Friday 4 May 2018

George's Club Footy

My first electric job (guitar) was a big Hofner President. But I soon got fed up with it and did a straight swap for a Club 40. I thought it was the most fantastic guitar ever 
(George Harrison, Beat Instrumental, November 1964)

George did the swap with Ray Ennis of the Swinging Bluegenes.  

Ennis recalls: The Club 40 that George got was originally mine. We had our residency on Tuesdays at the Cavern, and I remember we did the swap there. I swapped it for his acoustic Hofner, which was sunburst, with f-holes. I haven’t got it now – because at the time, who thought The Beatles would be so famous? In those early days we used to get fed up with guitars very quickly, so we’d swap and change a lot.

It was George's first fully electric guitar and John being John nicknamed it the Club Footy. The name stuck.

Jokey moniker aside Lennon envied the guitar and my recent post about his 1959 summer job at the Scarisbrick Water Works details how he acquired his own.

George Harrison's Hofner Club 40 (left)

Ray Ennis with the Hofner Club 40 
(Above left)

Another Hofner Club 40 is still in the possession of George's childhood friend Tony Bramwell who got it when he was about 10 years old. Both George and John played it on occasion.

I suggested to Tony that he may have inspired George to get the same model but he dismisses the idea, stating 'everyone had a Selmer Hofner catalogue, it was like guitar porn'.

Selmer were the UK importers of Hofner guitars.

Tony Bramwell's Club 40 (left)

The summer of 1959 brought the opening of a new Liverpool hangout, The Casbah Coffee Club in Hayman’s Green, West Derby. It was a teenager’s social club that boasted live music, and it was run by Mona Best, whose son Pete would later become a Beatle. John, Paul, George and temporary Quarryman Ken Brown were offered a residency at the Casbah. A couple of photos taken during these performances at the Casbah show the group in action - Paul playing his Zenith guitar and John and George with their Hofner Club 40s (though George’s is barely visible in the photos).

By July 1961 George had added further guitars to his collection. He posed with them in a series of photos taken at his family home in Upton Green, Speke. In the above photo the Hofner Club 40 can be seen on the left.

According to Andy Babiuk in his book ‘Beatles Gear’ Harrison’s Club 40 was given away in a promotion for the 1966 Beatles tour of Germany. In 1965, Brian Epstein, The Beatles manager, was asked by the Star Club in Germany (a club where the Beatles played regularly in 1962) for an autographed Beatles guitar that would be given away as a prize in a competition for the Best Beat Band of Germany in 1966, which would also promote The Beatles’ upcoming 1966 German tour.

During The Beatles shows at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, in December 1965, Epstein persuaded Harrison to donate his Hofner Club 40 for the competition. In the German tabloid Bild-Zeitung from mid-December 1965, it stated that a delegation of fans and Star Club officials—including the German Number 1 beat band at the time, The Rattles—brought the guitar back from a Beatles concert they attended at Hammersmith Odeon on December 8, 1965. The article includes a photo of the guitar (below).

The Star Club in Hamburg held the “Beat Band Battle” in February 1966, the month the Beatles forthcoming tour was announced. The winning band would receive a record deal with the Star Club label and, as a special prize, an autographed Beatles guitar once owned by George Harrison. The Star Club’s advertisement that ran in a German newspaper in 1966 announcing that the winner would be awarded George Harrison’s Hofner Club 40, translated from German to English, reads, “February 5 and 6 – Final of the Beat-Band Competition 1966 for the whole Federal Republic, with the three best bands of the regional preliminary heats from the federal states. The winner of the final receives—among other prizes—an ORIGINAL BEATLE GUITAR that was once used by George Harrison and that contains the hand-signed autographs of The Beatles."

In 2003, after the publication of 'Beatles Gear' Frank Dostal, singer and guitarist of the 1960s German band Faces, contacted Babiuk. Dostal explained that his band Faces won the competition and was awarded Harrison’s Hofner Club 40 autographed by the four Beatles. He confirmed that he still owned the guitar which he kept stored in a bank safe.

