Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART ONE. WITH THE BEATLES
Chapter 4. LONDON
The boys put their names to Brian Epstein’s contract in January 1961, Paul’s bold signature countersigned by his dad because he was still under 21. Epstein himself didn’t get around to signing until October, but they had an agreement, one of the stated aims of which was to get the band a recording contract. The Beatles were in fact already under contract to Polydor in Germany, but Brian was determined to get them out of that deal and sign them instead to a major British company. Naturally, he went first to EMI.
‘The greatest recording organisation in the world’, as it liked to be known, Electrical Musical Industries (EMI) had been created in 1931 following the merger of the Gramophone Company and its rival, the Columbia Phonograph Company. EMI was part of the British Establishment, George V having recorded a message to the Empire with the company in 1923, and its subsidiary labels embraced a wide variety of music. His Master’s Voice (HMV), for example - with its famous emblem of a dog listening to an old record player - was celebrated for its classical releases, but the company also remained in touch with popular trends, releasing records by American singers such as Peggy Lee and Gene Vincent, both favourites of Paul.
At the start of his working relationship with the Beatles, Brian sent ‘My Bonnie’ to EMI headquarters in London as a sample of the band’s work, receiving a letter of reply informing him that neither HMV nor the Columbia label wanted to sign his group. It was the first of several slaps in the face, but Brian persisted. He had recently been corresponding with journalist Tony Barrow, who wrote a record review column in the Liverpool Echo as a sideline to composing sleeve-note copy for Britain’s second biggest record company, Decca. This contact led to Brian securing an audition for the Beatles at Decca. It would be in London on New Year’s Day, 1962.
Then, as now, London was more than just the capital of the United Kingdom; the city was the financial, mercantile and creative heart of the nation, to which all roads led. Paul knew that if he meant to make it in show business he had to go ‘down south’, even though southerners had a reputation for being unfriendly and condescending to northerners such as himself. The Beatles’ first professional foray in this direction had been inauspicious. A few weeks before Christmas, Merseyside promoter Sam Leach, having tried and failed to book the band in London proper, got them a gig at the Palais Ballroom in Aldershot, 43 miles west of the capital, but nonetheless ‘a gig down south’. When advertisements for the show failed to appear in the local newspaper, however, a mere 18 people attended. Seeing the funny side, Paul sang ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’. At the end of this absurd evening the boys travelled into the metropolis and took a turn round the clubs of Soho, the bohemian neighbourhood north of Shaftesbury Avenue and south of Oxford Street, a place Paul liked so well he later established his private office there. Three weeks after this first sniff of London air the Beatles headed south again, driven by Neil Aspinall in the band’s newly acquired van. At a time when Britain’s motorway system was only just being constructed, the drive from Liverpool took up to ten hours, made more arduous that New Year’s Eve by snow. The lads arrived in the capital late, checking into the Royal Hotel on Russell Square, sufficiently excited about being in London to rush over to Trafalgar Square where they helped usher in 1962. Hardly had the boys got back to the Royal Hotel than they had to be up again for their audition.
Fifteen songs from the band’s live show had been selected for the Decca audition, including covers and standards such as ‘Three Cool Cats’ and ‘The Sheik of Araby’, which the boys sang with Goon-ish comedic asides. Also showcased were three early and rather weak Lennon-McCartney compositions, including ‘Like Dreamers Do’. Epstein had the say-so in the choice of material and he forbade the boys from playing their usual, much more raucous rock ’n’ roll set (though they did perform one rave-up, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’), and the result was a sadly lacklustre audition, partly because the musicians were nervous and over-tired. Some weeks later Brian went back to Decca to receive the decision. ‘Not to mince words, Mr Epstein, we don’t like your boys’ sound,’ record executive Dick Rowe told Epstein, ensuring his place in history as one of those hapless souls who let the Beatles slip through his hands. Brian gave the Beatles the bad news when he met them on his return at Lime Street station. ‘And Pye have turned us down,’ he added gloomily.
Brian’s family was starting to weary of the Beatles, Mum sighing indulgently when her son insisted that his boys would be ‘bigger than Elvis’, while Dad was concerned that Brian was neglecting his real job running the family’s record outlets. It was therefore with a sense of having one last go that Brian returned to London in February 1962 to have the Decca auction tapes transferred to vinyl, at the HMV shop in Oxford Street, with a view to hawking the discs around town. The technician cutting the discs suggested, in light of the fact Brian’s act wrote their own material, that he might speak to Sid Colman, who worked upstairs for the music publisher Ardmore & Beechwood, itself part of EMI. Brian went to see Colman, explaining that he really needed a record contract before a publishing deal, and Colman suggested Brian contact his friend George Martin at Parlophone. ‘I think he might be very interested indeed.’
Above and beyond talent, timing and luck - three prerequisites in any successful career - a large part of the Beatles’ success, and thereby Paul McCartney’s, can be put down to the fact that the boys worked with first-rate people from the start. Naive though he was, Brian was an honest and devoted manager, while the man who was to become their record producer was an even more impressive fellow without whom the Beatles may not have achieved half of what they did. A tall, lankily handsome man with floppy blond hair, kindly blue eyes and a patient, patrician manner, George Martin was intelligent, sophisticated and cultured. He is the sort of man about whom almost no one has a bad word to say, and indeed almost everybody loves, so we can add that he was also witty, modest, hard-working and dependable, an English gentleman to his fingertips, despite his ordinary background.
