I was born in 12 Arnold Grove, Liverpool, in February 1943.
My dad had been a seaman, but by then he was driving a bus. My mother was from an Irish family called French, and she had lots of brothers and sisters. My mother was Catholic. My father wasn't and, although they always say people who weren't Catholics were Church of England, he didn't appear to be anything.
I had two brothers and one sister. My sister was twelve when I was born; she'd just taken her Eleven Plus. I don't really remember much of her from my childhood because she left home when she was about seventeen. She went to teacher training college and didn't come back after that.
My grandmother - my mother's mother - used to live in Albert Grove, next to Arnold Grove; so when I was small I could go out of our back door and around the back entries (they called them 'jiggers' in Liverpool) to her house. I would be there when my mother and father were at work.
My father's father, whom I never knew, was a builder, and he built a lot of the great Edwardian houses in Princes Road, Liverpool. That was where all the doctors and other professionals lived. They knew how to build in those days: good masonry, bricks and timber. Perhaps my interest in architecture comes from my grandfather. I like to see nice buildings, whether it be a little cottage with a thatched roof or St Pancras Station. I always felt that life was to go through and grow and make opportunities, make things happen. I never felt that because I was from Liverpool I shouldn't live in a big mansion house myself on day.
Our house was very small. Two up and two down - step straight in off the pavement, step right out of the back room. The front room was never used. It had the posh lino and a three-piece suite, was freezing cold and nobody ever went in it. We'd all be huddled together in the kitchen, where the fire was, with the kettle on, and a little iron cooking stove.
A lot of the garden was paved over (except one bit where there was a one-foot-wide flowerbed), with a toilet at the back and, for a period of time, a little hen-house where we kept cockerels. There was a zinc bathtub hanging on the backyard wall which we'd bring in and fill with hot water from pans and boiling kettles. That would be how we had a bath. We didn't have a bathroom: no Jacuzzis.
My earliest recollection is of sitting on a pot at the top of the stairs, having a poop - shouting, 'Finished!' Another very early memory is as a baby, of a party in the street. There were air-raid shelters and people were sitting around tables and benches. I must have been no more than two. We used to have a photograph of me there, so it's probably only because I could relive the scene when I was younger, through the photograph, that I remember it.
Arnold Grove was a bit like Coronation Street, though I don't remember any of the neighbours now. It was behind the Lamb Hotel in Wavertree. There was a big art-deco cinema there called the Abbey, and the Picton clock tower. Down a little cobbled lane was the slaughterhouse, where they used to shoot horses.
In the early days, the city of Liverpool was really busy. The Mersey was very prominent with all the ferry boats, and the big steamers coming in from America or Ireland. There were many old buildings and monuments: slightly dirty, but basically nice. And amongst all the fine buildings were big bombed-out areas that had never been cleared. (Even until the day in 1963 when I left Liverpool there were still many patches full of rubble from direct hits.) Going shopping, there would be crowds of people on one or other bomb-site, watching a bloke in handcuffs and chains inside a sack, trying to escape. There were always people doing that kind of thing - the Houdini syndrome.
Tramlines ran through cobbled granite streets, and overhead, the tram cables. We went everywhere on the tram, and we'd go on the underground train across to the Wirral. By the time I had a bike, buses had replaced the trams, and they ripped out all the tramlines and asphalted over the cobbles.
I have memories of being taken around by my mother when she went shopping on Saturdays. I used to be dragged around, seeing old ladies whom she always seemed to know and had to visit. They probably weren't that old, but when you are a child anyone over twenty seems old.
And there were news theatres - cinemas in little period buildings - that would show cartoons and the Pathé Pictorial News. They wouldn't have any main features and a show would be about fifty minutes long. So you could do your shopping and when you got tired go and have a coffee, go to the news theatre, watch a few cartoons, then go and continue shopping.
When I was very small I joined the Cubs, which was at a Catholic church called St Anthony's of Padua - a hell of a long way to go to Cubs! (I had to fly there Alitalia - the only airline with hair under its wings.) And when we got home Akela would thrash us to sleep with her woggle. My mother used to go to church occasionally, at the usual times - Easter, Christmas and that - and as a kid I would get taken with her. I went to Communion aged eleven. But I avoided the rest because by then we'd moved out to Speke.
I didn't really like school. I remember going to the infant school for a while. That didn't please me too much. I have three recollections of Dovedale Road Infant School: the smell of boiled cabbage, a little girl who had blond curly hair and a Peter Pan house in the corner of the room, made by all the kids.
Then I went to Dovedale juniors. That was quite good because there was a lot of sport. There was football and messing about. I used to think I was able to run pretty quick, and I liked playing football. I think all kids think they are good, but really they are useless. John was at Dovedale when I was there. We were both in the same schoolyard but I didn't know him - probably because when I was in my first year, he was in his last.
