Tuesday 29 March 2016

Baby-sitting The Beatles

Holyoake Hall
332-338 Smithdown Road
Liverpool 15

On the corner of Blenheim Road and Smithdown Road opposite the old tramsheds and only 200 yards from Penny Lane where terraced Wavertree meets semi-detached Allerton stands Holyoake Hall, a large and impressive red-brick building built as a Co-operative store in 1913-14 with a ballroom on the first floor.

During the days of the "British dance band era" (1930s) there was a wide range of dancehalls in the Liverpool area. Among the premiere venues were the Rialto and the Grafton with their "Old Tyme" and dinner dances, and at the lower end were the smaller ballrooms like Holyoake Hall and Blair Hall, such venues existing for different, perhaps marginalised clienteles, providing them with somewhere to go dancing and socialise.

I’m not sure when the Holyoake was ‘hot’ probably a long time before 1950′s! My parents only went to these places in the 40′s, dodging the air raids. The Holyoake, the Rialto and Grafton were names that were often remembered as part of their dancing days during WW2. "The girls" (I think there was a gang of them) would also get out to the American Base at Burtonwood or did the GI’s come into Liverpool? Anyway, some serious liaisons were formed! I should add, my father didn’t really dance, it was my mother who usually took to the floor! (Denys Owen, Streets of Liverpool)

By the 1950's, Holyoake Hall was in decline, with poor attendances and often with a dance band consisting of just saxophone, drums and piano. A shame because it was reportedly a lovely ballroom with a beautiful sprung wooden floor and a large stage. Down one side were pillars supporting a balcony and underneath this were the seats. Patrons gained access by climbing a long flight of stone steps from the entrance at the side of the building on Blenheim Road.

Holyoake Hall in 2009 when the ground floor was occupied by the Mustard Bar and Restaurant (I had a fantastic meal there....sorry, I digress).

During the skiffle boom in 1957-58 the hall was used to hold regular Skiffle auditions and Rod Davis, banjo player with the Quarry Men remembers them playing here on several occasions during this period.

The subsequent explosion of rock 'n' roll during the late 1950s would bring a new lease of life to the venue as jiving became popular.

One of the first independent rock and roll promoters in Liverpool, if not the first, was a young man from Wavertree, named Wally Hill.

Hill: I was working at the Rialto Ballroom and jive was not allowed, it was strictly ballroom dancing, and we had to keep breaking them up because they would be doing a bit of jive in the corners. I spoke to the wife and I said "There is a market here" because jive wasn't allowed in any dance halls in Liverpool at that time. The manager of the Rialto thought he would run ballroom dances in Garston and so off we went to Garston. He didn't anticipate the trouble there, he didn't like the bloodshed and so he packed it in, but my wife and I said "We'll have a go at rock 'n' roll. We opened for business and it was great.

The Garstonites didn't like anybody foreign in the dance hall, and by that I mean anyone from the Dingle or anywhere else. Nobody but a Garstonite was allowed in a Garston dance hall. If a stranger wandered in, he was found in the toilets, or what was left of him.  When we had the ballroom dances for the manager of the Rialto, he thought it would be civilised to have commissionaires on and they would last about 15 or 20 minutes and then we would have to escort them to the bus stop, so it was rough.

Hill's enterprise soon attracted at like minded soul, a Garston man named Bob Wooler who offered his services as disc jockey and MC (master of ceremonies), mainly, he said because local bands were having to amble on stage without any proper introduction, which he felt was "terrible".  At the time it was unusual for someone to announce the records and take requests. Bob would play appropriate records while the bands were changing over on stage.

He would soon become known as the "Daddy-O" of Merseyside rock 'n' roll DJs , the soul of Liverpool rock 'n' roll organising all aspects of promotion and doing everything he could to encourage the musicians.

One group benefiting from Bob's support was Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, who'd first met him at the Winter Gardens, Heald Street, in Garston, when they were still Al Caldwell and the Ravin' Texans. Knowing Bob was handling bookings at the time, and wanting to play some dance halls they approached him for help and he sorted out some bookings for them.

