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By Alan L. Chrisman
Ive always been most fascinated by the Beatles beginnings. I was fortunate over the years to
meet several whom were there before they were so well known. Id read most of the books,
seen the films, heard the legends, but I wanted to know what perhaps had really happened.
And the only way to do that was to meet some of the people who had known them first and ask
them to describe the same incidents and people and places. And if they described it basically
the same ways, then probably there was truth to it.
It all started with meeting Cynthia Lennon, Johns first wife, 1962-68. She had met him at art
school in Liverpool. They were quite opposites really, John the tough, sarcastic teen-age
wannabe rocker, and she the more middle-class, nice girl. What they had in common was their
poor eyesight and artistic sensitivity. But she also had the ability to ground him in those early
years (especially after he had lost his mother, Julia, to a drunk drive, while being raised by his,
more strict aunt, Aunt Mimi). I had read her Twist of Lennon book (78), and I wanted to meet
her. So I attended my first Beatles Convention in Connecticut in 94, where she was a guest. I
met her and she signed my copy of her book and we talked a bit. She was lovely still and warm
and artistic, as Id hoped. And meeting her inspired me to organize my own Beatles
Conventions and pursue my goal of meeting others who had known The Beatles.
Also at that same convention, to my surprise, as she wasnt supposed to be a guest, was May
Pang. She was John Lennons girlfriend, for 18 months, which Yoko had assigned to keep an
eye on John and actually have a relationship with him, during his infamous Lost Weekend in
California, 73-74. I was in the dealers room with very few people when an Oriental woman
was talking to an author whom had written several Beatles books and he had a copy of his
latest book for her and called her, May. I knew immediately, who she must be. She signed
my John Lennon Walls And Bridges LP on the song lyrics for one of my favorites songs on it, # 9
Dream(where she whispered John background) and told me another song, Sweet Bird of
Paradox was about her. Again, I was surprised to see her there, because I didnt know then if
Cynthia and May would have gotten along. I knew that Yoko and Cynthia didnt and May had
originally been Yokos assistant. Also along with May was Fred Seaman whom Yoko would later
accuse of stealing Johns diaries, when he was their assistant at the Dakota. But May was
actually there to see Cynthia, because they were good friends, since May had encouraged John
to re-connect with Cynthias son, Julian, when he was separated from Yoko in California. May
gave me her business card, and she was then married to Tony Visconti, David Bowies producer.
She wrote a book about her time with John called Loving John (83).
My friend, Al Whyte, and I had taken a course about putting on events (for which we had
created a fantasy Beatles Convention as a school project) and he was there with me. After the
Conn. Convention, Al and I discussed seriously,for the first time, to put on our own Beatles
Convention back in Ottawa. After all, we now had several contact numbers for Cynthia, May,
and several others around The Beatles, we had met that amazing weekend. I had even given
Cynthia a copy of our fantasy Beatles Convention (but had changed the fantasy guest from Yoko
to Cynthia and her son Julian who had had a big hit with his first album, Valotte.
Shortly after arriving back in Ottawa, I got a call on my answering machine from Pauline
Sutcliffe from England (I dont know for sure, but Cynthia Lennon must have given her my
number). Stu Sutcliffe was with the early Beatles when they went to Hamburg, Germany in
1960. He wasnt very good on bass, but he was a promising painter and a big influence on and
a close friend of John in Liverpool. But Stu had fallen in love with Astrid Kirchherr in Hamburg
and he had left them to pursue painting and be with her. Astrid had a big influence on them
taking very artful black and white photographs and getting them to wear their distinctive Beatle
haircuts. Unfortunately, Stu was to die in Germany, of a brain hemorrhage, shortly before they
became known.
I discussed with Pauline the possibility of bringing in some of Stus paintings for our proposed
Beatles Convention, but we couldnt afford the insurance necessary. But I was soon to meet
her in person at an exhibition of his artwork in Toronto. I arrived early at the exhibition, and
this very nice British woman offered me a tea and tour of the exhibit and it was Pauline, whom I
had communicated with earlier. She helped write the book, later made into the film, Backbeat
(94) that told the not at the time very known story of her brother, Stu, and Astrid and The
Beatles in Hamburg. I had wanted to have Cynthia Lennon as our guest at our Convention, but
it was her birthday, the weekend we planned to do it, and she wanted to be with her family.
We had timed it to be the anniversary of the first time The Beatles had played Canada in
September, 1964.
We heard though that there was someone from Liverpool who lived in Ottawa who knew Pete
Best and was his friend and agent. His name was Barrie Naylor and had played The Cavern with
his band, the very last time the Beatles had played there on August 3, 1963. Barrie contacted
Pete and he was interested. Hed actually been to Ottawa with little fanfare before, as had
Tony Sheridan, with whom they had played and had backed up on their first early recordings
like My Bonnie. Legend goes that that was the song that a Liverpool teenager would request
from Brian Epsteins record store that would alert him to see them at the Cavern and become
their manager (although more than likely, Epstein would have known about them before).
Pete had been their first drummer in Liverpool and Hamburg. In fact, Petes mother Mona ran
one the first clubs in her basement, The Casbah, they had played before the Cavern after they
returned from Germany in 1961. But right before The Beatles had signed their contract with
George Martin and EMI, he had been replaced by Ringo (Pete had played with them for over
two years). Supposedly, Martin had said his drumming wasnt up to par for recording. In those
days, they often used professional session drummers in the recording studio (in fact Ringo
didnt play drums on the The Beatles first single Love Me Do). But other people like Cynthia
Lennon had said, Pete just didnt have the ego to compete with John and Pauls, as George was
later to find out when they ignored his own song writing for years. But The Beatles never did
tell Pete to his face why he had been cut out, right before they made it. They left the dirty work
to their manager, Epstein.
