Following the positive reception to my recent post John Lennon: A Childhood in Photographs I thought I'd try something similar with all the photos I've collected which show the Beatles in performance at various venues in Liverpool and the Wirral.
It turns out that there are many more than I'd realised, so many in fact that I've decided to break the post into three years - 1961, 1962 and 1963.
Of course the Beatles were also photographed in Liverpool in 1960. These images all originate from a single date, 10 May, when the group auditioned for Larry Parnes. I have already included these in an earlier post which you can view here.
There are also a number of photographs from the Quarry Men and Japage 3 era. No doubt there will be a post using these in the near future, but not yet, I'm still trying to create the definitive chronology of that 1956-59 period.
Here then are all the extant images of the Beatles taken in and around the clubs and ballrooms of Liverpool during 1961.
Placing them in chronological order has been quite an undertaking. A number of these photographs have appeared in well known books and magazines, sometimes woefully mis-dated and with the venue incorrectly identified. Some have appeared grouped together, the implication being that they were taken on the same evening. In several instances careful study of the visual evidence has proven otherwise, and I'll explain my reasoning as we go along.
Of course, some of the images have proven impossible to pin down to a specific date. In these cases I've tried to narrow down the timeframe as much as I can and provide my best guestimate.
My accompanying text has been enhanced by extracts from various publications which provide further background and context to the images.
As always positive feedback is welcomed as much as reasoned arguments pointing out where I've got it wrong. The ultimate aim is always to be as near 100% accurate as possible.
The Beatles were not the first group back from Hamburg but their return was no less explosive, locally, than the arrival of rock and roll itself in 1956. No one expected it, no one knew who they were or where they came from (promoters billed them as 'Direct From Hamburg' leading many in the audience to assume, naturally enough, that they were German) they were just suddenly there, good beyond belief, and so exceptional that everything started to change because of them, and quickly - Mark Lewisohn, Tune In
Not only the first photograph of the Beatles performing at the club with which they are most closely associated, but also the only one that shows Stuart Sutcliffe, unfortunately obscured by John's left arm.
Jim Mawer witnessed the Beatles first lunchtime session at the Cavern as a five-piece. He has a clear recollection of Stuart: During their "act" Paul introduced Stu as.. 'Stu, our "bassman" is gonna do 'Elvis' singin' 'Love Me Tender', wearin' his 'sunnies'! Stu hands over his bass guitar… enthusiastic applause and cheers from the crowd! (actually, not that many, but a fair few).
Was Stuart a good singer?
Jim Mawer: That's a difficult one...it was a long time ago, the image is quite strong in my mind.. but, having said that, being a 15 year old at the time, anyone singing Elvis was pretty cool as we all loved Elvis , Buddy Holly etc. He (to us teenagers) sounded great! He also looked pretty cool in his "sunnies" glasses and black leather jacket, black t-shirt...as nervous as he was...
source: Jim Mawer, Buskin With The Beatles Facebook group, June 2021
Stuart had arrived back in Liverpool, direct from Hamburg, around 15 January and took his place in the group three days later at the Aintree Institute.
One night towards the end of January (20,21,28 or 30) Stu was beaten up by a gang of Teds at Lathom Hall in Seaforth:
When I went back to pick them up they said, 'There's been a fight in the bogs.' John had broken a finger. Pete had a black eye. Paul had been dancing around and Stuart had been kicked in the head. It was Liverpool, one of those 'lucky we got away with it' situations. Apparently Stu had been trapped in the toilets by some Teds because their girls had been screaming, and John had probably done one of his big fucking winks - Neil Aspinall, Tune In.
John fractured the ring finger on his right hand and its just visible taped on the photo above.
George grins at the Mike while Paul croons at the mic (below).
The Beatles appeared here on 6, 11, 13, 15, 17 March 1961.
These dates marked the Beatles' first appearances at what had previously been, and what would eventually re-emerge as the famous and well loved Iron Door Club ('much better than the Cavern' according to my Dad)
Johnny Guitar Byrne from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes kept a diary. Here are extracts from his entries for March 1961. Note he sometimes refers to the Liverpool Jazz Society (LJS) as the Iron Door:
7. Eileen came down, stayed in. I wish I could marry her. Went to dole.
8. Hambleton, Iron Door.
9. Litherland (?). Gene Vincent, good but empty. Had to borrow off old man to get in.
10. Lunchtime LJS. Van took us to Neston. Ringo and I played with other band, there was a fight.
11. Saw Joan get married. She looked nice. Went to Orrell, then to Iron Door all nighter, packed 800 there. Went to Zodiac to play with Big Three.
12. Went to see 'Flaming Star', then to Cassanova club.
13. Liverpool Jazz Society lunchtime. Empty, but we played.
14. Played golf at Harrison Drive.
15. LJS lunchtime. Jive Hive. Played great.
St John's Hall, Snaefell Ave, Liverpool 13: 13, or 20 July OR
David has also sent me a copy of the Pressmen in action that same night. L-R: Bob Pears, Nick Arnott, Dave Roberts, Richy Prescott, Phil Kenzie.
