It’s hard to imagine Coldplay or U2 generating such a wealth of material that they could sprinkle some of the fairy dust among those less exalted than themselves by writing them a few hits. Say, a dozen or more, in about two years.
But that’s exactly what Lennon & McCartney did in 1963 and ’64 when, in addition to riding a rocket-ship to planet-wide fame and domination, they found time to write hits for fun (and, as Macca said they used to joke, swimming pools) for the Epstein stable. While reeling off number one after number one for themselves.
Covers of Beatle hits and album tracks are legion and run into the high hundreds at least, and by the time I’ve offered up a comparison like, recorded-by-everyone-from-Maurice-Chevalier-to-Jimi-Hendrix, someone somewhere, or a roomful of typewriting chimps will have come up with another, better one. They donated I Wanna Be Your Man to The Stones, of course, who, as it turned out, proved themselves to be quite handy at this song-writing lark. But what of the songs that didn’t meet the Beatle Standard and were passed on to others, and how did the others get on?
Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary was Billy J Kramer, for whom I’ll Be On My Way appeared as a B-side, and he had gilt-edged worldwide hits with Lennon/McCartney songs, I’ll Keep You Satisfied, Bad To Me and From A Window. However, his biggest success came when he abandoned Mop-toppery and opted for Mort Schuman and John Leslie McFarland’s Little Children. Which, these days (like Young Girl) sounds rather creepy.
What Happened Next?
He’s a working musician, it’s what he does, so Billy J Kramer is keeping right on to the end of the performing road. He now lives in Long Island, New York.
Poor Tom. Thomas Quigley, taken under Epstein’s wing, who provided him with a new name, a new backing band, and a Lennon/McCartney number Tip Of My Tongue for his first single. It bombed. As did several follow-ups. He had a smidgeon of success with Wild Side Of Life which bothered the Top 40 for a few weeks.
What Happened Next?
After an appearance in 1965 film Go Go Mania, Tommy Quickly retired from a business to which he was perhaps not suited. There is some debate over Tommy Quickly’s fate. While Beatle pressman, the late Derek Taylor thought Quickly was dead, Merseybeat’s Bill Harry told me that, having been trying to trace him for 20 years, he believes him to be living in Skelmersdale from where he refuses to discuss anything about his life with anyone. And who can blame him?
Local faces who played The Cavern before The Beatles, but after being signed to Parlophone by George Martin, it was to be John and Paul compositions which kick-started their career. Hello Little Girl (which crops up on Beatles Anthology 1) and I’m In Love. But their biggest hit was A Little Lovin’ which peaked at #6 in 1964. Staples of the Scouse scene, they appeared in the film Ferry Cross The Mersey.
What Happened Next?
Although no original members are present, the Fourmost continue to tour.
Peter & Gordon
A worldwide smash hit and instant classic A World Without Love heralded three years of hits for Peter Asher and Gordon Waller. Lennon/McCartney (or more accurately, McCartney) also provided Nobody I Know (#10) and I Don’t Want To See You Again (# Nowhere). Woman, written by Bernard Webb, reached #28 in 1966, which is pretty unremarkable, until you find out that Bernard Webb was actually Paul McCartney. On some US pressings Woman is credited to A. Smith.
What Happened Next?
Peter Asher worked in A&R and production for many years before re-uniting with Gordon Waller in 2005 to play a benefit concert for Mike Smith of The Dave Clark Five. This led to a series of concerts in the USA and Canada until Gordon Waller’s sad death from cardiac arrest in 2005.
I spoke to Peter Asher a few days before he was due in Las Vegas for a memorial show dedicated to Gordon Waller
You were a child actor, in films and TV, so was making records, given the times, a natural progression for you?
No, I don’t think there’s any natural progression between being a child actor and singing, because there was a big wad of school in between. I’ve always sung at school and in the choir, and then I discovered pop music and loved it, and learnt the guitar and stood in front of the mirror pretending to be Elvis, so that was the process. I loved music and loved singing so I decided to be a pop singer because I thought it would be fun and, boy was it!
How did you meet Gordon Waller?
Gordon and I were at school together, we both went to Westminster.
Were you in a group at school?
