In April 1961 The Beatles returned to Hamburg. There they were recruited to perform as Tony Sheridan’s backing band on a series of recordings for Polydor, and signed a contract with bandleader Bert Kaempfert. Among the songs recorded was ‘My Bonnie’, which was released as a single in October 1961 under the name Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers.
Best was a close friend of Neil Aspinall. After leaving school, where he knew Harrison and McCartney, Aspinall moved into Mona Best’s house. Pete suggested to the group that Aspinall be hired as The Beatles’ driver, at a rate of £7 a week. Aspinall was also in a relationship with Mona Best; their son Vincent ‘Roag’ Best was born on 21 July 1962.
After Brian Epstein became The Beatles’ manager in early 1962, he arranged for them to audition for George Martin at EMI Studios in Abbey Road, London. At the end of the session, which took place on 6 June 1962, Martin listened to the four songs recorded. He decided that the group were likeable but Best’s drumming was substandard.
George Martin was used to drummers being very ‘in time’, because all the big-band session drummers he used had a great sense of time. Now, our Liverpool drummers had a sense of spirit, emotion, economy even, but not a deadly sense of time. This would bother producers making a record. George took us to one side and said, ‘I’m really unhappy with the drummer. Would you consider changing him?’ We said, ‘No, we can’t!’ It was one of those terrible things you go through as kids. Can we betray him? No. But our career was on the line. Maybe they were going to cancel our contract.
It was a big issue at the time, how we ‘dumped’ Pete. And I do feel sorry for him, because of what he could have been on to; but as far as we were concerned, it was strictly a professional decision. If he wasn’t up to the mark – slightly in our eyes, and definitely in the producer’s eyes – then there was no choice. But it was still very difficult. It is one of the most difficult things we ever had to do.
On 24 June 1962 Mona Best closed the Casbah Coffee Club; The Beatles were the last group to perform there. The venue was later reopened as a tourist attraction.
This myth built up over the years that he was great and Paul was jealous of him because he was pretty and all that crap. They didn’t get on that much together, but it was partly because Pete was a bit slow. He was a harmless guy, but he was not quick. All of us had quick minds but he never picked that up.
Epstein and The Beatles didn’t tell Pete Best about George Martin’s offer of a Parlophone contract in July. For his part, Martin later claimed the decision to exclude Best wasn’t his.
I never suggested that Pete Best must go. All I said was that for the purposes of the Beatles’ first record I would rather use a session man. I never thought that Brian Epstein would let him go. He seemed to be the most saleable commodity as far as looks went. It was a surprise when I learned that they had dropped Pete. The drums were important to me for a record, but they didn’t matter much otherwise. Fans don’t pay particular attention to the quality of the drumming.
On 15 August 1962 Best received a call at his home from Brian Epstein.
He said he wanted to see me [in his Whitechapel office] tomorrow morning at 11.30. That was nothing unusual. He’d often ask me things about halls or bookings that I knew from the time when I’d been handling the dates.
I went bouncing into Brian’s office. As soon as I saw him, I could tell there was something up. He said: ‘The boys want you out of the group. They don’t think you’re a good enough drummer.’ I said, ‘It’s taken them two years to find out I’m not a good enough drummer.’ While I was standing there, the phone rang on Brian’s desk. It was Paul, asking if I’d been told yet. Brian said, ‘I can’t talk now, Peter’s here with me in the office.’
I went outside and told Neil. He said, ‘Right then, that’s it. I’m out as well.’ Brian followed me and asked me if I’d still play the dates in Chester as they wouldn’t be able to get a replacement drummer in time. I said OK, I would. We went outside, and Neil went straight away to ring home and tell Mo about it. I just went off and had a few pints – numb, I’d been cut and dried and hung out on the line.
Shout!, Philip Norman
Neil Aspinall was furious at the news and threatened to stop working with The Beatles, but Best persuaded him to stay on. He did, however, end his relationship with Mona shortly afterwards.
Neil Aspinall was really friendly with Pete Best and his family and so for a while he wouldn’t set my kit up. This lasted for a few weeks, but he got over it. He was all we had; he was driving the van, setting up the gear and everything, and he was a little miffed.