Born in 1926, the son of a London carpenter, George transformed himself into ‘an officer and a gentleman’ during the Second World War, in which he served in the Fleet Air Arm. He married shortly after the war and used his serviceman’s grant to study at the Guildhall School of Music. Already a talented pianist, and a composer in the impressionistic style of Debussy, George learned the oboe at the Guildhall. There was a dearth of professional oboists at the time and he hoped proficiency on the instrument would guarantee him a living as a session musician. Playing the oboe proved a thin living, however, and George was employed in the BBC Music Library when he went for a job at EMI in the North London suburb of St John’s Wood.
Back in the 1930s, the Gramophone Company had bought a mansion on the wide residential boulevard of Abbey Road, NW8, building a warren of recording studios behind the stucco façade, the largest of which, Studio One, regularly accommodated Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In fact, countless stars of classical and popular music used the studios, including Sir Edward Elgar, perhaps the greatest British composer of recent times. George became an assistant to the head of Parlophone, originally a small German label that had become part of the EMI empire. His duties varied from producing classical music to making jazz and comedy records for the likes of Spike Milligan, writer and star of the Goons, who became a personal friend of George’s and, later, Paul’s. Martin was promoted to head of Parlophone in 1955, by which time he was known in the industry as the Comedy King. It was not a moniker he relished. Success with comedy records was all very well, but they didn’t lend themselves to follow-ups, and Martin badly wanted to sign a pop act that would enjoy longevity. He put the word out to friends like Sid Colman that he was willing to listen to almost anything, which is what brought Brian Epstein to his door.
Epstein gave Martin a passionate sales pitch about his wonderful young band and the exciting musical renaissance taking place in Liverpool. ‘I almost asked him in reply where Liverpool was,’ Martin later noted, displaying typical London snobbery. ‘The thought of anything coming out of the provinces was extraordinary at that time.’ The men hit it off nonetheless. Although Martin was eight years the senior, Brian’s mature manner made him appear to be of an age with the producer. Moreover both seemed to belong to an older, more formal Britain where men were seldom seen without a jacket and tie, and placed great significance on speaking properly and having good manners. Brian noted that when George Martin listened to the Beatles’ demo disc he rocked gently to and fro to the beat of the music, smiling polite encouragement. Martin wasn’t particularly impressed by what he heard, but he was intrigued by the fact that more than one person was singing, concluding that Paul had the ‘most commercial voice’, and the producer was reassuringly pleasant and polite to everyone. At the end of this cordial meeting, Martin suggested that Brian Epstein bring his group into the studio for an audition when convenient.
AUF WIEDERSEHEN, STU
Before they could audition for EMI, the Beatles had to return to Hamburg to fulfil an engagement at the newly opened Star-Club on Grosse Freiheit. John, Paul and Pete travelled to Hamburg together by plane on 11 April 1962, George, who had been unwell, being due to follow on with Brian. Part of the fun of going back to Germany was seeing Stuart Sutcliffe and his fiancée Astrid Kirchherr again, and sure enough Astrid was at the airport when they arrived. She was not there to greet them, however, but to meet Stu’s mother, Millie, who was flying in from Liverpool because the most dreadful thing had just happened - Stu had died the previous day of a brain haemorrhage.
Since leaving the band, Stuart had lived with Astrid in the penthouse flat at her mother’s house in Altona, studying with the British artist Eduardo Paolozzi, then teaching in Hamburg, developing considerably as a collagist and painter in the abstract expressionist style. Latterly, he painted big, dark canvases that coincided with a severe deterioration in his health. Stuart suffered increasingly from headaches; his mood became erratic and his beautiful handwriting degenerated into a scrawl. He felt tired, and suffered seizures. Tests failed to show what was wrong. On Tuesday 10 April 1962, at Astrid’s flat, Stuart shrieked with pain, collapsed and died. He was 21.
The tragic circumstances of his death have given Stu a posthumous significance he might not otherwise have enjoyed, and there has been a great deal of supposition about the cause of his death and his relationship with the Beatles, some of it wild. In her book, The Beatles’ Shadow, Stuart’s sister Pauline writes that she believes her brother died as a delayed consequence of a kick in the head he’d received from John Lennon during an altercation in Hamburg. In the same book Pauline speculates, sensationally, that John and her brother had a homosexual relationship. ‘I have known in my heart for many years that Stuart and John had a sexual relationship,’ she writes, though she fails to provide any firm evidence. Pauline wonders whether this ‘relationship’ was the real cause of the antagonism between Paul and Stu. Astrid Kirchherr, who is best placed to know the facts, dismisses both the kick in the head and gay sex theories as ‘nonsense’, saying Stuart had an existing physiological condition that simply caught up with him in April 1962. ‘John never, ever raised his hand towards Stuart. Never ever. I can swear that. That’s all Pauline [saying that],’ she says with irritation. ‘The doctor explained it to me that his brain was, in a way, too big for his head - one day it just went click.’
