BEST OF THE BEATLES
Pete Best talks about his time with the Beatles in a q/a session in the UK.
By Gary Howman
(Thanks very much, Gary, for this great report.)
I was thrilled to note from a local paper that Pete Best was appearing at the King Lynn Arts Centre on 15 October 1999. This was not to be the Pete Best band in concert but the former Beatle alone on stage talking about his time with the Beatles with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions. I hurried to book a ticket at the reasonable price of £7.00 and turned up bright and early at the historic yet cosy venue. The audience was a cross section of ages and styles Ė young rockabilly types rubbing shoulders with original Beatles fans and thirty something professionals.
The night began with an introduction from Peteís brother Roag, a song from a local band Pete had chosen, and then Pete took the stage to warm applause. He looked very healthy and young, slim with longish grey hair (swept back of course!) and a moustache.
The first half of the show was a well-prepared lecture backed up with slides (many previously unseen) and music extracts (all familiar to me) covering Peteís two year stint with the Beatles. Throughout this session Pete was witty and upbeat although I suspect he was a bit nervous. He began by describing the forming of his first group, the Blackjacks, with his friend Ken Brown through whom he met John, Paul and George then known as the Quarrymen. The opening of the Casbah Club in his motherís cellar was well detailed and there were several slides of the original art which John and Stuart Sutcliffe had created for the walls and ceiling. Amazingly the artwork survives to this day and was a centrepiece of the Casbahís reopening a short time ago. Pete said the painted stars alone had been valued at £1000 each and his family were waiting for the roof to fall in to grab them.
Pete recalled packed nights at the Casbah Club and his admiration of the Quarrymen cum Beatles as their appearances continued. He was aware of their lack of a permanent drummer and was not surprised when Paul McCartney took an interest in him and his drum kit when the Blackjacks parted. He auditioned and was immediately accepted as the group had a pressing engagement to play clubs in Hamburg, Germany. A cramped trip in a van led to the group posing as students to gain admittance to the country. We learned about the competition between the Liverpool groups to destroy club owners Bruno Koschmeider rickety stage (it was replaced with one just as cheap) and the delights of viewing the unclothed ladies in the Herbertstrasse ("best window-shopping Iíve ever done").
The infamous story of the burning condom used to boost lighting in the groups windowless room was outlined in amusing detail as was Pete and Paulís subsequent deportation for this "arson" offence. The excitement that was building around the group was captured in Peteís description of the groupís welcome home gigs in Liverpool especially the morale boosting receptions at the Casbah and Litherland Town Hall. The black leather outfits worn by the group and the hard sound initially led Liverpool fans to believe they were German. Being billed as the "fabulous Beatles direct from Hamburg" didnít help.
Several of the mysteries about the Bert Kaempfert/Tony Sheridan recording sessions were illuminated by Peteís eyewitness account. I was amused by the story of Bert asking George if he knew the Shadows number "Frightened City" and George confidently playing "Cry For A Shadow" which Bert accepted and recorded! Pete was proud of his efforts on these recordings with the only downside being the tiny one off payment the group received. The arrival of Brian Epstein led to an attempt to smarten the groups act and Pete displayed one of Brianís immortal instructions to the group ordering them not to eat, drink, smoke or swear on stage.
Brianís attempts to obtain a record deal seemed to bear fruition when they were offered a session with Decca on January 1 1962. Pete laughingly recalled the bizarre occasion with the Beatles out celebrating New Year until 4.30am before turning up late and hungover at Decca for this important audition. Brian was furious ("you could tell because his tie was undone") and the group did themselves no favours by giving a lacklustre performance. Pete though remains proud of some of the tracks with "Like Dreamers Do" being his particular favourite.
Before EMI beckoned, there were more attempts by Brian to broaden the groupís horizon. The disastrous concert at Aldershot attended by 18 people was fondly recalled, as were the frequent occasions when the Beatles backed big names like Gene Vincent and Davy Jones. Several shots of the group looking uneasy in smart suits from Spring 1962 were fascinating as you couldnít help but look for Ringo in the line up! Ringo had cropped up earlier as Pete mentioned their friendship and drumming styles. He got a big laugh from the audience by pretending to forget the name of the Beatles subsequent drummer. Frustratingly, Pete only briefly dwelt on his own singing spot during the Beatles appearances with the group but was questioned about this later on. Fresh insight into "Love me do" was forthcoming as Pete revealed that the original country style sound was inspired by the sadness following the death of Stuart Sutcliffe. The EMI audition version was played by Pete to bear this out.
