with the Beatles
ferry ‘cross the mersey
topps go the beatles
Beatlemania, by 1964, was sweeping the world and Topps got on the bandwagon for the Liverpool lads with wax packs, the 1st Series of BEATLES BUBBLE GUM cards coming out May of ’64.
Now I could follow my big brother’s example. Before collecting records, he had collected baseball cards for years–an impressive accumulation of cards won with his amazing wrist action in the schoolyard. The champ among his peers, I can only imagine that other boys wept when they saw him take home all the winnings.
However, I was never good at sports and never risked on the gambling grounds of the schoolyard the few BEATLES BUBBLE GUM cards I shared with my sisters. I was content with what we bought at the corner store or admiring those of our friends and neighbours. The cards I remember best are those from the Topps 2nd Series.
These cards included the usual and already rather familiar black & white publicity shots, but mixed in among those were some unusual and odd examples.
And each card was signed by one of the Beatles!
Well, just how much input the lads actually had on these cards one couldn’t say.
But it was nice to believe that each had signed the photographs and that the cards were part of the Beatles ethos along with their music and their fashion.
The 2nd Series was followed by a 3rd. The cards in the 2nd and 3rd followed the numbering established in the 1st Series. There was also a fourth series of black & white BEATLES MOVIE cards (55 in all) with photos from A HARD DAY’S NIGHT–with a brief description of the movie scene on the back.
But there was nothing on the back of THE BEATLES BUBBLE GUM cards other than this numbering system–unlike my brother’s baseball cards which were loaded with detail.
After these black & white sets of cards were even more batches of wax packs from Topps, that didn’t follow the same numbering as the first three series of THE BEATLES BUBBLE GUM and with colour publicity photos on the front rather than black & white.
In addition to the BEATLES COLOR CARD series, other batches in colour included the BEATLES DIARY series–cards with fake diary entries on the back–and the BEATLES PLAK series–the Beatles on plaques, if you can believe it.
But I only remember the batch of BEATLES COLOR CARDS.
On their backs, the first four cards in that series had vital stats on each of the Fab Four-while the remainder of the series featured each of the boys answering an interview question.
Some of the answers from the Liverpool lads were introspective–not just larking about.
Question: What would you fellows do if your fans suddenly stopped buying your records?
Ringo Speaking: We’ve spoken about it. John and Paul would have no difficulty, for they would now have all their time to compose new songs for other artists. These two fellows have written most of our big hit records. George says he could always get a job in a top band. Me? I’d become a hairdresser. …Keep me near the girls that way. [Beatles Color Card 29]
In ’78, on Maundy Thursday, at around two in the afternoon, our ship cruised into the brown waters of Liverpool harbour.
The captain had brought our compliment here–now expanded by all the pongos we had retrieved from above the Arctic Circle in Norway–purely for the chance to have some shore leave–before making the transit of the North Atlantic back to our home port in Halifax. Timing was not the best, as this was a bank holiday weekend in Liverpool and most shops would be closed down.
My best buds and I were over the gangway almost as soon as we had tied up and found a cab to take us from the docks into Liverpool proper. The cabbie gave us a mini-tour of the city–pointing out the Cavern Club, where the Beatles had performed all those years ago–before depositing us in Lime Street at the American–the bar being called that by the Americn sailors who had made this pub their home for decades, since the First World War, although the bar itself dated back to 1830.
In fact, Maggie Mae–who the Beatles sang about– was said to have plied her trade here:
Oh Dirty Maggie Mae,
They have taken her away
And she’ll never walk down Lime Street anymore.
Oh, the judge, he guilty found her
Of robbin’ the homeward bounder,
That dirty, no good, robbin’ Maggie Mae.
‘Tis the port of Liverpool
They returned me to.
Two pound ten a week,
That was my pay.
[tradional; arranged by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starkey; as heard on LET IT BE (1970) LP.]
