On Friday (October 12), four of the original band members got together to play their first gig in London in seven years at The Castle pub to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ first single, Love Me Do.
The pub, in Finchley Road, has long been a favourite with The Beatles fan club members. It was through the club that landlord Dennis Cooke was able to book the band, who recently toured America in conjunction with the film Nowhere Boy, which tells the story of Lennon’s early life.
“This gig is so amazing for anyone who wants to know about the type of music that John started his career with,” said Mr Cooke, Fatboy Slim’s uncle and a DJ himself.
“These four guys were part of that scene – they were there! This is history and it’s an honour to have them here. We’ve had interest from all types of people. For die-hard Beatles fans, it’s a really unique gig.”
There are few other people who can talk about those early days but Rod Davis, who still plays guitar and banjo for The Quarrymen, is one of them.
The 71-year-old first met Lennon at Sunday school when they were five years old. They later attended the same grammar school but lived on “opposite hills” and were part of different gangs at first.
But as skiffle music, or American blues, burst its way onto the music scene, the two formed a band with their school friends. The rest was history as The Quarrymen morphed in to The Beatles.
“John would be classed as a ‘disruptive pupil’ these days,” said Mr Davis, who was in the same house as him at Quarry Bank High School. “He used to like fooling around.”
In particular, Mr Davis remembers when John convinced his entire class to don clerical collars made out of Weetabix boxes for their weekly religious studies class. “The teacher came in and didn’t really notice and then he looked up and realised he had 32 vicars in his class,” he said.
When The Quarrymen first started out, their equipment was basic – sometimes the microphones were so shoddy at the community halls and youth centres where they played that Lennon wouldn’t be able to sing. But their popularity overcame it all.
Mr Davis recalls the day the first “Beatle-inspired mob” took place at a street party in June 1956.
“We were playing on the back of a truck,” he said. “There were some young ladies there and some of their boyfriends got annoyed at how impressed they were with John’s style and we got a whisper that we had better get off the street. So we legged it in to the house.
“We couldn’t leave because the guys were gonna get Lennon. Someone called the police so one bobby showed up and escorted us to the bus stop and waited with us until the bus came.”
In 1962, Mr Davis bumped into Lennon in a street in Liverpool and was asked if he wanted to play drums with the band in Hamburg.
But he was devoted to bluegrass and did not see a space for himself in a rock ‘n’ roll band so turned down the offer because he had just started at Cambridge University.
Does he regret the decision?
“No way. I wasn’t going to give up my time at university,” he said. “If you read the stories about the way they lived in Hamburg, in a filthy little room at the back of a cinema… But if I’d known that if you did that, you’d become a Beatle? Then maybe.
“But the chances were pretty slim.”
Rachael Getzels, Reporter