Around the third week of July, George upgraded his guitar for the first time since buying his Futurama in late 1959 with his Blacklers' wages. He bought the Gretsch Duo Jet second hand from a merchant seaman called Ivan Hayward, paying £70 towards the £90 Hayward wanted for the instrument after writing an IOU for the remaining £20 which he promised to pay later (and of course never did).
Hayward saw his former instrument in action a week or so later on 27 July when he watched the Beatles at St. John's Hall, Tuebrook, headlining another dance promoted by Mrs Best. On this night the Beatles shared the bill with the Big Three, and backed a young girl who occasionally sang with them, Priscilla White - or Cilla Black as she became known.
Ivan remembered 'the place was full of kids. The Beatles sang 'Young Blood'. I wasn't very impressed with them but they weren't the only group making a racket at the time - the Big Three also played that night' - Mark Lewisohn, Tune In
Vollmer wore his hair brushed forward, in a style Astrid Kirchherr had encouraged Stuart Sutcliffe to adopt.
Jürgen had a flattened-down hairstyle with a fringe in the front, which we rather took to. We went over to his place and there and then he cut – hacked would be a better word – our hair into the same style. - John Lennon, 1963
His was actually more coming over to one side. A kind of long-haired Hitler thing, and we’d wanted that, so it was really a bit of an accident. We sat down in his hotel and he just got it – the ‘Beatle’ cut! - Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology
The Beatles were making more noise than ever now because (circa August) Paul had got himself a new bass speaker. It came courtesy of the Big Three, who made the loudest sound of any Liverpool group – not just because Johnny Hutch hit the drums hardest (he even attached a piece of wood to his bass drum pedal, to thwack the skin with maximum force) but also because their lead guitarist Adrian Barber had made a pair of huge loudspeakers for the guitars and voices. When Barber let it be known he could make more of these, for something like 25 guineas apiece, Paul ordered one for his Hofner Violin, paying Barber £5 every so often as far as summer 1962. Powered by his Selmer Truvoice amp, this was a vast piece of kit for the Beatles, an immense fifteen-inch loudspeaker inside a wooden cabinet standing five feet tall and painted black – and so, inevitably, it became known as ‘the coffin’. - Mark Lewisohn, Tune In
On November 9th 1961, Brian Epstein went to the Cavern Club to see the Beatles, ostensibly to ask about where to obtain the record they had made in Hamburg with Tony Sheridan. Accompanying Brian was Alistair Taylor, his personal assistant.
“We had imported the record by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers (really the Beatles) and it sold like crazy. One day Brian came in and said, “Do you remember that record we sold by the Beatles?” I said ‘Yes, of course’, and he said, ‘Well, they are playing at the Cavern, today, at lunchtime, let’s go to lunch and call in at the Cavern’.- Alastair Taylor, London Beatles Fanclub magazine, 1995
The myth is that until Raymond Jones entered the Whitechapel store and asked for a copy of the ‘My Bonnie’ single Brian had never heard of the Beatles.
In reality Brian had seen them several times in Mersey Beat, on posters around Liverpool and in person hanging around the listening booths in his shop. Although he might not have fully joined up all the dots his curiosity was obviously piqued.
Brian Epstein learnt that The Beatles were playing close to his shop in Whitechapel. He was intrigued to see what they were like and he phoned Bill Harry at Mersey Beat and asked him to smooth his entrance into the Cavern. Bill arranged this with Ray McFall and with Paddy Delaney on the door. – Bob Wooler, The Cavern, Spencer Leigh.
So we went to the Cavern. Ghastly place. We went in suits, and there were these four ghastly youths up on stage, wearing black leather jeans, black jackets, smoking and drinking, and so loud. Brian and I sat at the back, we only heard about four or five numbers and they were just so charismatic and so exciting. What really struck us was the final number, which Paul announced they had written. It was ‘Hello Little Girl’. It was a damned good number. We didn’t like pop music, we just sold records for a living. I was a jazz and classics fan.- Alastair Taylor, London Beatles Fanclub magazine, 1995
Epstein and Taylor entered the band’s dressing room – “as big as a broom cupboard” – after the show. The Beatles recognised Epstein, with George Harrison opening the conversation by asking: “And what brings Mr Epstein here?”
I was immediately struck by their music, their beat, and their sense of humour on stage – and, even afterwards, when I met them, I was struck again by their personal charm. And it was there that, really, it all started. – Brian Epstein, A Cellar Full of Noise
We went to lunch, and Brian asked me what I thought of them, and I said, ‘They were bloody awful, but absolutely incredible!’ We talked a bit more, and Brian said ‘I’m thinking of managing them!’. I said, ‘My God, you’re kidding’ – I thought it was great. He said ‘If I do manage them, would you come with me. Who do you work for, me or NEMS?’ I said ‘I work for you’ So he said, ‘If you come with me, I’ll give you 2.5% of the Beatles earnings. I replied, ‘I couldn’t accept that Brian’ I had no money to put up and I knew it would be very expensive. I said all I wanted was a better salary, that’s all.”- Alastair Taylor, London Beatles Fanclub magazine, 1995
This is one of only two extant photos of the Beatles with both of their drummers in the same frame.