Before the Beatles

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Before the Beatles

Postby I am the Paulrus » Fri Oct 08, 2010 6:05 am

Before the Beatles

John Lennon would have turned 70 next Saturday. The Quarrymen, his first band, is still at it.


Sunday, October 3, 2010 ... QWLlg6E6xH

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome John, Paul, George . . . and Colin?

Ah, what could have been for the now-71-year-old upholsterer from Liverpool. Colin Hanton was the original drummer for the Quarrymen, a little skiffle band you may not have heard of that would ultimately become a band you have: The Beatles.

As a boy, Hanton liked drumming along to jazz records, and because he was one of the few boys in town with a kit, he was asked to join the John Lennon-fronted band in 1956.

The group shuffled members over the years, eventually expanding to include 17-year-old Paul McCartney and 15-year-old George Harrison, and in 1960, the group permanently changed its name.

In 1997, the founding members reformed (minus Lennon, McCartney and Harrison), and three of those musicians — Hanton, bassist Len Garry and banjo player Rod Davis — continue to tour. They play New York this week to mark John Lennon’s 70th birthday and promote Friday’s “Nowhere Boy,” a biopic about Lennon’s early years.

Hanton, who quit the Quarrymen in 1959 because he got tired of riding the city bus to gigs, says he has no regrets.

“You do think sometimes that the money might have been nice, but no,” he says. “And if I would have gone off to Hamburg, I could have ended up like [drummer] Pete Best, going almost all the way and dumped at the last minute [for Ringo Starr].”

Instead, he decided to stay in Liverpool and take an apprenticeship as an upholsterer. He didn’t touch the drums for nearly 40 years.

“Music wasn’t my life,” Hanton says. “I never had any dreams of becoming Elvis Presley. That was Paul and John. They wanted to be someone eventually.”

And they would each become someone — a turn of events that surprised the other Quarrymen.

“That was impossible to see,” he says. “John didn’t seem more talented than the rest of us. His mum, Julia, taught him to play the guitar because she could play banjo. He tuned his guitar like a banjo. Paul joined, and he taught John [how to tune] and to play a couple guitar chords.”

Lennon first met McCartney after a 1957 Quarrymen gig at a church garden party. Paul played rockabilly star Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” for John.

“Paul knew all the chords and the words,” Hanton says. “That was quite impressive, and that’s why he was invited to join the group.”

“Paul was a better guitarist in the early days than John.”

The band began scoring paying gigs around Liverpool, including dates at the Cavern Club, which at the time was known for jazz and skiffle — a raucous offshoot of blues and folk music played on homemade instruments such as jugs, washboards and tea-chest basses.

“One time when we were playing in the Cavern, and we’d stopped playing so much skiffle and started doing rock ’n’ roll,” Hanton recalls. “And John got a note handed to him onstage, and I think he was quite impressed. He thought someone was making a request. Then he opened the paper, and it said, ‘Don’t play any more rock ’n’ roll,’ signed the management.”

Throughout its entire career, the Quarrymen made just one record. In 1958, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Hanton and piano player Duff Lowe went into a Liverpool studio and recorded a cover of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day,” as well as an original song by McCartney and Harrison called “In Spite of All the Danger.”

A single acetate record was pressed. The band members passed it around, each keeping it for a week, until it was believed lost. It resurfaced in 1981 in Lowe’s possession, and McCartney bought it from him.

It’s estimated to be the most valuable record in existence, at more than $100,000.

Hanton says he lost touch with McCartney shortly after leaving the band, but the Beatle did send the Quarrymen an e-mail last week before the premiere of “Nowhere Boy.” It read, “Keep on rockin’, lads.”
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