The winners with George's Club 40. Look at their happy faces!

Frank Dostal was able to visit the Beatles backstage during their Hamburg concerts on 26 June 1966 and thank them personally for the guitar.

As a thank you gift he brought them a (now extremely rare) Tubon keyboard. 

A photographer for The Beatles Monthly book captured several photos of Frank presenting the Tubon to Paul and McCartney experimenting with it. 

The German Beatles' expert and author Thorsten Knublauch has written that a guitar signed by all four Beatles would be the Holy Grail for many autograph collectors. Indeed, the only previously known example was tragically lost in a mudslide in Malibu, California. Could George's Club Footy be the only signed Beatle guitar in existence?

Thorsten decided to ask several experts on Beatles autographs what they thought.

One such expert, Frank Caiazzo, examined the signatures and determined that they were not signed by the four Beatles but by their road manager, Neil Aspinall, who by late 1965 would often sign the Beatles’ names on souvenirs and promotional items. 

The above photo comes from Thorsten Knublauch and dates from the sixties. The more recent photograph below demonstrates how the signatures have faded since then.

Needless to say, Dostal wasn't overjoyed when he found out the signatures were 'fake'. That said, the guitar is indeed the actual George Harrison’s actual Hofner Club 40 guitar. I can't quite believe how Epstein managed to persuade George to part with something which must have held great sentimental value to him.

And NOW! Here is where a number of co-incidences occur.

Co-incidence #1:

Frank Dostal was married to Mary McGlory a member of the all female Liverpool group The Liverbirds.

Formed in Liverpool in 1962, originally as the Debutones, the Liverbirds - guitarists Pamela Birch and Valerie Gell, bassist Mary McGlory and drummer Sylvia Saunders starting playing the set list common to most Mersey Beat era bands - U.S. rock'n'roll,  Chuck Berry, girl group, early Motown etc before falling under the spell of the Rolling Stones (with whom they toured) and their more Chicago, rhythm and blues based sound.

In 1964 they made their mark in Hamburg, where like many Liverpudlian groups before them they performed at the Star-Club, billed as die weiblichen Beatles (the female Beatles).

According to John Lennon, however, 'girls were unable to play guitars' and he told them ‘they’d never make it’.

Recognising this as a bit of Lennon reverse psychology the girls determined to prove John 'wrong' and through hard work became one of the top attractions at the Star-Club. They recorded two albums and several singles. Of the latter, one, a cover of Bo Diddley's "Diddley Daddy" rose as high as #5 on the German chart.

The Liverbirds - Sylvia, Mary, Valerie and Pam

When the Liverbirds split up in 1968 three members of the band settled in Germany permanently. Sylvia moved to Benidorm with her husband John where they lived until he passed away in April 2017. Sylvia is now living in Scotland.

Sadly Mary’s husband Frank Dostal also passed away that same month.

Pamela Birch died in October 2009 and Valerie Gell in 2016.

Last week I was lucky to meet the two surviving members, Mary and Sylvia when they visited Liverpool on 22 April 2018. They were meeting with local author Anthony Hogan who wrote a chapter on the Liverbirds in his recent book 'The Beatmakers' and Ant asked if I wanted to tag along. Of course I did!

Sylvia, me and Mary in the Cavern Walks, Liverpool on 22 April 2018 (photo by Anthony Hogan)

Both ladies were lovely and easy to talk to, and I was able to ask them all sorts of questions about the Beatle's related Hamburg locations I've only ever read about in books. One day I plan to see them for real.

Sylvia informed me that Mary had a nice collection of Star Club memorabilia but what intrigued me most was when she casually remarked that Mary also owned one of the Beatles’ guitars, a Hofner. I asked Mary how this had come about and she told me the story above about how the guitar came into her late husband’s possession.

An aside: Mary's husband Frank co-wrote the disco anthem 'Yes Sir, I Can Boogie' by Baccara. I've always been highly amused by the economy of the lyrics in the second verse which go:

No sir,
I don't feel very much like talking,
No neither walking.
You wanna know if I can dance,

Yes sir, already told you in the first verse and in the chorus,
But I will give you one more chance...