The Winter Gardens was opposite the police station but that didnt stop regular bouts of fighting. The police soon tired of it and the venue was closed in December 1958. Despite this setback, Wally Hill saw the potential for dances in the area and for using Bob Wooler.

In February 1959, he started rock 'n' roll evenings at Holyoake Hall with Wooler acting as compere and DJ.

Holyoake gained a reputation for rather heavy-handed doormen, something Hill saw as a necessity after his experiences at the Winter Gardens.

Wally: It was different at Holyoake because we had an army of bouncers. We advertised in the Liverpool Echo and we got replies, loads and loads of them, for baby-sitters. Nobody knew the word "bouncers" then and they thought we wanted "baby-sitters".  The national press wanted to know what a "bouncer" was and did a story about it.

Hill employed between 11 and 16 men a night, paying them £1 each which he later increased to 25 shillings (£1.25) and then 30 (£1.50).

Note: In 1958 £1 was the equivalent of £20.21.

As the hall only held around 400, 16 bouncers seems excessive. Wally Hill explains: When we had a riot and we had a few riots in our time, you needed them, you are protecting yourselves and not just the dance hall. The adrenaline would flow and if we didn't have much trouble, we would think "It's a bit boring tonight". It was quite fun, and, except for a few occasions, we were in the strongest army.

There was a row of terraced houses opposite Holyoake Hall and the neighbours would arrange their chairs in the front windows to watch the goings-on for the evening. I thought at the time they were a bit sad, but (in hindsight) it must have been quite interesting.

Mickey Hill (Wally's wife): I used to take the studded belts off them as they went up the stairs. We weighed one once and it was seven pounds. It was like the western films where you see a row of gun-belts in the saloon. Some of them were very heavy. If they had kept them, they would have been swinging them round their heads to stop anyone getting near them.

Bob Wooler: Once I was at the top of the stairs talking with Wally's wife who was in the box office, and this bouncer hit a lad and sent him flying down the stone steps. It was sickening as the lad must have been badly hurt. Wally employed an oriental doorman who had a black belt in judo but, as I never saw him in action it could have been a con.

Wally Hill and his "baby-sitters". Wally is second from the right on the front row.

Wally Hill: We dealt with the front of house, Bob controlled the stage, and the bouncers the dance floor. The stage was high up at Holyoake and Bob felt safe. He knew how to fade away at the first sign of trouble, but the rest of the time he was dynamite.

Bob's influence on the scene cannot be underestimated:

Freddie Marsden (drummer with Gerry and the Pacemakers): Bob Wooler was the main man and we owe what happened to us to Bob Wooler. In 1959 when we were trying to get going, he got us into Holyoake and then into (Hill's other main venue) Blair Hall. He was always promoting us and we felt really good when he introduced us on stage. We'd think he was talking about another group because he made us sound so good.

Gerry Marsden (Gerry and The Pacemakers) remembers the venues: The Cavern had an atmosphere, right enough, for the fans. It stank of disinfectant and stale onions. It was hot, sweaty and oppressive. Blair Hall was ten times better, Holyoake Hall in Penny Lane was brilliant with a big beautiful big stage and a dance floor the kids could enjoy. All the bands preferred it to the Cavern. If Brian Epstein had gone to any of these places to discover us and the Beatles, these venues would have been famous. But the Cavern went down in history.

A dynamic young black singer from the Dingle, Derry Wilkie was born in Liverpool on 10 January 1941.

His big break came in late 1959 when a group from Huyton called the Hy-tones, featuring Howie Casey on tenor sax was appearing at the Hall.  Bob Wooler asked them if Wilkie could join them on stage for a couple of songs. They were impressed and despite having two singers already he soon became their lead vocalist.

Howie Casey: Derry came up and he was doing Little Richard, which was right up my street because prior to that we didn't have a singer who could get down to that sort of stuff. That was great, so we asked Derry to join the band.

Inspired by Danny and the Juniors, they changed their name to Derry Wilkie and the Seniors in early 1960, and they appeared regularly at all the major Liverpool venues including the Jacaranda, whose owner Allan Williams, booked them for the Liverpool Stadium Show with American rock 'n' roller Gene Vincent on Tuesday May 3 1960.

