Sunday, 28 February 2016

Finch Lane Busmen's Social Club

Liverpool Corporation Passenger Transport (LCPT) Social Club
Finch Lane / East Prescot Road
Dovecot, Huyton
Liverpool



Trams and buses in Dovecot during the late 1950s



Dovecot is a small district of Liverpool situated to the east of the city and bordered by Knotty Ash, West Derby, Broadgreen and Roby.  Although some distance, and several buses away from his home in Allerton, south Liverpool, the area was familiar to Paul McCartney as his Aunt Gin lived in Dinas Lane off East Prescot Road, the main thoroughfare through Dovecot.

However, it was through George Harrison that the fledgling Beatles came to appear here. Since leaving the White Star Shipping Line in 1936 George's father had worked initially as a conductor and later a bus driver, for the Liverpool Corporation Passenger Transport (known at first as "Liverpool Corporation Tramways" when it first came into being back in 1897).

As the committee chairman of the Speke Bus Depot social club Harry was responsible for arranging the entertainment. On New Years Day 1959 he organised a party at Wilson Hall in Garston for the children of LCPT employees, booking the Quarry Men to provide the musical interlude. On another occasion he arranged for them to play here in Dovecot at a dance held in the Corporation's social club where he and his wife Louise ran weekly ballroom classes. The club was situated  on the corner of East Prescot Road and Finch Lane.


Dovecot in the 1950's. This photo was taken a couple of years before the Quarrymen's appearance at the Social Club which can just be seen through the trees on the left hand side of the photograph to the left of the white van.
(click to enlarge). 

Dovecot parade is on the right of the photo,the Kiosk on the corner (left on photo)was where i bought my morning paper on my way to work. That Bell tower in the (right) background is over the Library. This hall has been updated since the 1950s Mark. The club was pulled down during the 1980s and that and the LCPT football and cricket pitches were sold by the city council, there is a housing estate there now. 
(John Quinn)



The screengrab from Google Maps shows the area as it is today with the new housing estate on the left occupying the site of the former social club.

Writing in "The Beatles Live!", Mark Lewisohn infers that the engagement took place in the first half of 1959. With new information uncovered in Mark's subsequent book "Tune In" this would place the show during the period when the Quarry Men - by this time including only John, Paul and George - were temporarily calling themselves the Japage 3 (from John-PAul-GEorge-3). 

At that time the club had something of a name for itself, reportedly being the place where the legendary Liverpool comedian Ken Dodd was discovered (Doddy living about a mile away from Dovecot in neighbouring Knotty Ash).  Perhaps Harry had to persuade the Japage 3 to do the gig by suggesting that somebody might discover them.


Liverpool Corporation Passenger Transport (LCPT) Social Club

Perhaps because the booking came through his Dad, George would always have some memories of the place as he recalled for the Beatles' "Anthology" book:

My father had something to do with the Liverpool Transport Club in Finch Lane and he got The Quarry Men a gig there once, on a Saturday night. It was a dance hall with a stage and tables and people dancing and drinking. My dad was pleased and proud that he'd got us to appear there. We had to play two sets.  The group were booked to play on either side of the interval, an arrangement in common with a lot of their bookings around this time.

Another unfortunate feature of several engagements during this period was the groups inability to judge how many pints of beer in the interval were TOO many:
We played the first set of fifteen or twenty minutes and then, in our break, we got really drunk on black velvet*, the craze at the time - a bottle of Guinness mixed with half a pint of cider (not champagne). I was sixteen**, John was eighteen, Paul seventeen, and we had about five pints of it. By the time we had to go on again, we were totally out of it. With the committee chairman's son probably in the worst state of all it was no doubt deeply embarrassing for all concerned. As George would recall: We embarrassed ourselves and everybody else, and my father was very pissed off: 'You've made a show of me...' and all that.  And they had...

The bar, scene of drunken debauchery

Lewisohn's early 1959 dating of the engagement is troublesome and contradicted by two other sources.

John Quinn is one of my Facebook friends. Now approaching his 80s, John worked as a bus conductor in Speke in the mid-1950s and knew George and Paul as they often got on his bus to get to Liverpool Institute (and John says he never charged them a fare if he was on board). John's sister went out with one of George's brothers - Peter - while the Harrison's were living in Upton Green.

John moved from Speke to Knotty Ash in October 1959 and, as an LCPT employee had free entry to all of their clubs. I asked him if he ever saw the group at the Finch Lane social club: 
Yes I saw the Quarrymen as they were known then in 1959,and yes I had free entry into the club. I was there that night as I was a bus conductor, I was with friends. What Mark Lewishon didn't include in his book is the incident that took place at the Liverpool MPTE in the November 1959 when Paul and John got a bit tipsy and wouldn't go back on stage for their second part, Colin Hanton tried to get them back on stage without success, he left the club,and later they had a bit of a fight in the toilets with members of another band, at the time George's dad was the treasurer of the club.

