Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away: Allan Williams

Only a month or so ago I started re-reading Allan’s hilarious and ‘partly true’* 1975 book The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away for a post I’m currently working on about the New Cabaret Artistes Club – a business venture Allan and his associate / friend Lord Woodbine ran in Toxteth during 1960. Whenever I read it I smile, Allan is one of Liverpool's great characters, a local treasure, and if you've ever had the pleasure of his company you can't help but think of him with affection.

Sadly, days after losing one important figure in the early part of the Beatles’ career - Sam Leach - the news has come through today that Allan has passed away at the age of 86.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Allan was responsible for securing the Beatle’s first bookings in 1960 at a time when nobody else would look at them. 

Allan was born on 17 March 1930 in Bootle. On leaving school he became a City and Guilds qualified plumber. In 1955, Allan of Liverpool-Welsh stock, married Beryl Chang, a domestic science schoolteacher born in Liverpool to Chinese parents. Enduring hostility because of their mixed-race marriage they spent much of the next few years trekking around Europe. In the late 1950s they returned to Liverpool with some entrepreneurial ideas, Allan opening the Jacaranda Club at 23 Slater Street and later the Blue Angel around the corner in Seel Street.

A former watch repair shop the ‘Jac’ opened in September 1958. By day it was a coffee and snack bar, attracting bohemian types from the nearby art college who would descend upon Slater Street to buy their supplies from Jackson’s, the art shop facing No.23.  At night Allan and Beryl turned the basement into a private members club with the novel attraction of musical entertainment provided by the Royal Caribbean Steel Band, a group of West Indian musicians from Toxteth to whom Williams gave a residency.

The freshly named Beatles were frequent customers, with John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe attending the nearby Liverpool Art College and Paul McCartney and George Harrison at the adjacent Liverpool Institute (when George could be bothered going). With nowhere else offering the group work they asked Allan for the chance to play the Jac. Never one to miss a trick, Williams instead put them to work redecorating the club, with Sutcliffe and another art student Rod Murray painting a mural in the basement and John reportedly painting the women’s toilets.

Allan then bought the Wyvern Social Club at 108 Seel Street, intending to convert it into a top class night-club which he planned to call The Blue Angel after the Marlene Dietrich film.

In March 1960 the pop impresario Larry Parnes brought American rockers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran to town, performing six nights at the Liverpool Empire. Williams was in the audience one night and realising there was money to be made by what he’d witnessed he contacted Parnes the following day with the suggestion that they stage the biggest rock and roll show the country had ever seen. Their joint promotion at the Liverpool Stadium was a success despite the tragic death of Eddie Cochran in the run-up to the show. Parnes was impressed by the local groups Allan booked to fill up the bill, and realising that they would cost less to employ than London groups saw the opportunity to use them as backing musicians for his stable of solo artists (which included Marty Wilde, Duffy Power, Vince Eager and Liverpool’s own Billy Fury). It was agreed that Parnes would return to Liverpool with Fury and audition the local groups at the Wyvern on 10 May.

Larry Parnes, Beryl and Allan Williams and Billy Fury, 10 May 1960

Aware that a number of groups had been asked to audition for Parnes John Lennon asked Allan why he never did anything to help out his band. Mainly as a favour to Stuart, to whom he was closest, Allan agreed to let the Beatles audition.

In May, Larry Parnes came to town, auditioning. He was the big London agent. His acts nearly always had a violent surname. There was Ronnie Wycherley who became Billy Fury; and a less furious guy you have yet to meet. A sweet Liverpool guy - the first local man who made it, in our eyes. Marty Wilde was also in Larry's stable; he had another tempestuous surname. But Larry Parnes had some new singers and was looking for backing groups, and someone had told him there were a few groups around in Liverpool. So he came up to the Blue Angel. Billy Fury came with him.  (Paul McCartney, Anthology)

They were going to use the Blue Angel, which in those days was called the Wyvern Social Club, to audition back-up bands for Larry Parnes's acts. Beforehand we went out and bought some string shoes with little white bits on top. We were very poor and never had any matching clothes, but we tried to put together a uniform - black shirts and these shoes. (George Harrison, Anthology)
Allan Williams ran the Blue Angel and the Jacaranda. He was the little local manager (little in height, that is - a little Welshman with a little high voice - a smashing bloke and a great motivator, thought we used to take the mickey out of him). He held the auditions in conjunction with Larry Parnes. All the groups in Liverpool were there and we were one of the bands. (Paul McCartney, Anthology)
Also auditioning were Cass and the Cassanovas, Derry and the Seniors, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Cliff Roberts and the Rockers. Rory Storm popped by to get his photo taken with Billy Fury.
The Beatles didn’t get to back Fury but Parnes saw something in them (they were cheap, and available) and offered them the job of backing another of his solo artists – Liverpool born Johnny Gentle – on a tour of Scotland. They jumped at the chance.

When there was nothing else on Williams would let the Beatles perform at the Jacaranda (the Blue Angel was too upmarket for them). However, it was his part in getting the group a job in Hamburg that secured his place in Beatles’ history. 
No Allan Williams, no Hamburg. No Hamburg, no Beatles.

Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn in tribute to Allan Williams,
Friday 30 December 2016

The story behind our going there was that another Liverpool group, Derry and the Seniors, had given up their jobs to do a gig for Larry Parnes. And when they didn't get it, they were all really annoyed so they decided to go to London to beat Larry up. Allan Williams said to them: 'If you are going to London you should take your instruments.' He drove them down and got them into the 2I's (the club where Tommy Steele had been discovered). They didn't beat up Larry Parnes, but they did go down well at the club.
Bruno Koschmider, a German promoter, saw them there and hired them for his own club, the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg, and they were there for a couple of months. He must have really liked them, because he then got in touch with Allan Williams and said, 'We want another Liverpool band to play at the Indra.'
Allan Williams offered the gig to us, 'But,' he said, 'the fellow wants a five-piece.' We needed another person, since there were only the three of us and Stuart. We were excited, but we thought, 'Paul isn't really the drummer. Where do we get one from?' Then I remembered a guy I'd met who'd been given a drum kit for Christmas. His name was Pete Best; the Casbah club was in his basement. (George Harrison, Anthology)

Like most of my generation of Beatles’ fans my first exposure to Allan Williams was watching his excellent interview in the 1980 documentary “The Compleat Beatles” in which he tells the story of preparing the group for their Hamburg venture. He recounts having to reassure Howie Casey, leader of The Seniors who were already established in Hamburg, who had cautioned Allan: Listen, we've got a good thing going here in Hamburg, but if you send that bum group, the Beatles, you're going to louse it up for all of us. 
He also recalls auditioning drummer Pete Best, asking him to do a drum roll, which he did Not too cleverly"...but good enough.
We knew of a guy and he had a drum kit, so we just grabbed him, auditioned him, and he could keep one beat going for long enough, so we took him. (John Lennon, Anthology)
Pete auditioned at one of Allan’s clubs on the evening of Saturday 13 August. As the Beatles needed him more than he needed them, he could hardly fail.
On Monday 15 August the five Beatles, Beryl Williams, her brother Barry Chang, and Lord Woodbine climbed aboard Allan’s Morris J2 Minibus, and with Allan at the wheel they set off on the 625 mile journey through three countries to Hamburg.

Arnhem, Holland. The Beatles on their way to Hamburg. L-R: Allan Williams, Beryl Williams, Lord Woodbine (seated), Stuart Sutcliffe, Paul, George and Pete Best

The long hours playing on stage in Hamburg transformed the 'bum group' so much that by the time they returned to Liverpool in December 1960 they were noticeably better than any of the local bands, something Allan had already spotted when he visited the Beatles during their German residency. Stuart Sutcliffe would write a letter home noting We have improved a thousand fold since our arrival and Allan Williams, who is here at the moment, tells us that there is no band in Liverpool to touch us.

It was confirmed as soon as they took to the stage back in Liverpool: This was when we began to think that we were good. Up to Hamburg we'd thought we were OK, but not good enough. It was only back in Liverpool that we realised the difference and saw what had happened to us while everyone else was playing Cliff Richard shit.

Suddenly we were a wow. Mind you, 70% of the audience thought we were a German wow, but we didn't care about that. Even in Liverpool, people didn't know we were from Liverpool. They thought we were from Hamburg. They said, 'Christ, they speak good English!' which we did, of course, being English. (John Lennon, Anthology)

Allan continued to get the Beatles bookings, until he fell out with them over the payment of his ten per cent commission in 1961 during their second visit to Hamburg.

Williams had no further business dealings with the group and was especially disappointed that Stuart Sutcliffe, of whom he was especially fond, was the one who told him the band would not pay. In 1962, when Brian Epstein was thinking of managing the group he contacted Williams to make sure there were no remaining contractual ties. There were none, but Williams forthrightly warned Epstein: Don't touch them with a fucking barge-pole, they will let you down.'

Despite this he remained on friendly terms with the Beatles right through the 1960s and 70s and whenever any of them spoke about him in later years it was always affectionately. I think they knew they owed him more than they'd admit.

Allan played a crucial role in establishing Beatles tourism in Liverpool – an industry now estimated to be worth £80 million a year – by organising the first conventions devoted to the band in the 1970s -  a time when nobody else was interested, especially the local council whose attitude seemed to be "What did the Beatles ever do for Liverpool?" He was a regular VIP guest at the conventions, his on stage appearances at the Adelphi with Cavern DJ Bob Wooler were an annual highlight. If only I’d had a video camera in those days!

I obtained the above autograph when I was 15 (circa 1986)

On 9 May 2016 Allan was awarded the Citizen of Honour award at Liverpool Town Hall in recognition of his contribution to the music industry in the city. The award was introduced in 2008 to formally recognise individuals who have made a significant, exceptional or unique contribution to enriching the life of the city.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo Allan said:  He said: I am over the moon, very proud and honoured. I am no spring chicken now and have been looking forward to the event. I am pleased to have been born and bred in Liverpool, to me it’s the most wonderful city in the UK and I hope that I have done it proud

 “Allan Williams in the Marlboro’ Arms
Giving his story out to everyone”**

It seems that every Liverpool based Beatles’ fan has their own Allan story. I met him several times over the years before the advent of camera phones, the most memorable being a drunken night in La Bodega, a Spanish bar in Temple Street (a door or two down from the old Iron Door).

In the early 1990s my friend Steve Phillips had organised what he called the ‘Fab Forum’ which was basically an excuse for local fans to meet and have a pint.

At Steve's invitation Allan turned up for a drink with the legendary Lord Woodbine. They'd been over at Granada TV studios earlier in the day though I suspect that's not where they'd got pissed. To this day I vividly recall Allan telling us that the TV people had been asking him for his opinion on leather, something which had left him bemused. Leather? What do I know about F-uuuu-cking Leather? he exclaimed, more than once to everyone's delight. He was absolutely leathered. Woodbine laughed uproariously. Great characters both, and a night I’ll always remember fondly.

My Dad had his own Allan Williams tale. In the early 1960s and probably slightly underage he tried to gain entry to the Blue Angel club with a group of mates. They just had to get past the little fella on the door who, unusually for Liverpool, was wearing a top hat. Pushing their oldest looking mate forwards he approached the door and tried to bluff his way in.  The conversation went something like this:

Doorman: Who are you?
Dad's mate: It's alright squire, we're friends of Allan Williams and he said we could  come in.
Doorman: Well I'm Allan Williams, and I don't know who you are, so F- off!

Allan at the Liverpool premiere of Eight Days A Week (Photo: Ian Cooper)

On 15 September I attended the Liverpool premiere of the Beatles film “Eight Days A Week” at FACT, with Chris Turton, another old member of the Fab Forum as my guest. We bumped into Allan in the lobby with Beryl and I was pleased to see how well he looked. 25 years on from La Bodega Chris and I simultaneously muttered “Leather? What do I know.....”

Before we watched the main feature the FACT audience were treated to a short film, only shown in Liverpool (but now available on the Blu-ray release of Eight Days A Week) about the Beatles origins in the clubs around the city and recent interviews with Allan and Beryl filmed in the Cavern featured heavily. Allan’s clips were subtitled which I thought was unnecessary as we could all understand him perfectly.

Weirdly the last time I’d seen Allan prior to the premiere was at the top of Seel Street. He was on his own, walking past his old club The Blue Angel. Of all the places.. 

Just heard Allan Williams whom I had a great relationship with starting back in 1960 on our maiden voyage to Hamburg, where we cut our teeth and learnt our craft has passed away. My deepest condolences to the Williams family. God bless you Allan and thank you. Pete. 
Pete Best, in tribute to Allan Williams,
Friday 30 December 2016

Thanks for your part in the story Allan, without you it would have been very different. 

Cheers  🍷

Allan Williams
1930 - 2016

Notes and Credits:

* Paul McCartney's 'endorsement' of the book The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away.

**lyrics from Does this Train Stop on Merseyside by Ian Prowse/ Amsterdam: used by permission.
Thanks Ian.

The Larry Parnes era photos were taken by Cheniston Roland.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Far Pavilion

"Aintree Pavilion"
27 Harradon Road
L9 0EH

The newspaper cutting (left) appeared on the front page of the Birkenhead News and Advertiser (Heswall and Neston edition) on 11 June 1960.

John Lennon was given a copy of the article in 1964  and in several subsequent interviews referred to it as 'possibly' the first review of the Beatles ever. 

According to author Mark Lewisohn it definitely was.

Asked by the unnamed journalist to list the most notable theatres they'd played to date the Beatles - John, and probably Paul (still going under the stage name of Paul 'Ramon' following their recent tour of Scotland with Johnny Gentle) mentioned the Manchester Hippodrome (1958), the Liverpool Empire (June 1957 ) and the Aintree Pavilion. 

This third venue has caused me no end of head scratching since I first read about it in Lewisohn's The Beatles Live! in 1986.

There's no such place today and I could find no evidence to confirm that there ever was.

It took the publication of another of Mark Lewisohn's books - Tune In -  some 27 years later, to finally solve the mystery. Sort of.

Mark now  thinks the reference was a joke.  A fanciful, made up* name for the Aintree and Fazakerley (pronounced Fazack-er-lee) Working Men's Social Club and Institute -  the north Liverpool equivalent of Hambleton Hall in Huyton -  a bleak little venue situated in Harradon Road which the late 1950s phone book says had a "pavilion", according to Lewisohn's impeccable research.

The Aintree and Fazakerley Working Men's Social Club and Institute in 2014 (above) and as it today - The New Harradon Social Club (below). 

It's not impossible that the Quarry Men / Beatals/ Beetles/ Beatles appeared here
between 1957- 60. At this stage in their career this is exactly the sort of place where they could secure a booking (or more probably an "audition") but until any further evidence appears, which let's face it is highly unlikely at this point we'll have to mark it as "improbable".