We held the first Ottawa Beatles Convention on September 7, 8, 1995 (thered only been one
other one in Canada in Toronto), with Pete and his Liverpool band, as guests signing autographs
and performing. Also drumming there with him was his half-brother, Roag (who, not many
people knew, was actually the son of Neil Aspinall, the Beatles old Liverpool friend and road
manager and who later became the head of The Beatles own label, Apple Records). Neil and
Petes much older mother, Mona, had had an affair and Roag was the result. Now we had
purposely timed our first convention with the release, right at that time, of the first volume of
The Beatles Anthologies. The Anthologies had originally been Neils idea and he had been
working on it since 1970. And with the remaining Beatles also recording two songs by John and
The Anthologies selling over 30 million copies and accompanying videos and TV specials, it
helped make The Beatles popular with a whole new generation again. It also helped us and,
with an original Beatle as a guest, made our first convention a success. With Pete playing on
several of the old songs (and perhaps his stepfather, Neil Aspinall, with that in mind), Pete
who had been ignored, received shortly after our Convention, a check from The Anthologies,
and after 30 years of being teased as the Beatle who had just missed out, became a millionaire
overnight. And as Cynthia Lennon had said, it couldnt have happened to a nicer guy.
But now everybody wanted us to do a 2
Ottawa Beatles Convention. So we went looking for
possible guests. The next year, at a Beatles dealers show in Burlington, Ontario, I got to meet a
few more from the Beatles early days. First there was Len Garry, one of the original
Quarrymen, John Lennons teen-aged band before The Beatles. He told the story (he was
there) of The Day John Met Paul, July 6, 1957 at a Liverpool church social. A chubby Paul
McCartney got up and played 20 Flight Rock and John was impressed because John only knew
a few banjo chords his often-absent mother had taught him. And the way Len Garry told it,
John, not wanting to admit he wanted Paul in the band, had his friend, Pete Shotten, who also
wrote one of my favorite books on the early Beatles, The Beatles, John Lennon, and Me (83), to
approach Paul later. Evidently, Paul rode his bike up and coolly replied, Ok and The Beatles
were formed, as George was soon invited along by Paul to play guitar.
Also at that Ontario show was Beryl Wooler, whod been Brian Epsteins secretary and later
married to Bob Wooler whod been The Cavern D.J. and an early Beatles supporter. But the
next guest there was a real character, Allan Williams, who had run a strip joint in Liverpool
called the Jacaranda the Beatles had played early on, and had been the one to actually send
them to Hamburg. He told outrageous stories; he even held up there McCartneys leather
pants they had worn at The Cavern, until Epstein had got them to change to the special Beatle
suits. Williams said he was trying to get McCartney to buy back his own leather outfit for
$10,000! I liked the guy; for more outrageous stories, also one of the best books on the early
Beatles, read The Man Who Gave Away The Beatles (75), titled that because he had advised
Brian Epstein, not to touch them with a F 10 foot barge pole, after they had stiffed him his
booking fees in Germany. But I felt hed be too wild for our family-friendly convention (for now
young people were just as enthralled with the Beatles as we who had grown up with them).
Our 2
Ottawa Beatles Convention, was again timed with the release of the next Beatles
Anthologies in September, 1996. Our special guest, along with John Lennons Psychedelic Rolls
Royce, was Georges sister, Louise Harrison, at the Canadian Museum Of Science and
Technology. Louise told stories of growing up with George and accompanying The Beatles to
Washington, D.C. on their first North American tour. And she revealed a little-known tale
about how George had visited her in a small town in Illinois, where she was then living in 63,
and how unknown-in-America George got up and jammed with a local band there and someone
had said, Keep it up and you might go somewhere. This was just a few months before
everyone would know The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in Feb. 1964. With her as a guest
(we also had Indian dancers and music as a tribute to George) and Lennons car and The
Anthologies, we tripled our attendance from the year before. Also Pete Best agreed to come
back to Ottawa and play a club, in conjunction with our convention. Even though he was now a
millionaire, he was still the same, shy, down-to-earth guy.
Another person connected with the early Beatles I was to meet was BBC director, Leslie
Woodhead. He had filmed the only known footage of The Beatles at the Cavern in 1962. I met
him because he came to Ottawa to interview and film my Russ/Cdn. friend, Yury Pelyushonok,
about his book about growing up in the Soviet Union and trying to play banned Beatles music.
Yury had written of his personal experiences in his book, Strings for a Beatle Bass (98 & 2004).
Mr. Woodhead used Yurys song, Yeah Yeah Virus as a theme throughout for his 2009 film
and 2013 book, How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin, which backed Yurys claim that Beatles
music helped bring down Communism. Yury had gotten to know a bit, The Beatles friend and
manager for the past 30 years, Neil Aspinall, because Yury had left a copy of his book at Apple
headquarters in London, as I had suggested, in 2000. Paul McCartneys assistant had called
back for more copies for George and Ringo! Imagine Yury growing up in Russia, playing banned
Beatles music and The Beatles being interested in your book!
As for me, as I had set out to do, I had met many who had known them, especially from their
beginnings. And by meeting and talking to them and others, I felt I really did have a better idea
of their amazing journey and how they had changed my life and millions of others.
Alan L. Chrismans book, Its A Long Way Home (& How Beatles Music Saved My Life)
Excerpts: more Beatles stories, etc.: