While setting up their equipment to play, the Quarrymen’s sometime tea-chest bass player, Ivan Vaughan, introduced the band to one of his classmates from Liverpool Institute, the 15-year-old Paul McCartney.
This historic occasion was the first time McCartney met John Lennon, one year his senior. McCartney wore a white jacket with silver flecks, and a pair of black drainpipe trousers.
The pair chatted for a few minutes, and McCartney showed Lennon how to tune a guitar – the instruments owned by Lennon and Griffiths were in G banjo tuning. McCartney then sang Eddie Cochran’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ and Gene Vincent’s ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’, along with a medley of songs by Little Richard.
I remember coming into the fete and seeing all the sideshows. And also hearing all this great music wafting in from this little Tannoy system. It was John and the band.
I remember I was amazed and thought, ‘Oh great’, because I was obviously into the music. I remember John singing a song called ‘Come Go With Me’. He’d heard it on the radio. He didn’t really know the verses, but he knew the chorus. The rest he just made up himself.
I just thought, ‘Well, he looks good, he’s singing well and he seems like a great lead singer to me.’ Of course, he had his glasses off, so he really looked suave. I remember John was good. He was really the only outstanding member, all the rest kind of slipped away.
Lennon was equally impressed with McCartney, who showed natural talent for singing songs that the Quarrymen worked hard to accomplish. McCartney also recalled performing on the church hall piano.
I also knocked around on the backstage piano and that would have been ‘A Whole Lot Of Shakin” by Jerry Lee. That’s when I remember John leaning over, contributing a deft right hand in the upper octaves and surprising me with his beery breath. It’s not that I was shocked, it’s just that I remember this particular detail.
John Lennon, Philip Norman
The particular detail was later recalled by McCartney in his introduction to Lennon’s first book, In His Own Write:
At Woolton village fete I met him. I was a fat schoolboy and, as he leaned an arm on my shoulder, I realised he was drunk. We were twelve then, but, in spite of his sideboards, we went on to become teenage pals.
In His Own Write, John Lennon
The Quarrymen’s set, remarkably, was recorded by an audience member, Bob Molyneux, on his portable Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder. In 1994 Molyneux, then a retired policeman, rediscovered the tape, which contained scratchy recordings of the band performing Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Puttin’ On The Style’ and Elvis Presley’s ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’.
The tape was sold on 15 September 1994 at Sotheby’s for £78,500. At the time it was the most expensive recording ever sold at auction. The winning bidder was EMI Records, who considered it for release as part of the Anthology project, but chose not to as the sound quality was substandard.
To this very day, it still is a complete mystery to me that it happened at all. Would John and I have met some other way, if Ivan and I hadn’t gone to that fête? I’d actually gone along to try and pick up a girl. I’d seen John around – in the chip shop, on the bus, that sort of thing – and thought he looked quite cool, but would we have ever talked? I don’t know. As it happened, though, I had a school friend who knew John. And then I also happened to share a bus journey with George to school. All these small coincidences had to happen to make The Beatles happen, and it does feel like some kind of magic. It’s one of the wonderful lessons about saying yes when life presents these opportunities to you. You never know where they could lead.
And as if all these crazy coincidences weren’t enough, it turns out that someone else who was at the fête had a portable tape machine – one of those old Grundigs. So there’s this recording (admittedly of pretty bad quality) of The Quarry Men’s performance that day. You can listen to it online. And there are also a few photos around of the band on the back of the truck. So, this day that proved to be pretty pivotal in my life still has this presence and exists in these ghosts of the past.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
After the Quarrymen’s show the group, along with Ivan Vaughan and McCartney, went to a Woolton pub where they lied about their ages to get served.
Later on, Lennon and Pete Shotton discussed the young McCartney, and whether to invite him to join their group. For Lennon it was a dilemma – should he admit a talented member who may pose a challenge to his own superiority within the group, or should he persist without McCartney, retaining his leadership yet likely consigning the group to failure?
They decided McCartney would be an asset, and roughly two weeks later Shotton encountered McCartney cycling through Woolton. Paul mulled over the invitation to join, and eventually agreed to join the Quarrymen’s ranks.
Also on this day...
- 2018: Ringo Starr live: Salle des Étoiles Sporting Club, Monte Carlo, Monaco
- 2011: Paul McCartney launches design competition for graphic designers and illustrators
- 2010: Apple Records’ remastered back catalogue to be released
- 1966: The Beatles’ first trip to India
- 1964: World première of A Hard Day’s Night
- 1963: Live: Memorial Hall, Northwich
- 1962: Live: Riverboat Shuffle, MV Royal Iris, River Mersey
- 1961: Mersey Beat launches
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.