I was still at Dovedale when we moved to Speke. I now lived in Upton Green, No. 25. They'd been building new council houses out there with bathrooms and kitchens. We'd been waiting for a new house for years and eventually we got to the top of the list and moved there.
Speke is on the outskirts of Liverpool going away from the docks. It was quite a way out, about a forty-minute bus ride. As the Mersey river winds upwards, it becomes narrower at Widnes and Runcorn. Out there were all the factories built in the Forties - Bryant and May (who made matches) and Evans Medical Supplies. Dunlop had a place right on the edge of Speke airport. On the airport perimeter was a great place, Speke Hall, an old Tudor building.
We were just a stone's throw from Widnes. I used to go all the time down to Oglet, the shoreline of the river. The tide would go out miles and the riverbed would be all mud. People would go up and down it on motorbikes. I would walk for hours along the mud cliffs of the Mersey and through farm fields and woods. I liked the outdoors.
I remember some nasty moments after we'd moved to Speke. There were women whose husbands were running away and other women who were having kids every ten minutes. And men were always wandering round, going into houses - shagging, I suppose. I remember my mother having to deal with someone who'd come around cursing and swearing about something or other. She got a bucket of water and threw it from the front step and closed the door and went in. She had to do that on a couple of occasions.
Priests used to come round to all the houses in the neighbourhood collecting money. We weren't particularly bad, but there were some really awful families in some houses. They'd switch all the lights off, turn the radio down and pretend they were out. My dad was making probably Ј7 10s a week, so a donation of five shillings, which he would give, was quite a lot of money. I never saw people out of work at that time. I was probably too small to notice. When you're young you're just dealing with day-to-day things, as opposed to following world politics or anything else outside your life.
They built a large church out of all the donations. Before that, there was a temporary church in a big wooden hut. It had the stations of the cross around it, and that's my earliest remembrance of wondering, 'What is all this about?' OK, I could see Christ dragging his cross down the street with everybody spitting on him, and I got the gist of that; but it didn't seem to make any sense.
I felt then that there was some hypocrisy going on, even though I was only about eleven years old. It seemed to be the same on every housing estate in English cities: on one corner the'd have a church and on the other corner a pub. Everybody's out there getting pissed and then just goes in the church, says three Hail Marys and one Our Father and sticks a fiver in the plate. It felt so alien to me. Not the stained-glass window or the pictures of Christ; I liked that a lot, and the smell of the incense and the candles. I just didn't like the bullshit. After Communion, I was supposed to have Confirmation, but I thought, 'I'm not going to bother with that, I'll just confirm it later myself.'
From then on, I avoided the church, but every Thursday a kid would come round to herald the arrival of the priest. They'd go round all the streets, knock on the door and shout, 'The priest's coming!' And we'd all go, 'Oh shit,' and run like hell up the stairs and hide. My mother would have to open the door and he'd say, 'Ah, hello Mrs Harrison, it's nice to see you again, so it is. Eh be Jesus...' She'd stuff two half-crowns in his sweaty little hand and off he'd go to build another church or pub.
I had a happy childhood, with lots of relatives around - relatives and absolutes. I was always waking up in the night, coming out of the bedroom, looking down the stairs and seeing lots of people having a party. It was probably only my parents and an uncle or two (I had quite a few uncles with bald heads; they'd say they got them by using them to knock pub doors open), but it always seemed that they were partying without telling me. I don't remember too much about the music, I don't know whether they had music at the parties at all. There was probably a radio on.
In those days the radios were like crystal sets. Well, not quite. The radios had batteries: funny batteries with acid in them. You had to take the battery down to a shop on the corner and leave it with them for about three days to charge up.
We'd listen to anything that was played on the radio: Irish tenors like Josef Locke, dance-band music, Bing Crosby, people like that. My mother would always be turning the dial on the radio until she'd found a station broadcasting in Arabic or something, and we'd leave it there until it became so crackly that you couldn't hear it any more. Then she'd tune in to something else.
I remember as a child listening to the records my parents had - all the old English music-hall music. We had one record called 'Shenanaggy Da': 'Old Shenanaggy Da, he plays his guitar...' but the hole in the middle was off centre so it sounded weird. Brilliant. There was another called 'Fire, Fire, Fire, Fire, Fire'. It went: 'Why do all the engines chuff-chuff? It's a fire, fire, fire, fir, fire.' It had loads of verses, with sound effects of fire engines and crowds gasping and people trapped up some building. It was a double-sided 78. When it ran out on one side, it said, 'Eh, turn me over lads and I'll play you some more.' And when you turned it over it went back into the refrain and another twenty verses.
