Grosvenor Assembly Rooms
'A series of drums came and went and came' - John Lennon
Sorry I've not posted in a while. As someone once said 'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans' and that has certainly been true this year.
That said, I've done a lot of writing off line and hopefully with things getting back to normal now I can start posting them fairly regularly again.
So, without further ado, let's head over to the Wirral and visit the Grosvenor Ballroom in Liscard, Wallasey.
History of the Ballroom
In 1905 it was decided that Liscard's existing concert hall on the corner of Manor Road and Grosvenor Street was inadequate for the numerous demands made upon its resources. Plans were made for a new hall and ballroom capable of accommodating 200 dancers which opened onto Grosvenor Street. A firm of Liverpool architects, Messrs T T Wainwright were commissioned to design the new building which was built by a local contractor, Mr J Bellis of Liscard.
The new building was ready for use on 1st March 1906 and could be hired for 4 guineas per night. It proved very successful and during both World Wars the inter-war years Grosvenor flourished as a beacon for the social life of the community and was in use for dances, social events and meetings most nights of the week. It is said that many wartime romances started on this dancefloor!
In August 1920 the original concert hall and the Grosvenor were sold to Wallasey Corporation (the local Council) for the sum of £22,200. Reportedly the council only wanted the original concert hall (for offices) but the owner would only sell both premises together.
Initially the new lessors intended to convert the Grosvenor into a Quarter Sessions County Court but the plans never materialised. Instead it was kept for the purpose it was built. There would have been a public outcry had it not.
On 1 February 1947 Les Dodd’s Paramount Dance Association started promoting regular Strict Tempo Ballroom Dances at the Grosvenor. From April that year Dodd ran a regular Tuesday evening dance, advertised as 50% Modern and 50% Old Time.
The 1950s brought skiffle music and rock ‘n’ roll and while many of the ballrooms moved with the times Les Dodd stood fast, maintaining his regular Strict Tempo sessions at the Grosvenor in the face of more youthful forms of dance.
By 1960 Dodd had belatedly began booking rock 'n' roll acts, grudgingly accepting that rock ‘n’ roll / jive sessions was where the money was. During this time attendances at his Strict Tempo dances would be sparse but he was determined to carry on and maintain the tradition. He managed to do this with some success for a further 25 years until retiring from the dance scene in 1971.
Dodd could only run his dances on week nights, Wallasey Corporation (the lessors) retaining the coveted Saturday night at the Grosvenor for private hire or their own
The Beatles at the Grosvenor
Stuart Sutcliffe, John Lennon, Tommy Moore, Paul McCartney and George Harrison at the Wyvern in May 1960. This same line up played the Grosvenor Ballroom the following month. (credit: Cheniston Rowland)
The Beatles performed at the Grosvenor Ballroom on 14 occasions between 4 June 1960 and 15 September 1961, for the most part during the two months that followed their tour of Scotland in May 1960 backing the singer Johnny Gentle.
The group had dispensed with the ‘Silver’ pre-fix since the tour. From now on they would be Beatles (with an ‘a’) and any variations of this name appearing on subsequent handbills and posters were the consequence of one man’s difficulty in remembering the correct one. 'Manager' Allan Williams not only had problems with the name of the group - as late as April 1961 he was still writing to the ‘Beetles’ while they were in Hamburg - he struggled to remember the names of the individual members, often confusing John with Paul or George.
What he could do, when no-one else was prepared to, was arrange work for the group.
The Grosvenor dates had been arranged by Allan while the Beatles were away in Scotland. He fixed a Saturday night residency there with Wallasey Corporation and a Whitsun bank holiday Monday engagement with Les Dodd who also agreed to put the group on at Neston Institute during this same period – see my separate post entitled, imaginatively enough, ‘Neston’.
The Beatles would make their way into town and meet at the Jacaranda, Allan Williams' coffee bar in Slater Street. They'd travel to the Grosvenor together in Allan's van, usually driven by Tommy Hartley a former professional boxer who worked for Williams as a bouncer. On one occasion the van was driven by Rod Murray, Stu and John’s Gambier Terrace flat-mate.