John became hysterical when told Stuart had died. Stu had been his best friend. Not so Paul who, when Mrs Sutcliffe arrived from Liverpool, tried to be consoling, but managed to say the wrong thing, as he had before, and would again when faced with death. ‘My mother died when I was 14,’ he supposedly told the grieving woman, according to Philip Norman’s book Shout!, ‘and I’d forgotten all about her in six months.’ If he really did say this, it can be excused as the sort of gauche comment young people do make at times of crisis, and of course it wasn’t true. Paul often thought about Mary McCartney. As the years passed it became plain that he was very deeply affected by memories of his mother.
The Beatles did not return to Liverpool for Stuart’s funeral. They stayed in Hamburg to play the Star-Club, the newest, biggest rock ’n’ roll venue in St Pauli, which attracted not only two-bit Liverpool bands, but such established American stars as Gene Vincent and Little Richard, heroes whom Paul now found himself rubbing shoulders with in the club’s changing rooms, which like everything else about the Star-Club were superior to the facilities the Beatles had experienced previously in Germany. The Star-Club was the best club the Beatles had played, and the band was correspondingly more professional-looking now that Brian had got them out of their leathers into suits and ties, though they hadn’t lost the elemental, slightly rough sound they’d developed in the clubs. There was also still a loutish element to these young men, as was demonstrated by the way they treated their new digs, an apartment opposite the club on Grosse Freiheit. Lennon, roaring at the world now that Stu had died, on top of the traumatic loss of his mother, erected a profane crucifix outside the apartment window, decorated with a condom, and urinated over nuns walking to nearby St Joseph’s Church. When George threw up in the flat, the vomit was left to fester; the boys made a feature of the sick, stubbing their cigarettes out in it. The next group into the flat after the Beatles was fellow Merseysider Kingsize Taylor and his band the Dominoes. ‘I just nearly threw up,’ recalls Kingsize (whose tape recording of the Beatles at the Star-Club became one of the most famous of all Beatles bootlegs). The vomit wasn’t the worst of it. ‘There was a heap of crap behind the door where somebody would have a crap and put a newspaper over it … the whole place was just a total shambles. It had to be fumigated.’ Horst Fascher recalls another less than charming habit the Beatles had: a filthy game whereby John and Paul would hawk up against the wall to see whose phlegm slid down first.
The Beatles were rescued from their own muck by a telegram from home. Wired by Brian Epstein on Wednesday 9 May, the message read: CONGRATULATIONS BOYS. EMI REQUEST RECORDING SESSION. PLEASE REHEARSE NEW MATERIAL. Having initially suggested Brian bring the boys in to audition when convenient, George Martin had met with Brian again and was showing a keener interest in the Beatles as a Parlophone act. He agreed that a contract should be drawn up so that, if he liked what he saw and heard when he met the boys, he could sign them forthwith. This justified Brian’s telegram.
It was love at first sight, as George Martin would write of the moment he met the Beatles at Abbey Road on 6 June 1962. He noted how well groomed they were - Brian’s influence - and the unusual haircuts. ‘But the most impressive thing was their engaging personalities. They were just great people to be with.’ The band performed for him with gusto, Paul singing favourite numbers from their stage show, including old chestnuts such as ‘Besame Mucho’ and Fats Waller’s ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’. Martin wasn’t madly impressed by these covers, nor by the original songs John and Paul had written, including an early, dirge-like ‘Love Me Do’, sung in harmony by Paul and John, the latter interjecting a bluesy harmonica in the style of Delbert McClinton on Bruce Channel’s ‘Hey! Baby’. When John was blowing the harp, Paul sang on his own, and he sounded nervous. Still, the boys exuded an energy and charm that gave Martin a warm feeling. If audiences could be made to share that feeling the Beatles could be big. The producer agreed to sign the band for one year, during which time he would have the right to record six titles, with the Beatles receiving a niggardly but then standard royalty of a penny-per-disc. At least they had a deal and, surprisingly, it was with an EMI label, even though they’d previously been turned down by head office. Brian had sneaked the Beatles in through the back door of ‘the greatest recording organisation in the world’, which led to problems later.
A more immediate concern was that Martin didn’t like the Beatles’ drummer. He found Pete Best personally less engaging than the others, ‘almost sullen’, and didn’t think he kept time well. The producer asked John and Paul if they would consider replacing him. ‘We said, “No, we can’t!”’ Paul recalls. ‘It was one of those terrible things you go through as kids. Can we betray him? No. But our career was on the line.’ In truth, Pete had never fitted in. He didn’t share the same history with John, Paul and George: hadn’t been with them in the Quarry Men; didn’t go to Scotland. He’d been hired as a stopgap for Hamburg and, despite the orgiastic evenings they shared in the Bambi Kino, he often seemed the odd man out in St Pauli, not sharing the same jokes and references. Curiously, this enhanced his image with fans on Merseyside. The lonesome persona Pete had involuntarily acquired was taken for ‘mean, moody magnificence’, in the oft-quoted words of Cavern MC Bob Wooler. Girls fancied Pete, more than the other Beatles, as became evident when the band went to Manchester on Whit Monday 1962 to record a radio show.
