Monday 6 July 2015

Biker like an Icon

W.W. Abba,
166 Aigburth Road
L17 7BR

Today marks the 58th anniversary of the day John Lennon met Paul McCartney at the village fete held in the field next to St. Peter's Church in Woolton.

The story is well known and told often. John's band the Quarrymen were booked to perform in the field behind the church during the afternoon, and later that evening in the Church Hall across the road. 

Whilst they were setting up their equipment for the evening performance in the hall the Quarrymen's sometime tea-chest bass player and sometimes manager, Ivan Vaughan introduced the band to a friend he'd brought along for the day, a 15 year old classmate from the Liverpool Institute called Paul McCartney.

Paul had watched the Quarrymen's performance in the field: "I remember coming into the fete and seeing all the sideshows. And also hearing all this great music wafting in from this little Tannoy system. It was John and the band. I remember I was amazed and thought, 'Oh great', because I was obviously into the music. I remember John singing a song called Come Go With Me. He'd heard it on the radio. He didn't really know the verses, but he knew the chorus. The rest he just made up himself. I just thought, 'Well, he looks good, he's singing well and he seems like a great lead singer to me.' Of course, he had his glasses off, so he really looked suave. I remember John was good. He was really the only outstanding member, all the rest kind of slipped away." (Anthology, 1995)

Following Ivan's introduction John and Paul chatted for a few minutes, Paul asked John for a go of his guitar, tuned it properly and then launched into Twenty Flight Rock, showing the Quarrymen that not only did he know all the words, he also knew all the right chords. Aware he was impressing them he carried on, culminating in his Little Richard impersonation and performing Long Tall Sally. The Quarrymen, John included, all recognised that Paul was better than any of them.

By this stage Paul was in full flight, and showing no signs of quitting: "I also knocked around on the backstage piano and that would have been A Whole Lot Of Shakin' by Jerry Lee. That's when I remember John leaning over, contributing a deft right hand in the upper octaves and surprising me with his beery breath. It's not that I was shocked, it's just that I remember this particular detail."

John was so impressed he decided he had to have Paul in the group and less than two weeks later Paul was a Quarryman.

That's the story of how John and Paul first met, one which John and Paul both repeated countless times over the years. Today the anniversary will be celebrated on Beatles fan sites across the universe.

However, Mark Lewisohn's ultimate Beatles' biography Tune In questions whether July 6 1957 was in fact the first time the two met. It seems that on occasion, in certain (private) company, Paul will admit that the Woolton Church fete was NOT the place of their first meeting.

Esquire Magazine interview (2015)

ESQ: Do you feel lucky? It’s weird, cosmically: how the hell did you four manage to bump into each other?

PM: Cosmic, man. It is! Dead cosmic. I know that. The more I go on, the more I realise. I mean, I know how I saw John. He was just a ted, on the bus – greasy hair, long sideburns, shuffling around like he was Mr Hard. And I saw him on the top deck of the bus often, before I met him. Saw him in the queue at a chip shop once. And I thought, “He looks cool.” Turned out my best friend from school knew him. We went and met. I happened to know this song, 'Twenty Flight Rock'. John admired that. I happened to get on a bus one stop before this kid called George Harrison. We happened to chat, because we went to the same school. We happened to like guitars. I happened to say to John, he’d be good to get in the group, even though he’s young. Then we happened in with this guy called Ringo, you know?

In fact, not only had Paul seen John on the bus, or walking the streets around the area where they both lived. They'd actually spoken to each other....

The McCartney's moved to Forthlin Road in Allerton during the summer of 1956, one year before the fete, and at some point he took a job as a paper boy delivering the evening Liverpool Echo on his Raleigh bicycle. 

It was outside this newsagents that Paul first exchanged a few words with the then 15 year old John Lennon.

Paul has never publicly mentioned which newsagents he worked for but during the course of his research Lewisohn spoke to a local family who knew Paul at the time. They seemed to think it was Abba's at 166 Aigburth Road near St. Michaels in the Hamlet (the location of the Cast Iron Shore).

By car the obvious way from Forthlin Road to Abba's would be along Mather Avenue, left down Booker Avenue and right onto Aigburth Road. Whilst there wasn't as much traffic on the roads in 1956 I'm sure you still needed to have your wits about you cycling along Aigburth Road and the 14 year old Paul would have been on it for several nervewracking miles.

More likely, his father Jim would have told him to use a more safer route, perhaps turning right off Booker Avenue into the more residential Brodie Avenue and following it to the junction with Rose Lane where he'd turn left up the steep hill, climbing to the crest where the road meets Elmswood Road before freewheeling down to Aigburth Vale. Perhaps he took the scenic route around the perimeter of Sefton Park, joining Aigburth Road from Lark Lane almost directly opposite the newagents. 

According to Google Maps the former W.W. Abba stands on the corner of Aigburth Road and Chetwynd Street which is why soft lad (yes, me) found himself standing in the central reservation of Aigburth Road during rush-hour.

Still selling the Liverpool Echo....

Except that close examination of the photos prove that the current newsagents is NOT number 166 (it's 158, on the next block). Doh!

The blue car is parked outside 166.....

No. 166 is actually now ICON, a hair salon. Lewisohn writes that this was an oddly distant place of employment for a lad living and delivering three miles away in Allerton and a mile further still from John's house in Menlove Avenue. 

For now, there's the merest of possibilities that Paul McCartney first met John Lennon outside a shop called ABBA. Cosmic? Perhaps, certainly ICONic.


Book: "Tune In" by Mark Lewisohn (2013)

The photograph of the Quarrymen at the Woolton Village Fete was taken by Geoff Rhind.  


In the years since this blog I have continued to research and whilst this was certainly the premises of WW Abbas in the mid to late 50's I can now almost definitively prove that this is NOT where John and Paul met. The first meeting took place outside a newsagents much closer to home. See elsewhere on this blog.

Saturday 4 July 2015

los beatles en la Plaza de toros


3 July 1965

I remember playing a big bullring in Barcelona, the Plaza de Toros, where the Lord Mayor had great seats and all the rich people had seats but the kids, our real audience, were outside. We used to get upset about that: 'Why are we playing to all these bloody officials? We should be playing to the people outside. Let them in...' But of course they wouldn't. Paul McCartney (Anthology)

I did say that from time to time I would venture away from Liverpool and the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' only appearance in Barcelona seems a good enough excuse to show some photographs I took during my summer holidays in this fantastic city during August 2014. 

Of course, it's now 2016 and therefore the 51st anniversary. What can I say, it was supposed to be finished last year but "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans..."  Still, I've just returned from another holiday there with more photos so hopefully it was worth the delay!

There is very little information to be found on-line concerning the Beatles' visit to Spain barring one or two articles in the Spanish language which are repeated on numerous sites elsewhere. As a result  I've done my best to adapt it using Google translator.

The most significant aspect of the Beatles’ performance was that it took place while Barcelona was still under the regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Though The Beatles were famous enough to enter the music scene in a country where most foreign visitors were prohibited, they were an emblem of modernity, music, freedom, love and happiness, that was at odds with the atmosphere created under Franco’s dictatorship.

By the sixties the nature of the Franco regime had changed from an extreme form of dictatorship to a semi-pluralist authoritarian system but the population was still prevented from enjoying the kind of freedom that we take for granted today.

The Beatles visit was an important stimulus for the a generation that would provide new ideas in all areas of Spanish culture. In Barcelona, neighbourhood movements demanded improvements, social phenonema such as the so-called Gauche Divine (the "Divine Left" a movement of intellectuals and artists that swept through the Barcelona of the sixties and early seventies) and a greater permissiveness of cultural events in the Catalan language all reflected a shift in history and whilst it would be wrong to suggest that the Beatles' concerts in Spain were a catalyst for this social and cultural change the fact that they were permitted to take place reflected the inevitable transformation into new times.

On February 5 1965 in Seville the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein signed a contract with the Spanish promoter Francisco Bermúdez (who also represented the singer Raphael and the actress Marlene Dietrich) for the Beatles to make two concert appearances in Madrid and Barcelona during the Beatles 1965 European Tour planned for that summer. The deal was said to be worth seven and a half million pesetas, the equivalent of £5000 for two shows which would last no more than 30 minutes each.

Epstein was initially sceptical. He argued that whilst the Beatles sold around 900,000 copies of their albums in the UK, their sales were much lower in Spain, perhaps around 3,500. With apparently so few fans in Spain how could Bermudez even think the concerts would make a profit? It took the intervention of music journalist José Luis Alvarez (founder of the music magazine Fonorama) to persuade Epstein. Alvarez explained that in Spain only around 1500 people owned a turntable which meant another 2,000 people had bought the records without being able to play them. It seems this was reason enough to convince Epstein of the possibilities.

What Epstein (and the Beatles) probably didn't know was that the Francoist authorities tried to prevent  their visit until the last moment.  Bermúdez had it all prepared, but the permission of the Minister of the Interior did not come. It is said that permission was only granted to avoid a diplomatic row with Britain following the news in early June that the Beatles were to be awarded the M.B.E. 

With seven days to go before the shows the embargo on tickets and advertising material was lifted.

Both concerts would take place in bullrings and whilst Brian Epstein was a keen enthusiast of what some would call a highly ritualised cultural event and art form, and others a "blood sport", the four Beatles were not.  

I went to a bullfight there, and it was the saddest thing I ever saw. It was really sorrowful to see the bull just getting weakened and weakened. And then, when they finally kill the bugger, they wrap a chain round its leg and bring in a couple of cart-horses and drag the corpse away. I always thought it was such a miserable end. That's the only bullfight I ever went to, and I've never been interested in seeing one again. Ringo Starr (Anthology)

It's not clear when Ringo attended a bullfight. Certainly there seems to be no mention of any of the Beatles going during their time in Madrid. It may have been during his May 1963 holiday in Santa Cruz, Tenerife. George and Pattie witnessed one in Arles during a September 1965 holiday with Brian Epstein. If the picture below could say a thousand words.....

Following their appearance in Madrid the Beatles boarded an Iberian airlines Super Constellation, flight number IB214 flying to Barcelona at 2:45pm on Saturday 3 July.

The only Beatle who had previous experience in the Catalan capital was John Lennon who had taken a vacation there with Brian Epstein between April 28 and May 7, 1963. Paul and George were with Ringo on the aforementioned holiday Tenerife.

There are tales that John and Brian simulated a bullfight in a street close to Barcelona Cathedral and had a gay adventure which the heterosexual Lennon agreed to reportedly because he was ready to try anything once.

Anyway, moving swiftly back to 1965...

Joana Biarnés, a photographer for the Madrid newspaper 'Pueblo', convinced her boss to buy her a ticket for the Madrid to Barcelona flight and managed to take pictures of the Beatles on the plane: When I boarded the plane, I noticed that the four of them and their people were in the back.  Together with them, there was a press officer, two sound engineers, a sort of assistant who did all the chores requested by them (the latter three were also bodyguards), and the manager, a quiet man, always watching and controlling in silence everything which took place around his lads.

The two sound engineers and the assistant, described as three bodyguards were actually Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans and Alf Bicknell.

Biarnés prepared her camera in the bathroom and photographed the group by surprise. One of the Beatles' bodyguards mistook her for a "crazy fan" and asked her to stop taking pictures. 

Joana's photograph above clearly demonstrates that the Beatles did not travel like superstars. They were travelling on a regular flight, without special security measures. The group didn't seem particularly bothered by her presence. In turn she was impressed by their accessibility and also their kindness towards her.  John and Paul were sitting quite close to the toilets, just like George and Ringo, and all hid their eyes behind dark sunglasses. Her picture below shows Wendy Hanson (Brian's secretary), Paul, Brian and John in white with his back to the camera.

At 4.30pm the plane made its landing at El Prat de Llobregat. Instead of landing on runway 17, as previously announced, the Beatles did so on a remote track in a different area (opposite the restaurant). 

Brian Epstein got off the plane before the Fab Four and then Franciska, a singer in fashion at the time presented the Beatles with four monteras (a type of cap used by bull fighters) with the compliments of the promoter. They obligingly posed with them for the cameras, Paul toying with his cap, playing the fool and pretending it was a goblet.

presents the monteras

Another attractive woman gave them four little dolls dressed with typical Andalusian suits and Elisa Estrada, president of the Official Fan Club in Spain presented them with some key rings. I wonder if they ever took these sort of gifts home with them at the end of a tour?



For the benefit of the press the Beatles staged their descent of the aircraft steps several times. Note the Beatles' driver Alf Bicknell top left behind Franciska.

Around 200 fans had gathered to welcome the Beatles but had been removed by the police for 'security reasons'. The first radio journalist to approach them was Joan Armengol who managed to get a few words with George Harrison before he moved towards the waiting car. Just before boarding the vehicle, the George reportedly remarked 'in quite acceptable Castilian' that the weather was "quite hot, which is always better than cold."