The Beatles first manager
By BILL HARRY
This is John with Nigel Walley, his childhood friend, who he appointed manager of his group.
Since Paul and George were in his band at the time, you could say that Nigel, not Allan Williams, was the Beatles first manager. After all, they weren't called the Beatles when Allan first became involved with them. Credit where credit is due. Nigel also got them their first Cavern booking.
Sadly, Nigel was the last person ever to speak to Julia, John's mum, and was the sole witness to her death in a car accident.
Nigel felt that John had a different attitude to him as if he felt that if Nigel had spent another minute or two talking to Julia she wouldn't have crossed the road at that point and would have lived.
Nigel Walley and his wife, Pete Shotton with Cynthia and John in Weybridge.
Nigel Walley - Their First Manager
By Bill Harry
Nigel was a childhood friend of John Lennon from the age of five. John often referred to him as ‘Whalloggs’.
Nigel was born in Woolton, Liverpool on 30 June 1941 and lived in Vale Road, to the rear of where John lived in Menlove Avenue and in the same road as another friend, Ivan Vaughan. The other member of John’s gang was Pete Shotton, who also lived in Vale Road. John and Ivan went to Dovedale Primary School while Nigel and Pete went to Mosspits Lane Junior School.
When John formed his group the Quarry Men, Nigel, who was now attending Bluecoat Grammar School, was invited to play tea chest bass, although he says he only played it occasionally, with Ivan being the main bass player.
At the time Nigel was apprentice golf professional at Lee Park Golf Club. There was an incident, which put him off playing tea chest bass for good. This happened when they’d finished a gig one night and had traveled home by bus. As they got off the bus they were approached by two aggressive local youths, Rod and Willo, who threatened to beat them up. Everyone fled, leaving the tea chest bass in the road. After that, Len Garry took over on tea chest bass.
The group needed someone to get the gigs sorted out and promote the group. No one really wanted to do it, but John asked Nigel who then set about getting them work. He placed a card in the window of a Woolton sweet shop at 2d per week, took small ads in the Liverpool Echo and the Daily Post and even had professional cards printed. The name on it was ‘Quarry Men,’ he says, “and the correct name is two separate words, not one, as people these days seem to think.”
His printed card read:
COUNTRY. WESTERN. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. SKIFFLE
THE QUARRY MEN
OPEN FOR ENGAGEMENTS
When the Quarry Men were deciding on their repertoire, Nigel says, “They picked out records by Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and popular rock and roll numbers of the time. Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was a number John was particularly struck on. We saw Buddy Holly live with the Crickets when he appeared on the Liverpool Empire. It was one of the highlights of my life.
“We picked the tunes from records that were readily available in the shops. That story about Liverpool groups getting their repertoires from records brought in by merchant seamen is a myth, although lots of Liverpool men went to sea. Pete Shotton’s brother Ernie was in the Navy.”
When Nigel used to go round to John’s house and ask his Aunt Mimi “Where’s John?” “Where do you think, in his bedroom playing his guitar”, she’d say. Nigel would go up and sit on the bed while John would be playing. “He’d write a song in a few minutes” said Nigel. “I didn’t think much of it at the time.
At one time John and Nigel intended enrolling at a catering college in Hampshire and had even bought railway tickets – but when John told his Aunt Mimi, she put a stop to it.
Lee Park Gold Club was a Jewish golf club; if you weren’t Jewish you couldn’t get in.
One of the members was Dr. Sytner, whose son Alan ran the Cavern Club, which was then a jazz venue that occasionally booked local skiffle groups as supports. Nigel asked Dr. Sytner if he could persuade Alan to book the Quarry Men on the Cavern. He was told that they’d have to see the group before they could be booked on the Cavern and he suggested that the group perform at the golf club first. If they were any good, then Alan would book them on his club.
They were told that as the appearance would be something of an audition, they wouldn’t be paid. However, they would have all the drink that they wanted, a slap-up meal and the hat would be passed around. When they completed their performance they did have lots of drink, a slap-up meal – and the hat, when passed around, brought them more money than they’d ever received from a gig before. Not only that, Alan Sytner liked the group and booked them on the Cavern. They appeared there on 7 August 1957, although John was to upset Sytner when they did appear, by singing Elvis Presley numbers at a time when rock ‘n’ roll was barred on the Cavern.