Paul McCartney cut the above advert from the paper and his brother Mike included it in his book Thank U Very Much.
Saturday 4 June 1960
The Wallasey Corporation ran ‘Dances for Youth’ on Saturday nights, sometimes drawing 200 teenagers on the nights a group was featured. Not only had Williams arranged for the Beatles to be the resident group every Saturday, he'd also convinced the Corporation to pay them a weekly fee of 10 guineas for heading up the four hour session.
It was apparent from the very first night that this was a rough venue. Girls danced together while the men stood on the other side of the ballroom eyeing them up and trying to look tough, the local Teds amongst them taking the opportunity to start a fight at the slightest provocation. With the stage only a foot or so off the ground the Beatles must have played through the carnage praying they weren’t dragged off it and into the melee. Well, most of them. Drummer Tommy Moore would recall how John Lennon ‘seemed to love watching the fights that broke out in the dance halls between the rival gangs. He’d say ‘Hey look at that guy putting the boot in there’. He got a sadistic delight out of it all. He used to think it was funny watching someone get kicked in the head, like ‘did you see that?’ He used to gloat at anything like that.’
Monday 6 June 1960
Two days after their debut at the Grosvenor Ballroom, the Beatles returned to take part in a Whit-sun bank holiday ‘rock and roll jive’ session promoted by Les Dodd’s Paramount Enterprises. This was the first of many occasions over the next couple of years where the Beatles shared the bill with Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Liscard audience getting an early glimpse of the two Liverpool groups who would achieve the greatest success during the Mersey Beat boom. Dodd paid the Beatles £10 for their night’s work, and probably hated every second of it.
Saturday 11 June 1960
The Beatles’ third booking at the Grosvenor within a week, and one that didn't pass without incident.
Tommy Moore had had enough. Tired of John Lennon's sniping wit and browbeaten by the woman he was living with over his irregular source of income he decided to pack it in on 9 June after appearing with the Beatles at a Les Dodd promotion in Neston.
When the Beatles assembled at the Jacaranda two nights later and waited for their lift over to Liscard Tommy failed to show.
Panicking, the Beatles nominated Stuart to ring Allan at home in Huskisson Street and ask for help. Williams was having his tea but, with ‘the taste of Manx kippers'* still in his mouth he dutifully zoomed (zoom zoom) down to the Jacaranda in his Jaguar, collected the Beatles and raced back up Duke Street to Tommy’s first floor flat in Fern Grove, Toxteth to ask what was going on.
Upon their arrival Moore's woman opened an upstairs window and shouted ‘you can all piss off! He’s quit your group and got a job working the night shift at Garston bottle works.’
Grateful to the lady for her kind words but undeterred, Williams, a ‘spectacularly fast’ driver, zoomed them from Toxteth to Garston (zoom zoom) to find Moore. Despite the Beatles and Allan pleading with him to join them he refused to dismount his forklift truck, under orders from his girl to stick to the job or she’d be off. ‘It’s a no go lads, I just can’t do it anymore.’
Realising they couldn’t change his mind they reluctantly went on to the Grosvenor without him. Their instruments, including Tommy’s drum kit had travelled ahead of them in the van.
Not wishing to antagonise the audience by performing with an incomplete group John Lennon stepped up to the microphone before the first song:
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, women and children..ahem.....no doubt some of you have noticed that because of circumstances quite beyond our control, as they say in Government circles, we have arrived here with no drummer. Now, we can play with no drummer. But it would be a better sound if we had one. If there is anyone among you lot who fancies himself on the skins, let’s be having yer... *
It was meant as a joke, to placate the audience and explain why one of the group was missing, but it backfired spectacularly.
A huge Teddy boy gang leader, remembered as ‘Ronnie’ by William Marshall* took to the stage and sat behind Moore's kit, which was still being paid for on hire purchase. He approached Tommy’s skins the way he approached rival gang members and proceeded to beat the hell out of them. Evidently he’d never played the drums before but nobody had the courage to point this out. During the interval he made it clear to the Beatles that they would be using him every week from now on.
