It is unlikely – if not impossible – that Epstein had never heard of The Beatles until his meeting with Jones. The group was regularly featured in the Liverpudlian music publication Mersey Beat, which Epstein sold in NEMS and wrote record reviews for. Although he had little interest in the actual content, he could hardly have failed to notice the leather-clad group which had taken Hamburg by storm.
Epstein’s curiosity was, nonetheless, piqued after his encounter with the enthusiastic Jones, and on Thursday 9 November 1961 he and Taylor paid their first visit to the Cavern Club to watch The Beatles perform. It was the beginning of a chain of events that would irrevocably change the lives of the people involved, and cause a revolution in popular culture.
The first written reference to Jones came in an interview Brian Epstein gave to a UK newspaper.
When the Beatles had had a couple of recording under their belt, Brian Epstein was telling his story in a national newspaper, I was livid when he described me in the article as a “scruffy” 18-year-old leather-jacketed youth. I wrote to NEMS to show him my disgust about his remark. In the letter I said not everyone wore suits and that some people had to work for a living.
Shortly after that someone from NEMS wrote to me and asked me to contact Mr Epstein at his office, which at that time was in Moorfields off Dale Street. When I contacted him he asked me to call to his office and said he would like to apologise in person. After his somewhat poor apology we both went to Rigby’s pub in Dale Street and had a couple of drinks. He was asking me all sorts of questions and taking notes at the same time. He didn’t say so but I think he must have been planning the book A Cellarful Of Noise.
Some time later a neighbour of mine wrote to Brian – for what reason I’m not quite sure – but by return of post she received a letter from Diana Vero, Mr Epstein’s secretary, asking for my address so he could send me a copy of his book. A week or so later I received it.
Epstein recounted the story of Jones’ record request in his autobiography A Cellarful Of Noise, first published in October 1964. The account provided the two-paragraph prologue to the book, proving its significance to The Beatles’ story.
At about three o’clock on Saturday, October 28th, 1961, an eighteen-year-old boy called Raymond Jones, wearning jeans and a black leather jacket, walked into a record-store in Whitechapel, Liverpool, and said: ‘There’s a record I want. It’s “My Bonnie” and it was made in Germany. Have you got it?’
Behind the counter was Brian Epstein, twenty-seven, director of the store. He shook his head. ‘Who is the record by?’ he asked. ‘You won’t have heard of them,’ said Jones. ‘It’s by a group called The Beatles….’
A Cellarful Of Noise
The story was expanded upon with more detail later in the book.
On Saturday, October 28th, I had just come back from a long holiday in Spain during which I had wondered how I could expand my interests.
And then, suddenly, though quite undramatically, a few words from Raymond Jones brought the solution. The words, of course, were ‘Have you got a disc by The Beatles?’
I had never given a thought to any of the Liverpool beat groups then up and coming in cellar clubs. They were not part of my life, because I was out of the age group, and also because I had been too busy. But I knew that a lot of boys had taken up the guitar because of the influence of teenage stars since the early days of Presley and Tommy Steele, through the late fifties to the Shadows, who, by the autumn of 1962, were the star instrumental group backing Cliff Richard, unchallenged British pop idol.
The name ‘Beatle’ meant nothing to me though I vaguely recalled seeing it on a poster advertising a university dance at New Brighton Tower and I remembered thinking it was an odd and purposeless spelling.
Raymond Jones was one of any average dozen customers who called in daily for unknown discs and there seems now no valid reason why, beyond my normal efforts to satisfy a customer, I should have gone to such lengths to trace the actual recording artistes. But I did and I wonder sometimes whether there is not something mystically magnetic about the name ‘Beatle’? …
On October 28 Raymond Jones left the store after I had taken a note of his request. I wrote on a pad: ‘”My Bonnie”. The Beatles. Check on Monday.’
A Cellarful Of Noise
The story of Raymond Jones’ request resurfaced again in Hunter Davies’ 1968 authorised biography of the group. Interestingly, Davies embellished the tale by claiming Brian Epstein had never heard of The Beatles before that date.
It happened, just to be precise, at three o’clock on the afternoon of 28 October 1961. A youth in a black leather jacket called Raymond Jones walked into the NEMS record store in Whitechapel, Liverpool, and asked for a record called My Bonnie by a group called The Beatles. Brian Epstein, who was behind the counter, said he was terribly sorry. He’d never heard of that record nor of a group called The Beatles.
In A Cellarful Of Noise, Epstein claimed that he had seen The Beatles’ name on a poster advertising a Liverpool performance, and recalled having seen them in his shop. He also claimed that Jones and two Liverpudlian girls asked for My Bonnie. The story goes that Epstein resolved to investigate further, telephoning the store’s suppliers the following Monday to order copies for his customers.
Polydor Records had despatched his order of 200 copies of My Bonnie: an event loyally noted by Mersey Beat. The record sold moderately well among The Beatles’ following, though some – Raymond Jones included – were disappointed to find them only a backing group to Tony Sheridan and billed as ‘the Beat Brothers’.
Jones wasn’t the first to draw Epstein’s attention to The Beatles. Bill Harry featured the group so frequently in his magazine Mersey Beat that Epstein cannot have been unaware of their name, if not their music.
The first week of July 1961 was when I entered NEMS with copies of Mersey Beat and asked to see the manager. Brian Epstein came down from his office and I showed him copies of the first issue and he ordered one dozen copies. He then phoned me and ordered more (my telephone number was on page 2, next to ‘Being A Short Diversion on the Dubious Origins of Beatles’ by John Lennon).
He expressed surprise at how rapidly the issues sold. The first issue was dated 6 July 1961 and the second issue was published on 20 July. Brian ordered 144 copies of the second issue. This amount of copies in a single record store was unprecedented. They all sold out.
Brian had no awareness at all of the music scene on Merseyside and was completely surprised at reading in Mersey Beat that there was so much happening locally. He invited me into his office to discuss it and seemed quite amazed at the musical activity…
Following his discussions with me, when asking about the groups, the Beatles name often cropped up because they were the ones I kept promoting in Mersey Beat above all others.
Although Epstein was aware of The Beatles before he had heard of My Bonnie, he was presumably only spurred into visiting the Cavern Club to see them after the record was requested by NEMS customers. And it remains significant that Jones was mentioned by Epstein in both the newspaper interview and in A Cellarful Of Noise.
For many years it was claimed by Epstein’s assistant Alistair Taylor that Jones had been made up in order to get the record into the shop. The truth is actually rather different. Raymond Jones did exist: he was born in 1941 and worked for a printing company in Liverpool. He saw The Beatles perform on a number of occasions in the city, and did order a copy of My Bonnie from Brian Epstein in NEMS.
In August 2010 Ray Jones gave an interview to this website from his home in Spain. He was keen to set the record straight about the Alistair Taylor allegations, and spoke of his memories of The Beatles and how he received a signed copy of A Cellarful Of Noise from Brian Epstein.