martes, 3 de abril de 2018

Pete Best interview: ‘Let’s have it out – just me, Paul McCartney and a bottle of Scotch’

Pete Best interview: ‘Let’s have it out – just me, Paul McCartney and a bottle of Scotch’
By  James Hall
2 APRIL 2018

Rockin’ the Casbah: Pete Best, at the Casbah Club in Liverpool
Rockin’ the Casbah: Pete Best, at the Casbah Club in Liverpool CREDIT: PAUL COOPER

As he stars in a new play about The Beatles, sacked drummer Pete Best tells James Hall there is still unfinished business between him and Paul McCartney

Pete Best leads me into a cupboard under the stairs of his family’s former home in the West Derby suburb of Liverpool. We descend a narrow staircase and arrive at a warren of dark vaults. Beatles posters cover the walls. In one corner, the word “John” is crudely carved into the wooden panelling. A stretch of ceiling is painted in multicoloured strips, the handiwork of a teenage Paul McCartney. 
This is the Casbah Coffee Club, a club opened by Best’s mother, Mo, in 1959. And before the Cavern, the Casbah was The Beatles’ home. “We ran riot here,” says Best of that period, when queues would form down the road. “The foresight my mum had for the Liverpool music scene was incredible.” As the one-time Beatles drummer, Best performed with the band 76 times at the Casbah. However, in August 1962 – just weeks before Love Me Do kick-started the band’s journey to megastardom – McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrisonsent manager Brian Epstein to tell Best they wanted to replace him with Ringo Starr. Not for nothing is the 76-year-old grandfather dubbed the unluckiest man in music.
Best joined another group, but events obviously affected him. He attempted suicide in the mid-Sixties and gave up showbusiness in 1968, going on to work in a bakery and then at an employment exchange as a civil servant. He married, had children and, in the late Eighties, started playing again – Merseybeat songs, original material and even the occasional Beatles number – as the leader of The Pete Best Band. 

He’s keeping his Beatles connection alive in other ways, too. Later this month, he will appear as himself in Lennon’s Banjo, a play at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre, about the search for the long-lost instrument on which Lennon learned to play. Best says it’s based on fact and full of pathos and “Scouse humour”.

But it’s clear that some rawness from that fateful day in 1962 still lingers. He doesn’t know who made the decision, and it still rankles Best that the band members didn’t sack him themselves, face-to-face.
“I’m not saying I’d change the outcome, but at least give me the decency of being there and [letting me] confront them,” he says. After the firing, Lennon admitted they’d been cowards. While Best stops short of repeating the accusation, he says they clearly felt guilty afterwards.
The original line-up of The Beatles – George, Pete, Paul and John
The original line-up of The Beatles – George, Pete, Paul and John

Does he think McCartney owes him an apology? “Ask him.” Would he like one? Best, who is dressed in a very un-rock’n’roll uniform of baggy blue jeans, white trainers and a hoodie, says he’d like to meet him – he hasn’t spoken to McCartney (or Starr) since his sacking.
“Paul has always hinted that he’d like to meet up. The door’s always been wide open. I’m not the guilty person, you know? Whether he wants to do it on a public basis or a private one, it’s his call.” 
I wonder what Best would say to him? His answer is wonderfully conciliatory: “We’re senior statesmen now. How many years we’ve got left on the planet is really predictable. Let’s talk about things in general. Stick a bottle of Scotch on the table and let’s have a good old bash.”
Best was born in Madras, India, in 1941, returning to England with his family in 1945. Back in Liverpool, his father, Johnny, ran the family boxing promotion business while Mo, the free-spirited daughter of an Irish major in the Bengal Lancers, launched her club. The Quarrymen, an early incarnation of The Beatles, played the opening night. Best says Mo would “mesmerise” the young band with tales of India around the kitchen table, perhaps seeding their later fixation. But after a fallout over money, the band disappeared to Scotland. Meanwhile, Best’s own band, The Blackjacks, took off. When The Silver Beatles, as they’d become, returned and were offered a residency in Hamburg (with additional member Stuart Sutcliffe), they needed a drummer. Best was recruited. In August 1960 they went to Germany.
Everything about Hamburg was “a culture shock”, Best says, from the journey over ­– 10 people were crammed into an Austin J2 van, including Lord Woodbine, a renowned Liverpudlian eccentric – to playing for seven hours a night, to the St Pauli red light district where they were based. They were giddy teenagers surrounded by neon lights, clubs and a 24-hour city. “We’d never seen anything like it,” Best recalls.

Mother knows best: Pete Best with Mo, who opened the Casbah Club in 1959 
Mother knows best: Pete Best with Mo, who opened the Casbah Club in 1959  CREDIT: REX

Digs were backstage in a fleapit cinema, the Bambi Kino. “John, George and Stu were the first in, so they got ‘the palatial suite’ with a camp bed and sofa. Paul and I looked at [promoter] Bruno Koschmider and said ‘Where are we staying?’.” Koschmider pointed towards two concrete alcoves. “No lights, no doors, they looked like converted coal bunkers with beds. There was a hole knocked out in the middle of the wall so that Paul and I could talk to each other.”
They improved hugely as a band, stretching out rhythm and blues standards for 30 minutes. Other band members took slimming pills called Preludin, or “Prellies”, to stay awake during their mammoth sets, but not Best. Living in close quarters, life was one long teenage escapade. Best recalls how he, Lennon and McCartney were in the same bedroom as Harrison the night he lost his virginity. “At the end, we all stood up and applauded.”

Timeline | The rise of The Beatles

  • 1957

    Paul meets John

    A 16-year-old Paul McCartney meets John Lennon when the latter is performing on a makeshift stage with The Quarrymen at St Peter’s Church village fete in Woolton, Liverpool.
    The following year the pair recruit George Harrison to the band, reportedly after he plays the song “Raunchy” to John Lennon on the top deck of a bus.
  • 17 December, 1960

    First live gig

    The young band play their first British performance as The Beatles, at Liverpool's newly opened Casbah Coffee Club, which they helped decorate.
    Later that year they play a 48-night stint at The Indra in Hamburg, Germany, and attract a loyal following when they return by playing regular shows around Merseyside.
  • 1962

    Record deal

    After being turned down by various record labels - including Decca for the reason that "guitar groups are on the way out" - the band's manager Brian Epstein manages to convince George Martin of EMI's Parlophone records, to sign them.
    They have their first recording session at EMI in May with Martin as producer and their first single, Love Me Do, reaches number 17 in the British charts.
    This is also the year that Ringo Starr joins the band as their drummer.
  • January 1963

    First album

    Please Please Me reaches Number One in four of the five British singles charts, beginning a sequence of 12 consecutive Number Ones.
    The following month, the band record their album of the same name in just one day, and begin to be followed by legions of screaming fans.
  • November 1963

    Record sales

    The Beatles' second studio album With the Beatles is released just months after their debut, and becomes the first million-selling album in Britain.
  • 1964

    America - and television

    A still from the film A Hard Day's Night (PHOTO: FILM STILLS)
    The Beatles tour the United States for the first time in February, breaking TV viewing records during their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show with 73 million people tuning in.
    In July, their debut film A Hard Day's Night is premiered, with the soundtrack album of the same name reaching Number One. The band's fourth album, Beatles For Sale, is released in December, topping the charts immediately.
  • June 1965


    The four band members are awarded MBEs, in recognition of their huge popularity and contribution to British culture.
    However, in 1969 John returns his, partly in protest at British support for United States in the Vietnam War.
  • December 1965


    The Beatles begin what will be their final British tour, just months after the premiere of their second film Help! (pictured above).
    Their last ever live concert in Britain takes place on 1 May 1966, while their last ever concert is in San Francisco on 29 August 1966.
  • June 1967

    Summer of Love

    After the release of Rubber Soul in 1965 and Revolver in 1966, marking a departure from rock n roll, the Beatles release Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on 1 June 1967 at the height of the Summer of Love. One of the most innovative albums of its time, reflecting one continuous live show, it becomes the biggest-selling British album of all time.
    In November of the same year, the band's manager Brian Epstein dies aged just 32, following an overdose.
    1967 is also the year the film Magical Mystery Tour is broadcast in Britain, and an album of the same year released in the US.
  • 1968

    Cracks emerge

    A still from the film Yellow Submarine, also released in 1968 (PHOTO: REX)
    The group fly to India to meditate with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. As divisions begin to appear and Ringo Starr quits temporarily, the group works separately for the first time on tracks for The White Album, which they record when they return.
  • Summer 1969

    Abbey Road

    John Lennon and his new wife Yoko Ono stage their "bed-in" protest at Amsterdam hotel and record Give Peace a Chance.
    The band record Abbey Road - the first album recorded entirely in stereo - marking the last time they are in the studio together. It is released to huge acclaim.
  • 1970


    By 1970, each of the four band members have all married and pursued solo careers outside the band. On 10 April, Paul McCartney issues a press statement announcing that he is leaving The Beatles.
    Despite the band's break-up, their thirteenth and final album Let it Be is released on 8 May and a documentary film of the same name, filmed over the previous few years, is premiered that same month.
  • 1970 - 1980

    Throughout the 1970s the four Beatles continue collaborating casually and release various solo albums. But the band - and their many fans - are left shaken after the assassination of John Lennon in 1980.

Back in England in 1962, record labels circled. Decca famously turned the Beatles down. It was when the band recorded for EMI that Best was sacked. “Unbeknownst to me, they’d approached Ringo,” he says. After a Cavern gig one night in August, Epstein asked to see Best the following morning. Best expected a normal business meeting, but Epstein was jittery. “He said, ‘Pete, I don’t know how to tell you this. The boys want you out’ – those were the words – ‘and it’s already been arranged.’ That was another key word. Arranged. Ringo joined the band on Saturday.
“It was a closed shop. I asked why and he said, ‘Because they think he’s a better drummer’. The bomb was dropped.”
Conspiracy theories abound about why he was sacked: Paul was jealous of his looks, Best kept his Tony Curtis quiff while the others got “Beatles haircuts”, he was aloof in Hamburg, they did drugs and he didn’t.
Although he thinks about what could have been, Best says he wouldn’t change his life for “all the tea in China”. He’s glad he’s not a “showbusiness commodity”. Besides, as the fifth Beatle he will always have his own place in rock’n’roll history. “Yes, they are the most famous musicians in the world. And regardless of what happened, I played a key part in that.”
Lennon’s Banjo runs at the Epstein Theatre, Liverpool, from April 24 to May 5. Go to for details of Best’s appearances

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