As we launch the new book, “The Beatles Fab Four Cities”, we examine events that connect the cities on 15th August.
Liverpool to London to Hamburg
On 15th August 1960, life was about to change for The Beatles. A little over 5 months before, they had formed their first rock ‘n’ roll group and performed at the Wyvern Club, arranged by their new manager, Allan Williams.
On that day, their new drummer Tommy Moore was late, so Johnny Hutch sat in for a short time. This gained them their first tour, backing Johnny Gentle around Scotland. Since then, Tommy had quit, been replaced by Norman Chapman, who was subsequently called up for the army. With days to spare, Paul McCartney rang the Casbah and invited Pete Best to join them as their new drummer. After an audition on the Saturday, and a rehearsal which turned into a gig at the Jacaranda on the Sunday, the five-piece of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best were about to head for Hamburg, courtesy of Allan Williams and Lord Woodbine. The adventure was about to begin!
With Lennon getting a last-minute passport, The Beatles hopped into Allan’s van to head to London. However, it wasn’t just Allan who went on the trip. Allan was joined by his wife Beryl, her brother Barry Chang and Allan’s business partner, Lord Woodbine (Harold Phillips). As they were heading to Hamburg, and nobody spoke German, they were picking up a translator in London, hence the diversion down south.
They had started at the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool, inspired by the 2 Is in London: they were now heading to the 2 Is Coffee Bar.
The 2 Is Coffee Bar, London
The London area of Soho was always known as an entertainment district that attracted teenagers. It also had a large Italian population. Many Italians started coffee bars in Soho, the first being the Moka Coffee Bar, at 29 Frith Street, which was opened by actress Gina Lollobrigida in 1953.
Teenagers flocked to the new coffee bars that opened, and they became the place for teenagers to ‘hang out’ – pubs were for old men. Even though the coffee bars couldn’t sell alcohol, many would bring their own to put in their coffee.
Soon, coffee bars sprang up all over Soho, and all over London. Many had jukeboxes, playing the latest rock and roll records, but not live music.
The 2 Is Coffee Bar was at 59 Old Compton Street, next to another coffee bar ‘Heaven and Hell’.
The Irini brothers, Sammy and Freddie, used the first letter of their name for the venue. But it really started to become known from April 1956 when the lease was taken over by Ray “Rebel” Hunter and Paul “Dr.Death” Lincoln, both Australian wrestlers. They thought that the prime location between Wardour Street and Dean Street would ensure abundant passing trade, but they were soon becoming concerned as the whole Street was jam-packed with other Coffee Bars. As a result, trade was not as good as they’d hoped, and we looking for ways to get more people to come in.
However, fate was at hand. The summer of 1956 saw the annual Soho Fair, which, on July 14th 1956, included a procession around its narrow streets. One of the attractions was The Vipers Skiffle Group, who were playing on the back of a flatbed truck. During the procession, their truck stopped right outside the 2 Is – so the Vipers went into the coffee bar and started playing some songs inside. . While they were in the 2 Is, people following the procession came in too, and bought lots of coffee. The owners of the 2 Is asked the Vipers to come back in when they wanted, and the Vipers became the house band of the 2 Is.
In September 1956, the Vipers backed their mate Tommy Hicks at the 2 Is. In the audience was A and R man of Parlophone records, George Martin. Martin was unimpressed by Hicks, but signed the Vipers.
Publicist John Kennedy had seen Tommy Hicks playing at the 2 Is and told Larry Parnes about him. Parnes signed the newly named Tommy Steele to a management contract, and started signing up more acts, and changing their names to suit their images. Ron Wycherly became Billy Fury, Reginald Leonard Smith became Marty Wilde, John Askew became Johnny Gentle. Many of his artists appeared at the 2 Is, including Johnny Gentle. Gentle was backed by the Beatles on their first professional tour, of Scotland in 1960.
