Dennis Conroy

 

I Saw The Beatles Live


I was asked to contribute to the  book THE BEATLES - THE WHITE BOOK   * by Italian Guitarists and authors Daniele Bazzani and David Carnazza celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Love Me Do.


It’s a terrific book and my contribution was five chapters detailing my thoughts and memories of seeing The Beatles performing live at The Cavern. I will be reproducing a chapter a month on this website.


I would welcome contributions from anyone who saw The Beatles perform live before they had chart success. You can leave details on our contact page

I Saw The Beatles Live Chapter One


To give some background to my memories of seeing The Beatles performing live, it would help if you understood what the world, or more importantly, what my world was like BB (what does BB mean?), before Beatles.


The Beatles first appeared at The Cavern in February 1961, when I would have been 14 years and 4 months old.

I’d been passionate about music for as long as I can remember, but the family piano was a piece of furniture in our house with  far too many white keys to sort out and, sinister looking black keys daring you to strike them. My Mother, Father, Brother and Sister would each take turns at the instrument during the many parties and get-togethers that took place regularly in our house. Their level of ability is rated in order of mention, starting at the very basic playing of my Mother to the highly accomplished skills of my Sister, Maureen.


Maureen, or our Mo, had been sent to piano and tap lessons.  She could busk along with the elders’ favourites as well as playing adeptly from sheet music! My favourites were, In A Persian Market and The Black And White Rag. My Brother Les went on to play professionally but found the accordion to be his preferred instrument. I know we won’t fall out over my rating our Mo as, not only the best pianist in the family but also the best musician, but she never pursued her talents professionally.


The family piano did however, as I discovered, create some fabulous sounds. I found I could play the riffs of Raunchy by Bill Justis and, eventually, What’d I Say, but get those two hands playing together, no, humanly impossible. But anyway, Raunchy needed to be played on a guitar. The guitar had fascinated me since a friend of my brother had left one in our house while he went out to the pub with our Les. It was a Hofner, so shiny, shapely and made a fantastic sound when I twanged the strings. I wanted one.


I got a plastic four string Elvis Presley guitar for Christmas 1956 or 7 and progressed rapidly to a nylon strung Spanish guitar and on to borrowed electric guitars until, I owned a Rosetti Lucky Seven, which I must have had when I first saw The Beatles. Prior to knowing The Beatles existed I formed a group with some older guys and we performed at youth clubs, small rock venues and at any parties our parents could get us a booking for.


Our program was made up of rock‘n’roll standards, Little Richard being my favourite, closely followed by Chuck Berry, Elvis, Eddie Cochran and any cool American rockers. Unfortunately at that time the artistes I loved struggled, with the exception of Elvis, to make the charts in the UK, which were a peculiar mixture bland pop, novelty songs and very bad covers of great American music. Our group was guilty of trying to please all audiences by playing a cross section of these charts. We did however play quite a lot of instrumentals, the largest number being covers of The Shadows hits featuring me on lead guitar and echo chamber. Beguiled by how professional the echo chamber made my guitar sound we invested in one for our vocals. NB this is a quite significant event in relation to The Beatles.


I was a very cocky and confident guitarist and my burning love for music consumed my life. Playing semi-professionally while still at school did little to help with my expected academic progress but did wonders for my ego, which convinced me it was only a matter of time before I’d be topping our bland UK charts with my little combo, and echo chamber.


Life changed dramatically when I joined a dancing school aged about twelve and a half. I’d moved school at eleven and my friends from my first school persuaded me to go to a dancing school with them because, you got to hold girls bodies close to yours. This seemed like a good idea.


At the dancing school we were given partners to dance with and mine was the school beauty.  It turned at her mother’s family and my mother’s family lived in the same house when they were young girls in Liverpool- a common occurrence then. My mum and grandma (Big Nan) had us married off but, alas it was not to be. However the beautiful and lovely Clare Kennedy did change my young life forever one night at the dancing school when she asked me this seismic force question. “HAVE YOU SEEN THE BEATLES”?


To be continued.


21/10/10


Dennis Conroy © 2010

I Saw The Beatles Live Chapter 2


I had to tell the lovely Clare Kennedy that I hadn’t seen this group she was talking about while trying to maintain the coolness that my position as lead guitarist in The Premiers warranted.