Aintree was a long way from where the Beatles lived in South Liverpool, and still is, but the area was familiar to at least two of them. Paul had family living not far away and George had watched the 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree as a 12 year old schoolboy and again in 1957. From 7 January 1961 the Beatles would start making regular appearances at the Aintree Institute which sadly no longer exists.

Indeed, as parts of Liverpool continue to be demolished on a regular basis the fact that the Harradon club is still standing was reason enough for me to make the trip to Aintree so I could include it here.

Recently renovated externally and tastefully refurbished inside over the last couple of years the premises now operate as the New Harradon Social Club.

* A name made up by the Beatles or perhaps the local nickname?

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Olivia Harrison: Living in the Material World book and DVD signing at HMV Liverpool One

Liverpool One
South John Street

1 December 2011

Facebook helpfully reminded me this morning that 5 years ago today I was lucky enough to meet the late George Harrison's wife Olivia at a book signing event held at the large HMV Store in Liverpool One. Here's some photos and memories of the night.


Grammy Award winning producer and philanthropist, Olivia Harrison celebrates the release of her book, and the Martin Scorsese biopic film on DVD and Blu-Ray, ‘George Harrison – Living in the Material World’ with a signing session at HMV’s Liverpool ONE store, South John Street on Thursday 1st December 2011.

This was an opportunity not to be missed.

Leaving my office in Mathew Street later than usual I made my way over to Liverpool One with my mate Stephen to meet up with our usual crowd of Liverpool based Beatles’ friends. I seem to recall some of them were quite near the front of the queue so we joined them, and probably got a few dirty looks from the people behind us.

The doors opened around 6pm and we made our way inside where we were advised to queue between the CD racks until we were called forward in turn to meet Olivia and get our books and DVDs signed.  But first we had to buy them...

There are many reasons why George is my favourite Beatle and any new product bearing his name which contains previously unseen photographs or film footage or audio recordings will usually get my seal of approval.

Olivia's appearance was to promote the DVD release of Martin Scorcese's Living In The Material World movie, and her companion book of the same name.

Prior to the release of the DVD the film had been broadcast as a two part Arena special on BBC 2 a fortnight earlier on 11 and 12 November 2011.

I absolutely loved it. With seemingly unlimited access to the Harrison's archive Scorcese uses never-before-seen stills and footage to trace George's journey from his birth in 1943, through his years with The Beatles, his solo career where he juggled music, philanthropic work and a career as a movie impresario, the joys and pain of his private life through to his untimely passing in 2001.

I particularly enjoyed the private home videos, photos and previously unreleased versions of some of George’s most popular songs expertly chosen by Scorcese to underpin the story of the "Quiet One". In fact, Living In The Material World shows that George was anything but quiet.

Both the film and Olivia's book are filled with reminiscences from Harrison’s family including his son Dhani, first wife Pattie Boyd, his brothers Peter and Harry and sister Louise; musicians Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and Phil Spector; Pythons' Terry Gilliam, and Eric Idle, and many, many others. 

The promotional material for the film described it a a profoundly intimate and affecting work of cinema. I wholeheartedly agree. In parts I was laughing out loud, in others I was in tears.

In my opinion Tom Petty had the funniest stories to tell about George, including this one about ukuleles: "He came in with two ukuleles and gave me one. 'You gotta play this thing, it's great! Let's jam.' I have no idea how to play a ukulele. 'Oh, it's no problem, I'll show you.' So we spent the rest of the day playing ukuleles, strolling around the yard. My wrist hurt the next day. But he taught me how to play it, and a lot of the chord formations. When he was going I walked out to the car and he said, 'Well, wait... I want to leave some ukuleles here.' He'd already given me one, so I said, 'Well, I've got this.' 'No, we may need more!' He opened his trunk and he had a lot of ukulele in there, and I think he left four at my house. He said, 'Well, you never know when we might need them, because not everybody carries one around.'"

By contrast the section where Olivia recounts the night they were attacked in their own home by an intruder and how she fought off the man after he had stabbed George is chilling and left me filled with a new admiration for her. What an amazingly strong woman (and my opinion was reinforced by her candidly talking about having to put up with George's infidelities“Sometimes people say: what’s the secret of a long marrage? It’s like: you don’t get divorced.”)

Paul McCartney comes across as someone who sincerely loved George, and I personally don't get why some people believe the edits in his interview segments were set up to make him look foolish (implying the Harrison estate wanted to have a dig at Paul).

Towards the end of the Beatles Anthology series there's a bit where a clearly upset Ringo Starr recounts the demise of the group. In Living In the Material World it's Ringo again who gets to pull on the viewer's heartstrings, as overcome with emotion he talks about going to visit George shortly before he died. It's incredibly moving and I don't mind admitting I shed a few tears watching it.

Overall the film is a rare glimpse into the mind and soul of one of the most talented artists of his generation and a worthy successor to Scorcese's Bob Dylan biopic No Direction Home. My only complaint is that even with a running time of 208 minutes it's still not long enough to cover all of George's solo records - there's no mention of the Cloud Nine album for example, which rejuvenated his career in 1987. 