Yes, that’s where the duo began. When we met we discovered that we both sang and played guitar so we tried doing it together, and that was the beginning.
So you start off, and obviously this fellow’s name is going to crop up, so we know where we going here, and his relationship with your family is pretty well known, but how come Paul McCartney chooses you for this great song?
It didn’t really happen that way. He played me the song, in passing, he played us lots of songs, and he mentioned that is was kind of an orphaned song. He’d offered it to Billy J Kramer who didn’t want it, John didn’t want The Beatles to do it because he didn’t like it, and so it was just there. So it was after we had a record contract in hand that we went back to Paul and said, “You know that lost song? We like it, can we do it? Would you please finish it, would you write the bridge?” And he did.
Do you still like it?
Do I still like it?
Yes, do you still like the song after all these years? Some artists protest at doing the same thing over and over.
Yeah, I like it very much. It’s true though, you’re absolutely right, it’s a fair question. There are certainly some songs, especially when you have a hit and you have to sing it all the time that you learn to hate, but I was fine with that. I loved the song then and I love it now. I still enjoy singing it.
Was recording A World Without Love your first time in a studio or had you done other things?
We’d done an audition tape for EMI, just the two of us with our guitars which we did at EMI Studios, which is now Abbey Road. So we’d done an audition but this was the first time with real musicians, although Paul wasn’t involved in the recording.
Was that a bit daunting?
No, I think when you’re young and full of yourself you think you can do anything. We were totally unintimidated, I think that’s one of the advantages of youth. Now you’d go, “Oh shit, am I going to able to do all this?” But then, you know you’re nervous and excited, but you don’t actually doubt your ability to do it.
Full of bravado?
Exactly. It’s like, “Oh great we’re going to make a hit record.”
A lot of kids have that dream though.
I know, maybe it’s genetic, because my daughter’s in a group called Cobra Starship, they’ve just had a big hit in the USA.
You went on to have a lot of success, but your first record was the biggest one.
Yes, we had a couple of others that did really well, but World Without Love was the one that sold the most and was a hit in the most places.
At least you weren’t one hit wonders, but what sort of effect do you think it had, your first record being your biggest one?
It makes it all look easy, you kind of take it for granted. “Oh, we got a good song, we recorded it, it came out good, it’s Number One, there you go”, but you don’t realise at the time that it’s a billion-to-one shot.
And that now the pressure’s on?
Yes, the pressure’s on and luckily we came up with some good records, a couple of which Paul wrote and several that he didn’t.
You went into the business side of things at a time when everyone was still learning about pop music as a “business”, do you feel that you’ve had a hand in shaping it into what we know it as today?
I do, I mean I think so. Certainly the whole singer-songwriter era and the nature of the music business at that time, I think was shaped by what James Taylor did, and therefore to some extent by what I did.
How did you square the business side with performing? There seems to have been a bit of a crossover period, was it hard to adjust?
Not really, Gordon and I gradually stopped performing at that time and then Paul asked me to be Head of A&R for Apple and that was the first move on the business side, but I was sort of producing before that. I’d done a couple of records with Paul Jones, the ex-Manfred Mann guy, but from then on I was Head of A&R for Apple.
Was it something you’d aimed to do or did you just fall into it?
Producing records was something I’d decided I wanted to do because I very much enjoyed the process in the studio, but being Head of A&R was something I fell into because Paul and I had become friends and we’d spent a lot of time talking about the new record label The Beatles wanted to start. You know, how to run it, what it should be, and in the process of conversations Paul asked me to be part of it.
Did you miss the performing side?
No, I would miss singing but I still sang. Every now and then I would still perform, but I didn’t miss performing as much, I was never crazy about that aspect of it.
What didn’t you like about it?
It was very different then, it was very disorganised and frustrating in many respects. But it was fun, I mean the whole thing of girls screaming and everything, was fun. But I didn’t miss it, I was drinking quite a lot and getting a bit depressive and I was quite happy to stop for a while.
You went back on stage with Gordon after 37 years, what on earth was that like?
It was cool. It began because Paul Shaffer from The Letterman Show asked us to do it and it was such a good cause, for Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five, and Paul Shaffer’s a good guy and he put a great band together, so it was, well, I felt obliged to say yes. But there was that disconcerting moment when you realise you actually have to do it. There was a point where we had to do quite a lot of rehearsal and practice and stuff to get it together. But we thought we still sounded good, we still sounded like us and the reaction to this one show we did was very good, so we said, “What the hell, we’ll do a few more.”