As Derry and the Seniors they began to play at most of the local venues for promoters such as Charlie McBain, Wally Hill and Brian Kelly. Casey remembers both of Wally Hill's venues (Holyoake and Blair Hall) as being 'quite violent': I vaguely remember the bouncers who wore black leather sort of gloves and white shirts, black trousers, black leather - and they had truncheons, or whatever. They used to circle the hall while the people danced and there was always a fight and they'd jump in and people would get kicked downstairs and there was blood and stuff everywhere. A few things like that went on.

I remember Wally Hill with favourable memories. He was okay to us. We didn't get paid a lot of money as you can imagine, but we used to get the money up in the end from Wally. He used to secrete a lot of money. He used to give me bags of silver because his wife kept a firm grip on the finances and he used to sneak off a bit of extra money because I'd asked for rises over a period of time. Big deal, you know. I think we were getting about two quid each.

In fact the violence doesn't appear to have put Casey off too much, Wally Hill remembering the well built sax player asking "When you book us here, do you want me to be a bouncer as well so I can get a bit extra?"

Derry Wilkie and the Seniors
(December 1959 - January 1961):
Derry Wilkie (Lead Vocals)
Howie Casey (Tenor Sax)
Brian Griffiths (Lead Guitar)
Billy Hughes (Rhythm Guitar)
Paul Whitehead (Bass)
Stan Foster (Piano)
Jeff Wallington (Drums)

1961 L-R: Derry, Howie, Frank Wibberly, Brian Griffiths (later in the Big Three), Freddie Starr (to play the Star-Club with the Midnighters), and Phil “Spread” Whitehead.

Howie Casey: This was a Liverpool publicity photo for Derry and the Seniors taken at Holyoake Hall in Liverpool in 1961, but who would have booked us on that picture?

Rory Storm and the Hurricanes:
(line up from December 2, 1959 - December 29, 1961):

Al Caldwell (aka Al Storm, Rory Storm)()vocals)
Johnny Byrne (aka Johnny Guitar) (guirar)
Charlie O'Brien (ake Ty Brien) (guitar)
Richy Starkey (aka Ringo Starr) (drums)
Walter "Wally" Eymond (aka Lou Walters)(vocals, bass)

With Bob Wooler's help Rory Storm and the Hurricanes began appearing at Holyoake Hall in 1960 and drew quite a crowd.  Johnny Guitar's diary lists four such engagements:

January 3rd and 30th, 1960

February 27th, 1960 - the diary notes that the band had a row with the club manager so they only played half a set for half the fee. The Holyoake manager, John Guise, would play hell about the rock'n'roll dances, He would say over the mike "Do you know how long it took to get all the chewing gum off this floor last time?", This place is used for proper ballroom, it is not just for rock 'n' roll.  He might as well have been talking to the wall. He turned puce when Rory Storm jumped on his piano and he told him to get off. I thought of Irving Berlin "That's a fine way to treat a Steinway" (Bob Wooler)

March 12th, 1960
Bob Wooler: (Rory) was far more show than substance. He learnt his tricks from watching Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent. He had little originality but was a very good copycat. He would cock his leg over the mike like Gene Vincent and cover his songs like "Rocky Road Blues". I will never forget him kicking the Reslo mike over at Holyoake: his foot hit the mike, which was the only one we had. I thought "Oh god, I hope he hasn't ruined it" and, fortunately he hadn't. I told him he must never do that when we are down to one mike.

The first time we went there was to see Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. I also remember seeing Freddie and the Dreamers perform there. I recall this particular occasion because Freddie looked just like my dad! Holyoake Hall became one of our most frequented out-of-city-centre venues, although it took me three buses to get there.
(Pam Beesley, Merseybeat)

Wally Hill: Rory Storm would come with about 45 followers, all expecting to come in for nothing. We had to sort him out and say he had to curb this. Rory would fill the dance hall anyway. What an entertainer! You would speak to him on the phone and it would take half an hour because he stuttered but on a microphone not one word would be stutter; he could go straight through. The kids would be ten deep at Holyoake watching him

It appears that Bob Wooler had accidently bumped into George Harrison and Paul McCartney at a bus stop opposite the Holyoake in 1959, and offered them a date at the club. They declined the invitation because they had no drummer (this may have been during their Japage 3 period - late 1959- early 1960). It would be another couple of years before The Beatles would appear here.