I don't understand people who say, 'I only like rock'n'roll,' or, 'I only like the blues' or whatever. Even Eric Clapton says he was influenced by 'The Runaway Train Went Over The Hill'. As I said in my own book, I Me Mine, my earliest musical memories are things like 'One Meatball' by Josh White, and those Hoagy Carmichael songs and others like it. I would say that even the crap music that we hated - that late Forties, early Fifties American schmaltz records like 'The Railroad Runs Through The Middle Of The House' or the British 'I'm A Pink Toothbrush, You're A Blue Toothbrush' - even that has had some kind of influence on us, whether we like it or not. All that is in me somehow, and is capable of coming out at any point. It shows in the comic aspect of some of our songs, like the middle of 'Yellow Submarine'.
You can hear something and think that you don't like it, and think that it's not influencing you. But you are what you eat, you are what you see, what you touch, what you smell and what you hear. Music has always had a transcendental quality inasmuch as it reaches parts of you that you don't expect it to reach. And it can touch you in a way that you can't express. You can think that it hasn't reached you, and years later you'll find it coming out. I think, as Beatles, we were fortunate that we were open to all kinds of music. We just listened to whatever happened to be on the radio. That was the main thing in those days.
My eldest brother, Harry, had a little portable record-player that played 45s and 33s. It could play a stack of ten records, though he only owned three. He kept them neatly in their sleeves; one of them was by Glenn Miller. When he was out everything was always left tidy; the wires, the lead and plugs were all wrapped around, and nobody was supposed to use it. But as soon as he'd go out my brother Pete and I would put them on.
We'd play anything. My dad had bought a wind-up gramophone in New York when he was a seaman and had brought it back on the ship. It was a wooden one, where you opened the doors; the top doors had a speaker behind and the records were stored in the bottom. And there were the needles in little tin boxes.
He'd also brought some records from America, including one by Jimmie Rodgers, 'the Singing Brakeman'. He was hank Williams's favourite singer and the first country singer that I ever heard. He had a lot of tunes such as 'Waiting For A Train', 'Blue For A Train'; that led me to the guitar.
Later there were people like Big Bill Broonzy and a Florida country-and-western singer called Slim Whitman. He made big hits out of the tunes from the film Rose Marie. The first person I ever saw playing a guitar was Slim Whitman, either a photo of him in a magazine or live on television. Guitars were obviously coming in.
I'd just left Dovedale Junior School and gone to the big school, the Liverpool Institute, when I went into hospital. I got sick when I was twelve or thirteen with kidney trouble. I always used to get tonsillitis; childhood illnesses. I had a really sore throat, and this one year the infection spread and gave me nephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys.
I was in Alder Hey Hospital for six weeks on a non-protein diet: I had to eat spinach and horrible food. It was during this time that I first wanted to get a guitar. I heard that Raymond Hughes, who used to go to Dovedale - I was now at the Institute and hadn't seen him for a year - had a guitar he wanted to sell. Ј3 10s, it cost. It went to Raymond's house and bought it
It was a real cheapo horrible little guitar, but it was OK at the time. I saw that it had a bolt in the back of the back of the neck. Being inquisitive, I got a screwdriver and unscrewed it and the whole neck fell off. I couldn't get it back on properly, so I put it in the cupboard in two pieces and left it there. Finally - it seemed like a year later - my brother Pete fixed it back together for me. Now it had a concave neck, so the most you could get out of it was a couple of chords. All the frets buzzed and the strings hit the frets.
My dad had played a guitar when he was in the Merchant Navy. But when there was no work, he gave up being a seaman and sold it. When I started playing, he said, 'I had a friend who plays,' and somehow he still knew him, and he phoned him up. His name was Len Houghton and he had an off-licence that he lived above. On Thursdays he would be closed, so my dad arranged for me to go down there each week on that night for two or three hours. He'd show me new chords and play songs to me like 'Dinah' and 'Sweet Sue', and Django Reinhardt or Stéphane Grappelli sort of tunes. Songs of the Twenties or Thirties, like 'Whispering'. It was very good of him.
By this time I'd met Paul McCartney on the bus, coming back from school. In those days they hadn't brought the buses into the housing development where I lived, so I had to get off the bus and walk for twenty minutes to get home. Paul lived close by where the buses then stopped, on Western Avenue. Just nearby was Halewood, where I used to play in the fields. There were ponds with sticklebacks in. Now there's a sodding great Ford factory there that goes on for acres and acres.
So Paul and I used to be on the same bus, in the same school uniform, traveling home from the Liverpool Institute. I discovered that he had a trumpet and he found out that I had a guitar, and we got together. I was about thirteen. He was probably late thirteen or fourteen. (He was always nine months older than me. Even now, after all these years, he is still nine months older!)