After a Top Ten success with the insanely catchy Tell Me When, they surely must have thought they’d soon be booking appointments at their local Bentley showroom when they got their hands on a Lennon/McCartney composition for the follow-up. Although they made a good fist of Like Dreamers Do, it got to a rather disappointing #20 in the UK in 1964 (Beatles version on Anthology 1).
What Happened Next?
Bass player Megan Davies was good enough to answer a few questions:
Tell Me When was a really good record and a Top 10 hit, so when your next was to be a Lennon/McCartney number did you think 'next stop Number 1'?
Thanks for the compliment. No, we were having such fun in the band that the position in the charts was not a big deal. I guess it may have been for the manager.
I think it's a good record which deserved much better than stalling at #20. How disappointing was it?
In those days there was a Melody Maker chart and an NME chart and a TOTP chart and a Pick of the Pops chart. In fact I recall it being No. 5 in one chart and No. 8 in another. I don’t recall it being any lower that 15. We didn’t feel ourselves that it was better than Tell Me When. As I said, life was so exciting I don’t think we were very bothered about positions in charts.
Did John or Paul, or perhaps George Martin have any involvement in the recording? Did you meet them?
We didn’t meet George Martin but the first time we met John and Paul was at Rediffusion Studios, Wembley, where they were recording a TV spectacular. We were probably doing Ready, Steady, Go, but I can’t remember exactly which TV programme we were at.
We talked about doing one of their songs. Like Dreamers Do was chosen because they had already done it at Decca on a demo.
Even now, female bass players aren't particularly thick on the ground. What was particularly challenging about this and about being the only female in the band?
There were times when I felt that some of the female fans weren’t exactly fond of me.
Sometimes it was difficult to find a changing room. We were (and are) very good friends. Once we did a 30 day tour with Lulu, Millie and the Honeycombs so there were four girls in the dressing room. That was a lot of fun.
In '66 you went off to play cruise ships. Sounds like a dream job, was it?
It was fantastic. We stayed on the ships for nearly four years. In the summer we played for trans-Atlantic voyages and in October we would sail to New York and do cruises to Bermuda, the Bahamas or West Indies cruises taking in Barbados, Martinique, Curacao, Grenada, St Thomas, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago. We had our own room for young people on the cruises but for the crossings we would perform as cabaret.
How did the band finish?
In 1969 Martin Baggott decided to marry a Californian girl that he had met on the Queen Elizabeth so he went to live in the US. That was really the end. Jon Washington and I did a few gigs with a new line up in 1970 but we didn’t want to do cabaret and that was what was expected of us. Bob Brady joined at this point and I have worked with him in various bands ever since. We have four children and two grandchildren.
What are you doing now?
I began work as an Electroencephalograph Recordist in 1961 and left the job in 1964 to play music. In 1989 I returned to the same job – we are now known as Clinical Neurophysiologists. At the moment I work at the National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy in Lingfield, Surrey. I have a Master of Science Degree in Epileptology (Kings).
Still playing bass?
I love music. Yes, I still play but not enough. I have played just about every style of music imaginable over the years and it would take too long to go through even a quarter of the bands I’ve been in.
My most challenging work was with the Ivy Benson Band when I had to read dots from instrumental and vocal pads that were each 2ft thick!
We have a little worship group at church so I may join in there. I also sometimes play with Bob Brady, Charlie Grima and Nick Pentelow (Wizzard members) who are my very good friends. At home we frequently get the instruments out and I usually play bass because I’m so useless at anything else. Two of our sons are still living with us. They are musicians!
Originally, famously, Priscilla White, the coat-check girl at The Cavern. Scored with Love Of The Loved, It’s For You and, best of all, in 1968 Step Inside Love (see Beatles Anthology 3 for 1:20 of Macca falsetto over a bossa-nova-noodle and segue into a grin-and-bear-it improvised thing called Los Paranoias).
What Happened Next?
Ultimately a career on weekend ITV beckoned, where she matched up ill-starred and borderline dysfunctional wannabees. She went on to give people peak-time surprises. But at her finest, she was the engaging, natural and witty host of her own TV show in the sixties, and when this slip of a lass in a spangly mini-dress adopted the head-bowed-arms-outstretched pose in the spotlight for her big number at the end, well, that’s how Cilla should be remembered. She passed away in Spain in 2015.
P J Proby
That Means A Lot charted in 1965 (hear it on Anthology 2) when Proby was already a big star, but velvet-trouser-splitting antics and ponytails proved too much for still staid sixties sensibilities, and soon his star, or at least his pop-star star, was on the wane.
On the release of his album Legend, his website described him thus: To say P.J.Proby is talented, is an understatement. He's a giant and as the album states a "legend", who has made an indelible impression upon the music and the entertainment industry. There is no dispute that P.J.Proby is one of the most exciting and talented performers of our time.
I don’t know about the album in question, but as anyone who saw P.J. Proby in the sixties can testify, there’s not too much wrong with that statement.
What Happened Next?
This is an extract from a rollicking conversation I had recently with P.J. Proby, and occasionally I managed to get a question in. An invitation to the bar on his tour bus is yet to be taken up, but I look forward to it. He doesn't drink these days but, "doesn't trust any man who doesn't".
How did you come to record That Means A Lot?
The Epstein organisation originally brought me over to appear on a Beatles TV show. After a while, I got to know John Lennon and one day I said to him, “Hey you’re giving all these songs away to Peter and Gordon and other people, but hell, you brought me here all the way from California and you’re not giving me doodly-squat, Jesus Christ, man, c’mon, gimme a song.” And John said (affects a rather odd Scouse accent) “I’ll do that PJ.” So, next time I saw him at The Ad Lib, he said, “I’ve got you a song,” and he gave it me, and I thanked him and then I said, just half-assedly kidding, “Could you get George Martin to produce it for me?” and John said, “My God, he doesn’t only want me song, he wants me producer too.”
So I went in with George Martin, and this was the only time I worked with George Martin, and we went into studio A at Abbey Road. I’d always recorded all of my records at studio B, I just happened to like the intimacy of studio B. Also, Paul had arranged for the engineers to go underneath studio B and miked up all of the pipes, the toilet pipes and everything which gave it a really neat sound. The Hollies loved it for the same reason.
What sort of effect did That Means A Lot have on your career?
Not much, the record company didn’t get behind it and push the fact that John and I were close friends and The Beatles had brought me over here in the first place. See, Paul and I got in a fight during rehearsals, we didn’t speak for 15 days, and then when it came to shooting on the last day, The Beatles all drew names of who they were going to introduce, we were all newcomers, there was me, Cilla Black, Long John Baldry, Millie, there was supposed to be Joe Brown, but I think Joe Brown quit or something before we filmed, and I found out that Paul had drawn my name, so I thought, “Well, that’s that, he’s not going to do me any favours, we haven’t spoken since we met”. See, when Jack Good sold me to The Beatles, he played them my record and told them I was the lead singer of Rosie and The Originals, and they happened to love Rosie and The Originals, so I came over here without knowing that I was supposed to be the lead singer, and while we were in rehearsal, we were at lunch one day and I heard this voice saying (affects further approximation of Scouse accent), “Well, give us a song then, PJ, give us a song.” I looked around and this newspaper came down, and it was Paul saying, “Give us a song,” and I said, “Whaddya mean give you a song? I’m eating lunch.” He said, “Well, you’re the lead singer of Rosie and The Originals, give us a song.” I said, “Not only am I not the lead singer of Rosie and The Originals, I’m not black, and I’m not a chick, man. Sing to yourself, McCartney.”
Paul never spoke to me, because Jack had told him I was the lead singer, so I had to prove everything to Paul. When I heard Paul was going to introduce me, I thought I’d be flying back to Hollywood the next day and going back to my job as a motorcycle delivery boy and a stuntman at Warner Brothers. All of a sudden it’s my turn and Paul steps up to the mike and says, “Now Ladies and Gentlemen, one of our great friends from the United States, a big star, big star, P.J. Proby,” and I was so shocked that he’d given me such a great build-up that I almost forgot to go on stage, but from then on Paul I became very good friends.