The Beatles, July 1961. Just back from Hamburg and in need of a haircut.

The Beatles eventually performed twice at Holyoake Hall, on 15th and 22nd July 1961.

Bob Evans and the Five Shillings were a popular group and they asked us if we had used The Beatles yet. We said 'no' and we asked what they were like. Bob Evans said "Don't touch them, they don't wash their hair and there's a fight every night". There was a fight every night anyway, so that didn't mean anything. We wrote to them in Hamburg and they signed an agreement that they would play for us every Saturday and Sunday at a tenner a night, which was big money then (Wally Hill)

When the Beatles first went to Hamburg in 1960 they were a "bum group" to use Allan Williams' phrase, and nobody would touch them.  By the time they returned from their second trip to Hamburg at the start of July 1961 they were head and shoulders above any other group in Liverpool, and they knew it.

Here's how their schedule looked in July 1961. They played for Wally Hill at both Blair Hall and Holyoake Hall.

Mon 3           Arrival in Liverpool (returning from Hamburg)

Thu 13          St. John's Hall in Tuebrook, Liverpool.

Fri 14            Cavern Club. The Beatles do lunchtime and evening performances, the latter bill shared with Johnny Sandon and the Searchers.

Sat 15           Holyoake Hall, Wavertree, Liverpool  

Sun 16          Blair Hall, Walton, Liverpool.

Mon 17         Cavern Club (lunchtime), Litherland Town Hall, Liverpool (evening) with Gerry and the Pacemakers.

Wed 19         Cavern Club (lunch and evening)

Thur 20         St. John's Hall in Tuebrook, Liverpool.

Fri 21            Cavern Club (lunchtime), Aintree Institute, Aintree, Liverpool (evening)with Cy and the Cimarrons.

Sat 22           Holyoake Hall, Wavertree, Liverpool.

Sun 23          Blair Hall,Walton, Liverpool.

Mon 24         Litherland Town Hall.

Tue 25          Cavern Club, with Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Bluegenes, the Remo Four and the Four Jays.

Wed 26         Cavern Club, with the Four Jays and the Remo Four.

Thur 27         Cavern Club (lunchtime), St. John's Hall, Tuebrook, Liverpool (evening) where they also provide backup for Priscilla White who later changes her name to Cilla Black.

Fri 28            Aintree Institute with the Strangers.

Sat 29           Blair Hall,Walton.

Sun 30          Blair Hall, Walton.

At some point during the month, after comparing the fees they were receiving at other venues with what Wally Hill was paying them at Blair and Holyoake Halls the Beatles decided they were being short changed.

They played a few times and we increased it to £12 and then one night they came along to Blair Hall, Walton, and Paul said "We are not going on unless we get £15". There was a bit of haggling and in the end we decided they weren't worth it! We parted company. They didn't play that night and the kids were disappointed and we never had them again. I think I made a mistake there (Wally Hill)

Despite the guarantee of work every weekend, in the case of Holyoake Hall, at the only venue in south Liverpool close enough to the homes of two of the Beatles* that they could walk there, the group decided they would rather not work at all than do so for someone they considered was taking advantage of them.

Following his dismissal in August 1962 drummer Pete Best joined Lee Curtis and the All Stars and found himself back on the jive circuit at venues such as Blair Hall and Holyoake Hall, the very places The Beatles had left behind.

Liverpool in the early 1960s. The Beatles' influence on the lad facing the camera is quite apparent. Holyoake Hall stands in the background with the original shops to the left. The photo below shows a view of the hall taken from the tower of St. Barnabas church on Smithdown place. The area where the shops stood was a wasteground in 2013. 

Holyoake Hall stood facing the Smithdown / Penny Lane/ Prince Alfred Road tram sheds - see the photo below. Anyone who visits Liverpool and takes the Magical Mystery Tour coach trip or a Fab Four Taxi tour will drive past the hall, probably in both directions, but I wonder how many are made aware of it?

The former "tram sheds with no trams", facing Holyoake Hall, Smithdown Road

Three years on a new build occupies the wasteground and partly obscures the hall.