The Beatles had a fan club now, run in the first instance by Cavern dweller Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Brown, then Frieda Kelly, who went to work for Brian Epstein, bringing the fan club under his management. The relationship between the fan club and the band was symbiotic. The girls (and most fan club members were female) got to have a relationship with the Beatles, directly at first, when the members were virtually all Cavern-goers, then more remotely by post. In return Brian could marshal supporters whenever the boys needed a boost. When the Beatles travelled to Manchester, on 11 June 1962, to perform for the BBC Light Programme - one of their first BBC broadcasts - fan club members were invited to go on the coach with them to ensure the band had an enthusiastic audience. This worked well except that after the show the fans made much more of a fuss of Pete than the other Beatles, to the obvious displeasure of Paul’s father who found himself sitting on the bus with his son waiting for Pete. ‘It was Pete Best all the girls wanted,’ recalls Bill Harry, who was also on the coach. ‘Eventually Pete was able to extricate himself, got into the coach, and Jim McCartney started telling him off, saying he was trying to upstage them all.’ While Pete argued that it wasn’t his fault the girls made a fuss of him, the fact that Paul’s mild-mannered father had spoken out against Pete so soon after George Martin questioned Pete’s musical ability sealed the young man’s fate.
Change was to come also in Paul’s personal life. For two years now he’d been dating Dot Rhone, the schoolgirl he’d met at the Casbah. Dot had altered her appearance to please him, wearing a black leather skirt and growing her hair in the style of the boys’ pin-up Brigitte Bardot. John had subjected Cynthia Powell to a similar, demeaning makeover. With so much in common, Dot and Cyn became friends, moving into adjacent bedsits in Garmoyle Road, comforting each other while their boyfriends were in Hamburg. Despite well-placed doubts she may have had about his fidelity, Dot wore Paul’s engagement ring and looked forward to becoming his wife. Paul’s family was part of the attraction. ‘I think I was probably in love with Paul because I loved his family, too,’ she told the Daily Mail years later. ‘I loved his dad - he was great. At Christmas and New Year I would go [to Forthlin Road] and it was so different to my house. They had brilliant parties and they would play music together, Paul on guitar and his dad on piano.’
The relationship became serious when Dot fell pregnant in early 1962. When she told Paul about her condition, the couple took a ferry ride across the Mersey to talk it through. ‘[Paul] was trying to be good about it,’ Dot later told author Bob Spitz, ‘but he was scared. At first, he said we shouldn’t get married, we were too young. I wanted to get married, but I couldn’t tell him that.’ Jim McCartney made the decision. ‘His reaction was that we should get married because you either got married or you had the baby adopted. We didn’t want it adopted because it was our baby, so we started to make plans to get married.’ Dad made it clear that such plans would have to involve Paul getting a proper job to support his wife. Was it too late to go back to Massey & Coggins? Jim also said Dot could come and live with them at Forthlin Road. ‘He put his arm around me, made me feel looked after.’ Paul told Dot he was getting the marriage licence. Aunt Ginny bustled around, as a surrogate mother-in-law-to-be, and all seemed set fair when Dot miscarried. Paul ended the relationship soon afterwards, Dot believing he was relieved not to be trapped in a marriage he didn’t really want. ‘He seemed upset, but deep down he was probably relieved,’ she later told an interviewer. A baby might have cut short the Beatles’ career. As the writer Cyril Connolly observed, ‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.’
Another very personal problem was solved around this time. Shortly after Brian Epstein had taken over management of the Beatles, he confided in Rex Makin that the boys had picked up venereal diseases in Hamburg. ‘[Brian] asked me could I recommend a good venereologist because all the boys had got clap,’ says Makin; ‘they were very promiscuous. I mean, they had women thrown at them, and they never failed to take the opportunity.’ What with working in matrimonial law, Makin knew a discreet clap doctor, and the boys were sent along.
THE LUCKIEST AND UNLUCKIEST DRUMMERS IN SHOW BUSINESS
The decision having been made to fire Pete Best, the unpleasant job of telling him fell to Brian Epstein, who called Pete into his office at NEMS. ‘They don’t think you’re a good enough drummer, Pete,’ he told the boy, ‘and George Martin doesn’t think you’re a good enough drummer.’ Pete had no idea. As he tried to defend himself, the telephone rang. It was Paul calling Brian to check that he had plunged in the knife. There was no point talking further. A comment Paul had made in recent days made sense to Pete now. In the wake of the EMI deal, the drummer had been talking about buying a car. Paul cautioned him to save his money.
Having received the worst news of his life, Pete staggered downstairs to Whitechapel where Neil Aspinall was waiting, having given him a lift into town. Neil and Pete were very close. Curiously, the Beatles’ roadie had recently embarked on a relationship with Pete’s 38-year-old mother, with the result that Mo Best had given birth to a son, a boy they named Roag. Pete and Neil were thereby now related in blood. Neil was astounded to hear that his band had sacked his lover’s son, and considered quitting their employment in protest. Pete told him there was no need, and indeed Aspinall stayed with the Beatles for the rest of his working life, ultimately becoming the head of their corporation. All that time he played an active part in Roag Best’s life, while Uncle Pete suffered the daily humiliation of being a rejected Beatle. ‘A very unique situation, and one that I didn’t know any different from, because that was my normal life,’ says Roag today. ‘Pete was an ex-Beatle, and my dad worked for the Beatles. It was just the way it was.’ Pete’s story was a sad one. Forced to give up his show business ambitions, he worked at a series of everyday jobs in Liverpool, becoming so depressed during the height of the Beatles’ success that he tried to gas himself.