I urged her to tell me all about them; did they have a lead singer like Elvis or Cliff? Did the play instrumentals like The Shadows? When she answered no to both questions I realised I had to check out this group with the strange name.


It is now almost fifty years since I took my first tentative steps into The Cavern and into the world down in that cellar which was ruled by The Beatles.  I never kept diaries of when or how many times I saw The Beatles, or what they played on specific performances, so all I can give is my memory of random events, songs and happenings that I still hold dear of  five guys who changed not only my life in music but my life.


Coming out of the rain in Mathew Street, that much I do remember about my first visit on what was probably a Wednesday lunchtime, into entrance of the Cavern, I was struck by the feeling of expectation.  Even now can I recall that feeling. I was with our bass guitarist, Alan Walton. We made our way down the steep, poorly lit slippery stone stairway to The Cavern and about halfway down, we heard them.


It was a sound, the likes of which I’d never heard before. The brick walls of The Cavern seemed to take hold of the sound of this yet unseen group (we called bands groups in those days) and bounced it around its corners and up the stairway to greet us. I distinctly remember the harsh clanking sound of dry guitars (NO echo chambers) and drums hiding a muffled vocal..  As we waited in line to pay, I think our one shilling and sixpence (about eight pence today) we could hear everything much clearer. I am pretty certain the group we playing, Red Hot (My Girl Is).  Eventually after what seemed an age but was probably only the length of the groups opening number, we set eyes on The Beatles.


As we looked at the stage, to our left stood George with Paul in the centre, John to the right in front of a stand up piano and Pete on the drums behind. Amplifiers were on chairs behind John and George, with Paul's “coffin” bass speaker on the raised drum section. The Beatles flouted the expected dress sense of the day for such performers by wearing a various assortment of shirts, jeans and Cuban heeled boots. At the time their hair seemed quite long but, looking back at ‘photo’s  of that period they wore their hair quite short in comparison to what it would become.


This image of the four Beatles on stage was, to us secondary to the music that was coming off the stage. Over the two year period I saw The Beatles at The Cavern that music was a mixture of the rockingest rock n roll you could ever imagine, some of the greatest Tamla/Motown tracks ever and songs as diverse as Falling In Love Again, A Taste Of Honey, Henry The Eight as well as  their own compositions, PS I Love You, Love Me Do and The Tip Of My Tongue.


What I took away from that first visit to The Cavern to see The Beatles was a burning desire to change my whole attitude to the music I played and what I wanted out of music in my life. It was a life changing moment.


When Alan and I played our next gig, which was at the Chinese No1 Berry Street Liverpool, the group ties (our group’s “stage clothes”) were left off and our shirt sleeves were rolled up. My echo chamber was only switched on for instrumentals.


4 December 2010


I Saw The Beatles Live Chapter 3


At a time when Liverpool was teeming with “beat groups”, what was it that put the Beatles at the top of the pile attracting the attention of, the owner of a record store in the centre of Liverpool; a record label, who’s owner’s EMI considered a “joke” and only to be used for EMI's “insignificant acts”; a talented producer who’s work prior to the Beatles had included recording, The Goons and My Boomerang Wont Come Back?


These three factors hardly fit into todays X - Factor type conveyor belt of rags to multi-million pound riches on a global scale, for every bedroom/karaoke singer who sells their soul to a Simon Cowell of the world. But the world of popular music in the early sixties was a very different place then to what we know now.


Ok, why the Beatles? To really understand my answers you would need to have sat or stood with me on numerous occasions in the Cavern almost fifty years ago.  The nearest you’ll get to that is to listen to the following. “The Beatles Live at the Star-Club Hamburg Germany; 1962” and “The Beatles Live at the BBC”. These recording are vital for anyone researching the Beatles music. The cultural and social significance of the Beatles is another issue.


Anyway the answer is simple. The Beatles could sing play their instruments, had attitude, looked great and were unbelievably exciting. Oh, and they could write a decent tune.


Let’s go through the above six factors.


(1) The Beatles could sing.


The Beatle had two outstanding vocalists in John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  In those early days George Harrison was a competent singer whose vital contribution to The Beatles vocal harmony sound can not be overstated. George went on to develop as an excellent lead vocalist in his own write. 


Paul possessed two voices, the screaming rock n roller on the likes of Hippy Hippy Shake and the crystal clear romantic lead on songs like A Taste Of Honey.  John Lennon had one of the great rock n roll voices of all time; a fact, which we found out later, escaped John at the time. A John Lennon vocal can be identified as easily as an Elvis, Little Richard and Ray Charles vocal.


