Beatlemaniacs can relive a slice of history that's been dormant for more than 40 years at the Beatlefest 2000 - New York Metro, which will be held this weekend at the N.J. Crowne Plaza Meadowlands Hotel (formerly the Meadowlands Hilton) in Secaucus, N.J.
Historians pinpoint July 6, 1957, as the birth of the Beatles because it was on that date that John Lennon first met Paul McCartney. The occasion was a festival at the Woolton Parish church in Liverpool, and Lennon's skiffle group, the Quarrymen, were among the entertainers who performed during the day. McCartney was introduced by a mutual friend, and Lennon invited him to join his group a few days later.
While everyone knows what happened to the lads who eventually became the Beatles, the rest of the Quarrymen faded into obscurity and went on to live normal lives. This weekend's Beatlefest will reunite the lineup that was on stage with Lennon on that fateful date in 1957.
Skiffle was sort of a combination of hillbilly music and American rock 'n' roll that became a big fad in England in the mid-1950s, and most of its practitioners played an odd assortment of instruments. Lennon's band was named for the Quarry Bank High School, which he attended, and consisted of various members who came and went over a period of time.
At the Woolton Parish fete, John, who sang and played guitar, was accompanied by Pete Shotton on the washboard, Rod Davis on banjo, Eric Griffiths on guitar, Len Garry on tea chest bass and Colin Hanton on drums.
"We were the most regular members of the Quarrymen at that time," said Garry, who still lives in Liverpool and who recently wrote a book entitled John, Paul & Me - Before the Beatles. "I met John in 1955 through a guy named Ivan Vaughn, and we became buddies. John formed the Quarrymen in 1956."
Garry recalls vividly the day when McCartney arrived on the scene.
"I remember Paul coming around during the afternoon, and then he attended again in the evening," said Garry. "Paul was a bit of a showoff because John wasn't playing proper guitar chords. He was playing banjo chords on the guitar."
Lennon had no formal instructions on guitar but was taught a few banjo chords by a relative who gave him one when he was a youngster. McCartney, who was more musically inclined, taught his new friend a few guitar chords and then performed a rendition of Twenty Flight Rock, an Eddie Cochran hit, with the Quarrymen, which impressed Lennon enough to extend his invitation.
"Anybody who could play better than us was invited to join the group," said Garry.
The band continued to change members as time passed.
"(This lineup) had been going on for about six months, and shortly after that day, Pete Shotton left and then Rod Davis left," said Garry. "I carried on for a while, and soon after I left in 1958, George Harrison came in."
While we all know what happened to John, Paul and George (and later Ringo), the other Quarrymen went on to carve out careers in different fields.
Davis attended Cambridge, studied languages and became a teacher and a lecturer on tourism. He is now retired and lives in the London area. Shotton opened up his first business, a supermarket, with a little help from his friend John, expanded successfully and recently retired to Southampton, England, after selling a chain of restaurants. Hanton has an upholstery business in Liverpool, and Griffiths owns some dry cleaning outlets in Edinburgh, Scotland. Garry went into architecture originally and now teaches people with learning disabilities.
The five were reunited in 1997 for a celebration to mark the 40th anniversary of Liverpool's famed Cavern club, where the Beatles were once regulars. Later that same year, they appeared at a benefit at the Woolton Parish.
"It was falling apart," said Garry. "The church couldn't afford to do the repairs that were needed, so somebody decided to hold a benefit performance to raise money so it wouldn't have to be demolished."
Those two performances led to other offers, and the Quarrymen have performed at various venues over the last two years, including the Bottom Line in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, a Las Vegas showroom and a Beatles convention in Havana, Cuba.
"We do skiffle and a lot of Elvis Presley tunes," said Garry. "The audience enjoys it, but we don't take it too seriously. We're not really a band, but people want to see what the Quarrymen were like when the Beatles started out."
And what are his memories of Lennon?
"There was always something happening with John," Garry explained. "He got bored easily, so he would create (situations). He had a great wit, and he could be quite cruel at times by poking fun at people, but underneath it all, he was a good-hearted man."
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