Whenever I drive past now I will think of the dance hall days with all those ballgowns struggling to get down that long flight of stone steps and out into Blenheim Road... of gangs of Teddy Boys armed to the teeth with home made weapons to be confiscated at the door by Mrs Hill and her husband's army of bouncers, one of them ready to send any troublemaker back down the stairs with a well timed judo kick....Rory Storm arriving with his entourage having promised them they will get in for free if they say they are with him.... all this observed by the neighbours from the comfort of their own living rooms... 


* John (1.9 miles) and Paul (1.8 miles). George lived 5.2 miles away in Speke and Pete about 3.5 in West Derby.


Web:  http://streetsofliverpool.co.uk/the-grafton-1956/

Bill Harry's Merseybeat site is a treasure trove of information about this period

The Best of Fellas - The Story of Bob Wooler by Spencer Leigh was invaluable.

Other Voices: Hidden Histories of Liverpool's Popular Music Scenes, 1930s-1970s by Dr Michael Brocken

Monday 21 March 2016

The Fab Fore!

Club House,
Lee Park Golf Club,
Childwall Valley Road,
Liverpool, L27 3YA.

Belle Vale is a district of south-east Liverpool which shares borders with Huyton, Netherley, Gateacre and Childwall. The main road in Belle Vale is Childwall Valley Road which runs from Childwall Fiveways through to Netherley. 

The Belle Vale area is also divided with different housing estates having their own local names, such as Hartsbourne, Lee Park and Naylorsfield. I've only ever lived in two houses in Liverpool and Belle Vale is probably equidistant from both of them so I know the area well but I've never really been sure if Belle Vale is the name of the area (or is it Netherley? Or Childwall?) the shopping centre, or just the housing estate. It shares an L25 postcode with Woolton and Gateacre rather than L27 like neighbouring Netherley. Confused?

You're not the only one. When Liverpool City Council erected new district signage in 2005 it did not include Belle Vale as a distinct district leaving the area with something of an identity crisis. District signs were put up on Childwall Valley Road saying Gateacre (southbound towards the Belle Vale shopping centre and Netherley) and Childwall (northbound towards Childwall).  It seems then that the centre of Belle Vale effectively falls within the area identified as Gateacre by the signs, whereas Childwall is deemed to begin north of a new school and health centre.

Prefabricted houses on Braehurst Road circa 1959. Childwall Valley Road looks like a quiet country lane (Carol Barton)

Between 1945 and 1947 over 1,000 pre-fabricated houses were erected on land around Belle Vale to provide affordable rented accomodation for families who had been made homeless after their houses were destroyed during the Blitz. It was one of the largest prefab communities in the country. A new school,
Joseph Williams Primary School was built on Sunnyfield Road to serve the children on the prefab estate. As there was a shortage of older children it took pupils from overcrowded schools further afield which is how Paul and Michael McCartney came to attend the school from 1949 to 1953, travelling there by bus from their home in Speke which you can read about in a future post.  

Beyond the prefabs were Lee Park and Naylorsfield. For the most part they were retained as farm land until the 1960s when part of the land was acquired for development. Michael McCartney would later recall cycling from Speke with Paul and their father Jim through the fields around Joseph Williams on their way to visit their Auntie Gin in Page Moss.

The former site of Joey Williams ringed by a green fence in the centre of this picture with Page Moss and Huyton on the horizon (2010) (click to enlarge).

Shortly after the pre-fab estate and Joseph Williams were built a new golf course was founded at Lee Park. At that time it was extremely difficult for Jewish golfers to obtain admission to a private golf club. In view of this situation, the Merseyside Jewish Golfing Society made efforts to find land and build their own course.

Some of the land at the Lee Hall estate, comprising two potato farms of 300 acres and the old Lee Hall, became available for purchase in 1950. The estimated price was £30,000 including £5,000 to layout the course. In the austere post-war days money could not be borrowed from the banks, so shares were issued and purchased, many by non-golfers within the Community. There was a shortage of farmland in the post war period and planning permission for the proposed 300 acres was not granted. After protracted negotiations, it was agreed that 90 acres could be utilised for the course.