Ooohh! Yes sir, I can boogie....

...which to me is genius and it amused Mary when I told her as much.

The drummer and bass player of the Liverbirds pose with statues of their musical counterparts in the Beatles. They joked that if they were to reform they'd need to find two replacements. They had considered asking Paul and Ringo seeing as they were also missing two members until they realised they'd then have a band with two drummers, two bass players and no guitarists!

Co-incidence #2:

Within days of meeting the two Liverbirds an advert appeared for Julien’s Music Icons 2018 auction, set to take place at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York on 19 May 2018. Pride of place in the auction is George’s Club Footy, as owned by Mary Dorstal. With a starting price of $50,000 the guitar is expected to sell between $200,000 and $300,000, a mark of this particular instruments place in music history.

Auction catalogues description of George Harrison’s First Electric Guitar: The Hofner Club 40: George Harrison’s Hofner Club 40 guitar is a small single-cutaway hollowbody instrument built with a spruce top, maple back, and sides in a natural blond wood finish with black body binding. The short-scale guitar has a 22-fret neck with an unbound rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays and is joined to the body at the 14th fret. The guitar has a Hofner trapeze “badge” style tailpiece, an adjustable floating bridge, a tortoise shell colored pickguard, one single-coil black “bar” pickup in the neck position and an oval style control panel with volume and tone “teacup” style knobs. The headstock is fitted with 3 on a side tuning pegs and features a horizontal Hofner headstock logo with three vertical dot inlays. The back of the headstock is stamped with the serial number 244.

What’s really unfortunate in all this of course is that we don’t have a clear photograph of George actually playing the Club 40.

Until today! I’ve no idea where or when this was taken or by whom but I’ve never seen it before. It looks like a family party or a wedding perhaps and the lady appears to be the focus of the photographer rather than George who was probably just lucky to be caught in the frame .

There's a possibility the photo was taken at the Childwall Abbey Hotel on 20 December 1958 when the Quarrymen played at the wedding reception of George's brother Harry and new sister-in-law Irene (that's not Irene in the photo by the way). George is wearing exactly the same clothes here as he is in the well known photograph from that day, including the tie. You can see that photograph in my blog about the hotel. The problem with this theory is the guitar. He's got the Hofner President in the wedding photo, the guitar he supposedly swapped to get the Club 40.

Regardless, in a week of co-incidences this is the most remarkable. In the very month the guitar is to be sold at auction a photograph of George playing it suddenly appears!

And look at George's hair!  Truly this is the hairdo that his friend Arthur Kelly once proudly described as a "F---ing turban!!"

That folks, is co-incidence #3.

Thanks to Ant Hogan, Mary and Sylvia, the Liverbirds, Tony Bramwell, Andy Babiuk and his fantastic book 'Beatles Gear', Julien's auctions and Thorsten Knublauch for his initial research.


  1. Easily the best Beatle related blog out there.
    Well researched and informative articles.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks Wizz, I really appreciate your comments

  2. And by the way - the story that the guitar was promoting the German 1966 tour is false. The tour was announced AFTER the give away of the guitar to the winner band "The Faces" with Frank Dostal.

    1. Thanks Thorsten, I've slightly revised the text since this morning.

  3. Great article. Thank you very much.

    Frank Dostal also was the lead singer of the band 'Wonderland' in
    the late 60's.
    Just listen to this amazing tune...

  4. this is really nice to read..informative post is very good to read..thanks a lot!
    Akanthus Σχοινας

  5. Hi,I live in Vienna, and bought a programme from an antuqie shop (we are in soft lockdown-for now) for a Beat Festival dated Friday, 12th March 1965 which took place at the Stadthalle, which is still there. The Liver Birds were headlining (who I had never heard of until then, and I looked them up in wiki and on your blog), also on the bill were the Tielman Brothers (from Brussels) and the Rattles, another UK band.
    Cheers, Richard

  6. Soory, referring to my earlier post, the Rattles were a German beat group