Extract: First of the True Believers by Paul Charles

Chapter One

Roll up,
Step right up
For the
Magical Mystery Tour.
In a way, I suppose, meeting Marianne – Marianne Burgess, that is – was as important to me as the legendary meeting that took place when John Lennon’s friend, Ivan Vaughan, introduced him to Paul McCartney. You may very well laugh at the grandness of this comparison but see if you still think so by the end of my story.

John and Paul’s first meeting took place at a concert The Quarry Men (John’s then group) were giving at a picnic in the field of St Peter’s Church in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. Why I call it a concert, I don’t really know. By today’s standard, concert is probably too pompous a word. It was more of a quick set of six songs delivered at four-fifteen pm, before the main attraction – a team of police dogs – did their thing. This was followed by another quick set on the back of a lorry at five forty-five. The Quarry Men did get to play a third set later that same evening, in the village hall. It was in fact around the time of the third set when John and Paul met up for the first time. The Quarry Men were nothing more, or nothing less, than a skiffle group, at a time when the skiffle craze was sweeping Great Britain from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.

My first group was a skiffle group as well. We were called Rocket 88. To be honest, we weren’t really much cop. But that wasn’t the point of skiffle groups; anyone could be in one. All you needed was a beaten up old guitar, a tea-chest bass or even a washboard, for heaven’s sake. Anything at all that you could find to make a racket with. The only thing that was really important was to be able to get up on stage; that’s how you drew the attention of the girls. That’s all any of us were after you know; scoring the judies. And it was so easy if you were in a group. Girls would actually come up and introduce themselves to you after the show. Sometimes, one of them would be so anxious to get in before the others that she would find her way back to the dressing room between sets. Hey, that’s the big secret out. Me and my mates in Rocket 88, and John, Paul, Stu, George, Pete and Ringo; we all wanted a reason not to have a proper job. More importantly, we wanted the girls and none of us were good enough to be in proper bands like Dead Loss and Pops Orchestra, but we could turn the girls’ heads by making a racket in our skiffle groups.

And that night, at Woolton, make a racket is exactly what The Quarry Men did. I mean, you wouldn’t say they were great or anything but they demonstrated that they had a natural raw energy. It was the overall noise that worked for them, more than the sound of the individual instruments or the strained sounds of John’s singing. You could barely make out the words he was trying to sing. That was probably just as well though, because he’d learnt all the lyrics from a scratchy old record and, well, you know, these American singers didn’t exactly attract the girls because of their diction.

Paul taught John the proper chords to Gene Vincent’s Be Bop a Lu La (which The Quarry Men had just performed) and taught him the proper words. That was enough for John. A few days later, Paul was out for a ride on his bicycle and met up with Pete Shotton. It was Pete who told Paul that John wanted him to join the group. All this happened in July 1957 and The Quarry Men became a seven-piece band. Paul and John were on guitars and vocals; Colin Hanton on drums – he was okay, just okay though, as I thought he used to speed things up too much – Eric Griffiths on guitar; Len Garry on tea-chest bass; Rod Davies on banjo; and, finally, Pete Shotton on washboard.

John and Paul shouldn’t really have hooked up, you know? I mean, really. John was a rebel: a rebel without applause I always used to say. He was about eighteen months older than Paul, which is a lot at that stage in your life; you know, when you’re trying hard to assert you manhood. Here was this teddy boy, Lennon, with his TV haircut and then, right beside him, you had the baby-faced McCartney, more prim and proper and, at least on paper, better brought up – maybe even a bit of a daddy’s boy. But he knew more chords than John and he liked Eddie Cochran, an American musician John absolutely worshipped. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were to lose their mothers. Paul’s had already died of cancer and John’s mum was to be killed, eight months later, in a hit-and-run accident. Apparently an off-duty peeler knocked her down just outside John’s Aunt Mimi’s house in Menlove Avenue. So I suppose the combination of all these elements was their big bond in the early days.

Funny when you look back at it all now and realise that those two teenagers probably sought each other out. They’d both played with plenty of other musicians, musicians with varying degrees of talent. Getting together, musically speaking, couldn’t have been easy for either of them. Paul knew more chords than John but he was left-handed; therefore, he knew all the chords in reverse so John had to pick them up backwards and then imagine what the same chords would look like for a right-handed guitarist. It was a very difficult process but infinitely preferable to the two banjo chords John’s mother, Julia, had taught him. So, when they met, it was like someone was working some kind of magic for them. By giving them each other and igniting their creative sparks, it was some sort of compensation after losing their mums. Do you know what I mean? Hey, I’m always accused of being a bit of a romantic but, with my hand on my heart, I genuinely believe that they met at a time when they really needed each other.