john meets paul -- 5/6/14
Today's selection -- from Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years by Mark Lewisohn. In 1957, at a social event at St. Peter's church in Woolton, John Lennon first met Paul McCartney. At seventeen years old, John was already a dominant personality, the forceful leader of both a gang and a not-particularly-good new band called the Quarry Men, who had been invited to perform at the event. Paul had turned fifteen only three weeks earlier:
"On stage at about 4:15, the Quarry Men's set probably lasted half an hour. ...
Ivan Vaughan had known John since infancy. In some ways they were markedly different characters, especially in the way they applied themselves at school, but Ivan admired his gangleader's many talents and paid full respect. Introducing other people to John was a role he carried out with care: only 'great fellows' would do. One was Len Garry, who'd been accepted into both the gang and the Quarry Men; and now there was another 'great fellow' for John to meet. After the group's first set, John wandered across to the scout hut to leave his guitar safe for a while, and it was here that Ivan introduced him to his schoolmate Paul McCartney. There wouldn't have been a handshake and there wasn't much talk; Pete Shotton, never far from John's side, says Paul was quiet and remembers a certain wariness -- 'they were almost standoffish' -- but then this wasn't meant to be a summit encounter or a meeting of like minds, it was just lads standing around gassing, probably about music or birds. Paul felt self-conscious about his age: like Ivan, he'd turned 15 only three weeks earlier, whereas John was clearly much older, well on his way to 17 -- a veritable chasm, boy to man. 'I was just the wrong side of the cusp and they were just the right side of it. That's the way I remember feeling.' Paul also realized he'd seen John Lennon before. 'I saw him a few times before I met him -- 'Oh he's that feller, the Ted who gets on the bus.' You notice who's hip ... I wouldn't look at him too hard [on the bus] in case he hit me.' ...
"According to the program, the Quarry Men had to play a further stage spot, probably for half an hour from 5:45 as the festivities were winding to a close, but no one can definitively remember if they played or not.
"There was a fourth appearance of the day to come, but not until well after eight: they were booked as the small-print name at the church-hall dance over the road, the interval filler for the George Edwards Band, a small-unit dance band playing waltzes and foxtrots. So, there was now much hanging around. A couple of the Quarry Men went home for tea, but a cluster of boys -- including John Lennon, Pete Shotton, Len Garry, Colin Hanton, Ivan Vaughan and Paul McCartney -- kicked their heels inside the hall while it was being prepared for the dance. They hung around by the stage and also in a small anteroom to the left which had a piano.
"As they lounged around, so the talk hit on music. Not one to hold himself back, Paul asked John for a go on his guitar, and noticing its strange banjo tuning suggested he could retune it. The way he held the instrument upside down prompted a few sniggers, but after a minute or two of fiddling Paul suddenly stopped and burst into 'Twenty Flight Rock.' Here, right away, was talent, already way out of John's league. And it wasn't just that Paul could get through the song from start to finish, singing with a strong rocking voice and playing those chords with confidence, it was knowing all the words. 'Twenty Flight Rock' was trickey ... and it was another connoisseur's piece. It hadn't made the charts, so anyone who'd learned it had gone out of his way -- an expedition made only by the passionate, not something you can fake.
"After this, Paul went into full exhibition mode, showing off, confident of his ability and aware of his audience. He demonstrated one or two chords he thought the gathering might not have heard, and he played them some other numbers ('Be-Bop-A-Lula' was one, something by Elvis surely another). Then, showing real neck, he switched to piano and started belting out his Little Richard routine, yelling alone into the quiet of a cavernous church hall. Paul couldn't have known it, but by slipping into 'Long Tall Sally' he was sliding into John's main artery. That constantly thrilling, screaming black voice of Little Richard Penniman was now coming out of Ivan's little mate from Allerton. No matter how much John affected an air of coolness, his insides had to be leaping. Bulls-eye. Paul McCartney had impressed the guy on whom making an impression was suddenly so vital. He'd set out to do it and he'd achieved it; a tad eager but trying to hide it, his eyebrows raised, probably biting his lip, talking slightly too fast, switched on, and good. Really good. None of the Quarry Men could do anything like this. ...
"The quandary for John Lennon was whether or not to invite Paul McCartney to join his group. 'Was it better to have a guy who was better than the people I had in -- obviously -- or not? To make the group stronger or to let me be stronger? And [my] decision was to let Paul in, to make the group stronger ... It went through my head that I'd have to keep him in line if I let him join, but he was good, so he was worth having. He also looked like Elvis. I dug him.' ...
"John Lennon didn't pick partners easily, but at 15 years of age Paul McCartney already had enough about him to impress the big league. A boy who believed he was it, and had the ability to back it up, had met another boy who clearly was it."
|Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years|
|Copyright 2013 by Mark Lewisohn|
|129 - 133|