Pete’s replacement in the Beatles was a short, goofy-looking fellow with a skunk-like streak of white in his hair. He wore a beard to conceal a weak chin and balance a large nose, despite which he was actually quite handsome. Ringo Starr was at once the junior Beatle and the oldest member of the band, born three months prior to John in 1940. His real name was Richard Starkey - Ritchie to family and friends (and consequently referred to as such in this book) - the only child of Richard and Elsie Starkey, who met working in a Liverpool bakery. Dad deserted the family when Ritchie was three, and the Starkeys fell on hard times. They lived in a condemned house in the inner-city Dingle, with Elsie doing what work she could to make ends meet, including scrubbing floors, placing the Starkeys below the McCartneys in the working-class hierarchy. Despite their poverty, Elsie made a great fuss of Ritchie. It is worth noting that all four Beatles were blessed with such loving matriarchs - Mary McCartney and Aunt Mimi included - helping imbue their boys with confidence. When Ritchie was 13, Elsie married Harry Graves, who also became a benevolent presence in Ritchie’s young life. The boy suffered two severe bouts of illness, firstly at age 6 when his appendix burst, again when he contracted pleurisy at 13. He never went back to school and was only semi-literate as a result. ‘I can read, but I can’t spell - I spell phonetically.’ After school, Ritchie became an apprentice engineer, chucking his apprenticeship to play drums with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, a local band fronted by an athletic blond lad whose real name was Alan Caldwell, but who went by this more exciting moniker. Rory insisted his band also adopt stage names, so Ritchie became Ringo Starr, named after the rings he wore Teddy Boy-style.
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes played the same circuit as the Beatles in Liverpool and Hamburg, and Ringo had sat in with the Beatles more than once, so was already a mate. John, Paul and George agreed that Ringo would be the ideal replacement for Pete. By nature, he was an amiable sort without much ambition, someone who would fit in and do what he was told. Ritchie was playing Butlin’s at Skegness with the Hurricanes when John and Paul asked him to join the Beatles, winning Ritchie over with the offer of more money and the promise of a record deal. Cavern dwellers were indignant when Ringo took the stage with the band the first time. ‘We want Pete!’ they chanted, reluctant to give up on their favourite. ‘Pete forever. Ringo - never!’
With the arrival of Ringo the Beatles were complete: four cheerful lookalike mop-tops who acted as one - the ‘four-headed monster’, as Mick Jagger described them - though they were not equals. John, Paul and George had been together for four years and had a history that Ringo had not been a part of. Joining the band was, he said, ‘like joining a new class at school where everybody knew everybody but me’. Ringo would serve the others, without the talent to challenge John and Paul creatively. He was always the least important Beatle. Next up in seniority was George, never able to overcome the basic fact that he was nine months and one school-year junior to Paul, who treated him ‘as though George worked for him’ in the words of Tony Barrow, the Decca sleeve-note writer who would shortly come to work for the boys as their PR man. John was the boss, because the Quarry Men had been his band. Comments Barrow:
And along came this guy McCartney who could play a few chords, so he was in, but he was only in as a band member, and it meant that, from the beginning, if Paul wanted to achieve equal status or, better still, leadership of the Beatles, he had to work hard at it, and he did. Internally, he did, from the very beginning, and most of the time I don’t think John noticed - in the early days at any rate - how pushy Paul was being within the group.
Paul almost leapfrogged John at the start of their recording career. In the early 1960s most pop groups were made up of a front man and his backing band: Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, and on a much lowlier level Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. As he prepared to record his new signing, George Martin considered releasing a record by ‘Paul McCartney and the Beatles’. There was also an argument for ‘John Lennon and the Beatles’. It was hard to decide. ‘George and I were walking up Oxford Street one day trying to work out whether it should be Paul - the good-looking one - or John, who had the big personality,’ Martin’s assistant Ron Richards told author Mark Lewisohn. When Martin couldn’t choose, the issue drifted away. Unusually, the Beatles would have two equal front men.
George Martin was reunited with the boys at Abbey Road on 4 September 1962, when the Beatles set to work recording their first single. Smartly dressed in suits and ties - a press photographer was present - they rehearsed during the day, broke for supper, then recorded in the evening. Anxious for a hit, and not yet trusting the Beatles’ own material, Martin gave the band a madly catchy tune titled ‘How Do You Do It?’, written by professional songwriter Mitch Murray. The boys recorded it without enthusiasm, John and Paul making it clear they would prefer to cut their own songs rather than the work of hack writers. The best they had to offer was ‘Love Me Do’, the slow, bluesy number written when John and Paul were boys and already demonstrated at their first meeting with Martin. They ran through it again with less than satisfactory results, Martin still detecting a weakness in the rhythm section.
