The Beatles’ original drummer, Peter Randolph Best was born on 24 November 1941, in Madras, India, and grew up in Liverpool.
His father, John Best, came from a family of Liverpool sports promoters. His mother Mona was born in Delhi, and was the daughter of a British army officer. Both Peter and his younger brother Rory were born in India. In 1945 the family travelled by boat to Liverpool, arriving on 25 December.
Mona Best opened a coffee club in the cellar of their home in Hayman’s Green in the West Derby area of Liverpool. The venue became popular, and hosted some of The Quarrymen’s first performances. Best played drums there with his first band, The Black Jacks.
It was there at a gig in a club in Hayman’s Green in West Derby that I heard about another club being built at number eight Hayman’s Green. I was taken down there and I looked into the cellar that was to become the Casbah. That’s when I first met Pete Best. It was some months later that I remembered Pete and the fact that he had his own drum kit, and got him to join us so we could go to Hamburg.
At the time coffee bars were important meeting places for young people. Mona Best sold coffee, soft drinks and sweets behind a small counter. The Quarrymen helped decorate the Casbah in time for its opening night, at which they performed. They painted the walls with pictures of spiders, dragons, rainbows, stars and a beetle. John Lennon, being short sighted and working without his glasses, mistook gloss for emulsion paint, which was barely dry by the time the club opened.
Pete Best’s mother Mona – a very nice woman, an Anglo-Indian – ran the Casbah in a part of Liverpool, West Derby. We’d started to go round there and we’d ended up painting the place.
It was great to be involved in the birth of a coffee bar – they were such important places then. The concrete and wood in the basement had been stripped and we painted each part a different colour. All of us lent a hand – John and George and all the others. And after we’d painted it up, it was our club – The Beatles used to play there. Pete had a drum kit so he would sometimes sit in with us. He was a good drummer, and when Hamburg came up he joined us. He was a very good-looking guy, and out of all the people in our group, the girls used to go for Pete.
Pete Best’s group The Black Jacks split in 1960. He joined The Beatles on 12 August 1960, the day before their first trip to Hamburg, at the invitation of Paul McCartney.
At the time Best, who had performed well at school, had the chance to go to teacher training college, but decided that performing in Hamburg would be a better option. He was auditioned at the Jacaranda club – owned by Allan Williams, The Beatles’ first manager – although the group had been unable to find other drummers willing to travel to Germany.
The group first played at the Indra club before moving to the Kaiserkeller, and at nights slept in the Bambi Kino cinema. As the only member to have passed his O level German, Best was able to communicate better with the club owner Bruno Koschmider.
Lennon, McCartney and Harrison soon learnt to take Preludin pills to stay awake during the long Hamburg nights. Best, however, declined to join in. His quiet personality and aloofness from the rest of the group meant he tended not to participate in their banter, and he was the only member not to get what would later be known as a Beatle haircut.
I used to get on Pete’s case a bit. He’d often stay out all night. He got to know a stripper and they were boyfriend and girlfriend. She didn’t finish work until four in the morning, so he’d stay up with her and roll back at about ten in the morning and be going to bed when we were starting work. I think that had something to do with a rift starting.
In October 1960 The Beatles moved to the Top Ten Club, run by Peter Eckhorn. In doing so they broke their contract with Koschmider. Upon returning to the Bambi Kino to gather their belongings, Best and McCartney attached a condom to a concrete wall and set fire to it. Koschmider reported them for attempted arson, which led to the pair spending three hours in a Hamburg jail before being deported.
Best and his mother managed to recover the group’s equipment after numerous phone calls after the return to Liverpool. After some weeks The Beatles began to perform once again. One song from this period was Pinwheel Twist, written by McCartney and sung by Pete Best.
Paul wrote the song and asked me to do it. He coupled it with Joey Dee’s hit The Peppermint Twist. I used to get up and do the twist on stage and Paul played my drums. It was a little novelty act and it went down well with the fans.
Of the members of The Beatles, Pete Best was the most popular with the girls in their audiences. Other songs said to have been sung by him during this time are Boys, Matchbox and Wild In The Country. Despite the attention and popularity, however, Best felt uncomfortable being centre stage.