(2) The Beatles could play their instruments.


The range of cover versions on the two recommended albums show what highly competent musicians The Beatles were at a very young age. Pete Best must be included here as there was no noticeable difference to the groups sound and delivery after he was replaced by Ringo Starr.


George’s many and varied instrumental breaks on these covers were the forerunner to him, in his post Beatle years, being recognised by his peers as one the worlds most creative musicians and writers.  John’s driving rhythm guitar providing the perfect bed for Georges lead guitar while Paul McCartney bass playing alone would win him a place in any band.


(3) The Beatles had attitude.


The Beatles Cavern stage show was one to behold. At that time the Beatles had built up a following of both male and female fans. They were supremely confident in their position as Liverpool’s top group. When they’d finish a lunchtime session at the Cavern you could often see them walking through the city centre as a group looking ultra cool, consciously aware of the attention that followed them. They oozed rock n roll. Not for them the insipid British take on American music and the desire to become “all round family entertainers” that was prevalent amongst the Cliffs, Tommy’s’ and Marty’s’ and Adams that went before them. The Beatles sort and found parity with their American heroes.


(4) The Beatles looked great.


The look they had adopted after trips to Hamburg did make them stand out in provincial Liverpool of the early sixties. favouring black and whether contrived or not, they looked like a unit.


Paul had that baby faced assassin look, John friendly but edgy.


George looked too young to be as good as he was, more like a kid brother in the group.

I remember the Beatles appearing at the Cavern around the date of Paul’s 20th birthday. A cake with candles was taken on the stage and after the “Happy Birthday” celebrations quietened down George, in his droll way informed us all, that he was “the only teenage Beatle now”. As the majority of people in the place were teenagers George established he was still one of us.


Pete Best was a film star, or so he looked.  Undoubtedly he was the most popular Beatle amongst the girl fans. A fact I felt did not sit too well with John and Paul with Pete frequently being the victim of their humour. They would often announce Pete would sing the next song, which would invariably bring squeals of expectation from the girls. Pete would lower his head in a shy James Dean way as they laughed and launched into a number featuring one of them. However I am assured by Bill Kinsley, of the Merseybeats, that Pete did very occasionally sing although I did not get to see that myself.


(5) The Beatles were unbelievably exciting.


The Beatles would amble on to the stage ignoring the audience as they made slight adjustments to the already set up drums and amplifiers. Paul would feed his guitar lead underneath one of his Cuban heeled boots to remove any kinks from it before plugging into his amplifier.


Careful not to make too much noise Pete would set his snare drum in place before glancing up at the frontline. From left to right George, Paul and John, ignoring the audience would be involved in some lively, mainly unintelligible banter while we… looked on in anticipation. One of the front three would, part un-noticed, turn away to make, what we assumed was, a final alteration to an amplifier.


Then it happened, at an obviously pre-arranged signal, perhaps a mimed count in or a 1,2,3,4 stamp of a Cuban heel, the Beatles would rip into their opening number. We were always caught by surprise. These intros were a feature of their stage show.


They always engaged with the audience. Reading request written on scraps of paper, sharing jokes.  They were extremely humorous without descending into contrived cabaret. John was particularly funny, but more of that later.


As the request was being read out or the humour was taking place, preparation for the next song was also taking place so as whatever was being said concluded the count in was there for the Beatles to surprise us again.


Further excitement was generated by the pace and dynamics the Beatles crafted into their music. The out and rock numbers were played faster than Little Richard, Elvis and Chuck’s originals. One of my son’s, on listening to Paul McCartney’s, Live At The Star Clubs Long Tall Sally claimed if it was a young band playing the song like that now I wouldn’t listen to it. He is probably right but the Beatles surprised us all then by injecting that extra pace into tracks that were well known to us giving them a whole new feeling. They also knew faster doesn’t always mean better with rock n roll.


They added dynamics to songs like, To Know Her Is To Love Her. The energy and lift they injected in to the middle eight was certainly not there in the Teddy Bears wonderful recording.


(6) They could write a decent tune.


The Beatles reputation locally was based on many things but not, as may be assumed, on their song writing. They had a huge and varied repertoire which was added to by a few of their own compositions. Those I can recall hearing them play were, Love Me Do, PS I Love You; Please Please Me and The Tip Of My Tongue. It came as a great but welcome surprise when the first album release had eight original songs on and the rest as they say is history.


Back in those Cavern days PS I Love You was a huge favourite with the girls but also won the admiration of the male followers.  This was because this group who came from similar backgrounds to us were writing their own songs. Up until then we thought you had to be a “real” musician chosen by God to “compose songs in “the Brill Building” or “Tin Pan Alley” or a concert hall.  But no “our mates” did it because they could.


PS I Love You was the song everyone one expected to be the “A” side when we realised the Beatles were going to make a record. Love Me Do had a bit more edge to it and was certainly a worthy choice for the “A” side of their debut single which, incidentally I bought the first morning it was released.


Please Please Me was played a lot slower at the Cavern with George playing the octave riff and no harmonica. The,  come on; come on; come on, refrain and that fabulous middle eight leading you back into the opening lines of the song set this song aside as something special.


The Tip Of My Tongue, which was a single for Tommy Quickly, was memorable for, if my memory serves me right, for John playing the maracas. It certainly wasn’t played anywhere near as often as the other originals by the group at the Cavern.


Next. What they played, how they played, who the played with, what they said.


February 2011

I Saw The Beatles Live Chapter 4


It’s a Wednesday evening session at the Cavern, sometime between 1961 and 1963. If you can read this while playing the tracks listed below, it will be as near as you could ever get to hearing The Beatles in the Cavern


Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes had left the stage after opening the evening show. Kingsize, who was a big man and a huge fan of Fats Domino performing many of his songs in the bands set, was also a big favourite in Hamburg, where the band regularly played.


The Beatles, unannounced, take to the stage. Their equipment is already in place from this afternoon’s lunchtime session. Paul starts sifting through bits of paper which contain requests, mostly from the female side of the audience, arranging them no doubt to fit in with their anticipated running order.


George as ever is making certain his guitar was in tune, no easy feat in pre guitar tuner days in a club where the brick walls were already glistening with condensation before the group’s first number. The use of the word “group” to describe The Beatles was the term we all used back then.


Pete’s making final adjustments to the positioning of his drums as he chats to George, while John picks up the large tarpaulin upright piano cover which was lying on the stage floor after Kingsize Taylor and The Dominoes had left the stage.


John looks at it and shouts towards the dressing room, “Kingsize, you’ve forgotten your mac (raincoat)” John shares this joke with an unseen member of the audience through the arch to his left. Paul now picks up on this conversation, laughing along with John as he, Paul, edges towards his position, centre stage. He turns towards George, who is also enjoying the joke, which is lost on Pete who sits watching John from a slightly head bowed position.


Then it happens. As Paul and George gain our attention John catches us, once again, by surprising us with a 1,2,3,4 count in. This heralds the opening A and C chords that lead into the key of D for a storming version of Some Other Guy (1), a Richie Barrett number. On Barrett’s version the opening notes were played on a keyboard at a more laid back tempo. John was to use the same sequence much later on Instant Karma.  John and Paul sing most of the track in unison.


The number finishes to the enthusiastic applause and shouts of encouragement from an already won over audience. Before the applause can finish Paul launches into an up-tempo Red Sails In The Sunset (2), a 1935 song revived in 1955 by Nat King Cole. 


The Beatles now pause to let us get our breath back. John reads requests from pieces of paper sat on his amplifier, before collecting his harmonica from the top of his amplifier to lead into their first original track of the evening, Love Me Do (4). Just as the applause fades John screams the title, Mr Moonlight (4). George’s Vox AC30 tremelo effect adds to the Latin American feel of Pete’s drumming.


It’s now the turn of George to sing one of his repertoire of Carl Perkins tracks, Everybody’s Tryin’ To Be My Baby (5), which was another 1930’s song originally by Rex Griffin. George’s versatility even at this young age was very evident as he brought Perkin’s picking style rhythm to this rock n roll group.


John takes the lead on an Arthur Alexander B side, Soldier Of Love (6).  This type of track really set the Beatles apart from the other Liverpool groups. This slower rhythm and blues track shows the attention they gave to the backing vocals, a characteristic that is heard throughout their careers.


Before the applause ends the Beatles rip into the B side of Larry Williams hit Dizzy Miss Lizzie, Slow Down (7).


I watch as The Echoes, a group formed to back, amongst others, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent, stand in the first left side alcove from the stage. I’d seen them in The Isle Of Man early in the year as the backing group for one of Larry Parnes tours. Backing the likes of Johnny Gentle, Vince Eager and the fabulous but underrated, Dickie Pride, they were very Shadows like and obviously good musicians.


They’d headlined the show tonight and gave a very enthusiastic performance to a polite Cavern audience. The Beatles seemed to be putting even more into the gig tonight. Perhaps annoyed that they’d lost their usual top of the bill slot or maybe just the challenge of a “London” group, whatever it was The Echoes stood and watched mouths open at a group that would change the music scene in the UK forever.


Next track is Carl Perkins country track Sure To Fall (In Love With You), (8) followed by Little Eva’s Keep Your Hands Of My Baby (9).  Later on, after a trip to London, the Beatles would include Little Eva’s Locomotion in their set as well as the chart topping Frank Ifield track I Remember You. This was explained away by Paul one night saying they had to learn these songs for gigs they played in London, implying London audiences weren’t as cool as us!


Following their version of Barret Strong’s Money, (10) a huge favourite in the Cavern the Beatles halted proceedings for a very special birthday, Paul’s 20th.  A cake with candles is brought onto the stage and after the “Happy Birthday” celebrations quieten down George, in his droll way informs us all, that he is “the only teenage Beatle now”. As the majority of people in the place are teenagers George establishes he still is one of us.


After the celebrations are complete the group launch into PS I Love You (11). This was a huge favourite at the Cavern and widely expected to be the A side of their debit single. Strangely enough there is no known live recording of this favourite. The Beatles however showed with the choice of Love Me Do for the A side that they would always go their own way and not pander to public opinion.


PS I love YOU  is followed by the fabulous Shimmy Shake (12), one of THE all time great rock ‘n roll songs originally recorded by The Olympics as, I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate.  This shows the Beatles talent for finding obscure American rhythm and blues tracks and making them their own.


Ringo was on fine form tonight after a harrowing lunchtime session which was filmed for Granada TV. A week after Pete Best’s exit from the band Ringo was playing drums with the Beatles, a session which was spoilt by some of Pete’s friends who were in the centre of the club shouting “we want Pete” and some other not so complementary phrases.


The Crickets Please Don’t Ever Change(13)  and the Shirelles Baby It’s You (14),take the tempo down before “The Reverend John Lennon” announces  “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry” (15), an Elvis cover. John showed his love for the absurd by often announcing songs in a preacher style looking over the heads of the audience and making a cross sign with his fingers to everyone’s amusement.


Paul’s Hippy Shake (16), Georges, Roll Over Beethoven (17) and Paul’s wonderful Long Tall Sally (18) bring everyone to a fever pitch before the group concludes with The Isley Brothers Twist And Shout (19).


Then it was over. No false encores just DJ Bob Wooler telling us who this fantastic group was, then playing the next record as the stage was cleared for the next group.


Individually John, Paul, George, Pete and Ringo were great, as a group they were completely unique,


  1. 1.Some Other Guy                 Live At The BBC

  2. 2.Red Sails In The Sunset                 Live At The Star Club

  3. 3.Love Me Do                  Live At The BBC

  4. 4.Mr Moonlight                 Live At The Star Club

  5. 5.Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby        Beatles Live At The Star Club

  6. 6.Soldier Of Love                 Live At The BBC

  7. 7.Slow Down                 Live At The BBC

  8. 8.Sure To Fall                 Live At The BBC

  9. 9.Keep Your Hands Off My Baby                 Live At The BBC

  10. 10.Money                 Live At The BBC

  11. 11.PS I Love You        LiveAt The BBC Vol 2

  12. 12.Shimmy Like My Sister Kate        Live At The Star Club

  13. 13.Don’t Ever Change        Live At The BBC

  14. 14.Baby It’s You                 Live At The BBC

  15. 15.I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry         Live At The BBC

  16. 16.Hippy Shake                  Live At The Star Club

  17. 17.Roll Over Beethoven        Live At The BBC

  18. 18.Long Tall Sally                  Live At The Star Club

  19. 19.Twist And Shout                  Live At The BBC


Most of The Star Club recordings are of a poor quality, littered with, unusual for The Beatle, fluffed notes. However the sound and excitement takes me right back to The Beatles Live At The Cavern


Dennis Conroy ©2011