Raymond Jones interview

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.

Raymond JonesEpstein’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.

Raymond Jones

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.

Raymond Jones

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.

Letter to Raymond Jones from NEMSShortly 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.

Raymond Jones' signed copy of The Best Of Fellas by Spencer LeighBob 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.

36 responses on “Raymond Jones interview

  1. skye

    Joe, this is incredible!

    Raymond Jones, I’m glad to know that not only are you real person, but you are healthy and happy. Thank you for sharing your story. God bless!

    1. Joe Post author

      Thanks Skye. I was so grateful that Ray agreed to take part in the interview. He’s got a great story to tell, and it’s a shame that so many Beatles books and documentaries have it wrong.

      1. vonbontee

        “Either there is a Raymond Jones or I made it up.”

        -What actually happened?

        He made it up.

        ————————–

        Okay, what?? Am I reading this wrong, or was it mistranscribed? Because it reads as though Jones is claiming that Alistair Taylor DID indeed make him up!
        Or did he only mean that Taylor “made up” the Radio Merseyside call; or maybe just invented the detail about Jones’ drunkenness during the call? Either way, that’s a confusing passage.

  2. David

    I am really pleased that Alistair Taylor’s version has been put to bed. Well done, Joe.

    Having said that, I saw a re-run of the Arena programme on Epstein the other night, and still find it hard to believe that after successfully running the record department at Nems for five years or so by that time, he was completely unaware either of the Cavern or of the Beatles… Is Liverpool city centre so vast?

    1. Joe Post author

      Well, for a start neither Taylor nor Epstein were particularly interested in rock ‘n’ roll. Secondly, The Beatles hadn’t properly released a single – My Bonnie was a German import. Thirdly, Bill Harry (of Mersey Beat fame) suggests Epstein probably was aware of The Beatles as he wrote a column for Mersey Beat, but it wasn’t until Raymond ordered My Bonnie that he took proper notice.

  3. brian

    An excellent interview Joe! I remember felling a little let down when I read Alistair Taylor’s account that the whole requesting the “My Bonnie” record was faked. My faith has now been restored. This is one story of folklore and legend I’m glad is absolutely true!

  4. Ken Dobie

    I worked with Ray back in 73-74 and I aways knew the truth. I mentioned him to Pete Best and he said “you know he exists” I told him I used to work for him.

  5. Dave

    This is a great interview and the significance of Mr. Jones’ existance in the history of the Beatles cannot be denied. He appears to be a modest individual. Certainly he has considered the chain of events could have been drasticly different had he not been part of the picture?

  6. mr. Sun king coming together

    Not necessarily Dave. Bob Wooler was promoting the single quite a bit in the Cavern so it is probable that someone would have ordered the record eventually, is it not?

  7. James Percival

    As an academic and historian, as well as being a huge Beatles fan, this story hightlights well the problems facing any agreed or ‘true’ account of the Beatles’ incredible story.
    I once saw Alistair Taylor at a Beatles convention (1991), and he struck me as being as a slightly histrionic figure then. Having read nearly all the memoirs of Beatle friends and associates, it seems many of them were as affected by fame as the Beatles themselves. Certainly there is a lot of self promotion in many of the accounts.
    So it is more than welcome to read an account that blows away the myths and self promotion, although I had already read Spencer Leigh’s account in Mojo so it wasn’t entirely new to me.
    Brilliant stuff, and thank you Raymond!

    1. Raymond Jones

      Hello James its good to have read that you thought Alistair Taylor was slightly histrionic. You will most probably have read my account of the story but, if I can help you with any questions you may have I will certainly try to answer them.
      Regards,
      Raymond Jones

      1. James Percival

        Hi Raymond
        Sorry to take so long in replying, but I haven’t been back on the site for a while.
        I’d love to write an authoritative account of the early history of the Beatles, or more realistically an overview of the books that have been written about them, but I have research projects lined up for about the next 5 years so I doubt it will happen. What just occurred to me is that you ought to be in touch with Mark Lewisohn who has been commissioned to write the definite history, just so you can set this story straight, as well as providing more detail about those important and formative years the Bealtes had just before they made it big. I don’t know him myself, but if I can get in touch with him via his publisher would you be interested? Does anyone have contact details for Lewisohn?