As I became a teenager, I first heard Fats Domino's 'I'm In Love Again'. That was the guitars what I would call the first rock'n'roll record I ever heard. Another record from when I was still a schoolboy was The Del-Vikings' 'Whispering Bells' - I still remember the sound of on that. And then, of course, 'Heartbreak Hotel'. That just came out of somebody's radio one day and lodged itself permanently in the back of my brain. Elvis, Little Richard and Buddy Holly influenced us very much, and to this day theirs is my favourite rock'n'roll music.
The pop scene then was mixed. There were the big stars - the Fats Dominos, The Coasters and Elvis - and than artists that you heard records by, but never really saw much of; maybe a photo in a fan magazine. Then there were the British artists, such as Tommy Steele (the first pop or rock star in England) and later Cliff Richard. And the Larry Parnes lot: Billy Fury and Marty Wilde, and others. It was exciting, because it was the first time you ever saw a pink jacket or a black shirt, or a Fender Startocaster or any electric guitar.
When you started seeing a performer come to the Liverpool Empire and they'd got an amplifier, it was so exciting. It was not like these days, when you've got so much to select from that you can have your own taste, a different taste from somebody else. In those days it was a case of beggars can't be choosers. We were just desperate to get anything. Whatever film came out, we'd try to see it. Whatever record was being played, we'd try to listen to, because there was very little of anything. It was only a few years after rationing. You couldn't even get a cup of sugar, let alone a rock'n'roll record.
I remember once how I'd got the money and I wanted 'Rock Around The Clock' by Bill Haley and I'd asked somebody in the family to get it for me. I couldn't wait to get that record. They came home, and they gave me a record and said, 'Oh, they sold out of Bill Haley, so I got you this one.' It was The Deep River Boys. I thought, 'Oh no, fuckin' hell.' It was such a disappointment. That was the first record I didn't get. I've learnt in my life that you mustn't disappoint people who are counting on you.
I wasn't able to see Buddy Holly when he came over, other than on the London Palladium TV show. When Bill Haley came to Liverpool, I couldn't afford a ticket. It was fifteen shillings - which was a lot of money for a schoolboy. I always wondered where Paul got his fifteen shillings from, because he got to see him. But I went to the Liverpool Empire in 1956 to see Lonnie Donegan, and people like Danny and the Juniors, and The Crew Cuts (they did 'Earth Angel' and 'Sh-Boom', which was a cover version of The Penguins' original).
I saw quite a few shows, the best being the Eddie Cochran one. This was a couple of years later. He was backed up by an English band. I remember Eddie Cochran well: he had his black leather waistcoat, black feather trousers and a raspberry-coloured shirt. He came on doing 'What'd I Say', and as the curtains opened he had his back to the audience, playing the riff. I was watching his fingers, to see how he played. He had his Gretsch guitar, the one in all the pictures, with a black Gibson pick-up and a Bigsby tremolo. It was the orange Chet Atkins 6120, like the one I later used on the Carl Perkins TV special, with the 'G' branded in the wood. He was a very good guitar player and that's what I remember most. I was very impressed by not only his songs (because he had a lot of very good songs including 'Summertime Blues', 'C'mon Everybody' and 'Twenty Flight Rock'), but by his cover numbers, like ray Charles's 'Hallelujah, I Love her So'.
There was a funny break in-between songs. He was standing at the microphone and as he started to talk he put his two hands through his hair, pushing it back. And a girl, one lone voice, screamed out, 'Oh, Eddie!' and he coolly murmured into the mike, 'Hi honey.' I thought, 'Yes! That's it - rock'n'roll!'
And, of course, he brought with him the great secret from America - the unwound third string. Years later, I became friendly with Joe Brown, who had toured with Eddie, and learnt about the unwound third string. When I listen to early Beatles recordings, one thing that's very apparent to me is a little piece that I play on the third string which is like three notes. It goes 'de diddle dum', which if I'd had an unwound, lighter-gauge third string, I could have done it in one bend. In those days I wasn't smart enough to think, 'I'll put another second string on in place of the third, so I can bend it.' But Eddie Cochran had that all sussed out.
The skiffle boom had started in my early teens. Lonnie Donegan had a much bigger influence on British rock bands than he was ever given credit for. In the late Fifties, he was virtually the only guitar player that you could see. He was the most successful person, and had the highest profile. He had a great voice, a lot of energy and sang great songs - catchy versions of Leadbelly tunes and things.