It was the first golf course to be built in Britain since the end of the WW II. Lee Park Golf Club was eventually founded in 1954 and the course, designed by Frank Pennink of C. K. Cotton and Co., was progressively extended from 6 to 9 and then 18 holes.

Despite Jews being prevented from joining other golf clubs, their self-financed club was open to non-Jewish membership, which I think speaks volumes, and today Lee Park proudly advertises itself as the friendliest club on Merseyside.

Lee Park Golf Course, very little of the surrounding housing existed in 1954 (click to enlarge)

Nigel Walley was a close friend of John Lennon and an original member of the Quarry Men. In common with John's other closest childhood mates Pete Shotton and Ivan Vaughan, Nige lived in Vale Road directly behind John's house on Menlove Avenue. They are pictured above in a photo dated 5 May 1958.

They'd all known each other since the age of five. Pete and Nigel went to Mosspits Lane School, while John and Ivan went to Dovedale Road. Pete, Nigel and John, together with another friend Rod Davis all sang in the Sunday school and church choir at St. Peter's Church in Woolton. At the age of 11, John, Pete and Rod went to Quarry Bank, Ivan to the Liverpool Institute and Nigel to the Bluecoat Grammar School. At the age of 15 "Nige" left school and became an apprentice golf professional at the Lee Park Golf Club.
When John decided he wanted to form a band he naturally wanted his mates to be in it, whether they had any musical ability or not, and Pete and Nige did not. Ivan Vaughan took over on tea-chest bass, Pete was handed the washboard and John began making plans for Nigel.
Part of Walley's job at Lee Park involved running a golf shop and so with the experience he was gaining from this it was obvious to John that Nige was the ideal person to become the group's manager. With the promise of an even share of the fee from any booking he managed to get them, how could he refuse?
By his own admission, when it came to getting bookings for the Quarry Men a lot of the time he "just winged it". Although he failed to secure the group many paid engagements, he certainly put some effort into it.  Noting that most local shops would post professional looking posters it wasn't long before Woolton and the surrounding villages were papered with signs offering the Quarry Men for hire. He sent flyers to local theatres and ballrooms and paid for small advertisements in the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post. At Nigel's own expense (a cost of 7s and 6d) he had 50 business cards made by a Woolton printer to be displayed in local shop windows or handed to promoters or club owners whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

Nigel managed to secure the Quarry Men two intermission bookings at the Gaumont Cinema on the corner of Allerton Road and Rose Lane on Saturday afternoons, as well as at parties and skiffle contests in the Liverpool area. It was probably through Nigel that the group came to play the Woolton Labour Club which stood on Childwall Valley Road on the site now occupied by the Lee Valley Millenium Centre. This booking took place at some point between 1957 and 1959. 
Ken "Dixie" Dean was in Gerry Marsden's skiffle group: We then changed our name to Gerry and the Mars Bars. At one point we entered a contest at Woolton Labour Club in Childwall Valley Road and after several heats we finally won, beating the Quarry Men. That was the first time I met John Lennon. Also present during the competition was Bob Wooler, who was managing a group in the contest called the Kingstrums. (Bill Harry's Mersey Beat website)

Woolton Ward Labour Club, confusingly on Childwall Valley Road, Gateacre. Today only the three bollards remain (below)

It is the engagement that Nigel arranged for the Quarry Men at the golf club which is most remembered today, not for their performance that evening but for what it led to.

Living on Menlove Avenue close to John Lennon, Alan Sytner, was the son of the noted docklands GP, Dr. Joe Sytner. His family had the money to holiday abroad and from the age of 14 Alan spent his school holidays in Paris soaking up the music and ambience of the Bohemian night-clubs, in particular the cellar club Le Caveau (The Cavern).

By his late teens he was already promoting jazz locally. Frustrated at always having to rent the premises he knew the way forward was to open his own exclusive jazz venue in the city centre. At the age of 21, a life insurance policy taken out by his father at the time of Alan's birth matured and he gained £400 (about £6,742 today). He now had the money to buy his own club. An estate agent showed him a dingy old cellar in Mathew Street, a narrow cobbled alley situated in the business district of the city, permanently in the shadows of the fruit warehouses towering over it on both sides. In Sytner's mind the cellar was a replica of Le Caveau and with the street reminiscent of the Latin Quarter in Paris, he felt he could bring the Left Bank to Liverpool.

