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The Beatles

From Liverpool to London – the Beatles story part 1

People travel from all over the world to visit the hometown of Liverpool and walk in the footsteps of the fab four. Our Blue Badge Beatles tours are always popular. In this two-part blog, Blue Badge Guide Edwin Lerwin takes us back to the humble beginnings of the band and the places and people that inspired them.

Starting out

It all began on the 6th July 1957 when a fifteen-year-old Paul McCartney plucked up the courage to approach John Lennon at a fete held at St Peter’s church, Woolton (where a lady called Eleanor Rigby is buried) and asked to join his band the Quarrymen, so called because John attended Quarry Bank High School.  According to legend, John said that Paul was playing the guitar backwards because he was left-handed.  Paul was, however, also a capable musician, having been taught by his father Jim, and could tune the group’s guitars. He persuaded John to allow his school-friend George Harrison to join and the three started gigging in Liverpool, meeting at Penny Lane to take the bus, grabbing the nearest drummer when they arrived.  They could take guitars on the bus but not drums.

Penny Lane sign

Penny Lane

Where did the name come from? 

Before long John was the only former Quarry pupil and, after his friend Stuart Sutcliffe was drafted in from John’s art college, they went to see Buddy Holly and the Crickets.  It was a short step to the Beatles with a typical John pun built in. He was still the leader of the band and made all the crucial decisions as well as writing most of their songs with Paul.  It was John who invited Ringo Starr to join the band in 1962 after they had played with him in Hamburg where they had been sent by their then manager Alan Williams to sharpen up their act.

Losing a bass player but gaining a new hairstyle

It was also in Hamburg that they lost their bass player and gained a new hairstyle.  Stuart’s girlfriend Astrid Kircherr who took the first early photographs of the group, encouraged them to brush their hair forward in the then fashionable ‘exit’ style.  Sutcliffe, always more interested in art than music, left the band to stay with Astrid but died of a brain haemorrhage at the age of twenty-one. Astrid broke the news to the others when they arrived in Hamburg for the final time in April 1962.  Paul, who admitted to being jealous of Stuart’s friendship with John, now took over bass playing duties and was to become more and more influential as the group grew in popularity.

Sign for the Cavern Club Liverpool

The Cavern Club Liverpool

The Cavern Club

The next important event for the Beatles was in November 1962 when a local businessman and record store manager Brian Epstein went down to the Cavern Club in Mathew Street to see the group that everyone was talking about.  He was immediately attracted to their energy, humour and talent and signed them up.  When rock stars complain about being ripped off by their managers remember Epstein.  At his own expense, he sharpened up their appearance, dressing them in suits and ties, paid off their bills and brought them to London where he was famously told by a Decca executive that ‘guitar bands are on the way out’.  Eventually, however, he managed to persuade Parlophone producer George Martin to take a punt on them.  Epstein and Martin, both urbane older men, fell more than a little in love with the cheeky working class lads from Liverpool.

Abbey Road Studio

Abbey Road Studio

Abbey Road Studios and Beatlemania

Martin recorded their first album in one day, 11th February 1963, at the Abbey Road studios they were to use for almost all their recordings from then on.  It fell to Epstein to break the news to drummer Pete Best that he had been replaced by Ringo, who the other three felt more at ease with both musically and personally.  Beatlemania began that year after they played at the London Palladium and appeared in front of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother at the Royal Variety show in the Prince of Wales Theatre. John encouraged those in the cheap seats to clap and those in the expensive ones to ‘rattle their jewellery’ – surely the wittiest stage to audience comment ever made by a pop musician.

Strawberry Fields gate

Strawberry Field gate

“No-one ever earned a living playing the guitar”

Meanwhile, in Liverpool, their houses were being mobbed by ardent fans, who particularly annoyed John’s Aunt Mimi. She had brought him up after her younger sister Julia was eased out of the picture and his father Freddy Lennon disappeared to sea while Julia took up with a new man.  John, who liked to portray himself as a working-class hero, was actually raised in a comfortable home in the suburbs just around the corner from the children’s home at Strawberry Fields.  His mother Julia came back into his life when he was in his teens and taught him to play the guitar before she was knocked over and killed by a drunk off-duty police officer.  Mimi encouraged John to learn a trade, famously telling him that no-one ever earned a living playing the guitar, a phrase he never allowed her to forget.

The Beatles

The Beatles

Let it be!

It was Paul who grew up in the council house in Forthlin Road,  His father Jim worked as a salesman, his mother Mary as a district nurse.  Trying to run the house and bring up two rowdy boys while suffering from increasingly painful breast cancer, it often got too much for her and she would shout at Paul and his brother Mike to ‘let it be!’.  She died when Paul was thirteen and was remembered in the song of that name, one of the last they recorded.  John’s mother Julia is remembered in a song on the ‘White Album’.

Part II coming soon: The Beatles move to London, then go their separate ways.

Find a guide to take you on a Beatles Tour of Liverpool.