Raymond Jones played a small but pivotal role in The Beatles’ history. He was the man who, on Saturday 28 October 1961, ordered a copy of the group’s single My Bonnie from the NEMS shop at 12-14 Whitechapel, Liverpool. Jones was served by Brian Epstein, who at the time ran the store’s record department.
Epstein’s curiosity was piqued after Jones told him about The Beatles, and on 9 November 1961 he paid a visit to the Cavern Club to watch them perform. So began a chain of event which let to him managing the group, securing them a record deal and steering them to worldwide fame.
In later years, Epstein’s assistant at NEMS, Alistair Taylor, claimed that Raymond Jones never existed, and that he had invented the character so that the record could be ordered into the store. Taylor’s story was refuted by the Cavern Club’s DJ, Bob Wooler, and Liverpudlian writer and broadcaster Spencer Leigh.
In August 2010 Raymond Jones left a comment on this site’s profile of him, along with an email address. We contacted him to see if he’d be willing to be interviewed, and corresponded by telephone and email. During those conversations he spoke of his time in Liverpool, his memories of The Beatles and Brian Epstein, and why he’d rarely come forward to set the record straight. Here’s what he told us.
The Beatles legend has it that in 1961 you were 18, and a printer’s apprentice from Huyton. Is this correct?
In his book A Cellarful Of Noise, Brian Epstein described me as an 18-year-old leather jacketed youth. I must have looked younger than my actual years. I was born on 21 June 1941, so I must have been 20 at the time. By the way, my friend and I Ron Billingsley wore leather jackets well before we ever saw or had even heard of The Beatles. I rode pillion on Ron’s motorbike.
I worked for a small printing company KB Print, which originated over Rigby’s pub in Dale Street. It later moved to Tithebarn Street. My address at that time was 48 Stonefield Road, Dovecot, Liverpool 14. Dovecot was only a couple of short bus stops away from Knotty Ash Village Hall.
How did you first hear about The Beatles?
I was a regular visitor to the lunchtime sessions at the Cavern in Mathew Street. I worked about a five minute walk away in Dale Street. My boss didn’t mind how long I stayed there as long as I made the time up in the evening. I suppose I was very lucky.
The first time I saw The Beatles I was totally blown away. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and watching. It was a sound I had never heard before. Pete Best was the drummer then; he used to sing Matchbox, a Carl Perkins song, and being a keen Perkins fan I was intrigued to see how they played the chord sequences.
One particular day Bob Wooler, the DJ from the Cavern, came into my place of work to have some tickets printed so I asked him where they were playing next. He said he’d let me know when he picked up the tickets, which I took to mean he’d find out the time and venue and tell me.
When he came in to pick the tickets up he opened the package and gave me two, which he signed so I could get free entry to the venue. The show was at Knotty Ash Village Hall. After that I started to follow The Beatles to most of the venues they played in the evenings. You could say I was totally hooked.
The Beatles had recorded My Bonnie in Hamburg. How did you get to hear about the single?
My ex brother-in-law Kenny Johnson was the lead guitarist with a group called Mark Peters and the Cyclones. It was him that told me The Beatles had made a record in Germany. The following Saturday I went to NEMS to ask for the record, not realising the person I spoke to was Brian Epstein. He started asking me questions: who were they? Where did they play? What type of music did they perform?
After I had answered his questions I told him they were the best group I had ever seen. The next time I went to NEMS I picked up the record. Shortly after that it was common knowledge that Epstein had become their manager.
I had never heard the Tony Sheridan/Beatles record at the Cavern or anywhere else before going into NEMS that day. As I said before, it was just a chance conversation with Kenny Johnson that prompted me to go to NEMS and ask for the record. About two weeks after that that I heard Bob Wooler playing it at the Cavern.
How many times did you see The Beatles play? Was it mostly at the Cavern, or all over Liverpool?
It is impossible to even attempt to guess how many times I saw The Beatles. I went to a lot of lunchtime and evening gigs, and also a few afternoon sessions at the Cavern. The other places I saw them play were Aintree Institute, Blair Hall, The Casbah, Litherland Town Hall, Civil Service Club, Hambleton Hall, Knotty Ash Village Hall and The Tower Ballroom. I went to a few other places as well but I can’t remember the names. The venue I wanted to go to see them was on the Royal Iris – I had just come back from holiday and you could say I missed the boat.
