The Quarrymen (circa late 1956—October 1959/1997—present) are an English Skiffle band that was formed in Liverpool in the latter part of 1956, by John Lennon and several school friends. The band's name was inspired by the name of the Quarry Bank High school, which Lennon and other band members attended. Lennon's mother, Julia Lennon, taught Lennon and Eric Griffiths how to tune their guitars the same way as a banjo, taught them simple chords, and songs.
After starting a band called The Blackjacks, Pete Shotton suggested renaming themselves The Quarrymen, after a line in the Quarry Bank school's song. The Quarrymen played at parties, school dances, a cinema, and amateur skiffle contests before Paul McCartney joined the band. George Harrison only joined the band at McCartney's insistence, as Lennon thought Harrison to be far too young. Their first recording on disc was "That'll Be the Day" (by Buddy Holly) and "In Spite of All the Danger" (by McCartney and Harrison).
After Stuart Sutcliffe joined he suggested renaming them The Beatals, but they changed the name to The Silver Beetles, and then The Silver Beats, before finally changing it to The Beatles in 1960. At the 40th anniversary of the first meeting of Lennon and McCartney, five of the original Quarrymen, (Griffiths, Shotton, Rod Davis, Len Garry, John Duff Lowe, and Colin Hanton) reunited to play together at the St. Peter's Church garden fête, which was where Lennon and McCartney first met. The Original Quarrymen still continue to tour internationally with occasional guest performers.
When Lennon wanted to try making music himself, he and fellow Quarry Bank school friend, Griffiths, took guitar lessons in Hunt's Cross, Liverpool, although Lennon gave up the lessons soon after, as they were based on theory and not actual playing. As Griffiths already knew how to play the banjo, Lennon's mother showed them how to tune the top four strings of their guitars to the same notes as a banjo, taught them the chords of D, C, and D7, and the song, "Ain't That a Shame". They practiced at Lennon's aunt's house (called Mendips) at 251 Menlove Avenue, or at Griffiths' house in Halewood Drive. They learned how to play Rock Island Line, "Pick a Bale of Cotton", "Alabamy Bound", and Cumberland Gap, and later learned how to play "That's All Right (Mama)", and "Mean Woman Blues".
Lennon started his own skiffle band with Griffiths in late 1956, and recruited his best friend, Shotton, even though Shotton could not play any instrument. Shotton elected to play the washboard, as it was the easiest instrument to learn, so his mother supplied a washboard she found in the shed, and two thimbles from her sewing box. A week later Shotton recruited another school friend, Bill Smith, to play washtub bass, and Griffiths invited banjo-player Davis to join the band. Two weeks later they heard that another skiffle band already had the same name, so during a "mini-brainstorming" at Mendips, Shotton laughingly suggested naming themselves The Quarrymen after a line in their school's song: "Quarrymen, old before our birth / Straining each muscle and sinew", as they had never done much work at school.
Whilst playing golf with Dr. Joseph Sytner, Whalley—who had left school at 15 to become an apprentice golf professional at the Lee Park Golf Club—asked Dr. Sytner if his son, Alan, could book The Quarrymen at The Cavern, in Mathew Street, which was one of three jazz clubs he managed. Sytner suggested that the band should play at the golf club first, so as to assess their talent. The band set up in the downstairs lounge of the golf club, and were surprised when nearly one hundred people filed in to listen. Just before the performance the zip on Davis' trousers broke, and he had to cover his crotch with his banjo. The performance was a success, and a hat was later passed around that held almost 15 pounds, which was much more than any other bands were paid. Alan Sytner phoned Whalley a week later and offered the band an interlude spot playing skiffle between the performances of two jazz bands at The Cavern. Before The Cavern performance, The Quarrymen played (gratis) for St. Peter's Youth Club, in St. Barnabas Church hall, and were the main act at a Quarry Bank school dance.During this time Lennon heard Little Richard singing "Long Tall Sally" for the first time at classmate Michael Hill's house near Penny Lane, and thought Richard a better singer than Elvis. Even so, the band learned how to play numerous Elvis songs such as, "Don't Be Cruel, "All Shook Up", and "Heartbreak Hotel", as well as songs by Eddie Cochran, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Before The Cavern club performance the band argued amongst themselves about the set list, as rock 'n roll songs were definitely not allowed at the club, but skiffle was tolerated. After starting with a skiffle song, Lennon called for the others to start playing "Don't Be Cruel", but Davis warned Lennon that the audience would "eat you alive", which Lennon ignored and started playing it himself, forcing the others to join in. Halfway through, Sytner pushed his way through the audience and handed Lennon a note which read, "Cut out the bloody rock 'n roll". After playing at an outdoor birthday party at Hanton's aunt's house, Shotton decided to leave the band, saying "I hate this John, it's not for me". Lennon promptly picked up the washboard and smashed it over Shotton's head, leaving only the wooden frame hanging on Shotton's shoulders, and then said, "Well, that solves that then, doesn't it?" At Lennon's insistence, Shotton agreed to play a few more engagements (with his repaired washboard) before finally leaving. On 22 June 1957, The Quarrymen played two sets on a stationary flatbed truck at an outdoor party in Rosebery Street, Liverpool, to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the granting of Liverpool’s charter by King John, which was their first full performance.