A worthwhile companion to Scorsese’s film, similarly drawing on George’s personal archive of photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia, is Olivia’s book which reveals the arc of his life, from his guitar-obsessed boyhood in Liverpool, to the astonishment of the Beatles years, to his days as an independent musician, gardener and motor racing fanantic. It’s a great book, something I was happy to tell Olivia when it was my turn to step forward.

She asked me my name and began to sign. After telling her I enjoyed the film and not really knowing what else to say to her I asked the obvious “How are you doing?" and hoped I didn't come across as the scouse Joey Tribbiani.

She stopped writing and looked up at me and smiled and then turned to her aide and said 'I love it that whenever I come to Liverpool people always ask how I am'. I said that was good to know. Olivia was charming and gracious and I suspect as hard as nails. I thanked her and walked away, hoping Stephen had got a good photo or two of me with her

This photo of my friend Ellie with Olivia made it onto the official George Harrison website. She pops up everywhere that girl!! 


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Home From Home

1 Blomfield Road
L19 4UY

...the house where John Lennon was reunited with his mother Julia

There were five women that were my family. Five strong, intelligent, beautiful women; five sisters. One happened to be my mother. My mother just couldn't deal with life. She was the youngest and she couldn't cope with me and I ended up living with her elder sister. (John Lennon, 1980)**

Instead of living with his mother, he went to live with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. Then Uncle George died and John began to think that there was a jinx on the male side: father left home, uncle dead. He loved his Uncle George; he was always quite open about loving people. All those losses would really have got to him. His mother lived in what was called 'sin' - just living with a guy by whom she had a couple of daughters, John's half sisters, Julia and Jackie; very nice people. John really loved his mother, idol-worshipped her. I loved her, too. She was great: gorgeous and funny, with beautiful long red hair. She played the ukulele, and to this day, if I ever meet grown-ups who play ukuleles, I love them. She was killed, so John's life was tragedy after tragedy.
(Paul McCartney, Anthology)

1 Blomfield Road when it was put up for auction in the Spring of 2015.

One of the highlights of the 2015 John Lennon 75th Birthday tour was a visit to the home his mother Julia shared with her partner John "Bobby" Dykins and their two daughters Julia and Jackie. We were welcomed inside No.1 by the new owner Jackie Holmes and she kindly gave me a tour of the property.

Julia Baird (née Dykins) has written two books about life inside Blomfield Road so we thankfully have lots of detail to accompany the photos on this post.

John Lennon's last surviving grandparent, his maternal grandfather George 'Pop' Stanley died age 74 from broncopneumonia on 2 March 1949 at Sefton General hospital. George had been living in a rented terrace house at 9 Newcastle Road, Wavertree with his daughter Julia Lennon, her partner John 'Bobby' Dykins and their daughter Julia. Pop had been the tenant on the house and on his passing the landlord decided to put the property up for sale. He gave Julia and Bobby first option to buy the house but they were unable to afford the mortgage. They suddenly needed somewhere else to live.

Around the same time they discovered Julia was expecting another child and so, pretending they were married they put themselves on the waiting list for a Liverpool Corporation council house. With one young child and another on the way they were made a priority case and it was not long before they were able to move into a property on the Springwood estate where Allerton meets Garston, just under two miles from Menlove Avenue where Julia's son John was living with her sister Mimi Smith.

The junction of Woolton Road and Mather Avenue, close to where the 'Dykins' moved. The train going over the bridge is passing through what is today Liverpool South Parkway station. Note the tram on the right and the complete lack of cars.

With Alf Lennon missing and in any event unwilling to give Julia a divorce she was forced to live 'in sin' but as far as their new neighbours were aware, when Bobby and Julia moved to Springwood in August 1949 they were Mr and Mrs Dykins, and this is how Julia would sign documents from then on.

Blomfield Road, like the rest of the estate was lined with mature elm trees so thick that one could barely see the houses. Sadly when Dutch Elm disease struck Britain in 1967 the trees all had to be felled and were never replaced, contrary to promises made at the time. As a consequence the street looks bare in comparison to how in looked in the 1950s.

Number 1 was a pleasant 3 bedroom semi detached corner council house with a sunny aspect. Privet hedges surrounded the gardens on three sides of the house where the children could play safely and a gate in the back garden hedge led to an allottment at the rear.

When the Dykins first moved in there was still an air-raid shelter at the side of the kitchen window which made a great den for the girls to play in as they were growing up.
The photo (left) shows the back garden as it looks in 2015. An allotment was originally behind the back fence.

The Hall and Stairs

Julia Baird: Inside there was a kitchen with a separate pantry and two living rooms. Upstairs there was a bathroom, separate toilet and three bedrooms.

The view from the top of the stairs

The small room at the back looking out over the allotments had a single bed. This was Jackie's room (above). The allotments have long disappeared under additional housing which have changed the view she would have had from her window at the back of the house. When John Lennon began to stay over this is the room he would sleep in, while Jackie moved into her sister's room and shared her double bed.

The picture below shows the rear of the house. Jackie's bedroom window is top left, toilet window centre and bathroom top right. At bottom left is the kitchen window and the small pantry window is visible to the right of the kitchen door.

