ANYONE who knows anything about the history of The Beatles knows that their rise to worldwide fame didn’t come overnight. In fact, they had evolved froma skiffle group called The Quarrymen, formed in Liverpool during 1956.
Tonight, half a century after the Fab Four played their one and only Abergavenny gig, four members of the band that originated them will play the same town.
There were several permutations of The Quarrymen, the original line-up featuring John Lennon on guitar. The band also featured John’s school friend, Rod Davies, on banjo. “It started off with just five guys at Quarry Bank School,” remembers Rod. “Wewere all inspired by Lonnie Donegan’s recording of Rock Island Line.
“I started sometime in late ’56. I only ever played with John. I was a banjo player and that was because Donegan played banjo and guitar. I didn’t mind which area I got and it turned out I ended up with the banjo. I was more interested in the blues and country end of the skiffle repertoire, while the other guys in the band were much more keen on rock ’n’ roll. At the end of the fifth year you could leave school, so John went off to art school, Pete Shotton on washboard left to become a police cadet and the other guitarist left to become an electrical apprentice. I stayed on for the sixth form to get to university and drifted away fromthem.”
Rod was replaced in The Quarrymen by Paul McCartney following a meeting with John Lennon in Woolton on July 6, 1957.
“I don’t even remember Paul on the famous day when John and Paul first met,” laughs Rod. “People always say, ‘where were you?’ and I always used to say, ‘I must have gone home formytea’. Later, for a joke, I started to say ‘I must have gone for a pee’.
There’s this moment in rock ’n’ roll history and I went for a pee!
Nowit’s enshrined in history. This American guy has done this beautiful oil painting of the moment John met Paul, he said: “Nowyou will see all the other guys are in the picture, your banjo’s leaning against a chair because I hear you say you were in the bathroom at the time!’”
Rod last saw John in Liverpool around Easter 1962. “I bumped into him in the street in Liverpool and we were chatting about what instruments I was playing,” he remembers. “I said: “Well, I’ve got into folk and bluegrass music, I’ve played a bit of guitar, decent bit of fiddle and mandolin.”
He said: “It’s a pity you can’t play the drums, you could have come and played with us in Hamburg.” I was about to go to Cambridge so the last thingmymother wanted me to do was chuck upmy academic career to go to Hamburg with John Lennon, from whomshe thought I’d escaped years before.”
While The Beatles scaled the heights of the charts Rod pursued his own career path, but fans’ interest in The Quarrymen lured him back to the fold in 1996 and he has continued to play with them regularly since his retirement.
Also playing with Rod at Abergavenny this evening will be fellowQuarrymen Len Garry, Colin Hanton and John Duff Lowe.
“Len Garry started a bit after me,” says Rod, “he played the tea chest bass, Len was fromLiverpool Institute and played with John and Paul. Our drummer (Colin) started about the same time and played with John, Paul and George, then in 1958 they made this recording of In Spite Of All The Danger and That’ll be the Day (featured on The Beatles Anthology Volume 1) and Paul got this friend of his from Liverpool Institute called John Duff Lowe to start playing piano for The Quarrymen.”
So what can people expect to hear fromThe Quarrymen? “People have always asked us to play the stuff we played between 56 and 59, which is skiffle and rock ’n’ roll, the kind of music that inspired John, Paul, George and Ringo.Weplay a lot of stuff fromLonnie Donegan’s repertoire and early rock ’n’ roll, including Elvis stuff.”
●The Quarrymen play The Borough Theatre this evening at 7.30pm, while tomorrow evening The Cavern Beatles recreate the music of the Beatles 50 years on.
For both events contact box office 01873 850805 or online from boroughtheatreabergavenny.co.uk
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