Did you ever meet The Beatles?
I wouldn’t say I knew the boys, but I have talked to them all at sometime or other. My father worked on the Liverpool buses as did George Harrison‘s dad. They used to go to the Tramway Social Club in Dovecote. I went there for a drink with my father and George was there with his dad too. He wasn’t very talkative that night.
George was a different person when he was on stage. One particular day at the Cavern he was playing a short instrumental in the middle of one of their songs. They all started to do The Shadows’ step-over-and-back walk. They were taking the mickey of course. Nobody in their right minds could have predicted just how big they would become.
Not long afterwards they made an appearance on a TV Show Scene At 6.30, presented by Bill Grundy. After that show everyone jumped on the bandwagon – you couldn’t get near the boys whereas before you could freely mingle freely with them. I stopped going to the Cavern then; for me there was nothing to go for.
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.
Why did you never come forward and stake your claim in The Beatles’ story? In the biographies you’re portrayed as an elusive figure that some presume to have never even existed, and it seems odd that you’d not want to tell your story.
I was invited to attend the first the first Liverpool Beatles Convention by Bob Wooler. It was an experience I was not very comfortable with. Being in the limelight didn’t suit me so I decided there and then to keep a low profile.
Years later it was advertised that Raymond Jones was making an appearance at another convention. My friend Ron Billingsley’s wife went as she thought she’d see me there, but all she saw was Bob Wooler arguing with Alistair Taylor because he had said he was Raymond Jones. Bob knew he was lying and asked the audience if anyone had any knowledge of my whereabouts. Sylvia was too shy to speak out, but she approached Bob Wooler afterwards and told him she could contact me. Her husband and my friend contacted me and I in turn contacted Bob Wooler.
Bob and I were both disgusted with Taylor’s claims, and discussed a plan of action. Bob told me he was planning a book and he wanted the truth to come out. Spencer Leigh wrote the book about Bob. It was called The Best Of Fellas: The Story of Bob Wooler. Spencer also told my story in an article in Mojo magazine the article was called “Nowhere Man Found!”. Some time later Mojo publications contacted me to ask for my permission to print the story in a book, Ten Years That Shook the World.
My wife and I were watching a BBC TV programme and we were astonished when Alistair Taylor said he made up the name Raymond Jones and how he used to go to the Cavern. All blatant lies. I immediately telephoned Spencer Leigh and he said he will have to stop as we have the proof. Ever since Spencer Leigh uncovered the truth with his brilliant investigative nose I have had people from all over the world to ask for verification of the story. And also my wife and I have just recorded an interview with a local TV station here in Spain.
Alistair Taylor once said in an interview: “Raymond Jones has come forward only once in forty years in a very drunken ‘phone call to Radio Merseyside. I don’t remember Raymond Jones. So I leave it up in the air. You can either believe the late Bob Wooler or me. Either there is a Raymond Jones or I made it up.” What actually happened?
It’s true, I did once speak to Spencer Leigh on BBC Radio Merseyside, but I dislike being on the radio and was nervous. Afterwards even Spencer asked if I’d been drinking but I hadn’t.
How long have you been living in Spain, and what brought you there?
I am still a director of the printing company I founded at the age of 31. The company is called Ultragraph Limited and is based in Burscough, Lancashire. My son Nick and daughter Sarah now run the company.
I retired to Spain around 16 or 17 years ago to fulfil my dream of building my own house. It took me and my wife Sylvia about five or six years of very hard work to complete. It was very satisfying.
Do you still have your copy of My Bonnie, or the signed copy of Brian Epstein’s book?
If only I still had Epstein’s signed copy of his book and the record! I kept them both together, but nobody knows where they are now. I still have the letter Epstein’s secretary sent to my neighbour, it’s the only proof I have that it was me who went into NEMS.
People have told me that my name will go down in Beatles history. That may be true, but all I did was buy a record by a group that gave me so much pleasure and enjoyment.