Author:Colin Hanton with Colin Hall
I recently spent some time in Liverpool exploring the Beatles related sites, and was lucky enough to do the taxi tour with someone who really knew his stuff and who took us to places that the bus tour never visits. We stopped off in Penny Lane (of course) and he took us to the Community Centre (where the Quarry Men did play when the building had a former guise) and there is a terrific shop displaying memorabilia and selling Beatles related stuff (I even handled a Quarry Men guitar!). The guide pointed me to a book which had recently been published, and it was signed by the author – Colin Hanton – and I bought it by way of a souvenir as much as anything. You quickly realise that the Beatles had essentially gone by late 1963, so I became really interested in those early, pre-fame, days.
A couple of weeks ago I picked it up and, once started, I couldn’t put it down. I have loads of Beatle books, but this has the distinction of being the first hand memories of drummer Colin, who bothered his parents for a drum kit and found that was a way into a band (drum kits were rare!) – he became a friend of John in the early skiffle days, and was there as they recruited first Paul and then George into the band – at one point he was the fourth in THAT four piece. The Quarry Men period is generally acknowledged in Beatle books, but to me it was always just a few names that came and went before they changed their name and went to Hamburg. This book adds a lot of detail and brings those years alive. I won’t spoil the surprises, but he disputes the accepted first meeting place of John and Paul, corrects some of Paul’s published reminiscences, and disproves some of the dates and events in some earlier Beatles books. However, the real value here is the picture it paints of a (changing) group of young lads who are determined to play music. It was always John’s band, and the drive he had to make them better shines through the pages, and also the fascinating shift from a skiffle band to rock and roll as they slowly abandon home made instruments for proper guitars and drums.
There are things I’d never really thought about – no one had a car and they went everywhere on buses, lugging the drums into the luggage space under the stairs and strumming guitars upstairs (and they didn’t have cases for them) – everything was acoustic and it was years before they had a microphone to sing into – they rehearsed at each other’s houses, and they owed a huge debt to understanding parents (John’s Mum Julia had rock and roll records and she was quite the character – Jim McCartney didn’t like the Americanisms, but encouraged John and Paul no end).
Of course, the crux of the book is when Paul gets introduced to John in 1957 – everything changed after he joined, but it’s amusing that he couldn’t join straight away because of a family holiday and scout camp – it’s easy to forget they were just boys! It is fascinating to read first hand what Paul brought with him and how John accepted him as (almost) an equal in the band. I have found myself thinking about what would have happened to the Quarry Men if they hadn’t met – it was clear John had the rock and roll chops, but would he have written anything if Paul hadn’t been there? There were loads of groups in Liverpool with good singers – maybe he would have just been another one of them.
Colin Hanton was a little older than the rest of them and had a proper job – by the time George joined, he was the only one who worked while the other three were students and hung out at the Liverpool Institute and the Art College. Again, no spoilers, but this was at the heart of them losing their first drummer. Colin has no bad feelings about not being part of their later fame and clearly enjoys sharing his part of their story – this is a lovely, affectionate and entertaining read.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Mark Lewisohn’s ‘Tune In’
One thing you’ve learned
‘In Spite Of All The Danger’ was edited for the Anthology version. It was rather long in the original version and only just fitted on a 78 rpm 10″ disc at the time. It is also remarkable to read how that fragile single disc (there was only one) survived down the years.