I am currently in hog heaven. Only halfway through the first of Mark Lewisohn’s three-volume biography of the Beatles. And not just the bog standard one, the full extended special edition. So that means everything that is currently known about the Beatles. From the names of their great-grandparents to the final dissolution of the band. Anyone I try to describe it to goes slightly glassy-eyed and tries to move the conversation on. I understand. It would be like finding yourself in a conversation with a trainspotter.
But now I know that the Quarrymen were beaten in a talent competition by a woman playing spoons; that the second tune Paul McCartney ever wrote as a just-turned 14-year-old was the one that later went on to be When I’m Sixty-Four; I know the makes of every stupid cheap guitar they ever bought or played. And all described with a fantastic pedantry. This is from the description of their first trip to Hamburg in 1960:
George, speaking of the unforgettable occasion he lost his virginity, clearly describes John, Paul and Pete being in the room at the same time, in bunk beds, (but this) was the 1961 situation.
Good. Just so we’re clear.
But the thing that absolutely comes through is their blind persistence. Widely regarded as one of the worst bands in Liverpool, by those who had even heard of them, they just kept going. There is testimony from Howie Casey, a member of a rival British band in Hamburg, who went along to see them to check they were as crap as he’d remembered them from the year before.
My jaw went to the floor. There was such a difference from what I’d seen at the audition. There was something there, a spark that extra little bit. We did a bit of harmony singing but they were marvellous at it. They were stunning. You knew they were going to go places.
Not only did they persist, they took every opportunity to improve. Stuck in the out-of-the-way Indra Club off the Reeperbahn, they developed a way of drawing people in to see them, by targeting newcomers when they looked in to see what was happening. And the frequent fights in the audience? Where other bands would have stopped, their policy was, play louder.
I am fascinated by musicians, writers, comedians, who start at a level of incompetence and go on to succeed. Perhaps I’ll give more examples another time.
Oh, and Japage 3 was one of the many names they went through before they got to The Beatles, constructed from the names John, Paul, George. I know, I know, I can see you backing away already…