“I am adamant that the introduction took place in the afternoon in that hut. Paul suggested John was drunk, but you couldn’t get hold of booze, there were no off-licences (shops where you could purchase alcohol) or places to buy booze, and if you looked under eighteen there was no chance at all, so he couldn’t have been drunk. He maybe had obtained a bottle off someone, but that would have been all”.
So, what did happen when Paul met John?
There were six members of The Quarrymen, plus Ivan and Paul. That is eight of them, and yet, if you ask any of the guys who were there that day they will all have a slightly different version of what happened. We have to read all the different accounts from each person present and take the bits they agree on, and come up with the best guesstimate. Rod seems to think he was in the toilet for half of it. Colin had gone home. Len was convinced Paul went home for his guitar and returned with it in hand.
What we can deduce is that the meeting lasted for about twenty minutes by the steps of the stage in the church hall. Ivan introduced Paul to John, who nodded an acknowledgement, probably without lifting his head, and grunted as teenage boys do. Paul didn’t stay long as he had to leave early, and was planning his dad’s birthday party for the next day. The problem is that those present were teenagers, preparing for a gig, and didn’t realise what they had witnessed was the most important meeting in music history.
John was sitting on the steps by the stage, next to the radiator, strumming his guitar, looking like he knew what he was doing.
Rod explains what happened next
“We had been playing together for something like a year and we could play the correct chords for all the tunes in our repertoire, except that Eric and John had their guitars tuned like banjos and played banjo chords, as opposed to tuning their guitars normally and using guitar chords. Funnily enough, Lonnie Donegan did the opposite and played guitar chords on a banjo. Banjo tuning is an open G chord and lots of guitarists nowadays experiment with open tunings. We could tune our guitars like banjos, as we hadn’t learnt guitar chords and there was no point in learning to tune them like a guitar. I played a banjo anyway, so I had no problems.
At that time, John tuned the top four strings of his guitar like a banjo, as shown to him by his mother, Julia.
When Paul McCartney met The Quarrymen at St. Peter’s, he had to re-tune John’s guitar from banjo tuning to guitar tuning”.
So, Paul offered to show John how to tune it, which was a good start, and certainly impressed John. At Ivan’s prompting, Paul then showed John that he could play, by singing “Twenty Flight Rock” by Eddie Cochran. Paul played John’s guitar upside-down, a feat he had conquered, as the world wasn’t prepared for a left-handed guitarist. This looked even more impressive. As an aside, apparently years later, while on tour in Paris, John and Paul were observed playing each other’s guitars upside down—John had to attempt it, didn’t he? As a guitarist who has been playing for three decades, if I had seen someone at fifteen playing my guitar upside down, I would have been impressed.
Paul not only knew all the words, but he could play all the proper guitar chords too, as well as tuning a guitar. Paul remembered the advice of his father Jim not to be too pushy. John Lennon was most impressed. No wonder. As if that was not enough, on prompting from John, and at Ivan’s suggestion, Paul sang “Long Tall Sally”. Paul had a greater vocal range than John, and could do an excellent Little Richard impression. Paul also performed Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula”.
Paul then went home and all that was left to John was the big decision. Could he, as the group’s leader, welcome another person who was a better guitarist, musician and a good singer?
I think we know what happened next!
It was the birth of The Beatles.
Read the interviews in “Liddypool“
plus, if you want to see the ONLY book to feature the photos from the parade, including of The Quarrymen, are in “The Fab one hundred and Four“