Teddy Boys at a dance in London, 1954 (credit: Alex Dellow/Picture Post/Getty)
It was John’s turn to make a frantic SOS call to Allan. Sensing genuine fear in Lennon’s voice and weary of gang trouble, Williams (all five feet nothing of him) took the van and his bouncer back over to Liscard, smoothed things with ‘Ronnie’ (I told him their drummer was only temporarily indisposed, but that if we ever needed one the boys would be pleased to have him back on board) and had the Beatles away from the Grosvenor before any harm could come to them.
According to Allan’s ‘partially true’ book, he persuaded the Beatles to give Tommy one last chance, driving them home via the bottle works where Moore was nearing the end of his shift. It took some sweet talking from Allan to convince Tommy to turn up at the Jacaranda the following Monday for one final time. Monday was the resident Royal Caribbean Steel Band’s weekly night off, and Allan let the Beatles play in their absence.
And so, Tommy Moore, the man described by Allan Williams as ‘the best drummer the Beatles ever had’ re-joined the group on June 13 for one last appearance before packing it all in for a life at the bottle works.
Paul McCartney and Tommy Moore, May 1960 (credit: Cheniston Rowland)
Moore was interviewed in 1970 for a magazine article which naturally focused on the 'if only' angle:
Worse than wanting to be a Beatle in your life, is once being one and then having no chance to continue being one.... (Tommy Moore) is 38 years old and works in a bottle factory carrying bottles. He lives regretting the big mistake he made ten years ago. In 1960, Tommy was the drummer for three boys called John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. The band didn’t even have a name and they were playing in a night club called Grosvenor Ballroom, in Wallasey, for (10 guineas) per night. Tommy felt it was just a part-time job and he decided to find a more “secure” job. He started to carry the crates with the bottles at the factory and today he still regrets that decision.
Tommy Moore: I needed something more secure. I abandoned the hobby of playing drums. The three boys later came to look for me. They already were called the Beatles and they showed up in a white Jaguar. I played for them for two more nights (sic). But still I couldn’t see any future in that and I decided to quit once for all.
Paul McCartney's hand written list of the songs he was singing at the Grosvenor during the Beatles' residency. Note also his reminder to bring the 'words, strings and plec(trums)'. There would also have been a list for John, and possibly George.
Saturday 18 June 1960
But it wasn't always such a pretty sight,
'Cause we used to fight like cats and dogs
'Til we made it up in the ballroom,
Ballroom dancing made a man of me
('Ballroom Dancing' by Paul McCartney)
Paul McCartney spent the night of his 18th birthday dodging the punches at the Grosvenor.
Paul McCartney: The Grosvenor Ballroom in Wallasey was one of the worst places; there would be a hundred Wallasey lads squaring up to a hundred lads from Seacombe and all hell would break loose (Anthology)
Memories blur with time. If you’ve watched the behind the scenes documentary of McCartney’s ‘Give My Regards to Broad St’ film you may recall an interview he gives on the 'Ballroom Dancing' set. Recalling that whenever the early Beatles played a ballroom there would usually be fighting he tells of the occasion when a Ted grabbed his amp and said ‘One move and you're dead!’ McCartney says he replied, ‘Ok, you can have it!’ but his memory must be faulty because the amp is still in his possession to this day as evidenced by these 1997 photographs.
In self acknowledgement of this he would amend his story in a re-telling for the Anthology project:
I remember one night a rumble had started before I realised what was happening. I ran to the stage to save my Elpico amp, my pride and joy at the time. There were fists flying everywhere. One Ted grabbed me and said, 'Don't move, or you're bloody dead!' I was scared for my life, but I had to get that amp. (Anthology)
Chris Huston was lead guitarist with local group Bob Evans and his Five Shillings. The Grosvenor was his ‘local’ on Saturday nights and he remembers the Beatles there: ‘Teds from Birkenhead arrived to confront Teds from Wallasey and the Beatles went on stage for their second set knowing a fight was in the offing. We all knew it. I don’t remember how many songs they got through before it started, two or three maybe but suddenly a couple of dozen bodies from each side met in the middle of the dance floor and all hell broke loose.
