Friday 10 April 2020

Summer of '59

Amazing new photograph discovered!

It's August 1959 and John Lennon has just spent the summer working as a labourer in Scarisbrick, earning  enough money to buy a new electric guitar, a blonde Hofner Club Forty. John immediately nicknamed it the Club Footy, as was his wont. 

The Quarry Men had effectively split up that January following a booking at the Village Hall in Woolton, John's home turf, and a disastrous drunken audition at the Finch Lane Busmen's social club in Page Moss, after which drummer Colin Hanton had a row with Paul McCartney on the bus home and left the group. 

The trio of John, Paul and George carried on, with no real direction, and nothing much in the way of bookings. 

They toyed with a new name for the group. The Quarry Men was no longer relevant. All of the original members save John had left, he no longer attended Quarry Bank school and the name had never had any relevance to Paul and George. 

After a brainstorming session in Forthlin Road in the presence of Derek Hodkin, John's new friend from art college who usefully owned tape recorder, and Mike McCartney the trio came up with a new name.  They were nearly The Ravens, but settled on Japage3 - Ja(y) for John, Pa for Paul, Ge for George and (wait for it) 3 because (go on, have a guess) they were a trio. Genius!

Hodkin was also appointed their manager and set about arranging some bookings for them. He got them two, both at the La Scala Ballroom in Runcorn (on 2 March and 8 May) before losing interest and that was that.

George Harrison was keen to play his guitar at every available opportunity and so when the bookings for the Japage3 dried up he started what he later referred to as his 'freelancing period' playing with various groups wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself.

One of the groups he regularly played with was the Les Stewart Quartet, and with the members mainly domiciled around the West Derby and Tuebrook area it meant a long bus journey from Speke for George with several changes en-route just so he could practise or perform with them.  

In an earlier blog I've covered how George and the Les Stewart Quartet came to be playing a club in Hayman's Green, West Derby, called Lowlands, and how this led to them being invited by Mona Best (Pete's Mum) to become the resident band at a new club called the Casbah which she was about to open further along the street in the basement of her family home.  

Days before the grand opening the Les Stewart Quartet broke up leaving only George and Ken Brown, a duo at best, not the group Mrs Best required for her opening night. George told her not to worry, he had a couple of mates he could bring in to join himself and Ken and suddenly with John and Paul back on board the Quarry Men* were reactivated, playing the opening night at the Casbah on Saturday 29 August 1959. In preparation for the promised new bookings John had bought his Club 40 the previous day.

And so to this fantastic newly discovered photograph which is to be sold through Tracks Ltd:

A previously unpublished photo of the Quarry Men showing Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison thrashing their guitars in a Liverpool house a year before they morphed into the Beatles.

The image was uncovered in a purchase by music memorabilia specialists Tracks Ltd but it is unclear who captured the moment on camera and when exactly - although it is thought to be dated towards the latter part of 1959.    

I received a copy of the photograph this afternoon (April 9th) with the instructions not to publish it for the time being. I was asked if I could identify where it had been taken.

To work it out I started looking at the evidence.

John, Paul and George. The Quarry Men or Japage3. No drummer appears evident so I would date it as post February-March 1959 (it's unclear precisely when Colin left but we know they played the 2 March gig in Runcorn as a trio).

John bought his Club 40 on Friday 28 August 1959. As he's thrashing this very guitar in the photo, it can't date from any earlier than the aforementioned date.    

But where was it taken? 

It's not in one of their own homes. Look at the wall behind Paul's head. None of their houses had walls that thick, nor have I seen wallpaper like that in any of the extant photos (I'm presuming it's wallpaper and that's not real stone).   

Could it be a pub?  The placement of those porcelain figure heads on the wall make it look more like a house than a pub, where you'd expect plenty more to be on the walls, and is that the corner of a fireplace to the right of George?

This looks to be the room of a big house.  

Looking at my handy reference books it's clear that during late August - September 1959 the group didn't play anywhere except the Casbah club. 

However, it's definitely NOT one of the cellar rooms in the Casbah, which are well known and appear on many photographs.