Pete dramatically ended the first half of the show with an account of his dismissal from the group. This was emphasised by letters of disbelief from fans at the time, which were displayed without comment. His brother, Roag, reappeared to announce that the question and answer session would follow shortly and encouraged us to get our questions ready.
Pete sat on a stool very close to the front of the stage and invited questions. Pete took all questions good-humouredly and gave excellent responses throughout. I have not attempted to include every question asked, as I only noted down his (approximate) responses to the memorable ones.
Q. You used to sing with the early Beatles. Tell us about that.
A. It was originally Bob Woolerís idea, who was the DJ at the Cavern. If you were in a group he reckoned you had to sing and drummers always sang "Matchbox". I never enjoyed singing. The picture of me centre stage that I showed earlier was from a Fan Club Night at the Cavern. I also had to twist and sing Joey Deeís "Peppermint Twist" that night while Paul took the drums. It was embarrassing, I couldnít wait to get back behind the drumkit!
Q. How did you feel about Anthology 1? Were you interviewed for the TV series?
A. I was approached about the use of the 10 tracks, which I appear on and they also asked to use my image and likeness for the television. It was then all placed in the hands of the lawyers and I had no other involvement.
Q. Did you ever follow their interest in Eastern Religion
A. I got there before them. I was born in India!
Q. Who was the real leader of the Beatles, John or Paul?
A. I can only give my personal opinion based on my time in the band. If a leader was ever needed it was John. He was the stronger personality.
Q. Were you ever told the reasons for your sacking?
A. No, but let's look at the theories. I canít accept the drumming theory as when we came back from Germany, other groups copied my style using the loud bass drum. Also, Bert Kaempfert was quite happy with my drumming when we recorded in Germany. As for Ringo being a better drummer, well, he was replaced on "Love Me Do" as well wasnít he? The hairstyle? Thatís all rubbish, it was never even discussed. Jealousy? I was aware of the Pete Best fans but there were plenty of Paul fans too. As long as the group got the attention I was happy. Personality? I took part in all the crazy stunts and drinking. I was a Beatle. A rumour around the Cavern was that it was because I turned down Brian Epsteinís advances but I donít believe that. Unreliable? I missed four shows in over two years so if that makes me unreliableÖÖ.
At the end of the day two people still alive know the reason. We may all read about it in the newspapers next year or we may never know.
Q. Did you ever think of asking for compensation or a settlement?
A. A few years later I had to bring a libel case as Ringo said in Playboy magazine that I used to take pills to make me ill so I wouldnít have to play. The lawyers advised me to sue for loss of earnings as well for the period up to Christmas 1963. Eventually the case was settled out of court but the settlement was not substantial.
Q. Did you have any contact with Beatles afterwards?
A. On two occasions I appeared on the same bill as them with my new band Lee Curtis and the All Stars. It was a stand off situation as we came offstage and they were going onÖ. As they grew to the phenomenon we all know the walls went up and they were hard to approach. I never bothered. What was the point?
Q. Did you ever want to ring them up and say "you *******"
A. (Laughs) Many times.
Q. Do you think you will ever meet them again?
A. It's possible. Iím now back in show business what with the tours and shows. One day our paths might cross.
Q. Is it true John sent a message years later saying he wanted nothing to do with your sacking?
A. Hunter Davies spoke to John and that was the message that came back. John had said, "We were cowards when we sacked him".
Q. What gave you the idea for these shows?
A. In America, the Pete Best Band would play a concert and afterwards I would be besieged with questions about my time with the group. That gave me the idea to do the informal sort of lecture tour.
Q. In your opinion, who were the best of the Liverpool groups?
A. Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes. They were the musicians group we all wanted to watch.
Q. Do you still see Neil Aspinall?
A. About twice a year. Its very much a hello how you doing kinda thing.
Q. What did you think of the film "Backbeat?"
A. I enjoyed it but it was wrongly portrayed by the media. It was really the love story between Stuart and Astrid with us on the sidelines.
Q. If you could have a one to one who would it be with?
A. John Lennon.
After an hour he took his leave but promised to return to sign autographs a bit later on. True to his word he came back and signed autographs for everyone who wanted them. Many fans (including me) had brought treasured items, which he took great care to sign. He also posed for photographs. A true gent!
In conclusion, a memorable evening with Pete revealing himself to be a happy, relaxed and all round pleasant guy. It was obvious that he retains happy memories of his days as a Beatle, a certain amount of pride and undiminished affection for John Lennon. The first half was professional, well structured and informative. The second half was informal and truthful with Pete clearly relishing the audience interplay and willing to answer absolutely anything.