On Saturday 6 July 1957, The Quarrymen played at St. Peter's Church "Rose Queen" garden fête, first playing at two o'clock on the back of a moving flatbed truck, in a procession of other floats driving around Woolton that carried the Rose Queen (Sally Wright, and Susan Dixon, whose reign was ending) Morris dancers, Boy Scouts, Brownies, Girl Guides and Cubs, with the Band of the Cheshire Yeomanry leading the procession. At 4:15 The Quarrymen played onstage in a field behind the church, before a display by the City of Liverpool Police Dogs. The Quarrymen were playing "Come Go with Me" when McCartney arrived, and in the Scout hut after the set, Vaughan introduced McCartney to Lennon, who chatted for a few minutes before the band set up in the church hall for the second set. McCartney demonstrated how he tuned his guitar and sang Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock" and Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula", and a medley of Little Richard songs. Vaughan and McCartney left before the evening show, which started at 8 o'clock, but was without Hanton. During the performance there was an unexpected thunderstorm, which made the lights go out. Bob Molyneux, a young member of the audience, recorded part of the performance on his Grundig TK8 portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. In 1963, Molyneux offered the tape to Lennon via Ringo Starr, but Lennon never responded, so Molyneux put the tape in a vault.
As they were walking home after the evening performance, Lennon and Shotton discussed the afternoon encounter with McCartney, and Lennon said that maybe they should invite McCartney to join the band. Two weeks later Shotton encountered McCartney cycling through Woolton, and conveyed Lennon's casual invitation for McCartney to join The Quarrymen, and Vaughan also invited McCartney to join. McCartney said he would join after Scout camp in Hathersage, and a holiday with his family at Butlins holiday camp in Filey, Yorkshire. In the summer, Davis went on holiday to Annecy, France, and when he returned he indirectly found that he had been replaced by McCartney; although whilst later studying at Cambridge University, Davis recorded the song "Running Shoes" with The Trad Grads in 1960, for Decca Records (Decca, 45-F 11403) which he mentioned to an envious Lennon.
McCartney returned from holiday and started rehearsing with The Quarrymen, playing songs like, "Bye Bye Love" (The Everly Brothers) and "All Shook Up", which Lennon and the band had been trying to learn, without success. McCartney made his debut at a Conservative Club social: The New Clubmoor Hall, Back Broadway, Norris Green, Liverpool, on Friday, 18 October 1957. Lennon and McCartney wore cream-coloured sports jackets, which were paid for by the whole band—Whalley collected half a crown per week from each member until they were paid for—and the others wore white shirts with tassels and black bootlace ties. To the irritation of the other band members, McCartney endlessly practiced the lead guitar intro to "Raunchy" (by saxophonist Bill Justis) for days before the engagement, and a solo in "Guitar Boogie Shuffle", but on the night (after being specially introduced by Lennon as a new member of the band) he missed his cue on "Raunchy", played all the wrong notes, and stepped back in embarrassment between Hanton and Garry. Everyone expected Lennon to say something sarcastic, but the sight of the always over-confident McCartney looking so crestfallen made Lennon laugh out loud so much that he "almost pissed [urinated] himself". On Thursday, 7 November, Charlie McBain booked The Quarrymen to appear at the Wilson Hall Garston, Merseyside.
In March, Garry contracted meningitis, and spent seven months in Fazakerley hospital, but never played with the band again. Sometime later McCartney played his first song, "I've Lost My Little Girl", to Lennon, who was shocked and impressed, according to Shotton's account. The Quarrymen learned many of The Everly Brothers songs which helped to refine Lennon and McCartney's own harmony singing, such as, "Cathy's Clown, "All I Have to Do Is Dream", "Wake Up Little Susie", and even B-sides of the records.
Griffiths joined the Merchant Marine after leaving the band—visiting ports in South America and Canada—and upon his return to Liverpool he would either sell or swap records by Buddy Holly or Chuck Berry with Lennon or McCartney. According to McCartney it was Holly who inspired Lennon and himself to write more songs, as Holly wrote his own, instead of relying on a team of songwriters. Only two of the songs Lennon and McCartney wrote at that time were later recorded: "One After 909" (on Let It Be) and "Like Dreamers Do", which was a hit for The Applejacks in 1964. Duff Lowe (another schoolmate of McCartney's) then joined the band, playing piano with them through the summer of 1958, whenever a piano was available at a venue.