You were more a friend of John’s though?
John and I hit it off, he used to drink Coke all the time until I stuck a shot of bourbon in his glass there one day, let me tell you, that changed his life forever.
Every Saturday I’d go over to John’s house with about five-fifths of bourbon, put them down on the coffee table and ask Cynthia to get us some glasses and I’d mix the drinks and everything. Then, after about a year, one day I went over and I placed the bottles on the table, and John said, “Ah, no, not me, not me,” and I said, “What?” and he was rolling this huge, huge cigarette, and I could tell that he didn’t know what he was doing, didn’t know how to roll it, ‘cos he was rolling it so loose, it was a joint, you see, but I didn’t say anything, I just watched him and he put this loosely rolled joint in his mouth and lit it and it went, Woooof, and singed all of his eyebrows off. I said, “John, you’ve gotta pack out those sonsaguns, you can’t just do a loose roll on a joint like that,” and he said, “Well, I’m just learning, I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
That Means A Lot wasn’t a huge success, but was there any possibility that you would have recorded more Beatle songs?
Definitely. But I fell out of touch with John when he started smoking marijuana, because he didn’t want to go out and raise hell anymore. He was too subdued. But I could have called John at any time and gotten more music, it’s just that when I was banned from playing to teenagers and I went up north to do a grown-up cabaret act I stopped recording commercial, young peoples’ music.
I’m not going to ask you the question that everybody asks –about the trousers – I’m going to ask about the pony-tail, because I remember that as being really shocking for a nation for whom WWII was a very recent event. Did you get a lot of flak for that?
You know I majored in English History in America, and when I saw The Beatles with their hair in a fringe I just thought to myself The Beatles have got their hair down to their eyes, Elvis swept it back and had sideburns, I’m going to have a ponytail because the English Navy had the sailors tie their hair back for hygienic reasons, not because it was a fad or anything like that, but the sailors did it so their hair didn’t fall in their food or anything else, and that’s where I got the idea.
Do you think all of this other stuff helped or hindered your career?
I don’t think it made any difference, the problem was that a lot of money was paid to get me thrown off a tour that someone didn’t want me on, but I was too big in the public eye for them to get away with that and they had to come up with another way of getting rid of me without offending the public. So when the trousers split they all jumped on it, Mary Whitehouse, the morals committee, and it was all over the papers that I was obscene. MP’s were going to lobby to get me out of the country so that teenagers would not see such a lewd person on stage and that’s all the theatre owners needed to ban me from every circuit there was.
Do feel cheated?
I know I was cheated. Some of those theatres banned me until 2001, that’s nearly 40 years.
PJ Proby continues to tour, and I look forward to seeing him on the tour bus.
The Strangers With Mike Shannon
One And One Is Two was described rather ungraciously by Lennon as “Another of Paul’s bad attempts at writing a song”. Written in Paris in 1964, it was offered to Billy J Kramer and it is said that Lennon took him to one side and warned him that the song was so bad that if he recorded it his career would be finished. Unsurprisingly then, Kramer passed. It was offered to The Fourmost, who gave it a go, McCartney even came in to play bass, but, in the words of The Fourmost’s Brian O’Hara, “There just wasn’t any meat in the song and we couldn’t get anywhere with it”.
One And One Is Two – undisturbed by The Beatles bargepole, Kramer made his excuses, and The Fourmost knew when they were four down with a minute to go, so the song settled at the bottom of the pond where it was picked up by an obscure Rhodesian outfit who were trying their luck in Britain, The Diamonds who, on finding that their name, in Britain at least, had already been taken, narrowly avoided a disastrous re-branding as Mike Shannon and The Rhodesians by opting to be called The Strangers With Mike Shannon.
What Happened Next?
One And One Is Two went down with all hands, and The Strangers With Mike Shannon, both their career and vision untroubled by fairy dust, were, in Britain at least, never heard of again. At least two of their members are no longer around to re-visit past glories, or indeed this one, and Mike Shannon’s current whereabouts are unknown, but he is believed to be in South Africa.
Note: With many thanks to Peter Asher, Megan Davies, and P.J. Proby for being so generous with their time and for sharing their memories.
(C) Philip Bryer 2015
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