Q: On your website, you discuss Brian Epstein's first discovery
of the Beatles, which differs from the story most of us have heard.
What was the real story behind his discovery of the Beatles and
where did the other version of the story originate?
I entered the Nems record store in Whitechapel the first week of
July 1961 with copies of the first issue of Mersey Beat, I asked
to see the manager. A dapper man came down the stairs from his office
to meet me and I showed him copies of the newspaper and explained
to him what it was about. On the spot he ordered a dozen copies.
He was completely unaware that any musical scene existed in Liverpool
and I was the first person from the local music scene ever to mention
it to him. Brian next phoned me at the office (the address and telephone
number was on page 2), surprised that they'd immediately sold out,
and ordered a few dozen more. When they sold out he phoned and asked
for more. He then placed an order for 12 dozen copies of issue No.2.
Think about it - 12 dozen copies of a music paper for one local
store! - it was unheard of, even today. He usually ordered one dozen
copies of a publication and that was that. The speed with which
it sold and the demand for it ensured that he wanted to know more.
When I came to deliver the second issue he invited me into his
office for a chat. He offered me a drink; I think it was a sherry
or something. He took the latest issue and went through it, page
by page, asking me various questions. He noticed that there were
no record reviews and asked if he could become my reviewer. Why
would he do that unless he felt that Mersey Beat was important to
his business? But he also asked me about the local scene I was writing
about. He'd been completely unaware of it and was intrigued by the
number of groups and activities. There were also features about
the Cavern club. Brian also immediately ordered advertisements.
One of them appeared on the same page as Bob Wooler's prophetic
full page article about the Beatles in the August 31 issue, which
ended "Such are the fantastic Beatles. I don't think anything
like them will happen again". Anyone who read this article
would want to know about the group (apart from the full page coverage
on Issue 2 and the continual coverage I gave them - plugging them
so much that Bob Wooler complained that the other groups were referring
to the paper as the Mersey Beatles!) Brian was excited about what
was happening on the local scene and I could see that it went beyond
his merely writing reviews and taking advertisements. He invited
me to lunch at the Basnett Bar in Basnett Street on a couple of
occasions to discuss the local scene further. Then he asked me to
arrange for him to go to the Cavern to see the Beatles perform as
they were the ones most heavily promoted in Mersey Beat. Epstein
himself has confirmed this, as has Ray McFall of the Cavern. Brian
went on a weekend trip to Amsterdam and dropped into the office
to give Virginia a box of chocolate liquors. Then, on his birthday,
he invited Virginia and I and Bob Wooler to be his guests at the
Royal Restaurant in Hanover Street. The artist Max Wall was the
entertainer that night. So to suggest that the first time he ever
heard about the Beatles is when a boy entered his store to ask for
the record some months later is pure fantasy and the copies of Mersey
Beat with the detailed items I've mentioned printed there in black
and white really tell the true story.
Of course kids went to Nems to ask about the Beatles record which
had not only dominated the Mersey Beat cover, but had been played
locally by Bob Wooler - Paul McCartney had brought copies back from
Hamburg for me and Bob. I've still got my copy.
Raymond Jones just happened to be one of the people who ordered
the record - and, since they didn't have a copy, his name was taken
down. He exists, but his only relevance to the Beatles story would
be that if Brian Epstein had never heard of them before. But I'd
been discussing them with him via Mersey Beat for months. To try
to explain this anomaly, Brian's assistant, the late Alistair Taylor
kept claiming that he'd made up the name Raymond Jones, which has
further complicated the story.
Q: Do you think Brian Epstein's shaping of his artists' image
helped them achieve success they might not have achieved otherwise?
Undoubtedly! You must realize that at the time the media - newspapers,
television, radio, newspapers were very 'square.' The rough and
ready leather-clad Beatles as they were would have been unacceptable
to the TV and radio producers at the time.
realized that the group would have to conform and change their image
to have any success in the Britain of that particular time. Paul
McCartney loved the idea, John Lennon and Pete Best didn't. Brian
took them to the Empire Theatre in Liverpool to watch the Shadows
and pointed out how they bowed to the audience at the end of their
act - and said that the Beatles must do the same. I can imagine
John cringing! Epstein took them to Horne Brothers and had their
hair cut in a standardized way. He took them to his tailor Beno
Dorm to have mohair suits made for them. Brian, basically, turned
them into a group who conformed to what the media would accept -
they became the loveable mop tops rather than the savage young Beatles.
John and Pete didn't want to dispose of their leathers, but they
were persuaded. When they went on concert stages in their suits
and ties, John would indicate his protest by unbuttoning the top
of his shirt. Paul would then button it up for him. I believe John
resented the change so much that Epstein realized he was becoming
estranged from him and arranged for him to go to Barcelona for a
short break while he convinced him that what he was doing - effectively
changing the group from John's group into Paul's group - was in
the best interests of the band.
