Magical Beatles Museum
A Feature by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
Nearly anything to do with The Beatles is already magical to me. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t be further intrigued by formerly unknown facts on my favourite band, and this place is a treasure trove of Beatles memorabilia, revealing all sorts of new wrinkles in what’s largely been assumed to be more or less, a done deal in terms of the group’s story.
Although in real time, then, Animals and Stones loving me didn’t become a Beatles fan till I heard Norwegian Wood in ‘66, I followed them thereafter until their breakup in ‘70, copying their fashions and other trends like millions of teenagers the world over. On visits to various shrines of sorts since, I’ve always been aware that somehow, the group’s origins had been skimmed over, until now. This Museum forms a vital missing link in the storyline, detailing the group’s origins and first ever gigs at the Casbah Coffee Club in West Derby, where Mona Best, club founder and mother of former Beatles drummer, Pete, literally gave them and other Mersey groups their starts. The Casbah Coffee Bar, 8 Hayman’s Green, West Derby, opened its doors 29 Aug, 1959.
But, after two years of playing with The Beatles, in Hamburg, Germany and all over the UK, drummer Pete Best, Mona’s son, was unceremoniously replaced by Ringo Starr, having played with The Beatles the night before at the Cavern. The dirty work as John Lennon would later refer to the deed, was done by Brian Epstein, and that, as they say, was that. Or was it? Here, we find out what happened to Pete after that callously done push and of course, what happened from shortly after, to their 1970 breakup to John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Having seen Pete Best over the years on talk shows, in America and in the UK, I’ve always felt it was unfair, not just that he was fired and not given a reason, but that the other guys never spoke to him again, and the surviving Beatles still haven’t, to this day. Naturally, Ringo and Pete, being drummers in popular local bands, would have been amiable, and Paul and Pete together in Hamburg in the early days, were even arrested and deported on a trumped-up arson charge. Pete has even stated, of late, that he’d meet with McCartney to have it out, verbally, of course, over a bottle of Scotch. So, what gives? I guess we’ll never know unless Pete’s proposed meeting takes place. I was at least, somewhat gratified to learn that Pete has been receiving royalties from The Beatles Anthology, as he features on 10 of its 60 tracks. The fact remains that Pete played with The Beatles, for a good two years, and an estimated 1,000 gigs and 27 recordings, even though he was first asked to go with them to Germany, on very short notice, when the band had accepted a gig in Hamburg calling for a five-piece and they didn’t even have a drummer. Makes you wonder what might have happened if Pete had said no. Pete, as John would say later, was, in effect, to him at least, always a fill in drummer. Regardless, he deserved respect at the end of his tenure and thereafter. Never-mind the fact that Pete was in those days, the most popular Beatle, which, may or may not have helped.
Magical Beatles Museum
Hey Jude was playing when we went into the Museum, which made things seem a bit spacier than they should have been at that point, as the wall we were passing was filled with black and white photos of fans, acting manic in the Beatlemania days. No worries as we were only just heading into the Museum proper. Up a double set of stairs, well really, one set with a twist, lined with all kinds of photos of The Beatles, and we were nearly there…Chairs at the top were a good idea. Those with challenging feet, hips, legs, or a combination, take note!
On the first floor of the exhibition, 1959 – 62, you initially get a sense of The Beatles, as they were at the beginning, even before they had Pete as drummer. A corrugated tin ‘wall’, ‘Pre-Fab', covered in photos from the Church Fete where John and Paul met on Sat. July 6, 1957 is the first thing that catches your eye. Then there’s young Mona Best, looking glamorous, in the way of her time, in a, rightfully, wall filling black and white portrait.
Magical Beatles MuseumIt strikes me that Mona Best aka Mother of Merseybeat would make a fascinating subject for a documentary, and/or film about her life and invaluable contributions to the world of rock n roll music, as without her vision, Liverpool’s musical outpourings might have remained a local success, rather than the influential, worldwide movement they became. This was doubly important in the days when London, with its posh accents dominated not just the music scene, but arts in general. Mona’s humble club acted as a battering ram to break down barriers, all the more remarkable achievement in what would have then, been, totally, a man’s world.
