Beatles star John Lennon 'stole fan's pint during mystery gig before Liverpool band hit the big time'
Historians have uncovered exciting details about a performance the band gave in the months before they became famous
BY MIKE LOCKLEY
16 JAN 2016
Joker: A fan claims John Lennon swiped his pint but offered to buy another one
John Lennon swiped a fan's pint of beer and then pledged to buy one back for him during a gig which had long been forgotten, it is claimed.
The singer was performing with band mates Paul, George and Ringo at the Ritz Ballroom in Kings Heath, Birmingham, in 1962.
The mop topped rockers had yet to hit the big time when they appeared in the second city and former Cadbury's worker Malcolm Ward told how he met Lennon - only to lose his drink to him.
Now aged 75, Malcolm said: "I put my glass, as I always did, by a speaker. I shouted at Lennon ‘Oi, that’s my ale!’
"He shouted back ‘I’ll buy you one’. But he never did."
Thirsty: Fan Malcolm Ward said Lennon walked off with his pint of ale
Malcolm, from Bartley Green, is among many readers who responded to the Sunday Mercury's call for details of the Beatles ’ ‘lost’ concert.
Last week the paper revealed how rock historians Bob Prew and Ken Whittaker issued an SOS after being tipped off about the group’s mystery February 1962 appearance, which predates what has always been thought the group’s first Birmingham appearance the following year.
They wanted to know if it really happened.
It did. Malcolm, who now lives in Kent, knows – because he was there.
And the place was almost empty.
“Just days before, Jean Metcalfe had introduced The Beatles on her radio show, Two Way Family Favourites,” he recalls.
Mania: The Beatles outside the Birmingham Hippodrome in 1963 at the start of Beatlemania
“I remember she said ‘I think we might hear more about these boys’.”
Those were prophetic words. They were unknown in 1962, but The Beatles went on to be the world’s most famous group.
“There was hardly anyone at The Ritz,” Malcolm adds. “But it was a wonderful night.
“Everyone used to get up and jive at the ballroom, but this was the one night we all just stopped and listened.”
In the days before fame beckoned, John , Paul, George and Ringo mingled and chatted with the sparse audience.
Less than a year later, they would return to the venue with a hit under their belt and followed by hundreds of screaming female fans.
“They said something derogatory about Birmingham and we said something derogatory about Liverpool,” laughs Malcolm about that ‘62 performance.
“They were ordinary guys but as soon as they began playing, I thought they were something special.
“They looked something special, too, with their sharp suits and haircuts. Not many people were there because no-one had heard of them, but we all stopped and listened because it was so crisp and brilliant.”
Neville Hughes was an 18-year-old apprentice with Birmingham Council parks department when he wandered into The Ritz in 1962 and spotted The Beatles.
Legends: The Beatles went on to become one of the biggest music acts of all time
The first thing that struck him was the haircuts.
“There weren’t many people with long hair,” says Neville, from Acocks Green, “but it soon became fashionable.
“I went to the toilet and they were in there. I had a conversation with Lennon and McCartney and I was really intrigued by their suits – Italian suits with velvet collars.
“The band were warming up and ballroom’s owner, Mary ‘Ma’ Regan, told them not to be so loud.”
Bob Spittle, from Lichfield, was among those who openly chided the group when they stepped on stage.
“They came on and they’d got those bloody silly haircuts and we were all taking the mickey,” he remembers.
Memories: Roger Stafford was the drummer for Dane Tempest and the Atoms - who were The Beatles' warm up act in the sixties
“Then Paul McCartney started singing and we all thought ‘Hey, they can sing!’ There was only about 30 people in the audience.”
Roger Stafford vividly remembers the night he backed The Beatles on their second visit to The Ritz.
What’s more, the pensioner from Codsall still has a memento of that memorable July 5, 1963 night – a card flung on stage for Ringo.
Roger was drummer for popular Wolverhampton five-piece Dane Tempest and the Atoms when they got the call to back the Fab Four, who were riding high with their first studio album, Please Please Me.
His revelation will re-write Beatles history books, which reveal the group played Handsworth and Old Hill Plazas on that night.
Legends: The Beatles went on to become one of the biggest music acts of all time
Roger is adamant that the Regans reshuffled the bills at the clubs under their control at the last minute, hence the lack of a Fab Four fanfare at The Ritz.
It also now means The Beatles appeared at The Ritz three times.
“It wasn’t particularly crowded and there wasn’t a lot of screaming,” he says. “We played after The Beatles and all we got to say in passing was a quick ‘Alright’ because they were playing Old Hill Plaza on the same night.
“Our group and The Beatles’ roadies carried their stuff downstairs.
“While The Beatles were playing there were a group of girls near the stage and one threw a card for Ringo onto the stage. It was a request to play a number off the Please Please Me album. It said ‘Many happy returns of the day, Ringo, for Sunday’.
“Ringo’s birthday was two days away. I’ve still got the card.”
Good old days: Bob Bailey was the former driver for The Beatles back in the 1960s
Roger, now 71, was part of Dane Tempest and the Atoms from 1963 to 1965, then quitting to settle down and get married. He worked as a lab assistant, then manufacturing administrator for a Bilston company.
“They were good times,” he recalls. “We made a bit of money, we spent the money and never regretted it.
“It was great experience. When I finished, I didn’t know what to do with myself, especially over Christmas.”
The R&B band was popular on the Black Country circuit, but never recorded.
“We had an audition with Les Reed who co-wrote the Tom Jones hit It’s Not Unusual,” says Les.
“He only wanted the singer and the singer said ‘You have me and the group or nothing’.
“Les told him ‘You better f*** off to Wolverhampton, then’. I thought ‘What a great title for a book!’”
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The group’s other members were frontman Dane Tempest, bass player Keith Tabner, lead guitarist Roger Bromley and pianist Terry Underhill. All but one are still alive and last year they held a reunion.
The Atoms enjoyed a residency at Wolverhampton’s Ship and Rainbow Pub, performing on alternative Sundays. The other Sunday slot was taken by another local group, The ‘N Betweens. They went on to cause quite a stir as a little band renamed Slade.
Bob Bailey should’ve been given a minder during his stint as chauffeur for the Fab Four.
Screaming fans ripped the shirt off his back as he tried to shepherd the stars into the Old Hill Plaza on July 5, 1963.
Bob, from Quarry Bank, and a colleague were tasked with driving the group from the earlier gig at The Ritz, Kings Heath, to the Black Country venue.
Both clubs were owned by husband and wife, Joe and Mary Regan.
The 70-year-old says: “It was a scene of utter madness. I had the shirt ripped off my back – I’d never seen scenes like it.”
Bob, born in Handsworth, was a Jack-of-all-trades worker for the Regans. When stars needed transporting between the couple’s clubs, Mary entrusted Bob with the keys to her Ford Consul.
“Joe Brown told Ma Regan about The Beatles,” reveals Bob. “He returned from Germany and told her about them.
“I know she booked them at least twice for next to nothing. They were just normal guys.”
Bob also revealed there is a missing Beatles song out there.
“They stopped at Ma’s Edgbaston home and were gathered round the piano,” he says. “They did a song just for her – I don’t know what happened to it.”
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During his near 10-year stint with the Regans, Bob acted as drivers for a host of big names.
“My favourite was Daniel Boone,” he adds.
Boone, then singer with the Beachcombers, enjoyed US chart success with Beautiful Sunday and penned a string of smashes for other people.
“He was so nice,” says Bob. “When I was learning to play the guitar, he used to lend me his Fender and in those days they were a few hundred pounds each.
“Once I broke a string and was scared to death about what he’d say. He just laughed.”