Behind the bar, there was a TV and on it I saw a blonde singing in English and French–a young woman I had never before seen nor had I ever before heard this song, but I was immediately agog at what my eyes and ears were witnessing.
Meanwhile, the barmaid spoke in a dialectic that I could not understand. Was this Scouse or Gaelic? I was too young and green to tell or inquire.
From the bar I went to seek my buds, who was playing pool with some of the locals over in a corner. Then a tremor shook the floor we were standing on, as a bloody fight broke out not a yard in front of us. The combatants did not pull their punches and blood and gore flew through the pub as they each attempted to destroy one another with their bare fists.
One of the locals who had befriended my buds suggested we should depart the premises before the constabulary could arrive. This local Scouse had decided it best that we do a survey of other public houses in the area. When we stopped at each pub, one of us (myself or my buds–never the Scouse) had to order the rounds for our trio and we knock back our drinks then depart to yet another ale house that the Scouse thought worthy.
Finally we arrived at the She–a discotheque–which the Scouse had reckoned was the place for our sort, but not for him, as he said his farewells when we arrived at the door–though not before soliciting a donation from both of us for his cab fare and other recompense for his services.
The Scouse was right, this was the place for our sort, as many from the crew were already there. I sought a booth, feeling the effects of all the ale I had consumed, and that’s the last I remember until a few hours later when I was roused from sleep by some of my mates, as the disco was closing. Not finding a cab, we wandered the dark long lanes, as legions of ferile cats monitored our progress toward our ship.
Question: With all your good fortune, do you remember how it feels to be sad?
George Speaking: Are you fooling? I know I speak for all the boys when I say that we feel sad pretty often. Though we love traveling and performing, it’s always a depressing feeling to say good-bye to your parents and friends for three months. Don’t get me wrong, nothing is more exciting than traveling to different cities and countries . . . but as the saying goes, ‘there’s no place like home.’ [Beatles Color Card 8]
Three years later, in early July, late afternoon, I was again in Liverpool, this time having travelled on my own by train, up from London. As I left the Liverpool train station, three British youths were singing–We’re all going on a summer holiday . . .
I had a five-speed push bike I had purchased for eighty-nine quid in London and I now pedalled from the train station, not meaning to stop in Liverpool, but travel across the Irish Sea on the ferry to Dublin.
However, I failed to find the ferry at Pier Head and had to stay the night. As it happened, I located an admirable but inexpensive hotel room which was just across from the She; although, after paying for the room I was skint, with only nine bob. On Monday, when Thomas Cook opened again, I would need to cash in more travellers’ cheques or exchange my American money (no one would take dollars as payment). So I lay in my comfortable bed, the disco music from the She rocking me to sleep.
Next morning, I cycled to Pier Head, in hope of a morning ferry to Dublin, but there was none on Sundays, only one in the late evening. Not believing my bad luck, I pedalled around the area trying to think what I shoud do, when a fellow rode up to me on his machine, saying–Ah, no need to ask if you’re going on the ride–and putting a Save the Whales sticker on my bike.
Then a cavalcade of cyclists disembarked from a ferry ‘cross the Mersey, having come for the ride.
I was clueless what this was about, but didn’t question it and went along for the ride, which took us through Liverpool and over to Southport, with free refreshments on the way and a celebration at the end, then time enough to make it back with my machine to Pier Head, by commuter train, to get the ferry to Dublin. The price was £23, but lucky for me they took travellers’ cheques.
Question: What was the wildest press conference you ever had?
John Speaking: That’s easy. It was in Stockholm, Sweden. The four of us were all set to fire away at all the reporters and then we found we were in trouble. …None of us could speak very much Swedish… You can be sure that it was a pretty confused press conference. The photographers kept popping their bulbs, though. Luckily we are able to photograph in Swedish. You see the pictures lose nothing in the translation. [Beatles Color Card 6]
In late ’63, I distinctly remember the first time I saw the Beatles perform on television. On his program, Perry Como presented film of the Fab Four from Liverpool, England. My research tells me this ought to have been THE KRAFT MUSIC HALL, which aired on the 21st of November ’63.
