Following their audition for Carroll Levis’ TV Star Search in October 1958, Johnny and the Moondogs were invited back to Manchester’s Ardwick Hippodrome for to appear in the stage show.
A letter was sent to George Harrison’s home inviting them to perform on one night in the week commencing Monday 24 November 1958. The show was presented by Levis, and the compere was Jackie Collins.
The group travelled to Manchester by train. Heavy industrial fog made visibility poor, and the audience numbers at the show were well below capacity. Nonetheless, hopes were high: success at the event would guarantee them a television appearance and resulting fame.
Johnny and the Moondogs were one of many acts appearing that night. They included Ricky & Dane, whose real names were Allan Clarke and Graham Nash, later of The Hollies.
John Lennon had stolen a guitar at their previous audition, but did not bring it on this occasion for fear of it being spotted. Instead, he stood in between Harrison and Paul McCartney, slightly behind them with his arms around their shoulders as they played.
They performed just one song, a version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Think It Over’. Afterwards they were required to wait backstage before the winner was announced, with voting based on a ‘clapometer’ registering audience applause.
I don’t know that anybody was ever discovered on that programme, and nobody ever won anything. You keep going on and on and on, whilst he solid tickers to the theatres with lots of free artists performing. At the end of the show the clapometer would tell you who had won, and the next week there’d be another show.
We were doing the show in Manchester, under the name of Johnny and the Moondogs. This was a period when John didn’t have any guitar. I think his ‘guaranteed not to split’ guitar must have done so. We performed ‘Think It Over’ with John standing in the middle with no guitar, just singing with a hand on each of our shoulders. Paul and I were on our guitars – one pointing this way, one that way – doing the back-up voices. We thought we were really good, but because we had to catch the last train back to Liverpool we didn’t have time to hang around and wait to see if the clapometer registered anything for us.
The group rushed back to Liverpool on the last train from Manchester Central, prior to the results being cast. As a result they missed out on the possibility of being discovered by Levis.
They were cross about it. We didn’t actually wreck the train carriage on the way back but we jumped about and spat on the mirror, 1950s petty vandalism. It wasn’t quite ‘tearing up the seats’ but someone would have had to go in and clean up after us.
Tune In, Mark Lewisohn
The Hippodrome was built as the Ardwick Empire Theatre in 1904 by renowned architect Frank Matcham. In 1935 it was refurbished and renamed the New Manchester Hippodrome. The building was demolished in 1964.
The precise date of the Moondogs’ appearance is unknown. At the time it was unusual for live music events to be held on a Sunday, a day when shops, cinemas and theatres were normally closed across the land.
Furthermore, for many years it was believed that the group auditioned for Levis in Liverpool in 1959 – as stated by Harrison in Anthology and by Cynthia Lennon in John. However, according to Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In they only entered the contest in Manchester in 1957 and 1958.
By this time John, Paul and George had renamed themselves Johnny and the Moondogs and their hopes were high, but they came back despondent: they had failed the audition, mainly because they lacked a drummer. It was a setback, but it didn’t put them off. When something didn’t work out John would be down for a day or so, then he’d carry on, determined to be the best and to show anyone who didn’t believe in the group how wrong they’d been.
Also on this day...
- 2011: Paul McCartney live: Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, Paris, France
- 2009: Nowhere Boy screening at Studio Two, Abbey Road Studios
- 1973: UK album release: Band On The Run by Paul McCartney and Wings
- 1970: UK album release: All Things Must Pass by George Harrison
- 1965: Mixing: 12-Bar Original
- 1965: Radio: Pop Profile
- 1964: Ringo Starr is interviewed by Melody Maker
- 1964: Brian Epstein appears on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs
- 1963: Live: Empire Theatre, Sunderland
- 1962: Live: Town Hall, Newton-le-Willows
- 1962: Mixing: Please Please Me, Ask Me Why
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
- 1960: Paul McCartney and Pete Best are deported from Germany
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.