When the band returned to the studio six days later to have another go at ‘Love Me Do’, Ritchie was dismayed to discover that Martin had hired a professional session drummer, Scotsman Andy White, to take his place. White describes the awkward moment Ringo saw him in the studio: ‘When he came in I was setting up my drums. He obviously thought, Don’t tell me! It’s happening to me now!’ Suspecting he was to suffer the same fate as Pete Best, Ringo went up the stairs to the control room and sat, stone-faced, with George Martin while John and Paul taught Andy their material. ‘They didn’t have any written music. So everything was word of mouth and trial and error,’ says the Scots drummer, who found it a refreshing change to play on original songs with the writers. They then recorded ‘Love Me Do’. Ringo’s mood was ameliorated slightly when Martin permitted him to bang a tambourine in accompaniment on what was the Beatles’ début single. Ritchie wasn’t fired from the band, but he never entirely forgave George Martin for replacing him with Andy White on that first session.
Not as much of a dirge as it had been, ‘Love Me Do’ was still a rather ponderous number, the lyric childishly simple, though John and Paul’s use of personal pronouns - ‘love me do/you know I love you …’ - was effective, making it seem as if they were singing directly to the listener. They used the same device on the slower ‘PS I Love You’, the lyric of which took the form of a love letter of the type Paul had written home to Dot from Hamburg. Indeed, Dot says Paul wrote the song for her before their break-up. Martin thought well enough of ‘PS I Love You’ to use it as the B-side of the first single.
When ‘Love Me Do’ was released on 5 October 1962, it meandered around the charts before reaching number 17 shortly before Christmas. While this wasn’t at all bad for a début single, it fell short of being a smash hit, possibly because EMI gave the record little promotion. There was resentment in the company that Brian Epstein had got his band in through the back door after being told the Beatles weren’t wanted on HMV or Columbia. Says Tony Barrow:
I think this was part of the reason why EMI downgraded that first single so much in terms of promotion. It was given the least rating for promotion purposes, i.e. it was going to get the least number of plays on Radio Luxembourg and so on. It wasn’t an important release from EMI’s point of view.
Barrow had started work as a public relations man for Epstein’s new management company, NEMS Enterprises, so named to indicate that it was a branch of the larger family firm. Clive Epstein, Brian’s brother, was a director. One of Barrow’s first jobs was to produce a profile of Paul and the other Beatles for the press. To do so he spoke to fan club secretary Frieda Kelly, who was dealing with an increasing amount of mail for the boys. Girls tended to ask about the same things in their letters: ‘what colour hair they’ve got, what size shoes they take,’ recalls Frieda, not forgetting: ‘what type of girls they liked’. To save time she typed up Lifelines of each Beatle, giving the essential information. Under ‘Instruments played’, Paul listed ‘Bass, guitar, drums, piano, banjo’; putting ‘girls, song writing [and] sleeping’ as his hobbies, in that order.
Paul didn’t specify in his Lifeline what sort of girls he liked, though he admitted to a soft spot for the French actresses Brigitte Bardot and Juliette Gréco. In real life he was dating Rory Storm’s sister, Iris Caldwell, who caught his eye dancing at Operation Big Beat, a package show at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton. Iris’s mother was another Liverpool matriarch who supported and indulged her children, opening her door to their friends. Everybody was welcome at 54 Broad Green Road, which Vi Caldwell renamed Stormsville in honour of her rock ’n’ rolling son Rory. ‘We were the ones in the street that were in show business, we were like this strange family,’ says Iris. The Beatles were frequent visitors at Stormsville, George Harrison the first to date Iris. ‘I think George was my first kiss, when I was about 14.’ This innocent affair ended around 1959, though George still carried a torch for Iris as she began work as a professional dancer, kicking up her long legs as a can-can girl in variety. She was 17 when Paul saw her jiving at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton. ‘That’s when he wrote, “she was just seventeen/You know what I mean”.’7
The affair was tempestuous. ‘I was madly in love with [Paul] while I was going out with him, and then you’re in love with the next person.’ Paul could be an annoying, controlling boyfriend, as young men of his class and background typically were. He expected Iris to behave and dress to please him - ‘in straight skirts below the knee, and your hair up in a bun’ - and could be jealous and immature, especially when egged on by Lennon. One night when Paul and Iris and John and Cynthia went on a double date, the boys staged a mock fight in the restaurant so they would get thrown out and not have to pay; then they pulled the same trick at a second restaurant. ‘[Paul] was always messing about pretending he was the Hunchback of Notre Dame and doing crazy things,’ sighs Iris. Another time, shortly after Paul got his first car, a green Ford Classic, they drove through the Mersey Tunnel to the Cube Coffee Bar in Birkenhead, where they had a tiff. ‘I picked up this great big bowl of sugar, a big square bowl - because it was called the Cube Coffee Bar, everything was square in there - and I emptied it over his head.’ Iris then ran towards the Mersey Tunnel, ‘with him driving along after me in the car trying to catch me …’
Deciding she was finished with McCartney, Iris phoned George Harrison. ‘I’m not going out with Paul any more,’ she told him.
