|John Lennon, checked shirt, playing at The Woolton Village Fete on July 6, 1957.|
On July 6, 1957, a 15-year-old boy named Paul McCartney rode his bike to a church fair to see The Quarry Men, a group fronted by a 16-year-old boy named John Lennon.
There have been many versions of this fabled meeting, 60 years ago today.
The most complete telling of the event comes from Jim O'Donnell's 1994 book, The Day John Met Paul, which takes you through the entire day like a well-paced novel:
It's 4:28 P.M. About ten minutes into the Quarry Men show, the high-spirited, high-haired teenager from Allerton, Paul McCartney, arrives on his bike at the church field. He leans the bike against the fence. The cologne of freshly baked cakes grazes his nose. There is a moderate breeze. The afternoon sky is toneless. The sun gilds the area every few minutes. The teenager wonders about the music he's hearing. It's definitely not the standard fare for a church fair, at least no church fair that he has ever been to.
McCartney walks into the big open field. In today's Liverpool Echo, this is the teenage John Lennon's Libra horoscope: 'All sorts of things come into the open today.' The horoscope continues: 'The whole week is good for learning where you stand & how you can best achieve your aims. A little quiet thinking out will be all to the good.'
Good stuff no doubt, but I also like the short, simple words that Pete Shotton, a childhood friend of Lennon who played washboard in The Quarry Men on that fateful day, had to say:
'This is John.' 'Hi.' 'This is Paul.' 'Oh--hi.' Paul seemed quite cocky, sure of himself, but he & John didn't seem to have much to say...[Paul] actually knew how to tune a guitar. Neither John nor [Quarry Men guitarist] Eric Griffiths had learned how to do that yet. Whenever their guitars went out of tune, they'd been taking them around & asking a fellow in King's Drive to do it.
But with all due respect to historians like O'Donnell & eyewitnesses like Shotton, this is a story about John & Paul, & a day that would change their lives forever more than anyone else's. So I think it is most appropriate to hear what happened in their words.
The following quotes are taken from The Beatles Anthology book, woven together & lightly edited by myself.
It felt most appropriate to put John & Paul in conversation with each other, since their partnership was, in a very real way, an extended conversation itself.
* * *
JOHN: "It was through Ivan [Vaughan, part-time bassist for The Quarry Men] that I first met Paul. Seems that he knew Paul was always dickering around in music and thought he would be a good lad to have in the group. So one day, when we were playing at Woolton, he brought him along."
PAUL: "Ivan Vaughan was a friend of mine born on exactly the same day as me. (He was a smashing fellow, who unfortunately got Parkinson's disease and has died.) Ivan was also mates with John. Ivan said to me one day, 'The Woolton Village Fete is on Saturday'--he lived near John in Woolton--'Do you want to come?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm not doing anything.'
"It was 6th July 1957. We were 15 years old. I remember coming into the fete, there was the coconut shy over here & the hoopla over there, all the usual things--& there was a band playing on a platform with a small audience in front of them."
JOHN: "We can both remember it quite well. The Quarry Men were playing on a raised platform & there was a good crowd because was a warm, sunny day."
PAUL: "We headed for the stage first, because as teenagers, we were interested in music. There was a guy up on the platform with curly, blondish hair, wearing a checked shirt--looking pretty good & quite fashionable--singing a song that I loved: The Del-Vikings' 'Come Go With Me.' He didn't know the words, but it didn't matter because none of us knew the words either. There's a little refrain which goes, 'Come little darlin', come & go with me, I love you darlin'.' John was singing, 'Down, down, down to the penitentiary.' He was filling in with blues lines, I thought that was good, & he was singing well. There was a skiffle group around him: Tea-chest bass, drums, banjo, quite a higgledy-piggledy lot. They were called The Quarry Men because John went to the Quarry Bank school, & I quite liked them."
JOHN: "[It was] the first day I did 'Be Bop A Lula' live on stage. 'Be Bop A Lula' has always been one of my all-time favorites. It was at a church-hall garden fete, and I was performing with a mutual friend of Paul's and mine. Another mutual friend who lived next door brought Paul along & said, 'I think you two will get along.'"
PAUL: "I wandered around the fair & then Ivan & I went backstage. The band were getting ready to move indoors, into the church hall for the evening show. There was some beer being drunk. Really, I was too young for that then, but, 'Sure, I'll have a sip.' I was trying to be in with the big lads who, being 16, were into pre-pub drinking. We went to the evening show & that was good, although a fight almost broke out, we'd heard that the gang from Garston was coming over. I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. I had only come over for the afternoon & now I was in Mafia land, But it all worked out fine, & I got on the piano.