The Beatles kept playing, as was the tradition – the management encouraged the bands to play on during fights - and suddenly I saw a Pepsi bottle fly across the stage and break through the bass drum skin’. (Chris Huston in Tune In by Mark Lewisohn)
Saturday 25 June 1960
Ignoring the contract with Wallasey Corporation stipulating that no-one from the floor be allowed upon stage, and presumably having first checked to ensure ‘Ronnie’ was absent John Lennon once again asked for a volunteer from the audience and it was likely on this night (or the previous Saturday) that the Beatles’ drum seat was filled, temporarily by Jackie Lomax, soon to become a member of the Undertakers (and even later, a solo artist for Apple Records) but in 1960 the singer and bass guitarist in Dee and the Dynamites, a local group from Wallasey.
One song was enough – I was terrible. But I thought the Beatles were great. You know how hard it is to harmonise? John and Paul were a unique blend – they sounded like the same person and they sounded like a record. That’s very hard to find in a band. I could never get harmonisers in mine. (Jackie Lomax in Tune In by Mark Lewisohn)
Jackie Lomax (on the drums again) and George Harrison in 1968.
Jackie Lomax (on the drums again) and George Harrison in 1968.
After making some enquiries Norman Chapman (for it was he, drumming) was traced to Jacksons, the art supplies shop facing the Jacaranda, where he was working as a picture-frame maker. Paul called into the shop, asked to speak to Chapman and then invited him to sit in with them that night, which he did.
Saturday 2 July 1960
Johnny Gentle with George during the Scottish Tour (credit: Johnny Gentle / Gavin Askew)
On a rare weekend off Johnny Gentle returned home to visit his family in Litherland and decided to try and meet up with his former backing group. Heading into town with his father they visited the Jacaranda Club where they were informed that the Beatles were over in Liscard. His arrival at the Grosvenor was a welcome surprise and the Beatles invited him to join them on stage, reportedly running through their complete Scottish tour repertoire of song such as Buddy Holly's It Doesn't Matter Anymore and Raining In My Heart, Elvis Presley's I Need Your Love Tonight, Ricky Nelson's Poor Little Fool, Clarence Frogman Henry's I Don't Know Why I Love You But I Do, Eddie Cochran's C’mon Everybody and Jim Reeves' He'll Have To Go.
Saturday 9 July 1960
Pat Moran (an early fan): I loved their music and the way they played it. My favourites were Tutti Frutti, Long Tall Sally, Cathy’s Clown and Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On – oh and Red Sails in the Sunset was beautiful. When John and Paul sang a rock and roll song together we’d all be dancing. John was the leader. He used to talk to Paul and then they’d play something, but Paul was also the leader in a way because he was very much part of it. Certainly it was between Paul and John as to who took the lead. Paul was my favourite. I can still see picture him at the front with his guitar, left handed. He was on the left side of the stage, then George alongside him, then John, and Stuart on the right.( Pat Moran in Tune In, by Mark Lewisohn)
Norman Chapman would later recall how as a consequence of the fighting the Beatles always had to keep an eye on the dance floor ‘for fear of getting a missile on the bonce’.
On one of the Saturdays at the Grosvenor John jumped off the stage to join in, only to be punched by a local Ted called Jim Kennedy: There was no real malice in my punch: it was just a melee, and after I’d hit him I moved on to punching someone else’. Kennedy would also remember Paul McCartney remaining on stage shouting ‘mind me new guitar, mind me new guitar!’
Paul’s new guitar, a Rosetti Solid 7 had been purchased on 30 June.
Saturday 16 July 1960
Saturday 23 July 1960
Saturday 30 July 1960
And so the Beatles Saturday night residency came to an end after nine weeks. The Grosvenor was in a residential area (and still is) and the constant violence in the ballroom inevitably spilled out onto the street afterwards. By late July the trouble had escalated to the point that local residents lodged a complaint with the Wallasey Corporation who had no alternative but to cancel the ‘Dances for Youth’ with immediate effect. Les Dodd’s rock ‘n’ roll promotions were also terminated and he was ordered to reintroduce ‘strict tempo’ dances on Saturday nights.
Norman Chapman (credit: Ann-Marie Opone)
24 December 1960
Following the summer ban on rock ‘n’ roll dances the Wallasey Corporation relented for this Christmas Eve show. The Beatles appearance was arranged by Allan Williams on 19 December 1960. Sharing the bill was Derry and the Seniors. Both groups received £10.50 (ten guineas).