‘Oh great!’ exclaimed George, seeing a chance to get the advantage over Paul for once. ‘Can I take you out tomorrow night?’
‘Of course you can.’
As Iris was getting ready for her date, Paul turned up with tickets for the King Brothers. ‘He said, “Well, I’ve paid for the tickets. It’s a stupid waste of money, so we may as well go.” I’m thinking, what am I going to do? George is going to be here in a minute.’ Good as gold, Mrs Caldwell picked up the telephone and dialled George. ‘Hello, is that you, Margaret?’ she said, when George Harrison answered the phone, pretending she was speaking to a girlfriend of her daughter’s. ‘Oh listen, Margaret, Iris’s boyfriend’s come round and she’s going out with him tonight.’ George asked Mrs Caldwell what she was talking about, telling her he was George, not Margaret. (‘He was a bit slow, you know,’ notes Iris. ‘God love him.’) So Paul took Iris out. The evening ended awkwardly again when Iris attracted the attention of one of the King Brothers, who came back to Stormsville with her and Paul, the rival boys staring daggers at each other until Iris went to bed, leaving her mother to deal with the Romeos. Paul got on well with Mrs Caldwell, as he tended to with his friends’ mothers. ‘He used to come in from the Cavern absolutely shattered [and] he used to sit on the chair, put his feet up on the pouffe, roll his trouser legs up, and my mother used to comb the hairs on his legs for him, because he used to like that.’
Another friend was Cavern cloakroom girl Priscilla White, who signed with NEMS as singer Cilla Black, an artist second only to the Beatles in Brian’s affection. Young Cilla hung out with Paul and the other Beatles, and socialised with the Caldwells at Stormsville, where one night they had a séance, Iris, Paul, Cilla and George Harrison all putting their hands on a glass on a Ouija board in the darkened living room. ‘Is there anybody there?’ Iris asked tremulously. The glass began to move in Paul’s direction. By a system of questions and tapped answers it was established that Paul’s late mother had risen from the spirit world to speak to her son. Paul became agitated. ‘He was asking her all these questions, “Is that you, Mum. Where are you?”’ Then George started laughing, for he had been pushing the glass and tapping the table. Paul almost strangled his friend.
Vivacious girl that she was, Iris was also dating another young man - the Australian singer Frank Ifield, whom she’d met when they were both appearing in Dick Whittington in Stockton-on-Tees. Frank hit the big time in the summer of 1962 when he scored a number one with ‘I Remember You’, which also went top ten in the USA and was a song Paul covered in the Beatles’ stage show. Anxious to win the Beatles wider exposure, and wanting to capitalise on the release of ‘Love Me Do’, Brian arranged for the boys to support Frank in concert in Peterborough on 2 December 1962. Frank put on what Iris called ‘a proper show’ in the variety tradition. Indeed she and Frank considered themselves in real show business, as opposed to Paul and George who were merely in a beat group. ‘I remember them looking at me when I put my make-up on. I don’t think they’d ever seen anybody putting make-up on before,’ recalls Ifield of his backstage meeting with the Beatles in Peterborough. John, Paul, George and Ringo followed Frank’s example, but overdid the grease paint. ‘They were a bit red - like red cochineal Beatles.’ They were also too loud on stage. There were boos and complaints to the management, who told the Beatles to ‘Turn it down!’
Iris continued to date Frank when their schedules coincided, also seeing Paul when he was in Liverpool. Her beaus had different styles. When Frank took her out, Iris wore her hair long and put on a nice frock. They went to restaurants. Frank held the chair for her, and ordered Mateus Rosé, ‘which I thought was so sophisticated’. With Paul it was a drink in the pub, then down the chippie. Each boy had his attractions, and she strung them both along. One night Paul surprised Iris by saying he had tickets for Frank’s show at the Liverpool Empire. Iris went to the concert with Paul, trepidatious in case Frank saw them, but expecting that they would be sitting back in the cheap seats, for Paul was careful with his money. He surprised her with seats at the front of the stalls. Still, Iris figured Frank wouldn’t recognise her. His eyesight wasn’t brilliant, and she had her hair in a bun. As Iris tells the story, Frank dideventually recognise her and Paul during the course of the evening. ‘I was sitting there holding hands with Paul, quite low down in me seat, and Frank did his whole piece. It was all wonderful and he never even glanced our way and I thought, Brilliant! ’ At the end of the show Frank said he’d like to sing one more song. As Iris remembers the moment, the singer rested his right foot on the footlights and pointed down at Paul. ‘It’s called “He’ll Have to Go”.’ As he sang, Paul squirmed in his seat cursing the cheeky Australian bugger.
While Paul’s romantic comedy with Iris played out, the Beatles were increasingly busy playing sometimes two, even three shows a day, often starting at lunchtime at the Cavern, a venue they had nearly outgrown, then performing at theatres in the evening, big places like the Tower Ballroom and Liverpool Empire. In November the Beatles and Little Richard went to Hamburg for two weeks at the Star-Club, and then it was back to London to record with George Martin, working this time in a place that would become integral to Paul’s musical life: Studio Two at EMI - a large, lofty hall with a parquet floor, cream walls and a steep staircase leading to the control room, with a banister Paul would slide down when he was in a celebratory mood. George Martin peered down at his artists from the glazed control room like God.