The 2 Is and The Casbah: London Inspires Liverpool
The 2 Is became a famous location and often appeared on TV. On November 16th 1957, the Best family of Hayman’s Green, Liverpool, were watching the TV show, ‘Six Five Special, which was so called because it went out at 6.5pm (6:05pm) on Saturday nights. Normally it was broadcast from BBC studios, but this night it was live from the 2 Is Coffee bar. They were very taken by what they saw and decided to use the basement of their large house into a coffee bar with Rock and Roll. They called it the Casbah Club, inspired by the film ‘Algiers’ where the star, Charles Boyer, says ‘Come with me to the Casbah.
Tom Littlewood was employed as the day-to-day manager of the 2 Is in 1960. He was good friends of Liverpool entrepreneur Alan Williams and inspired Williams to start his own coffee bar with music in Liverpool – the Jacaranda.
A skiffle group playing in Soho Square 1956 – outside the building which would be become Paul McCartney’s ‘MPL’ offices 20 years later!
Tony Sheridan – the 2 Is, London, to Hamburg
The only guitarist at the time who was any good was Tony Sheridan – Jimmy Page
“Soho was, in effect, an island, vaguely resembling Greenwich Village in its aims and trends, especially in the music field. Everything happened in Old Compton Street, Wardour Street, and there were about 40 regular personalities that meant something”. – Tony Sheridan
“Saturday Night in St Pauli made Soho look like a sleepy village fete.” Rick Richards of the Jets
Born on 21st May 1940 in Norwich, Anthony Esmond O`Sheridan McGinnity, was the son of an English mother and Irish father. Known as Tony Sheridan, he grew up in a home strongly influenced by classical music and learned the violin at an early age. Artistically talented, he dropped out of grammar school to attend art school, and changed his violin for a guitar. In 1956 he formed his first skiffle group.
Tony started to visit London in late 1957, and became a regular at the 2 Is. He remembered that ‘Roy Young was screaming out Little Richard songs the first time I went down there’.
In January 1959, Tony formed a new band called ‘Tony Sheridan and the Wreckers.’ The Wreckers featured Jimmie Nicol on drums. Tony Sheridan said of Nicol “Jimmie was an exemplary drummer – one of those drummers appreciated by all musicians, though they might not admit it! It was one of those things really, right time, right place, right chemistry.”
However, as Tony Sheridan and the Wreckers were about to go on to the lucrative ballroom circuit, Larry Parnes moved Nicol out of the Wreckers and into ‘The Quiet Three’ – the backing band of one of his major artists, Vince Eager. Jimmie later became a session musician, until he briefly filled in for Ringo Starr in the Beatles, when Ringo fell ill before their world tour in 1964.
1959 Dick Rowe announced he had signed Tony Sheridan to Top Rank Records. However, disagreements with Tony’s then manager, Tom Littlewood, scuppered the deal.
Tony was on the Eddie Cochran/Gene Vincent tour in 1960. On April 17th Eddie and Gene were involved in a serious car crash. Tony said, “God, I’d have given almost anything to get a seat in the car taking Gene and Eddie from Bristol back to London on that last date of the tour in the spring of 1960. Instead, for the first (and last) time in my life I purchased half a bottle of whiskey and proceeded to down it in the theatre dressing room. Next morning, we learned that Eddie was dead, the car having crashed not too far from Bristol”.
Tony made 9 appearances on the TV show ‘Oh Boy’ – but “lost interest and ‘forgot’ my guitar or made a general nuisance of myself. Felt used or under-rated”
Tony backed Cliff Richard on a couple of occasions but as Tony says, “In those days I was a wild man – Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch were relatively docile chaps, and willing to back Cliff accordingly.”
Tony met his first wife, Hazel, at the 2 Is. She had an unplanned pregnancy and she and Tony had a ‘shot-gun wedding’ with future Shadows Brian ‘Liquorice’ Locking and Brian Bennett as joint best men. The marriage was not a success, and Tony was looking for a change…
From Liverpool to Hamburg: Hamburg comes to London and meets Liverpool
It was around this time that Hamburg club owner, Bruno Koschmider, bumped into musician Iain Hines, who recommended a group (which then didn’t exist!) who could play in Hamburg. However, Hines got a group together quickly, that was made up of musicians from the 2 Is. Tony Sheridan became part of this group – that were called ‘The Jets’.