But the next day after that is the day President Kennedy was shot, which I also well remember. I suppose it’s possible that these twin events that profoundly impacted me happened within the space of twenty-four hours, yet it’s difficult to reconcile the two.
The morning after that first viewing of the Beatles however briefly on TV, we little kids gathered around the street pole before going to school–our house being on the corner of our block–and we were all excited at having seen these Mersey Beat moptops. For my big brother this was all so boring, because he was so ahead of us and knew all about it and thought that the Dave Clark Five were really the best band with the Mersey sound.
Every Saturday, my brother would come home from the record store with the latest 45s he had bought–many adorned with that familiar Capitol Records label. These records he would spin in our parents’ large, old radio cabinet with a record player built into it, a relic of their younger years in the ’40s that still held many old 78s.
My brother’s collection of 45s included hits of Mersey Beat bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon. But LPs represented a larger outlay of cash and my brother was more particular with those.
Our aunt gave my brother the album I’M THE ONE by Gerry and the Pacemkers. This was an LP unique to Canada, as were many albums from the British Invasion, where the pressings in Canada had differences in title, artwork and track selection from those LPs in the U.K. or the U.S.
Gerry and the Pacemakers were at the top of my list. They had such songs as Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey, You’ll Never Walk Alone, How Do You Do It, I’ll Be There, Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’, and Girl on a Swing.
Question: Who writes most of The Beatles’ songs?
George Speaking: Paul and John do lots of song writing. Since the group has been together they have written over a hundred tunes. While we’ve recorded many, the boys get a boost when other groups record their material. So far twenty-five tunes have been recorded by other artists. Ideas come easy for John & Paul, too. Luckily they have a backlog of material to use now, because tours have kept them busy lately. [Beatles Color Card 42]
In the summer of ’64, Beatlemania was in top gear.
It always happened, in Vancouver, that the two weeks just before going back to school there was the Pacific National Exhibition–which being near the Kootenay Loop was only a busride away.
And at the opening of the P.N.E., on the 22nd of August, the Beatles would perform at Empire Stadium.
[Empire Stadium was so called because it had been built for the Empire Games in 1954–those were the games where Roger Bannister and John Landry ran the Miracle Mile.]
It goes without saying that all of us kids wanted to go see the Beatles, but our father put his foot down and would not hear of it. He predicted that it would be pandemonium, there would be nothing to see or hear, just a lot of crazy teen-agers screaming. To compensate, he did take us to see A HARD DAY’S NIGHT which was playing in the theatres.
My father felt vindicated when it turned out, from the news reports, that the whole performance had been a debacle. The crowd of mostly screaming and fainting adolescent girls created a health and safety risk that the Vancouver Police could not contain. It was said that the Beatles cut short their show, but if they did then probably only by one or two songs, as they were on the stage for nearly thirty minutes and in the pre-show press conference they said their show would be just over thirty minutes.
Of course, while it might be that you couldn’t hear the Beatles for all the screaming–the very idea of witnessing such history would have been worth the cost. But I say that as someone who had just turned six at the time, not someone who was working every day just to put food on the table.
When you listen to the audio of the concert, it’s clear that the Beatles had a challenge with the sound. Not audible, but apparently when our local D.J., Red Robinson, took to the stage to ask for the crowd to back off, John Lennon, not knowing why this bloke had come up on their stage, was not too happy with our Red and let him know.
Question: What do you think of the screaming mobs that show up to see you?
Paul Speaking: Sometimes I think that The Beatle People are a little soft to love us so much. We just love all of them though, because we would be nowhere without them. There are days when we’re so exhausted that we don’t know if we can stay awake for the performance. But when we see and hear The Beatle People, all we want to do is sing. Their screams work like magic for our group. [Beatles Color Card 9]
Paul McCartney and John Lennon remember how they first met at the Woolton Village Fete on 6th July, 1957–THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY (2000, Chronicle Press):
Ivan Vaughan was a friend of mine born on exactly the same day as me. [He was a smashing fellow, who unfortunately got Parkinson’s disease and has died.] Ivan was also mates with John. Ivan said to me one day, ‘The Woolton Village Fete is on Saturday’–he lived near John in Woolton–‘Do you want to come?’ I said, ‘Yeah. I’m not doing anything.’
It was 6th July, 1957. We were fifteen years old. I remember coming into the fete; there was a coconut shy over here and the hoopla over there, and all the usual things–and there was a band playing on a platform with a small audience in front of them.
We headed to the stage first, because as teenagers we were interested in music. There was a guy up on the platform with curly, blondish hair, wearing a checkered shirt–looking pretty good and quite fashionable-singing a song that I loved: the Del-Vikings’ ‘Come Go With Me’. He didn’t know the words, but it didn’t matter as none of us knew the words either. There’s a little refrain that goes ‘Come little darlin’, come and go with me, I love you darling.’ John was singing ‘Down, down, down to the penitentiary.’ He was filling in with blues lines, I thought that was good, and he was singing well. There was a skiffle group around him: tea chest bass, drums, banjo, quite a higgledy-piggledy lot. They were called The Quarry Men because John went to the Quarry Bank school and I quite liked them.
[It was] the first day I did ‘Be Bop A Lula’ live on stage. ‘Be Bop A Lula’ has always been one of my all time favourites. It was at a church-hall garden fete, and I was performing with a mutual friend of Paul’s and mine. Another mutual friend who lived next door brought Paul along and said, ‘I think you two will get along.’ We talked after the show and I saw he had talent. He was playing guitar backstage, doing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ by Eddie Cochran.
I wandered around the fair and then Ivan and I went backstage. The band was getting ready to move indoors, into the church hall for the evening show. There was some beer being drunk. Really, I was too young for that then, but, ‘Sure I’ll have a sip.’ I was trying to be in with the big lads who, being sixteen, were into pre-pub drinking. We went to the evening show and that was good, although a fight almost broke out; we’d heard that the gang from Gaston was coming over. I was wondering what I had got myself into. I had only come over for the afternoon and now I was in Mafia land. But it all worked out fine, and I got on the piano.
Paul could play guitar, trumpet and piano. That doesn’t mean to say he had a greater talent, but his musical education was better. I could only play the mouth organ and two chords on a guitar when we met. I tuned the guitar like a banjo, so my guitar only had five strings on it. (Paul taught me how to play properly – but I had to learn the chords left-handed, because Paul is left-handed. So I learnt them upside down, and I’d go home and reverse them.) That’s what I was doing – playing on stage with a group, playing a five-string guitar like a banjo – when he was brought around from the audience to meet me.
John was a little afternoon-pissed, leaning over my shoulder breathing boozily. We were all a little sloshed. I thought ‘Bloody hell, who’s this?’ But he was enjoying what I was playing. ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ in C, and I knew ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Long Tall Sally.’ Then I played guitar-upside down. I did ‘Twenty Flight Rock’, and knew all the words. The Quarry Men were so knocked out that I actually knew and could sing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’. That’s what got me into the Beatles.
Paul told me the chords I had been playing weren’t real chords – and his dad said that they weren’t even banjo chords, though I think they were. He had a good guitar at the time, it cost about £14. He’d got it in exchange for a trumpet his dad had given him.
. . . I often pedalled around Woolton at that time, going to see Ivan. I lived a bike ride away in Allerton . . . Pete Shotton, who was in The Quarry Men, was cycling around too, and we met by chance. Pete was a close friend of John’s. He said, ‘Hey, Paul, it was good the other day, and we’ve been having a talk, would you like to join the group?’ I said ‘I’ll have to think about it.’ But I was quite excited by the offer, so-through Ivan-I agreed to join.