After the modest success of ‘Love Me Do’, and the Beatles’ high-handed rejection of ‘How Do You Do It?’, Martin was anxious to see if the band had what it took to score a hit. He was sure ‘How Do You Do It?’ would have made number one, as indeed it later did for fellow Merseysiders Gerry and the Pacemakers, whom Brian signed to NEMS Enterprises as the second of what became a stable of local acts. The Beatles were unrepentant. ‘John just said it was crap,’ says singer Gerry Marsden. ‘We proved [that it wasn’t and] I say thank you to John every night on stage for giving me my first number one, because if they would have done it and released it we wouldn’t have had that song to do.’ Accepting that the Beatles really didn’t want to sing this hack song, Martin asked them sternly what they had that was better, to which they suggested ‘Please Please Me’, a song John and Paul had had knocking around for a while. Recalls Iris Caldwell:
[Paul] sung that song in the house, ‘What do you think of it?’ I said, ‘I’ve never heard of such rubbish.’ Last night I said these words to my girl, why don’t you ever even try girl, come on, come on, come on, come on, please please … ‘I think it’s terrible!’
As recorded, ‘Please Please Me’ was brighter than ‘Love Me Do’, the opening guitar chords creating a big, optimistic sound, while the lyric was frankly sexual in a way adolescents could identify with: trying to get your girl to do what you both wanted, but were scared of in the age before the contraceptive pill became commonplace, in case you fell pregnant like Dot, and now like Cynthia, too. Unlike Paul, John had gone ahead and married his pregnant girlfriend, though secretly. The Lennons were expecting their first child in April.
At the end of 18 takes of ‘Please Please Me’, George Martin pronounced from his lofty control room that the boys had cut their first number one. Before they could find out whether George’s confidence was well placed, the Beatles returned to Hamburg to play a final stint at the Star-Club, a venue that had been the apex of their career only recently, but which, like the Cavern, they had now outgrown. It was December. The boys shared Christmas dinner with club friends and members of Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes. Paul bought a pair of leather gloves to take home to Iris, and on their last night in town persuaded his long-term German girlfriend Ruth Lallemann to come to the airport and wave him off. ‘He said, “Please take me to the airport, because I think it’s the last time I come here, because we’re going to get big.”’ The next time Ruth saw Paul would be in London when he was a superstar. All of a sudden, after a time when the Beatles seemed to be moving in slow motion, everything was happening very fast.
Back home, the Beatles found they had virtually no free time, as they rushed from club to theatre to recording studio, often travelling long distances to fulfil relatively minor engagements. For example, after a hectic day of promotion for ‘Please Please Me’ in London on Thursday 22 January 1963, recording for three different BBC radio shows, the band was driven back to Liverpool to appear at the Cavern. A new boy was behind the wheel of their van, a burly former post office worker named Mal Evans who’d joined the Beatles as a roadie, junior to Neil Aspinall who was increasingly filling the role of road manager. Schlep-ping up country to Liverpool on a freezing cold, foggy day, a stone shattered the van’s widescreen. Mal punched out the glass, and battled on, the bitter wind blowing full in his face, as the Beatles huddled together in the back as ‘a Beatle sandwich’, as Paul described it.
With the release of ‘Please Please Me’ Paul found himself in direct rivalry with Frank Ifield, whose two previous singles had gone to number one, and who was looking for a hat trick with ‘The Wayward Wind’. ‘I found that they were chasing me up the charts. I thought, Well that’s fine. I give them a break on a show and now they’re chasing me up the bloody chart!’ recalls the Australian star. ‘I thought they were going to knock me out of the number one, but they didn’t.’ The Beatles’ single stalled at number two.8 Paul was doubly defeated when Iris finally dumped him for Frank. Surprisingly, given Paul’s later well-documented love of animals, the break-up was triggered by cruelty to a dog.
One night in March 1963, shortly before Iris’s birthday, Paul and Ringo called in at Stormsville after driving up from London. ‘They’d got to our house really late. Me brother and I opened the door, said, “Come in, the kettle’s on,” you know, and they said, “Oh, we’re starving. We’re so tired. We’ve been recording.”’ Ringo mentioned that just before they got to the Caldwells’ house, he and Paul had accidentally run over a dog. The Caldwells were great animal lovers, with a pet dog named Toby, which Paul never liked. ‘Toby used to want to be stroked all the time and he used to go, “Oh, it’s got fleas,”’ recalls Iris. ‘He didn’t like dogs.’ Concerned by what Ringo had said, Rory and Iris asked the boys if the dog they’d hit was all right. Ringo said they’d been too tired to stop and find out.
‘Get out of the house! I never want to speak to you again!’ Iris raged at the boys, appalled by such lack of feeling. She later reflected that Ringo might have simply made the story up to rile her. Still, it was enough to make her finish with Paul, who pursued her for a while, calling and visiting her house, also trying to see her when she was working summer season at Great Yarmouth, but she shunned him. ‘He kept saying to me mother, “Why won’t she see me?” And me mother said, “Because you’ve got no heart, Paul.”’