        1. Joe Post author

          I sent Mark a link to this interview but I don’t know if he saw it – I never received a reply. The first volume of his Beatles biography is complete though.

          1. Raymond Jones

            Hello Once again James,

            I would be delighted if my story is included in Mark Lewishon’s Beatles Biography. All I want is the actual truth to be told. I will help him anyway I can.

      2. jamesaway

        Hi Raymond, I’ve just read the interview you’ve done here, Im totally blown away by the fact they attempted to fabricate what they did about your existence, its just incredible really, I just wanted to ask you what you actually thought of the boys themselves, did they stand out above the rest of the groups a lot? and if so what was it that particularly grabbed you with the live music they produced?Im a musician myself and a big fan of that scene in Liverpool at the time, I also realise that the beatles were also one of many groups playing hard around Merseyside at the time, for someone like yourself to pick up on them above other groups is interesting, you obviously had to hold down your job and fit the performances in when you could, it must have been a real buzz! incidentally, you mentioned seeing George in having a drink with his dad, did you ever see John around town and if so where would he hang out, the pub in dale street maybe too?Ive been to the grapes but Im sure they went else where too! Thanks for being so open about your experience you really have put the story finally into place and I understand you wanting to remain quiet all those years too, it does seem many associated with the beatles story can end up sad figures, you obviously are not and good on you for it all! Best wishes James

  8. Les Swanson

    I have just recently come back from Roda in Spain where I met Raymond Jones, what a facinating guy. He told me some stories that could not be repeated in any books as he couldnt afford to be sued!!
    He is now a sprightly 71 years old now and I am going back out in a few months to meet him for a few beers and listen to more of his fantastic srories

  9. Kayleigh Johnson

    Raymond Jones is my uncle and Kenny Johnson is my Grandad, I recently found this page and story as my grandad Kenny sadly passed away recently and I am so moved and amazed by this story and what a great piece of family history for me to have and cherish forever thankyou Love Kayleigh x

  10. Terry Hurley

    I have loved reading all these comments. Kayleigh – you are part of an incredible story – I am sorry about your Grandad.

    To Raymond – thank you for your comments. I met Bob Wooler loads of times in the 1980s and always, always thought he was the real deal. Now I know you are too!

  11. Sammy P

    Well I have to say I’m not totally convinced either way. If I was the real Raymond Jones I’m pretty sure I’d have a rough idea what happened to my copy of such a monumental record / book. I can see motive for Taylor not wishing to explode the myth until later years but unsure why some until now unknown would hold back for so many years since first appearing on radio (if he actually did) Maybe we’ll never get to know the ultimate truth. Shame really but interesting stories either way.

    1. Joe Post author

      For what it’s worth, Mark Lewisohn calls Raymond Jones’ story “verifiably accurate” in his new Beatles biography. And I contacted Spencer Leigh (BBC Radio Merseyside) before interviewing Ray, to check that he was the real deal. He confirmed everything was genuine, including the radio appearance.

      1. Sammy

        Way too many inconsistencies and holes in both Taylor’s and Jones’ accounts. Shame there is no hard evidence backing up either story – where is the signed book and single? How did the letter from NEMS to neighbour become separated from them and ‘saved’? Suppose we’ll never know.

  12. Bob de Jong

    Strange, there is no trace that Kenny Johnson ever played with Mark Peters and the Cyclones . I’ve found 4 different lead guitar players in that group, but not Kenny Johnson (aka Sonny Webb).

  13. Norton

    Often wondered if this is the same guy we’d often meet on Prescot Road and knew as ‘Record Ray’. Also, does anyone know if George Harrison ( ‘ Az ‘ ) ever recorded “Dream ( when you’re feeling blue” ) , as he often sang it when I asked him to give my girlfriend a mention.

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