The Quarrymen booked the studio, but when Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Lowe and Hanton arrived they were surprised to see how small and technically basic it was, with one solitary microphone in the centre of the room. Phillips demanded that they pay for the recording before they set up the equipment, so each member paid 3 shillings and 6 pence, but Phillips then asked for an extra surcharge to cover the cost of transferring the tape recording to disc. As this was too expensive, Phillips said that for a cut-rate price they would not be taped first, but record directly to vinyl. "That'll Be the Day", was selected to be recorded, but Lennon and McCartney could not decide on a song for the B-side of the disc. After recording "That'll Be the Day" (Lennon suggested that Hanton put a scarf over the snare drum to lower the volume) Phillips wanted them to immediately record the next song. They asked for some time to rehearse, but Phillips refused, saying, "For seventeen and six 17/6d] you're not here all day". McCartney suggested "In Spite of All the Danger" (by McCartney and Harrison) even though Lowe and Hanton had never heard it before. Lowe and Hanton busked through the song, and Phillips then handed the band a fragile 78rpm record, which was passed around the band for one week each, or lent out to friends. It was later lost until Lowe rediscovered it in 1981, and sold it to McCartney for an undisclosed amount.
Lennon and McCartney continued to write songs together, but as no engagements were forthcoming, Harrison asked to join Storm's Tornados, but Storm's mother refused, saying Harrison was far too young. Harrison then joined The Les Stewart Quartet with Les Stewart, guitarist Ken Brown, and a young man known only as Skinner. Mona Best opened The Casbah Coffee Club on 29 August 1959, and Brown arranged for the quartet to be its resident band. When Brown missed rehearsals to help decorate The Casbah, Stewart refused to play. Brown and Harrison recruited Lennon and McCartney at short notice to help them fill the residency, and used the old name of The Quarrymen. They played a series of seven Saturday night engagements in The Casbah for 15 shillings each per night, starting on 29 August to October 1959, featuring Brown, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, but without a drummer, and only one microphone connected to the club's small PA system. The opening night performance was attended by about 300 local teenagers, but as the cellar had no air-conditioning and people were dancing, the temperature rose until it became hard to breathe.
After the success of the first night, Mona gave The Quarrymen a residency, but as there was no amplification, Lennon persuaded Mona to hire a young amateur guitar player called Harry to play a short set before The Quarrymen, but this was only so they could use his 40-Watt amplifier. On 10 October, there was an argument between the band and Best over the group's fee for performing in The Casbah that night. Brown had showed up at the gig, but was too ill to perform, so Best told him to rest upstairs in the Best's living room. She later insisted that Brown deserved to be paid for showing up, but the rest of the band insisted on being paid his share of the group's fee. After an argument The Quarrymen walked out of The Casbah and ended their residency.
As the first prize was a TV appearance on Carrol Levis' Discoveries TV show, the band entered the Star Search competition as Johnny and The Moondogs, with only Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. The first heat was held at the Liverpool Empire Theatre on 18 October 1959, and after they passed the audition they were asked to play at the Manchester Hippodrome for the local finals, on Sunday 15 November 1959. This date has been disputed as being Monday 24 November, as UK theatres were closed on Sundays in those days. According to Ray Ennis of The Swinging Bluegenes (later called The Swinging Blue Jeans) the registration process in Manchester took all day, as there was a queue of musicians carrying amplifiers and instruments that stretched all the way around the building. Lennon (without a guitar), McCartney, and Harrison played Buddy Holly's "Think It Over", but the last train or bus left for Liverpool at 9:47, and at 9:20 there were still 12 acts still to perform. As the trio only had £1 between them, it was impossible to stay any longer. As they were leaving, Lennon saw a cutaway electric guitar by the stage door, picked it up and walked off with it, later saying that the trip "wasn't a total loss." During the school holidays of 1960, Lennon and McCartney performed together twice as The Nerk Twins, after hitchhiking to The Fox and Hounds pub in Caversham, Reading, which was managed by Mike Robbins and his wife Elizabeth (McCartney's cousin). Robbins had previously been in a group called The Jones Boys, and told stories to Lennon and McCartney about show business. Lennon and McCartney worked in the bar for the whole week for £5 each, performing on Saturday 23 April 1960, and again on Sunday, before returning to Liverpool.
Griffiths, Shotton, Davis, Garry, and Hanton reunited for the occasion and undertook rehearsals in Liverpool in early June. The re-creation of the events from 1957 included a midday procession through the village with the band playing on the back of a flatbed lorry, which was driven by the same driver who had performed this task in 1957. A faithful re-creation of the afternoon concert behind the church featured The Quarrymen performing many of the same songs they had performed in 1957. At the re-creation of the evening concert in the Church Hall the group's set included "Puttin' on the Style" which Molyneux had recorded 40 years earlier. They also played "Twenty Flight Rock"; the Eddie Cochran song that McCartney had performed to impress Lennon when they first met. The concert ended with a performance of Lennon's Imagine sung by Shotton, who had stayed friends with Lennon till the latter's death in 1980. The anniversary was saluted with a series of personal messages and congratulatory messages from McCartney, Yoko Ono, US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Her Majesty The Queen. There was also an anniversary event celebrating 50 years in 2007.
Griffiths died from cancer on 29 January 2005, after complaining about a back problem that turned out to be cancer of the pancreas. He died at his home in Edinburgh.
Get Back, Get Back to When It All Began; the Quarrymen, by Hunter Davies (Omnibus, Pounds 12.95). Reviewed by Andrew Cowen
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