Julia Baird: My first concrete memory of him is hearing him tip-toeing into Jackie's smaller bedroom on Friday nights, long after we two were supposed to be fast asleep. In the morning we couldn't wait  to rush in and jump all over him. 

On waking the girls would run into John's room and jump on his bed, pulling the covers off and demanding he play with them which usually resulted in John tickling them silly while he regaled them with tales of monsters and mermaids.

Daughter Julia's room (left)

Julia and Bobby naturally had the big bedroom at the front of the house and daughter Julia the room next to theirs, both rooms large enough to fit double beds. Julia Baird would later write that she suspected the beds, and much of the furniture, came from the Newcastle Road house.

Two views of Julia and Bobby's bedroom

Julia Baird has a clear memory of watching her mother stand in front of the mirror, brushing her thick mop of auburn hair, and getting ready for a rare night out with Bobby, invariably dressed in her best, and only, evening gown, a fluffy pink satin creation trimmed with gold and silver stars with pink layered netting over the full skirt. "She looked like Cinderella about to go to the ball".

I took this photo during my tour of the upstairs of the house with the present owner Jackie Holmes.

This is a cupboard in the main bedroom, the floor of which is lined with a piece of carpet. Jackie revealed that hidden underneath the carpet is some vintage lino.

There is a possibility that it was originally from the kitchen or bathroom floor. It certainly looks old enough to have been in the house during the 1950s. Perhaps Julia Baird will one day be able to confirm whether she has any recollection of it.

My Son John: Julia Lennon and a ticklish John during the summer of 1949 when she was pregnant with her fourth child Jacqueline. The picture was taken at "Nanny's" house in Rockferry, Wirral at around the time the Dykins moved to Springwood.

Another picture taken in Rockferry. Julia Lennon with her new baby daughter Jackie in early 1950.

On 26 October 1949 Julia gave birth prematurely to Jacqueline 'Jackie' Dykins. She was nearly two months in hospital initially weighing only two and a half pounds. Julia remembers the day her sister was brought home to Blomfield for the first time and placed in a pram in the kitchen. I could hardly see her. She was still very very tiny. In fact I had bigger Teddy Bears! I inspected her head with my hands, looking at her with my fingers. I was helped to kiss her. I am sure I approved. Happy memories.

As the summer 1949 photograph shows, John did still see his mother from time to time but he had no idea where she was living. Mimi, it seems, had no intention of telling him, reasoning it would make everybody upset.

Nobody seems to be able to determine the exact date that John found out where Julia lived. It may have been as early as Easter 1950 or as late as 1953 when his sixteen year old cousin Stanley returned from Edinburgh to visit his family in Liverpool. He went to see Mimi and told her he was going to visit Julia. He asked her if he could take John to see his mother. Mimi forbid him. Stanley chose to ignore her. Under the pretence of taking John around the corner to visit their Aunt Harriet in the Dairy Cottage they instead went straight to Springwood.

It must have been a shock for John to realise how close she was living to him. Rekindling his relationship with his mother he began to visit frequently, without telling Mimi.

John: I saw my mother infrequently and I often thought about her. Distances don't mean much when you're small. I didn’t realise for a long time she lived only a couple of miles away.

Julia gave me my first coloured shirt. I started going to visit her at her house. I met her new bloke and didn't think much of him. I called him Twitchy,  otherwise known as Robert Dykins or Bobby Dykins - I don't know if she married him or not; little waiter with a nervous cough and the thinning, margarine-coated hair. He always used to push his hand in the margarine or the butter, usually the margarine, and grease his hair with it before he left. He used to keep his tips in a big tin on top of a cupboard in the kitchen, and I used to always steal them. I believe Mother got the blame. That's the least they could do for me.

John as a waiter in Magical Mystery Tour (1967): Bobby Dykins inspired?

When I got older, big enough to go on the bus on my own, I saw her all the time. She became a sort of young aunt or big sister to me. When I started having the usual teenage rows with Mimi, I used to go live with my mother for the weekend.

At the age of 17 John would stay over more and more, sometimes for weeks at a time, usually when he had rowed with Mimi.  

Author Mark Lewisohn observes in Tune In that whilst Mimi provided the motherly stability John professed not to need, but did, Julia provided the fun and trumped his loathing of convention with her own. As Lennon admitted, Julia was more like an Aunt or a big sister.

Pete Shotton: The part Julia played in John’s life was more that of an indulgent young aunt than a responsible parent.

They would listen to records together on Bobby's wind-up gramophone, mainly by Elvis Presley- their shared love of him led Julia to name the pet cat Elvis which was fine until 'he' gave birth to a litter of kittens!

The Kitchen

"Good morning Madam, can I help you?"

Julia loved playing imaginative games with her kids. She would turn the kitchen into a Co-Op*  so they could play shop. She would take on the role of the nice lady shopkeeper whilst John, when he was there, would put on a fake paper moustache and play the part of the cashier. Her attention to detail went someway beyond the norm. Julia Baird recalls that the real Co-op shops had an overhead wire with a shuttle which carried the change between the counter and the cash till. Her mother improvised using their indoor clothes-line creating a rope-pulley system on which she attached a small tin cup. Taking paper 'money' from her daughters and their friends in payment of their 'purchases' Julia would place it in the tin cup and send it across the kitchen to John. He would send back the girls' 'change' in the cup only for Julia to admonish him in a mock posh voice: "Madam says you have shortchanged her". John, playing along, to an extent, would reply in a similarly posh voice: "Just you tell Madam from me, she can't count!"

Julia Baird would later recall that John was at the house so often they didn't regard them as anything “special”. He was simply her brother who didn't lived with them all the time. He would often come to the house at lunchtime, skipping school dinners, and sometimes bringing a friend or two with him. If he was there when they returned home after school he'd help them with their homework, especially if it required a drawing or two.

Unlike the regimented routine over at Mendips there was no such devotion to tidyness, domestic protocol and set mealtimes although Julia's niece Liela (Harriet's daughter) a frequent visitor to Blomfield would later recall that 'there was always a stew or casserole on the stove" and if anybody turned up unexpectedly when they were about to eat an extra place at the table would be set for them.

Julia was not one for chores, doing the housework only out of necessity and when there was nothing else to occupy her. She refused the offer of a washing machine in the house, favouring the local chinese laundry on Mather Avenue. Bobby however was fond of the latest gadgets. He had one of, if not the, first car in Blomfield Road, an Armstrong Siddley and when their first telephone was installed he rushed down the road to the nearest public phonebox and rang Julia just to make sure theirs worked. They were also one of the first houses to have a television, no doubt another excuse for John to pay them a visit.

On 9 October 1954, the year in which John's visits became less secretive and more frequent he celebrated his 14th birthday with a special tea in the kitchen at Blomfield, Bobby presenting him with a homemade lemon and orange peel cake.

As John and Julia became closer she taught him banjo and piano at the house. Becoming more proficient on the banjo he would play along to a record, Julia slowing the speed until John could keep up with the tune.

During a later interview John would recall that the first tune I ever learned to play was "That'll be the Day". My mother taught it me on the banjo sitting there with endless patience until i managed to work out all the chords. She was a perfectionist. She made me go through it over and over again until I had it right. I remember her slowing down the record so that I could scribble out the words.

However, in another interview he would claim that ("Ain’t That A Shame" was) the first song I was able to accompany myself on taught me by my mother. I learnt it on banjo. My mother taught me quite a bit, my first lessons really. Most of our stuff then in the early days was just twelve bar boogies, nothing fancy.

Rather than the Fats Domino original it was probably Pat Boone's hit version of "Ain’t That A Shame" that Julia knew from the radio. She taught John how to play it on her banjo, a mother of pearl backed instrument the seafaring  ‘Pop’ Stanley had brought back from one of his voyages and had himself used to tutor Julia.

Other songs followed including "Don’t Blame Me", "Little White Lies", "Ramona" and "Girl of My Dreams". They also shared a fondness for music hall songs, especially George Formby.

Eric Griffiths (Quarry Man): We used to skive off school, buy ten Woodbines and a bag of chips then go to Julia's house. She always let us in.

When John and Eric first acquired guitars they would take them to Julia's for tuition. They would have to tune the first four strings to Julia's banjo so the top two strings of their guitars were left loose. When they later performed with the Quarry Men John and Eric played their guitars using banjo chords.

Paul McCartney: She taught him the banjo and that's quite something for a mother to do. My family were musical as well but there certainly weren't any women around who could play the banjo! She was always teaching us new tunes. I remember two in particular "Ramona" and, oddly enough "Wedding Bells are Breaking up that old Gang of Mine".

From Summer 1957 Paul became a frequent visitor to Blomfield with John. He got on extremely well with Julia, as all of John’s mates did.

Pete Shotton (The Quarry Men): We all loved (Julia) because she took nothing seriously, except having a good time. I remember her once walking up the road with us, wearing an old pair of spectacles with no lenses in. When we ran into someone we knew, she'd casually slip her finger through the frame and rub her eye, while we all fell about in the bushes cracking our sides.

Paul McCartney: I always think of Julia as being an exceptionally beautiful woman. She was very, very nice to us all. John just adored her not simply because she was his mum because she was such a high spirited lady. She was very lively.

Julia Baird believes her mother had a soft spot for Paul and heard her tell John You must bring Paul home for something to eat. Poor lad, losing his mother.

Bathroom rehearsals

When John formed the Quarry Men Julia let them rehearse in the house and often took part herself.

Julia Baird would later write that she and her sister Jackie heard and saw it all. Our house became a refuge for (The Quarry Men). Most of the other parents simply weren't prepared to put up with the noise but at Blomfield they were always welcome.

She vividly remembers the Quarry Men, with Julia in their midst, squeezing with into what she describes as one of the smallest bathrooms in Britain trying to play their instruments whilst perched on the side of the bath or propped against the wash basin, so cramped it was difficult to close the door. But they would stay in there,rehearsing for hours because of the great acoustics produced by the tiled walls and if they happened to arrive while Jackie and Julia were having a bath the girls would be unceremoniously removed from the water, bedtime put on hold until the boys had finished.