The Beatles' performance this evening must have come as something of a shock to those members of the audience who’d seen them five months earlier. The group who returned from Hamburg in December 1960 was barely recognisable as the one that had appeared in Liscard that summer, such was their improvement.
The line up had also changed. John, Paul, George and Stuart had recruited drummer Pete Best just before leaving for Hamburg but when they returned to Liverpool they were another member down. Stuart had decided to remain in Germany and would not come home until February 1961.
For four consecutive engagements over the Christmas 1960 period Stuart's vacant position was filled by Chas Newby. Formerly the rhythm guitarist in Pete Best’s group the Black Jacks Chas joined the Beatles on the drummer’s invitation, agreeing to play with them during the Christmas holidays until he had to return to University.
Chas Newby (circa 1960 above, and in 2017, below)
24 February 1961
The Beatles did not appear at the Grosvenor again until February 1961 and when they did they found that little had changed from previous visits, the threat of violence as constant as it had been in 1960. Stuart was back with them, for now.
10 March 1961
Their second appearance at the Grosvenor in 1961 was also the last engagement for the Beatles arranged by Allan Williams. Despite doing so much for them in 1960 he had not provided them with bookings at any other venues in the three months since their return from Hamburg.
Earlier in the day the Beatles played a lunchtime session at the Cavern club and following the Liscard booking returned to Liverpool to perform at St. John’s Hall in Tuebrook, a dance promoted by Mona Best, Pete’s mum. Playing two or three shows a day would become commonplace in 1961.
The Beatles returned to Hamburg at the end of March and did not come home until early July.
15 September 1961
Announced as their first Wallasey appearance since their German 'tour' the Beatles’ third appearance of 1961 was also the final time they performed at the Grosvenor. Admission was 4/- and the Beatles were billed to play from 7.45pm, followed by Cliff Roberts and the Rockers.
The group nights had to be stopped. Les Dodd was able to reinstate the institution of a regular strict tempo Saturday night dance with live bands at the Grosvenor, an institution which was to continue uninterrupted for 38 years until 1999.
Ann Corlett was one of the regular dancers in the 60’s and has continued to dance at the Grosvenor almost every week since: The Grosvenor dances were the highlight of my week, the Ernie Hignett Quartet played on a Tuesday and Saturday night. Mr Dodd was the MC. and always looked smart and very much the part in his suit and dickie bow. We had a dance called the Parabola in which a basket was placed in the centre of the dance floor and you had a numbered card, numbers would be called out and if your number was called you would place your card in the basket and sit down, the last couple left standing would win a prize.
They always had a bar in the side room on New Years Eve, one year they used the Studio upstairs but you still danced in the Ballroom. There was a Doorman on a Tuesday and Saturday nights. If there was any trouble with the men, he would see them off the premises. We used to pass round polo mints when the men smelt of drink. Dennis and Pam White were in the tea room, they always served good refreshments, Dennis was a ex Navy Chef. We used to jive and twist the night away.
They had a separate Handbag Room. Lena and Eddie Cole looked after this and the Cloakroom. We used to have a lady dancer we called the Duchess, she would bring a case full of dresses and change in the Ladies loo every other dance. The men would all stand around the door under the clock and would eye all the girls up to see the best dancers or the best looking ones.
Like the majority of the surviving Wirral venues the Grosvenor has a plaque commemorating the Beatles regular appearances here.
Apart from the Main Hall of Wallasey Town Hall which is rarely used for functions, the Grosvenor, with its spacious main Hall and original large sprung dance floor, is the only remaining venue of its type left in the Borough. With so many of the Beatles' former venues falling victim to the developers I sincerely hope the Grosvenor continues to be used many years from now.
The Grosvenor Website: http://www.grosvenorballroom.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=77&Itemid=104
* Allan Williams and William Marshall 'The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away' (book)
Mark Lewisohn - 'Tune In', 'The Beatles Live!'
Here's a video showing the Grosvenor in action today. I wonder if 'Ronnie' the Ted is one of the dancers?!