That said, the Casbah WAS opened in the basement of a big house, and so I suggested that perhaps the photo was taken in one of the upstairs rooms rather than the club.

My source decided to send the picture to Roag Best, brother of Pete and custodian of both the Casbah Club and the Liverpool Beatles Museum in Liverpool.

After seeing the photo Roag's response was prompt and not really suitable for printing in a family blog. Put it this way, he was thrilled and had never seen the photo before.

My hunch(back) was right. It is indeed a photo taken in one of the upstairs rooms of 8 Hayman's Green, and get this next comment from Roag: 'I've still got the African heads from the wall behind them in a box somewhere' 

Here's another interesting detail in the photo. 

Roag then rang Pete Best to tell him he was sending him a photo.

Pete, suitably shocked and stunned, rang back and told him 'Grandad's golf clubs are on the picture, leaning up against the wall!'

Can you see the three golf drivers in the space between John and George? 

The 'Grandad' Pete is referring to is Major Thomas Shaw, Mona's Dad. His medals are now on show in the Liverpool Beatles Museum having previously been borrowed by John Lennon to wear on the cover of the 'Sgt. Pepper' album. 

It's only been on the internet for about 24 hours and already somebody has had a go a colourising the photograph so it doesn't hurt they eyes of any young people who refuse to look at Black and White things from the 'Olden Days' (quote: one of my kids)+

Other points to note:

1. In the photo John has his Club 40 (purchased August 1959) but George still has his Hofner President.  George swapped the President for a Club 40 of his own.  Previous books have stated that George had his Club 40 first. This photo would suggest otherwise.

2. The Japage3 name was dropped but why they went back to calling themselves the Quarry Men is a mystery waiting to be solved. I suspect they couldn't come up with anything they liked at the last minute. 

3. Initially George looks too tall in comparison to John and Paul. In fact he's the only one standing up straight. John is crouched forward and Paul is leaning back. This seems to have been John's stance when playing the guitar. It reminds me of the photos of him at the Wyvern (Blue Angel) audition in May 1960. When the Beatles went to Hamburg he saw Tony Sheridan and adopted the 'Lennon stance' we all know now, legs wide apart, guitar worn high on the chest. 

4. Mona's parents, Major Thomas Shaw and his wife Mary sailed from India to England in 1948 and moved in to 8 Hayman's Green. Major Shaw died in 1958 the year before this photo was taken, his wife in 1962 around the time Pete left the Beatles.  

5. Respecting the wishes of several individuals I have held back on publishing this piece. However, the photo and an accompanying piece have now appeared on the BBC news website (and elsewhere): 

Note the journalist has sent the photo to Mark Lewisohn for his comments. 

Mark says: "History shines in every dimly-lit detail. There are few Quarry Men photos and a discovery such as this is extremely rare. Precise information of where and when it was taken would be welcomed by collectors and historians alike."

Way ahead of you Mark on this one. Job done!  :)

Happy Easter everybody and keep yourself and your loved ones safe and well during these extraordinary times.

+Thanks to Mark R. Cobley-Jones for improving the colourised version of the photo for this blog


  1. Fantastic, thanks for this post (and all the rest). It is amazing that after all this time treasures are still to be found! Yours in Beatledom, Marc (Vancouver, Canada)

  2. Mr. Mark Ashworth - The Phenomenal Fab Four Forensic..... case solved. That's terrific, sir! Love having this stuff pop up during our incarceration! Gotta go... I have KP duty today!
    (Oh.... you didn't tell us what song they were playing! I take it back about "Case Solved!" :-) )

    Thanks, and Happy Easter to you and your family!!

  3. Not the same but that wallpaper. Could it be a theme?

  4. Absolute love this site.Great work.

  5. Thanks a lot !

    I made a photo enhancement

  6. B&W


  7. Congrats
    Personally has a really good time reading all this information as Beatlemaniac every new info is welcome
    Well done!

  8. Hmmm... looks like John & George BOTH playing leads way up the neck; maybe working out some Chuck Berry licks?