Pete Best


A photo taken for Mersey Beat at the CavernOn Saturday 10 October 1959 there was a dispute because Brown was unable to play, yet Mrs. Best still paid him a share of the group’s fee. As a result, John, George and Paul walked out on their residency and sacked Brown.

Ken then encouraged Pete to form a new outfit with him and to take over a residency at the club. They called themselves the Blackjacks (reputedly, the original name of Lennon’s first group, albeit for only one week). Brown played rhythm, Charles Newby played lead, Bill Barlow played bass and Pete became the group’s drummer.

Mo bought Pete a drum kit from Blackler’s store (where George Harrison was to work for a time) and the group repertoire comprised numbers from rock ‘n’ roll acts such as Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins.

In the meantime, the Quarry Men underwent a number of name changes ranging from Johnny & the Moondogs to the Beatals to the Silver Beetles, and enlisted the services of drummer Tommy Moore. As the Silver Beatles, they toured Scotland, backing Johnny Gentle and then began appearing in Liverpool, mainly at the Jacaranda Coffee club, the Grosvenor Ballroom, Liscard and the Institute, Neston.

On 6 August 1959 their Grosvenor gig was cancelled when the Wallasey Corporation withdrew promoter Les Dodd’s license to operate there and that evening they dropped into the Casbah club, where they saw Pete perform with the Blackjacks. His new blue mother-of-pearl drum kit particularly impressed them.

At that time they had accepted their first Hamburg booking, which was to commence on 13 August. However, they were without a drummer as Tommy Moore had just left them.

One afternoon Paul phoned Pete at home and asked: “How’d you like to come to Hamburg with the Beatles?”

Aware that the Blackjacks were on the point of disbanding and excited by the prospect of foreign climes Pete accepted and successfully auditioned for the band. After playing together with them for 20 minutes at the Wyvern Club in Seel Street on numbers such as ‘Shakin’ All Over’, they told him, “You’re in!”

The line-up of the Beatles now comprised John Lennon (rhythm/vocals), Paul McCartney (rhythm/vocals), George Harrison (lead/vocals), Stuart Sutcliffe (bass/vocals) and Pete Best (drums).

Arriving in Hamburg they discovered they were not playing at the Kaiserkeller as they had assumed, but at a smaller club called the Indra, which was further down, at the seedier end of the Grosse Freiheit.

After several weeks at the Indra, they then played at the Kaiserkeller and when their season was coming to an end, they had intended to move on to the Top Ten Club in the nearby Reeperbahn.

The groups’ sleeping quarters were cramped ones at the rear of the Bambi Kino, owned by Bruno Koschmider, who ran the Kaiserkeller. Stu Sutcliffe moved out to live in Astrid Kirchherr’s house and, when Koschmider found the group intended to move on to the rival Top Ten, George was deported for being under age.

John, Paul and Pete moved into the dormitory of the Top Ten, intending to play for a season at the club as a quartet with Stuart.

Pete at the Star club, photo for Mersey Beat by Manfred WeisslederAs Pete and Paul needed to collect the rest of their belongings from the Bambi Kino, they crept along there one night to pack. In the windowless rooms, there was no light so some lateral thinking had them pinning condoms into a frayed tapestry in the hall and then lighting them. The condoms singed the tapestry and that evening the police came and arrested the two of them for allegedly trying to set fire to the premises.

Pete and Paul left their equipment behind and John remained in Hamburg for a further week, while Stuart decided to stay on with Astrid. Mona Best phoned Peter Eckhorn, who sent their kit over by ship, and the group then intended to take up a residency at Williams’ new club, the Top Ten in Soho Street, Liverpool. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground and the Beatles were left with few bookings. Mo got to work, offering them several gigs at the Casbah, setting up some promotions of her own to keep them in work, and Pete and Mo began to take over the bookings for the group. They were, in effect, managing the Beatles at the time.

Through Bob Wooler, the group were booked by Brian Kelly for Litherland Town Hall on 27 December 1960 – a highlight in their local career. Their baptism of fire in Hamburg had made them an exceptionally dynamic outfit.

When recalling this time to Beatles’ biographer, Hunter Davies, Pete said: “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 in the Shadows’ style. Even Ringo in Rory’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.”

This style of playing (which Pete had developed in Germany) earned the tag ‘the Atom Beat’, and Pete was regarded as one of the ‘Pool’s leading drummers.

Issue No. 2 of Mersey Beat, published on 20 July 1961, devoted its entire front page to the story of the Beatles’ Hamburg recording and Brian Epstein ordered 144 copies of that particular issue.

When Bob Wooler wrote his report on the Beatles’ impact locally (in Mersey Beat on 31 August 1961), the only Beatle he named was Pete, describing the group as ‘musically authoritative and physically magnetic, example the mean, moody magnificence of drummer Pete Best – a sort of teenage Jeff Chandler.’

It was due to pressure from Mo and Bob Wooler that Ray McFall eventually decided to book the Beatles at the Cavern and their rise to local fame continued at a meteoric pace. Pete and Mo continued to act as unofficial managers and agents for the group, arranging all their gigs and negotiating the fees.

Pete Best was emerging as the most popular Beatle among the fans. Bob Wooler considered him the Beatles’ biggest asset and said that it was principally Best who was the attraction at the Aintree Institute and Litherland Town Hall gigs.

Due to his popularity, he was encouraged to introduce his own singing spot, ‘Peppermint Twist’ into the act. Next, Bob Wooler suggested something unprecedented – that Pete should be placed in front of the other three members of the group. This unusual line-up was presented only once – at the St Valentine’s Dance on 14 February 1961 at Litherland Town Hall – because the stage was mobbed when the girls surged forward and almost pulled him off.

Reports in Mersey Beat and comments by people involved in the local scene confirm Best’s huge local appeal. One story related how girls slept in his garden overnight just to be near him!

Promoter Ron Appleby was to comment: “He was definitely the big attraction with the group and did much to establish their popularity during their early career.”

In 1963, the Cavern doorman, Paddy Delaney, was to recall:

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