I must say, I have a renewed admiration for Mo Best after seeing this exhibition. She must have had ultra-strong will and determination….So much so that, in 1954, she pawned her jewellery to bet on a horse, ridden by a then, relatively unknown jockey, 18 year old Lester Piggott, (for whom this was just the first of a record 9 wins) in the Epsom Derby, in hope of getting enough money to buy the huge, Victorian house she would go on to put a Rock n Roll Club in the basement of, in 1959, a former Conservative Club of all things. The horse, ‘Never Say Die’, won, with odds of 33-1 against him, granting her the windfall needed to buy the 15 bed-room mansion that would later house the Casbah Coffee Club! There was a real need for such a place in Liverpool then, as London already had the 2 i’s Coffee Bar, where Cliff Richard and the Shadows and other stars of the day were discovered, but there was no place for bands to hone their craft or be discovered locally. So, thanks to Mrs. Best, The Beatles eventually got a start on the road to stardom. I say eventually, as technicalities kept Mo from acquiring the house till ’57, and it wasn’t until she saw what was happening in London’s Soho, on a TV show in ‘59, that she opened a members’ only club. She’d originally wanted the place so sons Rory and Pete would have ‘a clubhouse’ where they could to listen to music with friends.
It strikes me that Mona Best aka Mother of Merseybeat would make a fascinating subject for a documentary, and/or film about her life and invaluable contributions to the world of rock n roll music, as without her vision, Liverpool’s musical outpourings might have remained a local success, rather than the influential, worldwide movement they became. This was doubly important in the days when London, with its posh accents dominated not just the music scene, but arts in general. Mona’s humble club acted as a battering ram to break down barriers, all the more remarkable achievement in what would have then, been, totally, a man’s world.
Magical Beatles Museum
As a Beatles fan, or even a fan of rock n roll history, it’s a real thrill seeing the original, tattered plans for the Casbah, with related paperwork, letters, photos, etc, in one place. There are also posters, instruments, clothing, a mic, amps, and, a short documentary, with seating. Among the film clips, Paul McCartney can be heard giving his blessing to the idea of telling people all about the Casbah Coffee Club as well as Ron Richards, Producer for EMI at the time, the first label to sign The Beatles, saying they needed to change their drummer, making me wonder if someone from EMI saying that, was the real reason Pete was replaced so hurriedly, in ‘62. There’s been a lot of speculation about that over the years, but that seemed to make sense and it’s the first I’ve heard it. Then we moved on to Brian Epstein’s business card, which, oddly, made me feel some of the excitement early fans of The Beatles may have felt, mug shots of Paul and Pete when they were arrested in Hamburg, a newspaper clipping of John Lennon’s article in the Mersey Beat from those days, ‘Being a Short Diversion of the Dubious Origins of The Beatles,’ and too many other gems to mention, one of which knocked my socks off! You’ll just have to go see for yourself. Vintage 45’s dot the walls adding atmosphere. As McCartney said in the video, friend Neil Aspinall was crucial to the band then, for, in addition to being their only roadie, he had a van, courtesy of Mo’s £80.00 investment, and, after a night’s fetching and carrying, they’d ‘give him a fiver, all in.’ Aspinall became The Beatles trusted road manager and later went on to become Managing Director of Apple Corp.
Which, brings me to the origins of the unparalleled Beatles collection here, Roag Aspinall Best, son of Mona Best and Neil Aspinall, and, younger brother to Pete, though Pete, obviously, contributed. Roag claims this is the most authentic Beatles museum ever, and after seeing it, I’m inclined to agree, at least in terms of actual artefacts. Two hours is the suggested visit time, but I’m here to tell you, two hours is not enough! After nearly two hours, I got tired and as there was no place to refresh and rest a bit, I left. Might be a good idea if reception hand-stamped visitors so they could go out, then return to take in whatever they missed/ get a closer look, numbers permitting. I was excited to learn that the items on show will be rotated every 12 months, to allow others from Roag’s vast collection, now in storage, to be displayed! Maybe memberships would be a good idea, kind of like in the Casbah Club? Just a thought…
The Beatles 1st ever UK gig was on Dec. 17th, 1960 at the Casbah Coffee Club, though ¾ of the band, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, had already played there, as, not only the first band to play at the club on August 29th, 1959, when it opened, but as part of the first resident band there, The Quarrymen, with friend Ken Browne. But when the trio played their first gig there as The Beatles, with Pete, they’d all, just returned from Hamburg, where they’d played seven sets a day, seven days a week, so they must have been tight! That was, of course, after 5th member Stu had decided to remain in Germany with Astrid, the young woman who’d taken the iconic black and white photos of the band, one of which is above, and pursue his art studies. As Pete said of his own playing back then, ‘When we came back from Germany, I was playing, using my bass drum very loud and laying down a very solid beat. This was unheard of at the time in Liverpool as all the groups were playing the Shadows’ style. Even Ringo in Rory Storm’s group copied our beat and it wasn’t long before most drummers in Liverpool were playing the same style. This way of drumming had a great deal to do with the big sound we were producing.’ The beat Pete was making was dubbed ‘The Atom Beat.’ The Beatles, the last group to play the Casbah, did their final gig there on June 24th, 1962, after which Mona closed the club forever. That said, you can still visit it by appointment….