I loved him. He was a big hero of mine. Everyone got guitars and formed skiffle bands because of him. Skiffle came out of the blues, but the way it was performed made it accessible to us white Liverpudlians. It was dead cheap - just a washboard, a tea chest, a bit of string, a broom handle and a Ј3 10s guitar. And it was a simple way into music because a lot of the songs had just two chords, and the maximum was three. There were so many great songs; train songs like 'Midnight Special', 'Wabash Cannonball' and 'Rock Island Line' - hundreds of really good tunes that had their origins in black slave culture.
So everyone was in a skiffle group, and whilst most of the ones that were left became the rock bands of the Sixties. There was a folklore about those bands. I remember there was a band called Eddie Clayton (that Ringo was in for a while) and we thought, 'Hey, these are good.' A little later I formed a skiffle group called The Rebels, with Arthur Kelly and my brother, who had a guitar that he'd found in somebody's garage. We only played one gig, at the British Legion Club.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, I would sit at the back of the class and try to draw guitars: big cello guitars with 'f' holes, and little solid ones with cutaways. I was totally into all that. I even tried making a guitar, which was very bold. In ignorance you can do virtually anything. I only took woodwork for one year in school; I wasn't that good at it, but I wasn't that bad either. The things we did were very simple: a dovetail joint and a chamfered edge. I must have read somewhere about how to make a guitar, because there's no way I could have come up with the concept on my own.
I got some three-ply wood. I first drew the shape that I wanted, then cut it out. (It was like a Les Paul shape, but it had 'f' holes.) It had a hollow body, and on the inside of the back and the front I cut out little squares. I fitted dowelling into the holes to hold the front in place. Then I soaked and bent the wood that went around the edge. It was very rough and a bit lumpy where it was glued on. The big mistake I made was with the neck, which I couldn't make in one piece because I didn't have a piece of wood big enough. I made it go to just beyond the nut, with the head as a separate piece. I dug out the back of each and screwed in an aluminium plate to hold them together. I filled it all over with wood filler, bought the tail-piece, the bridge, the machine heads, the nut, and put the strings on. I put the 'f' holes in and even varnished it in sunburst colours. It must have taken me ages. Then, as I tightened up the strings, it just ripped itself apart. In frustration, I threw it in the shed and never spoke to it again.
The Hofner President was the first decent guitar that I had. It had big cutaway cello 'f' holes, based on the big Super Gibson guitars. I would sit around for hours, playing and trying to figure things out. I used to sit up late at night. I didn't look on it as practicing, more learning. It was the only thing I really liked. When I had a new set of strings I'd take all the old ones off, and I'd polish the guitar and clean it and make it really impeccable.
In the very early days I'd bought a guitar manual, which showed the finger positions for some chords. After I met Paul I showed him the manual. He still had the trumpet at that point. We looked and worked out some chords, like C, F and G7. But it only showed the first two fingers of the C chord and the same with F; so I had to re-learn them later. I remember feeling a bit annoyed about that: 'Why didn't they show the full chord in the first place?'
I remember discovering inversions, when you learn all the chords around the bottom of the neck. Suddenly I realized how all the shapes transform up the neck - all the same chords inverted higher and higher. It was great, just working that out. Then when I was a bit older someone gave me a Chet Atkins album and I started to try and figure out tunes with different chords.
I was never a technical guitar player; there was always a better player around. There was a bloke who went to school with Paul and me who ended up in The Remo Four - Colin Manley; he was one of those guys who could copy Chet Atkins when he'd been playing two tunes at the same time. Somehow I never had the patience. God knows how I ever made anything of myself. I used to sit there and practise as a kid, but I couldn't sit there forever; I wasn't that keen.
My first girlfriend was Rory Storm's sister, Iris Caldwell. She was really nice and had cotton wool in her bra. (She probably didn't ever think she was my girlfriend. You never know when you're young; you just fancy somebody, or someone's in the same room as you, and you end up thinking they're your girlfriend.) So I knew Rory before I knew The Beatles. I'd met Iris a couple of times and went round to her house and hung out. They had a little basement that they were trying to turn into a coffee club. That seemed to be the craze in the Fifties. Rory was an athlete. I remember a couple of times I came to have a date with Iris, and Rory would come running up to his front door sweating and panting, and checking his stop-watch, because he'd been training.
Rory's real name was Alan Caldwell. Ernie was their dad. They were a great family and were very friendly to all of us. Later - after we'd come back from Hamburg and were doing loads of gigs in Liverpool and the North of England - we used Rory's house as a place to hang out when we got back to town after shows. His mother Vi would make endless pots of tea and toast for us all.
Ernie was a porter in his spare time in the local hospital, Broad Green Hospital. He used to sing songs to the patients. He was a really nice fella, and a window cleaner by occupation. After we'd arrived late at night, he'd go to bed and they'd all make jokes about him, but in a nice way. He was a simple, quiet, mild-mannered bloke. By the time he died, we'd already made our records and left Liverpool. The sorry story I heard was that after Ernie died, Vi and Rory both committed suicide. Iris later married Shane Fenton, who became Alvin Stardust.