John also recalled that Colin Hanton was the drummer at the time. I asked him if he was sure - in my mind Colin had left the group by this point. John responded: Colin Hanton was their drummer up their appearance at the Liverpool Pavilion in the December of 1959, he had a row with Paul on the bus going home, Colin got off the bus and it was the last time he played for the Quarrymen, their next drummer under the new name of Beatles was Tommy Moore.

Colin has also commented on the above:  I left the Quarrymen after playing a booking at the Pavilion Theatre in Lodge Lane. We had drunk a few beers during the interval and an argument started on the way home on the bus. I got off to catch another bus to take me home to Woolton and somehow or other that was that, they never contacted me again to ask me to play. I saw John a few times and he told me that they had got a drummer called Pete, which must have been Pete Best. After that I lost touch completely. I put my drums away and never played them until we got together to practise for the 40th anniversary at St Peter's in 1995!

However, on another occasion Colin has recalled the above events as taking place after they played the Finch Lane social club. Due their drunken state John and Paul were doing "spastic" impressions on the bus, much to Colin's annoyance. When he reached his stop he decided enough was enough and left the band that night.  

It's not clear just when Colin did leave the Quarry Men. In "Tune In" Mark Lewisohn indicates that Colin left around mid-1958, some 6 months or so before the date he gives for the gig in Dovecot.

So, in the words of Loyd Grossman, let's look at the evidence:

·    Mark Lewisohn dates the appearance as early 1959. He says Colin left the group at some point in 1958.

·    George Harrison had some memories of the venue but doesn't mention Colin Hanton. That doesn't eliminate the possibility that Colin was there. George can't remember the date of the booking but does remember they got drunk.

·    Colin Hanton remembers that they got drunk after a show at the "Pivvy" and this led to his subsequent decision to leave the group. Occasionally he remembers this as taking place after the Finch Lane show. No criticism can be levelled at Colin (What were YOU doing 60 years ago, and where?) but as we'll read below, sometimes he throws a THIRD venue into the mix!

·    John Quinn knew George and Paul and saw the group perform that night. He dates the show as 1959 but says Colin Hanton was there too. As he freely admits the problem with many of these Beatles authors is that they were not around at the time and therefore witnesses at the time will give different versions of an incident that they saw, even Colin Hanton had it wrong when he said that he was drunk at the Walton MPTE**, but there was only one MPTE and that was the Liverpool MPTE, it is very difficult for a Beatles researcher to write when all he/she has is witnesses and doing research, one really has to be there at that time...  It was the MPTE social club on the corner of Finch Lane,. The entrance to the club was on East Prescot Rd opposite the Granada cinema, (Bob Wooler was the Bingo caller there during the 1980s), the sports ground was in Finch Lane.

This is very true, certainly in the case of Mark Lewisohn who has to shift through statements from numerous witnesses and try and sort out fact from fiction. Let's face it, at this point in time (2016) most of the people who worked with the Beatles have published their memoirs and in the majority of cases they are guilty of the same trait. Undoubtedly, for many of these people working with the Beatles was probably the highlight of their lives but time and again those wishing to "cash in" on this make the mistake of over emphasising their own part in the story, some going so far as to recall conversations in their books that they couldn't possibly have been privy to. As a result Mark Lewisohn has taken the decision that anything a witness tells him that can't be verified with some kind of supporting evidence is left out of his books which is right and the safe thing to do in the pursuit of 100% accuracy, but it does mean some nice things get left out on occasion. Perhaps Mark should include a chapter at the back of any future books which mention all the stories he was told in the course of his research that couldn't be confirmed thus allowing the reader to decide whether they need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Taking the above into account I believe the Quarrymen - John, Paul, George and Colin most likely performed, and subsequently got drunk, at the LCPT social club in mid- to late 1958. I suspect Colin remained with the group a bit longer than Lewisohn suggests.

Of course if you have any memories which may clear this up further please comment at the end of this post. Cheers! 




A map of the Dovecot area. Top right is the former site of Hambleton Hall, a venue the Beatles would become very familiar with in 1961. Bottom right is Dinas Lane where Auntin Gin lived and the LCPT site is bottom left (Click to enlarge image) 



Whilst there are plenty of photographs showing the shops facing the LCPT club (see these from 1950 above) frustratingly there don't appear to be any of the opposite side of the road.

My own personal "Dovecot" memory:  After school one afternoon during the "Jubilee celebrations" in the summer of 1977 I remember standing in a crowd outside the
shops facing the social club waiting for the Queen and Prince Philip to drive up East Prescot Road towards Liverpool. She didnt have a lot to say when we eventually saw her but she looked pretty nice. 

At least the Duke of Edinburgh waved.

Source:

Thanks to John Quinn and Colin Hanton for their memories
Books: "The Beatles Live" and "Tune In" by Mark Lewisohn, "Anthology" by The Beatles.

Notes:

* Black Velvet - is generally a mix of stout (for example Guiness) and Champagne. As George recalls, the group were drinking a mix of Guiness and Cider known as "Poor Man's Black Velvet". 

** Or possibly fifteen years old depending on when the booking took place.

** John Quinn's reference to the MPTE  is a slip. The Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive was formed in December 1969, ending the era of the Liverpool Corporation Passenger Transport.