Baird would later discuss these sessions with Paul McCartney who recalled: We were really jammed in, couldn't move. Don't forget it wasnt only us in there but all our instruments as well, also a pig nose amplifier that we carried around. +

Rod Davis (Banjo player in the band): When we would go to practise at Julia's she would say something like, 'I don't like those horrible guitars, let me have a go of your banjo' and I have a clear recollection of her standing with her back to a fireplace playing my banjo.

Don't believe everything you read. In describing these bathroom sessions some Beatles' books will suggest that one of the Quarry Men would be perched on top of the toilet seat during rehearsals. It was during my visit to Blomfield that Rod Davis helpfully pointed out that this would have been difficult because the toilet was in a separate room to the bath. It still is. In Rod's memory most of their rehearsals took place in the living room.

Quarry Men back in the living room at Blomfield 2015. Rod Davis (second from left) and Colin Hanton (fourth from left)

July 15 1958

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday 15 July 1958 Julia decided to visit her sister Mimi at "Mendips". John was at home when she arrived but later went out around Woolton with some of his mates before making his way over to Blomfield. Around 9.45 Julia said goodbye to Mimi and set off for the bus stop on the opposite side of Menlove Avenue. Tragically she never made it. As she stepped through the hedge in the central reservation and onto the northbound side of the dual carriageway she was hit by a reportedly speeding car, driven by an allegedly drunk off duty policeman and killed instantly.

John would later recall what happened next in detail: An hour or so after it happened a copper came to the door to let us know about the accident. It was awful, like some dreadful film where they ask you if you're the victim's son and all that. Well, I was, and I can tell you it was absolutely the worst night of my entire life.

I lost her twice. Once when I was moved in with my auntie. And once again at seventeen when she actually, physically died. That was very traumatic for me. That was really a hard time for me. It made me very, very bitter. The underlying chip on my shoulder that I had got really big then. Being a teenager and a rock'n'roller and an art student and my mother being killed just when I was re-establishing a relationship with her. (John Lennon, 1980)

Spare a thought for Julia's daughters, John's half sisters Julia and Jackie who were not even told that their mother had died. The children in the Stanley family were always protected from any truth which the adults thought unpalatable. Instead they were packed off to Scotland where they stayed with their Aunt, Julia's sister 'Mater' for six weeks. They missed the funeral and while they were away the girls were made wards of court. Despite being their biological father the Court decided Bobby had no rights to the girls as he was not married to their mother. Devastated by the loss of Julia the loss of his two daughters must have broken him.

He also lost his home. The inquest following Julia's death alerted the Corporation to the fact that their tenants were not married. Bobby was told to move out. He did so and found a house at 97 School Lane a short walk through Woolton Woods and over Camp Hill from the centre of the village.

When Julia and Jackie eventually returned to Liverpool they found that they would no longer be living with their father at Blomfield but in the Dairy Cottage with Harriet, Julia's youngest sister. Whenever they asked where their mother was they were told she was very ill. 

Nearly two months had passed by the time they were finally told the awful truth.


+ Amplifier in bathroom. Paul’s small green bakelite Elpico AC-55 which he bought from Currys. The first of the QM to go electric.
* Co-Op.  The Co-Operative Store Supermarket.

** Harriet was actually the youngest of the five Stanley sisters. Julia may have appeared lively but John's opinion that his mother couldn't cope with life was probably formed without the knowledge that she had given birth to another baby, Victoria, in 1945 the result of a wartime extra-marital affair. The Stanley family forced her to give the child up for adoption leaving Julia with untold psychological damage over the loss. It's not clear whether John ever found out he had another sister. See my post about "Elmswood".

Colour stills of life inside Blomfield Road taken from the movie "Nowhere Boy" (2009) starring Aaron Johnson as John and Anne-Marie Duff as Julia. The film is based on Julia Baird's book 'Imagine This, Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon' which also provided much of the detail for this post.

Two doors away, at 5 Blomfield Road was the home of Arthur Pendleton. Around the age of fourteen John acquired a mouth organ. Julia Baird recalls that although her mother couldn't play it herself she  knew her neighbour could and sent John to Arthur to learn the basics.

John and Yoko last visited Blomfield in 1970 in their white Rolls Royce and were shown around number 1 by Georgie Wood, the new tenant. Wood would be name-checked on the Beatles "Let It Be" album.

The Auction 2015

Blomfield Road was sold at an auction held in Liverpool Town Hall on 31 March 2015.

Described by the Auctioneer Adam Partridge as the 'ideal' house for those interested in memorabilia the three bedroomed property had been given a guide price of £100,000 but reached £155,000 in a bidding process lasting just under a minute.

The winning bidder Jackie Holmes had previously bought George Harrison's house at 25 Upton Green for £156,000 in 2014. In 2016 she added Ringo's house in Admiral Grove to her collection!

Thanks to Jackie for letting me look around.