Paul McCartney didn’t play with them on that occasion as he was away on holiday. They began with the Del Vikings number ‘Come Go With Me,’ then John launched into ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ Sytner immediately had a note delivered to them on stage, ‘Cut out the bloody rock.’
Although Nigel acted as manager, when he didn’t actually perform with them on tea chest bass, Paul McCartney got understandably upset and said that he should take a reduced fee.
July 15 1958 proved to be a traumatic night for Nigel. He’d dropped around to ‘Mendips’, John’s house in Menlove Avenue, to see if John was at home. He wasn’t, having gone to Bromfield Road to see his mother, Julia – who had actually arrived at Mendips. Julia was at the gate talking to her sister Mimi Smith. Nigel then walked along Menlove Avenue with Julia for about 200 yards, having a chat, then he continued on his way while Julia crossed the road. Then he heard the sound of brakes on a car and turned to see Julia’s body being tossed into the air as a car crashed into her.
She’d been knocked down and killed by Eric Clague, a police constable at the time of the accident who was unaccompanied in the car, although he hadn’t yet passed his driving test.
Clague was sent to trial and Nigel was called as a witness. The inquest established that Clague was driving without a license, but he still escaped with a reprimand and a period of suspension from duty, this verdict so angered John’s Aunt Mimi that she shouted “Murderer!”
Nigel recalls that he was haunted for years by the thought that if he’d kept Julia talking for a few more minutes, it might never have happened. Following the accident, John wouldn’t talk to Nigel for months because he also thought that if Nigel had delayed his mother for only moment, the accident might never have happened.
The saddest words in the English language could well be; “What if?”
Nigel had to cease managing the group when his family moved from Vale Road to New Brighton as he now lived too far away from them to manage the band, although Paul’s objection to him receiving any money also had a part in it. He then left Liverpool in 1961 when he became qualified as a professional golfer and found work in a hotel complex in Semmering, Austria. He never returned to Liverpool, apart from occasional visits.
He was invited round to see John when John lived in Kensington as John still liked to keep in touch with the friends who knew him before he became famous as a Beatle. Nigel also visited John on several occasions in Kenwood.
Over the years, Nigel has enjoyed a successful and happy career in the golf world after finally settling down at Wrotham Heath Golf club in Borough Green, Kent.
Nigel’s father was Chief Superintendent Harold Walley, head of City Police ‘A’ Division. The Liverpool Echo reported when he met John and Paul backstage after they’d become famous: “Mr. Walley first met the two Beatles when they were part of a skiffle group which his son, Nigel, managed in 1957. ‘I used to worry about some of the clubs and places they were performing at. I told them that there was no future in that kind of thing and advised them to drop it. I told them a few times to get a haircut as well.’”
Editor’s Notes: It’s true that the Quarry Men was spelt as two words and not one, as all the posters, handbills – and even the drum kit at the time, attested.
Although, as Nigel says, they did began to choose a repertoire including songs by Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Del Vikings from records they bought in the shops, when the group originally formed they had a repertoire of mainly skiffle numbers which included ‘Maggie May’, ‘Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O’, ‘Rock Island Line.’ ‘Rail Road Bill’, ‘Cumberland Gap’, ‘Midnight Special’, ‘Worried Man Blues’, ‘Freight Train’, ‘Putting On The Style’; and ‘Bring a Little Water Sylvie.’
Nigel’s wife Pat came from Hoylake and was one of Cynthia Lennon’s best friends.
As for Eric Clague, as a consequence of the accident he was suspended from the force and he later became a postman. Ironically, his round included Paul McCartney’s house in Forthlin Road. As he had to deliver literally hundreds of letters to the address, he commented, “I remember struggling up the path with them all. But of course they just reminded me of Lennon and his mother.”
He was also to say: “I read later how his mother’s death had affected John terribly. I felt desperately sorry about it.”
John had originally attended Mosspits Lane Infants School, the primary where Nigel and Pete went to. However, John apparently bullied a young girl at the school, Polly Hipshaw, and was expelled for his disruptive behaviour and then enrolled at Dovedale Road Junior School.
All photographs courtesy of Nigel Wally.