In July 1960, Liverpool promoter (and Beatles manager) Allan Williams brought the Liverpool band Derry and the Seniors to London to play at the 2 Is. He owed them work, as he’d promised them a summer season in Blackpool, but promoter Larry Parnes pulled out of the deal at the last moment. However, Derry and the Seniors had given up their regular day jobs and were now desperate for some work. In an amazing twist of fate, Bruno Koschmider was in the 2 Is that night, looking for another act to take to Hamburg. The Jets had gone down so well, he needed another group for the Kaiserkeller Club.
Liverpool Goes To Hamburg
Koschmider loved the band, and an agreement was made on the spot for Derry and the Seniors to go to Hamburg.
Derry and the Seniors went down a storm in Hamburg too, so in early August 1960, Koschmider got in touch with Allan Williams again to see if he had another band to send to Hamburg. This time it was the Beatles turn…
Liverpool to London to Hamburg
As The Beatles and their little minibus arrived in London, they stopped off at a club in Soho, near the 2 Is, and picked up a German translator. The little van now had 10 people in it, as they headed towards Harwich for the ferry. Famous photos were taken as they boarded the ferry.
After landing in Holland, they made their way to Hamburg, via Oosterbeek cemetery, outside Arnhem.
And so, eventually, The Beatles arrived in Hamburg and were about to begin the next phase of their journey.
15th August 1965 – NEW YORK
It is therefore hard to imagine what The Beatles thought as they made their way into Hamburg after a long trip. Could they have even begun to think that, exactly 5 years later, they would be the biggest group on the planet, playing in front of over 55,000 people.
The Beatles At Shea Stadium
At the height of Beatlemania, during the summer of 1965, the Beatles played an outdoor arena concert at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York. Shea was a multi-purpose stadium that opened in 1964, just prior to the opening of the 1964-65 World’s Fair in nearby Flushing Meadow, and was the home to the New York Mets baseball team from 1964-2009 and the New York Jets football team from 1964-1983. In 2009 it was demolished to create the parking lot for the new home of the Mets, Citi Field.
Until that point, there had been a reluctance by promoters to hold concerts at this kind of venue because it was not thought that they would be worth the effort and expense, but this concert, promoted by Sid Bernstein, is recognized as the first of its kind and set the stage for arena rock as we know it today. It set records at the time for attendance (55,600 fans) and revenue ($304,000, $160,000 of which went to the Beatles) and proved that large-scale outdoor concerts could be lucrative. In addition, there were several opening acts, including fairly well-known bands such as Sounds Incorporated and the Young Rascals.
Initially, it was proposed that the Beatles arrive at the stadium by helicopter, but that suggestion was not permitted by New York City authorities. Instead, they left their hotel (The Warwick) by car and were taken to a heliport in Manhattan, where they boarded a copter that took them to another location in Queens, where they were then taken to the stadium in a Wells Fargo armored vehicle. While they were in the armored car, each of the Beatles was given a Wells Fargo badge, which can be seen pinned on the jackets they wore during the concert.
This concert was filmed for a 50-minute documentary entitled “The Beatles at Shea Stadium,” which was directed and co-produced by Sullivan Productions, NEMS and the Beatles’ company Subafilms. Fourteen cameras were used to capture the excitement of the event. Film footage from the concert shows screaming, fainting fans and policemen holding their hands over their ears to mute the deafening sound. Because they did not have any monitor speakers, the Beatles themselves could not hear the music over the sound of the audience. The film aired in the UK on March 1, 1966, in West Germany on August 2, and in the United States on January 10, 1967. The success of the 1965 concert was such that the Beatles returned to Shea again on August 23, 1966 for another successful concert the following year.