One year, Paul and I decided to go hitchhiking. It's something nobody would ever dream of these days. Firstly, you'd probably be mugged before you got through the Mersey Tunnel, and secondly everybody's got cars and is already stuck in a traffic jam. I'd often gone with my family down South to Devon, to Exmouth, so Paul and I decided to go there first.
We didn't have much money. We founded bed-and-breakfast places to stay. We got to one town, and we were walking down a street and it was getting dark. We saw a woman and said, 'Excuse me, do you know if there's somewhere we could stay?' She felt took us to hers - where we beat her, tied her up and robbed her of all her money! Only joking; she let us stay in her boy's room and the next morning cooked us breakfast. She was really nice. I don't know who she was - the Lone Ranger?
We continued along the South Coast, towards Exmouth. Along the way we talked to a drunk in a pub who told us his name Oxo Whitney. (He later appears in A Spaniard in the Works. After we'd told John that story, he used the name. So much of John's books if from funny things people told him.) Then we went along to Paignton. We still had hardly any money. We had a little stove, virtually just a tin with a lid. You poured a little meths into the bottom of it and it just about burned, not with any velocity. We had that, and little backpacks, and we'd stop at grocery shops. We'd buy Smedley's spaghetti bolognese or spaghetti Milanese. They were in striped tins: milanese was red stripes, bolognese was dark blue stripes. And Ambrosia creamed rice. We'd open a can, bend back the lid and hold the can over the stove to warm it up. That was what we lived on.
We got to Paignton with no money to spare so we slept on the beach for the night. Somewhere we'd met two Salvation Army girls and they stayed with us and kept us warm for a while. But later it became cold and damp, and I remember being thankful when we decided that was enough and got up in the morning and started walking again. We went up through North Devon and got a ferry boat across to South Wales, because Paul had a relative who was a redcoat in Butlins at Pwllheli, so we thought we'd go there.
At Chepstow, we went to the police station and asked to stay in a cell. They said, 'No, bugger off. You can go in the football grandstand, and tell the cocky watchman that we said it was OK.' So we went and slept on a hard board bench. Bloody cold. We left there and hitchhiked on. Going north through Wales we got a ride on a truck. The trucks didn't have a passenger seat in those days so I sat on the engine cover. Paul was sitting on the battery. He had on jeans with zippers on the back pockets and after a while he suddenly leapt up screaming. His zipper had connected the positive and negative on the battery, got red hot, and burnt a big zipper mark across his arse.
When we eventually got to Butlins, we couldn't get in. It was like a German prisoner-of-war camp - Stalag 17 or something. They had barbed-wire fences to keep the holiday-makers in, and us out. So we had to break in. (Ringo started off playing there.)
Paul moved from Speke to Forthlin Road in Allerton, which was very close to where John lived on Menlove Avenue. Paul had realized by then that he couldn't sing and play the trumpet at the same time, so he'd decided to get a guitar. We had started playing and were hanging out in school at that time, and when he moved we kept in touch. He lived close enough for me to go on my bike. It would take me twenty minutes or so. (I'm amazed when I go back now by car: what seemed like miles then is really only a three-minute car ride.)
There was a guy at the Liverpool Institute, Ivan Vaughan, that lived by John, who introduced Paul to him. John already had a reputation, he was the character of his school and he knew it. I met John a little later (I don't recall where) and they asked me to join the group, The Quarry Men. John was in the art college by this time. I don't know what I felt about him when I first met him; I just thought he was OK. At that age I only wanted to get into music. I think that with anybody you meet who sings or is into music like that, you just buddy with them instantly.
John's mother had taught him some chords. His guitar was cheap, with a little round sound-hole. It only had four strings. John didn't even know that guitars should have six strings. He was playing banjo chords: big extended finger chords. I said, 'What are you doing?' He thought that that was how it should be. So we showed him some proper chords - E and A and all those - and got him to put six strings on his guitar.
The Quarry Men had other members, who didn't seem to be doing anything, so I said, 'Let's get rid of them, then I'll join.' Nigel Whalley had a tea-chest bass and he was in the group for a week, and Ivan was there and a couple of others - one called Griff (Eric Griffiths), the guitar player. they came and went, and after a while there was only John, Paul and me left. That seemed to go on for a while. We played a few weddings and parties. John, Paul and I played at my brother Harry's wedding - drunk. We played the Cavern once. It was still a jazz place and they tried to kick us off, because we were rock'n'roll.
I would see quite a lot of John; he used to come round to my house. My mother was a big fan of music, and she was really pleased about me being interested in it. She'd been the one who'd bought me the guitar and she was really happy about having the guys around. And John was keen go get out of his house because of his Aunt Mimi, who was very stern and strict. he was always embarrassed by Mimi and he'd swear at her.
I remember going to John's house once, soon after we met. I was still at the Institute and I looked a bit young. We were trying to look like Teddy boys - and I must have looked pretty good, because Mimi didn't like me at all. She was really shocked and said, 'Look at him! Why have you brought this boy round to my house? He looks dreadful, like a Teddy boy.' And he'd say, 'Shut up, Mary, shut up.' So he would come round to my house a lot and my mother would give us little glasses of whisky.
I'd started to develop my own version of the school uniform. I had some cast-offs from my brother. One was a dog-toothed check-patterned sports coat, which I'd had dyed black to use as my school blazer. The colour hadn't quite taken, so it still had a slight check design to it. I had a shirt I'd bought in Lime Street, that I thought was so cool. It was white with pleats down the front, and it had black embroidery along the corners of the pleats. I had a waistcoat that John had given me, which he'd got from his 'uncle' Dykins (his mother's boyfriend), Mr Twitchy Dykins. It was like an evening-suit waistcoat - black, double-breast, with lapels. The trousers John also gave me, soon after we first met - powder-blue drainpipes with turn-ups. I dyed them black as well. And I had black suede shoes from my brother.
Aunt Mimi's husband was George Smith, and his brother was our English teacher at the Institute. He was a little effeminate, to say the least, and always had a silk hankie out of his top pocket. His mannerisms and the way he talked were to us early-teen boys pretty hysterical, and all the boys called him Cissie Smith. He was always saying, 'They're not school shoes, Harrison. Come and stand in the Chewers' Corner.'
That outfit of mine was very risky, and it felt like all day, every day, for the last couple of years I was going to get busted. In those days we used Vaseline on our hair to get the rock'n'roll greased-back hairstyle. Also, you were supposed to wear a cap and a tie, and a badge on your blazer. I didn't have my badge stitched on, I had it loose. It was held in place by a pen clipped over it in my top pocket, so I could remove it easily, and the tie.
Paul and I used to skive out of school and try our best to pretend not to be grammar-school boys. We would hang out with John in the evenings. But in the school days we'd also go out at lunchtime - even thought you weren't allowed out without a special dispensation from the Pope. We'd have to leg it out of school, go around the corner, dispose of as much of our school uniform as possible and then go into the art school. (The building was connected onto the Liverpool Institute.)
It was unbelievably relaxed there. Everybody was smoking, or eating egg and chips, while we still had school cabbage and boiled grasshoppers. And there'd be chicks and arty types, everything. It was probably very simple, but from where we came from it looked fun. We could go in there and smoke without anyone giving us a bollocking. John would be friendly to us - but at the same time you could tell that he was always a bit on edge because I looked a bit too young, and so did Paul. I must have only been fifteen then.
I remember that the first time I gained some respect from John was when I fancied a chick in the art college. She was cute in a Brigitte Bardot sense, blonde, with little pigtails. I was playing in Les Stewart's band. (I was in two bands at the same time - there weren't many gigs, one in every blue moon. He lived on Queen's Drive by Muirhead Avenue, so I was hanging out with him as well and learning music in the hope of making a couple of quid.) Anyway, Les had a party at his house and the Brigitte Bardot girl was there, and I pulled her and snogged her. Somehow John found out, and after that he was a bit more impressed with me.
Les played banjo, mandolin and guitar. I met him through a fella who worked in a butcher's shop. I'd got a job there as a delivery boy on a Saturday; the guy there had a Dobro guitar (the first one I ever saw) and knew Les. Les was a good player: Leadbelly tunes and Big Bill Broonzy and Woody Guthrie - more like rural blues and bluegrass, not rock'n'rol. I'd play along with his band - I don't even remember its name - and we did a few parties. It was there at a gig in a club in Hayman's Green in West Derby that I heard about another club being built at No. 8 Hayman's Green. I was taken down there and I looked into the cellar that was to become the Casbah. That's when I first met Pete Best. It was some months later that I remembered Pete and the fact that he had his own drum kit, and got him to join us so we could go to Hamburg.
Paul and I got to know Stuart Sutcliffe through going into the art college. Stuart was a thin, arty guy with glasses and a little Van Gogh beard; a good painter. John really liked Stuart as an artist. Stuart obviously liked John because he played the guitar and was a big Ted. Stuart was cool. He was great-looking and had a great vibe about him, and was a very friendly bloke. I liked Stuart a lot; he was always very gentle. John had a slight superiority complex at times, but Stuart didn't discriminate against Paul and me because we weren't from the art school. He started to come and watch us when we played at parties and he became a fan of ours. He actually got some parties for John, Paul and me to play at. It was just the three of us, mostly. And John was always trying to con his Students' Union into buying equipment for our group. he did eventually get an amplifier, so we had to play there occasionally. I can't even remember if we had an act; we must have learnt a few tunes together.
One art-school party in Liverpool, in a flat in the students' accommodation, was the first all-night party I ever went to. It was even designated an all-nighter: the rules were that you had to bring a bottle of wine, and an egg for your breakfast. So we bought a cheap bottle of plonk from Yates's Wine Lodge and put our eggs in the fridge when we arrived. The great thing about the party (and I'm sure John and Paul would agree) was that somebody had a copy of 'What'd I Say' by Ray Charles, a 45rpm with Part Two on the B side. That record was played all night, probably eight or ten hours non-stop. It was one of the best records I ever heard. I puked up next morning. Cynthia was there, and I remember saying drunkenly to her, 'I wish I had a nice girl like you.'
Panto Day in Liverpool was when students from Liverpool University and the art college collected money for local causes. It was a Rag day. Everyone dressed up weirdly with make-up and could do just about anything they liked: jump onto buses without paying, with tins for collecting money; go into shops, and generally go around the city having a laugh. Paul and I weren't students, but we decided it was a lark; so we met at John's place in Gambier Terrace, the flat he was sharing with Stuart, dressed up and joined in. John and Stuart had more collecting boxes than they should have so they gave a couple to us. After a few hours collecting we went back to Gambier Terrace and broke open the tins and took all the money. There was probably about four shillings in pennies.
I left school and was out of work for ages. Months elapsed after school had finished; the school holidays were over, everybody had gone back and I was still not getting a job, and not going back to school. I used to borrow money from my dad. I didn't want a job - I wanted to be in the band. But it got a bit embarrassing when my father kept saying, 'Don't you think you'd better get a job?'
My dad never had a trade, but he had the idea that all his three sons would have different trades. My eldest brother was a mechanic, my second brother did panel-beating and welding. So Dad thought, 'George can be an electrician, and then we can have our own garage.' For Christmas Dad bought me a little kit that opened up and inside were screwdrivers and tools, and I thought, 'Oh God, he really does want me to be an electrician.' That was depressing, because I had no chance of being one.
My dad got me into an exam to get a job with the Liverpool Corporation, and I failed it miserably. It wasn't deliberate - I just didn't pass. I was no good at maths. It was very embarrassing, because the people who went to work for the Corporation weren't exactly the sharpest people around. I went down to the Labour Exchange and they said: 'Go down to Blackler's, the shop in town. Somebody is required as a window-dresser.' The head of window-dressing at Blackler's said, 'Sorry, that job's gone. But go up and see Mr Peet.' Mr Peet was the head of the maintenance department. He gave me a job as an apprentice electrician, which is what my dad really wanted me to be.
I wanted to be a musician and, though there was no justification for it and no qualifications, when the group got together we all had an amazing, positive feeling about being in the band full-time. I don't know why - we were just cocky. It was felt that something good was going to happen. But then, in those days, something good would be getting to do a tour of Mecca Ballrooms. That was a big deal!
My father had something to do with the Liverpool Transport Club in Finch Lane and he got The Quarry Men a gig there once, on a Saturday night. It was a dance hall with a stage and tables and people dancing and drinking. My dad was pleased and proud that he'd got us to appear there. We had to play two sets.
We played the first set of fifteen or twenty minutes and then, in our break, we got really drunk on black velvet, the craze at the time - a bottle of Guinness mixed with half a pint of cider (not champagne). I was sixteen, John was eighteen, Paul seventeen, and we had about five pints of it. By the time we had to go on again, we were totally out of it. We embarrassed ourselves and everybody else, and my father was very pissed off: 'You've made a show of me...' and all that. That was the club where Ken Dodd got his big break.
In December 1959, we had an audition for Carroll Levis, who hosted a Discoveries TV programme. I don't know that anybody was ever discovered on that programme, and nobody ever won anything. You keep going on and on and on, whilst he solid tickers to the theatres with lots of free artists performing. At the end of the show the clapometer would tell you who had won, and the next week there'd be another show.
We were doing the show in Manchester, under the name of Johnny and the Moondogs. This was a period when John didn't have any guitar. I think his 'guaranteed not to split' guitar must have done so. We performed 'Think It Over' with John standing in the middle with no guitar, just singing with a hand on each of our shoulders. Paul and I were on our guitars - one pointing this way, one that way - doing the back-up voices. We thought we were really good, but because we had to catch the last train back to Liverpool we didn't have time to hang around and wait to see if the clapometer registered anything for us.
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