John always resented the change, hence his comment that the best
music they made was in Hamburg and Liverpool and that they'd sold
out after that. He was furious with the rough image specifically
created for the Rolling Stones. Andrew Loog Oldham was inspired
to create the image after seeing the Beatles on stage. He realized
that now was the time for an opposite image. But for the Beatles
pioneering the way, that Rolling Stone image wouldn't have happened.
Consider, while the Beatles were roughing it up in Hamburg in their
black leathers to audiences of gangsters and prostitutes, whoring
and drinking and taking drugs, playing raw rock and roll and R&B,
the Rolling Stones were in the Home Counties, Brian Jones from genteel
Cheltenham and Mick Jagger at the London School of Economics.
It always amuses me when people from the Sixties say that they really
preferred the Rolling Stones to the Beatles, because the Stones
were the rebellious rock 'n' roll band while the Beatles were clean-cut
moptops. Little do they know!
In some of the articles on your website, you portray Brian Epstein
as a heavy-handed manager, forcing his artists to change things
like their style, music, etc. What are your thoughts of him both
as a manager and as a person?
Brian was very nice to Virginia and me, but later showed a nasty
side. I came to realize that he had a huge ego, was petulant and
often vindictive. Freddie Starr said that Epstein ruined his career
because he wouldn't sleep with him; he deliberately forced a record
company to cease distributing Freddie Lennon's single and upset
virtually everyone who worked for him. Philip Norman in 'Shout!'
pointed out that Brian didn't like to attribute any credit to anyone
Don't just take my word for it, just look at the facts.
Epstein often chastised members of his staff, depending on his
mood. Some were able to take the insults, others weren't and, over
a period of years, a number of his staff left following disagreements
He made certain promises to Brian Somerville when he hired him
as press agent to the Beatles. He reneged on this, began criticizing
Somerville, haggling over his expenses and berating him in public.
Somerville resented the manner in which he was treated by Brian
and told Epstein biographer Ray Coleman, "He was very bad at
arranging financial affairs. He allowed his heart to rule his head
far too many times in too many areas. He wasn't honest. He didn't
have integrity. I couldn't trust his word."
Derek Taylor was hired as Brian's personal assistant, but it only
lasted a few months. At the end of their first American tour, when
the group had embarked on a social night out, Epstein accused Taylor
of riding in a limousine meant for him, which Derek denied. There
was an argument, with Brian trying to humiliate Derek in public
and Derek felt that this was one humiliating scene too many and
He was replaced by Wendy Hanson. However, just like Derek Taylor,
Brian Somerville and so many other associates of Brian's, she found
that his tantrums led him to insult his aides over often trivial
items and she quit her post as personal assistant several times.
On each occasion he refused to accept her letters of resignation,
would take her out to dinner and talk her out of it. However, Brian's
whims, moods and tantrums proved too much even for her to cope with
and she did resign.
As a manager he overreached himself and didn't know how to delegate.
He signed up far too many artists. Colonel Tom Parker couldn't understand
why Epstein had the biggest group in the world and instead of concentrating
purely on them he kept signing artist after artist - Gerry &
the Pacemakers, the Remo Four, the Fourmost, Billy J Kramer, Michael
Haslam, the Silkie, the Rustics and several others, even a bullfighter,
Q: Did most other Liverpool groups, like Rory Storm & the
Hurricanes and others, have the ambition to follow in the Beatles'
footsteps and achieve the same kind of global fame?
To some extent, the ambition was there following the success of
the Beatles. Prior to the Beatles, it was almost impossible for
a group from the provinces to make it because London ruled the musical
roost. The media - newspapers, magazines, television, radio, managers,
agents, theatre groups - were all basically in London and owned
by those living down there. Previously, to have any hope of success
you had to move down to London lock stock and barrel. It had already
happened with Liverpool artists such as Billy Fury, Lance Fortune,
Johnny Gentle and the Vernons Girls. It was also to happen with
There was a distinct north-south divide, apart from the fact that
prior to the motorways, the journey by car from Liverpool to London
took 8 hours. However, once the Beatles made it they broke a hole
in the dam of London control, which helped so many other provincial
bands to make it, including the Hollies, Herman's Hermits and Freddie
& the Dreamers in Manchester, Dave Berry & the Cruisers
in Sheffield, the Animals in Newcastle etc.
After the initial impetus, London was able to close the gap and
take control again and things became difficult for Liverpool bands.
The talent was there, but the infrastructure remained in London
and London wanted to promote its own acts - Rolling Stones, Dave
Clark Five and numerous other London-based acts.
In the case of Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, Rory had no ambition.
They were also better live than on record and the few recordings
that exist give no indication of how exciting they were on stage.
Their former drummer Ringo Starr arranged for Brian Epstein to record
them. The single 'America' wasn't a particularly good choice. Ringo
said he could arrange for them to make further recordings whenever
they wanted, but Rory didn't bother. Rory's sister admitted that
he had no ambition outside of Merseyside - that he was the King
of Liverpool and would remain so, content to be a big fish in a
small pond - and he'd never miss a Liverpool soccer match!