Missing the Christmas trade as it was not ready in time, the Cavern opened on 16 January 1957 with the Merseysippi Jazz Band, the Wall City Jazzmen, the Ralph Watmough Jazz Band and the Coney Island Skiffle Group. The club only held 600 so when over 2,000 people turned up Sytner knew he was on to something. With its origins rooted in American Jazz and folk music, Skiffle was welcomed at the club, with "School for Skiffle" auditions held the first Saturday. When John Lennon got word of it, he naturally wanted in.

Nigel just needs that helping hand ..

Dr Sytner was a member of the Lee Park golf club so Nigel approached him to see if he would ask his son to book The Quarry Men at the Cavern Club. After passing on the information, it was suggested that the group should play at the golf club first, so as to assess their talent.

They were told that as the appearance would be something of an audition, they wouldn’t be paid. However, they would have all the drink that they wanted, a slap-up meal and the hat would be passed around. 

At this point the group also included John Lennon and Eric Griffiths on guitars, Rod Davis on banjo, Pete Shotton on washboard, Colin Hanton on drums, and, if he hadn't already left at this point to concentrate on studies, Ivan Vaughan (or his replacement Len Garry) on tea-chest bass. 

Rod Davis: I remember this booking particularly well because the zip on my cheap pair of jeans I'd bought for 7 shillings 6 pence split seconds before I went on stage, so I spent the entire set crouching behind a banjo thanking the Lord I wasn't a ukelele player.

It's said that the Quarry Men nearly choked when ar
ound 75 people turned out to see them. According to Nigel John was extremely quick witted that night throwing out one liners in between songs and courting the audience's approval. With his eye on the prize John probably stopped himself from cracking any of the anti-Semitic jokes which were prevalent at the time.

The night turned out to be a huge success. When they completed their performance they took advantage of the free food and drink and the hat, when passed around, brought them £15 - more money than they’d ever received from a gig before*. Not only that, Alan Sytner liked the group and booked them on the Cavern.

After playing at the golf club audition, he phoned Walley a week later and offered the group an interlude spot (reportedly on 21 February 1957), playing skiffle between the performances of three jazz groups at The Cavern Club.

Unfortunately, John was to upset Sytner when they did appear. 

Nigel Walley: We were doing skiffle numbers, but then John started singing a rock and roll song. Alan Sytner sent a note up (which John thought was a song request).

It read: 
"Cut out the bloody rock"

The clubhouse at Lee Park (left) has been extended progressively since the early days and now includes modernised locker rooms and showers, a large informal Spike Bar overlooking the course and a dining area for more formal functions.
Lee Park may not be the only golf club the Quarry Men played in this area because Childwall Golf Club is half a mile away and I have seen several sources, one quoting Colin Hanton, saying the Quarry Men also performed here between July and September 1957. This booking was reportedly arranged by Nigel Walley with Alan Sytner's help*. 

Of course, if someone says they played a golf course in Childwall theres a 50/50 chance they're actually referring to Lee Park, which as I explained above could easily be classed as being in Childwall. But never mind, I was in the area so I thought it was worth taking a look. I'm glad I did.  At worst If this fine art deco building, situated off Naylors Road and dating from around 1938 has nothing to do with the Beatles at least I got a couple of nice photos. This is how I spent some of my 39th birthday - trudging through the snow to take photographs of golf clubs for you, dear listeners!

Childwall Golf Club is situated in Naylors Road, Liverpool 27 (click to enlarge)

Here's a map showing Lee Park Golf Club, Childwall Golf Club, Joseph Williams School, Page Moss and the surrounding area (click to enlarge) 


£15 in 1957 equates to £252 today,  so the Quarry Men must have thought they'd struck gold.




The Rod Davis quote is from an interview with BBC Radio Merseyside's Spencer Leigh for his On TheBeat programme, broadcast Saturday 6 August, 2011.


Thank U Very Much (by Mike McCartney)
* There Are Places I'll Remember (Ray O'Brien)
Tune In (by Mark Lewisohn)