"John was little afternoon-pissed, leaning over my shoulder, breathing boozily. We were all a little sloshed. I thought, 'Bloody hell, who's this?' But he was enjoying what I was playing, 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' in C; & I knew 'Tutti Frutti' & 'Long Tall Sally.' Then I played guitar--upside down. I did 'Twenty Flight Rock,' & I knew all the words. The Quarry Men were so knocked out that I actually knew & could sing 'Twenty Flight Rock.' That's what got me into The Beatles."
JOHN: "We talked after the show & I saw he had talent. He was playing guitar backstage, doing 'Twenty Flight Rock' by Eddie Cochran.
"Paul could play guitar, trumpet & piano. That doesn't mean to say he has a greater talent, but his musical education was better. I could only play the mouth organ & two chords on a guitar when we met. I tuned the guitar like a banjo, so my guitar only had five strings on it. (Paul taught me how to play properly--but I had to learn the chords left-handed, because Paul is left-handed. So I learnt them upside down, & I'd go home & reverse them.) That's what I was doing--playing on stage with a group, playing a five-string guitar like a banjo--when he was brought around from the audience to meet me.
"Paul told me the chords I had been playing weren't real chords--& his dad said that they weren't even banjo chords, though I think they were. He had a good guitar at the time, it cost about 14 pounds. He'd got it in exchange for a trumpet his dad had given him.
"I was very impressed by Paul playing 'Twenty Flight Rock.'"
PAUL: "I knew all the words because me & my mate Ian James had just got them. He & I used to get into all these records & write down the words. 'Twenty Flight Rock' was a hard record to get; I remember ordering it & having to wait weeks for it to come in. We'd buy from Curry's or NEMS. We used to go around shops & ask to hear a record, & then not buy it. They used to get very annoyed but we didn't care--now we knew the words. I never had a very big record collection."
JOHN: "He could obviously play the guitar. I half thought to myself, 'He's as good as me.' I'd been kingpin up to then. Now, I thought, 'If I take him on, what will happen?' It went through my head that I'd have to keep him in line if I let him join. But he was good, so he was worth having. He also looked like Elvis. I dug him."
PAUL: "I often pedaled around Woolton at that time, going to see Ivan. I lived a bike ride away, in Allerton. (You could walk through the golf links, so it was quite handily placed for me & John. It was important then whether you lived near each other or not. There were no cars for kids in those days.) Pete Shotton, who was in The Quarry Men, was cycling around too, & we met by chance. Pete was a close friend of John's. He said, 'Hey Paul, it was good the other day, & we've been having a talk. Would you like to join the group?' I said, 'I'll have to think about it.' But I was quite excited by the offer, so--through Ivan--I agreed to join."
JOHN: "Was it better to have a guy was better than the people I had in? To make the group stronger, or to let me be stronger? Instead of going for an individual thing we went for the strongest format--equals.
"I turned round to him right then on the first meeting & said, 'Do you want to join the group?' & he said 'yes' the next day as I recall it."
* * *
The brash, streetwise Lennon encountering the cool, knowledgeable McCartney formed the epicenter of The Beatles, who in turn formed the epicenter of rock's '60s revolution. What seems obvious in hindsight was revolutionary in its own right, as described by O'Donnell:
It has been one thing for McCartney to hear the music on the radio or on records, or to see it in the movies or on stage, or even to see local bands that fool around with it. But he can tell that this guy isn't fooling around. This music means something to Lennon--& he means business. McCartney holds a sharp eye on this fellow who is in his own age group, in his own city, & playing his own music. It is as if Lennon is incarnating the music for McCartney--rendering the sound waves into something as real as shore waves; taking the notes McCartney hears in each ear & bringing them together into sharp focus behind his eyes, lifting the music off the radio airwaves & putting it into Liverpool air. The deeper mysteries of rock & roll begin to crystallize behind McCartney's long, dark brown eyelashes.
All of which seems to be inherently corroborated in the words of that other great historian, George Harrison:
There was a guy at the Liverpool Institute, Ivan Vaughan, that lived by John, who introduced Paul to him. John already had a reputation, he was the character of his school & he knew it. I met John a little later (I don't recall where) & they asked me join the group, The Quarry Men. John was in art college about this time. I don't know what I felt about him when I first met him; I just thought he was OK. At that age I only wanted to get into music. I think that with anybody you meet who sings or is into music like that, you just buddy with them instantly.
These words seem to confirm that, a full decade before Lennon & McCartney wrote "All You Need Is Love," it was a shared sense of love--for music, for friendship, for brotherhood--that tied these souls together & set the course for the future of rock & roll, 60 years ago today.