In recent years, it has become a commonplace to celebrate one significant Beatles milestone after another, with the latest having been the 50th anniversaries of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Beatles’ performance of “All You Need Is Love” on the international Our World telecast. But it is difficult to imagine a more important date on the Beatles calendar than July 6, 1957—the legend-making day on which 16-year-old John Lennon met 15-year-old Paul McCartney. In truth, we might not know the date at all if not for the deft detective work by Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, who ferreted out articles and advertisements for the event in the yellowed pages of old newspapers.
The occasion was an annual garden fête held at St. Peter’s Church in Liverpool’s Woolton neighborhood. Over the years, the fête had become a much anticipated regional celebration, with live music, plenty of fair food for the taking, carnival games such as the ever popular coconut shies, craft stalls galore, a highly revered policemen’s dog show, and, topping the bill for residents of the northeastern Liverpool district, the crowning of the Rose Queen.
The festivities began with a pair lorries on parade through Woolton village as they made their slow progress towards their destination, the field behind St. Peter’s Church. The first lorry ferried the Rose Queen, bathed in pink and white satin, and her retinue, whose hair was festooned with handmade roses.
The second lorry transported the fête’s array of musicians—namely, the Quarry Men, John’s rag-tag skiffle group, along with an array of other entertainers, including the band of the Cheshire Yeomanry. At first, John and his bandmates tried to play their instruments while standing up on the slow-moving flatbed truck, but eventually they gave up and sat down. John’s half-sister Julia Baird remembers John sitting on the edge of the lorry, where he sang and played his guitar as his mother Julia laughed and waved at him along the parade route.
For John and the Quarry Men, the fête offered an opportunity to play an afternoon show in the field, followed by an evening slot inside the church hall, where they would serve as the warm-up act for the George Edwards Band at the Grand Dance.
At 2 PM, the Quarry Men took the stage. Comprised of Lennon on guitar and vocals, Eric Griffiths on guitar, Colin Hanton on drums, Rod Davies on banjo, Pete Shotton on washboard, and Len Garry on tea-chest bass, the band performed a breezy, rocking set that included such gems as the Del-Vikings’ “Come Go with Me,” Lonnie Donegan’s “Putting on the Style,” and Elvis Presley’s “Baby, Let’s Play House,” among others.
As it happened, young Bob Molyneux was in the audience that day, and he recorded part of the Quarry Men’s performance on his portable Grundig tape recorder. In 1994, he discovered the recording, which was subsequently sold at auction for the record-breaking sum of £78,500 to EMI. While the record conglomerate had considered releasing the Quarry Men’s performance as part of the Beatles’ Anthology project, the segment didn’t make the final cut, given the scratchy, amateurish nature of the recording.
But no matter. The real story that day occurred later that afternoon in the church hall when Paul’s boyhood friend Ivan Vaughan, who sometimes subbed as the Quarry Men’s tea-chest bass player, introduced him to John. It was a momentous occasion that passed by in the space of a few minutes, as the younger boy, having borrowed John’s Gallotone acoustic, ripped off such chestnuts as “Twenty Flight Rock” and “Be-Bop-a-Lula” in a brazen attempt to impress the older boy and his mates. Paul topped off his brief performance by teaching the Quarry Men how to tune their guitars.
Years later, Paul would recall that John was slightly drunk at the time, but if nothing else, he had distinguished himself as a strong vocalist that day in the field. “I remember John was good,” said Paul, “and he had his glasses off, so he really looked suave.” John was impressed with the younger boy’s obvious talent, and besides, he later remarked, Paul “looked like Elvis, and I dug him.” For his part, Pete would remember that “they were almost standoffish.”
John and Pete later discussed the idea of inviting Paul to join the Quarry Men. He could play the guitar and sing like virtually no one else they’d met across Liverpool and its environs. But asking Paul to join the band would clearly come at a price: John’s dominance over his schoolmates would come to a close if Paul were to enter their ranks and upset the calculus. As John later put it, “Was it better to have a guy who was better than the people I had in—obviously—or not? To make the group stronger or to let me be stronger?”
A few weeks later, Pete came across Paul, who was cycling near the golf course not far from Penny Lane. “Do you want to join the group?” Pete asked. Leaning on his bike, Paul thought about it for a moment before saying “okay” and riding off. And that was it.
As it turned out, Lennon and McCartney would have to wait a little while longer to take the stage together for the very first time. Paul would have to miss the Quarry Men’s next gig, as he and his younger brother Mike were away at Boy Scout camp. If nothing else, it makes for a poignant reminder that, long before they enjoyed the rarified air of global stardom and international regard, folks like John and Paul were just plain kids.
Ken Womack is an internationally renowned Beatles authority regarding the band’s enduring artistic influence. His latest book, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years: 1926-1966), is forthcoming in 2017. His previous Beatles-related books include Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles and The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four. You can learn more about Ken’s work at kennethwomack.com.