Magical Beatles Museum
The 2nd floor of the exhibition, 1963 - ‘66, (more stairs), offers artifacts from Beatles tours in America and around the World, complete with, seemingly, a never-ending collection of souvenirs, including stars n stripes and a yellow cab door from the time, showing ‘60’s fares.
Magical Beatles Museum
Glass cases also house a number of gifts fans and welcoming committees greeted them with on tours, goofy and non, gifts and souvenirs The Beatles brought back home, and some of the many items of Beatles related merchandise produced in the day. It was a fun memory jogger seeing Yellow Submarine lunchboxes and figures again as well as other items too numerous to mention, and seeing them reminded me to dig out the U.S. Beatles bubble gum cards I’ve stashed away somewhere. An animation drawing from The Beatles cartoon show, which I’d watched in Philly, where I then lived, in the ‘60’s, brought back fond memories too, as did props and photos from Help! Each floor of this museum features music from its years and hearing songs from Rubber Soul and other albums spanning the ’63-’66 era greatly enhanced the enjoyment of oohing and aaahing at these genuinely rare bits of Beatles history.
Magical Beatles Museum
Long term Beatles friend, roadie, fixer, you name it, Neil Aspinall was always there, all along The Beatles winding road, even filling in for George Harrison when he had flu on Feb. 8, 1964, when the band rehearsed for their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in NYC.
Third and top floor is, what I consider, my defining era, though in truth, I was just a hippie wannabe high school kid, longing, not for San Francisco, but a chance to see my heroes, The Beatles live, a little too late! Watching Woodstock in the movies and seeing the generation above mine protesting right in front of me on every trip to center city made me feel I was missing out. So, my relationship to The Beatles at this point was bittersweet. When they broke up in ‘70, me and my little group of friends were totally bummed out! So, visiting this floor, 1967 – ’70, with its psychedelic era Beatles imagery and sounds was a bit of a homecoming.
Here, colourful projections, combined with photos of the fab four at the height of their India influenced flowerings, and beyond, offer visual treats, with Yellow Submarine characters and day glow portraits I’d loved morphing into each other on the walls, while experimental Beatles in all their George Martin enhanced glory pepper the background! From Revolver onward, I seemed to almost instinctively take in all the songs from all the albums, even though I didn’t own them then. Black light basements of friends became dens of Beatles absorption, with songs sung acapella in the streets quickly morphing from girl groups to off-beat Liverpudlian. Carefully preserved clothes on the wall, Nehru collars and all, almost seemed to be templates for the no frills versions we wore, right down (or up depending on your perspective), to Love Beads! Many great strands are on show here, which must have been hard to give up wearing.
I revelled in the photos, artefacts, posters, lighting, music and ambiance of this section. For me, one especially evocative highlight was the white piano used for I Am the Walrus segment, in the originally, hugely misunderstood, 1967, Boxing Day TV film, Magical Mystery Tour, which I, living overseas, didn’t even get to see until it was re-shown on TV in recent years.
There were some amazing album covers then, and some of my favourites are here, with John, Paul, George and Ringo being themselves, whatever that meant to them in the moment.
On January 30th of this year, one of the highlights of my husband’s birthday was a seemingly, impromptu, but very spirited rendering of several Beatles classics, by a handful of game musicians bearing guitars, on the sidewalk outside of their former Apple offices, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of their last ever live performance together, on the rooftop there. People of all ages and nations enthusiastically sang along to ‘I Dig a Pony’, ‘Get Back,’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, ‘The One After 909’ and other well-loved numbers, recalling the day, even if most of us had only ever witnessed it on video and/or YouTube. For a minute, it almost seemed as if we were there, on the rooftop, flying high, with The Beatles.
It might seem that way here too.
EXTRA! EXTRA! www.extraextra.org!
Creative Writing on the Arts
Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved