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The 60th Anniversary of Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s first meeting.

July 6, 2017


Sixty years ago today, at St Peter’s Church Woolton’s summer fête, Paul McCartney first met John Lennon.  If the pair of them had spent the day signing their names on every flier and every hymn book in the church’s possession, St Peter’s restoration fund would now be in a much healthier situation.

Mutual friend Ivan Vaughan is to be thanked (and thanked and thanked) for this meeting.

At the fête Paul saw a bunch of roughnecks on the back of a lorry playing stuff that was half way between skiffle and rock and roll.  He was immediately drawn to the lead singer – impressed not by his musicianship but by his swagger and stage presence and by the ingenuity with which he improvised lyrics to songs he didn’t really know the words to.

After the concert, such as it was, Paul was formally introduced to the swaggering skiffler who smelt a bit beery.   Then it was Paul’s turn to impress John.

Paul impressed John with his ability to actually tune a guitar properly (rather than tune a guitar like a banjo which is how John had learned from his mother).   He also impressed John with the fact that he knew Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” and Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula” all the way through with the correct words.

John did not invite Paul to join his band overnight, but he started to decide to.  The decision was complicated for a young man who enjoyed being the leader of the gang, the frontman, the big cheese, the cynosure of everyone’s attention.

20 months separated John and Paul in age.  At the time, the difference between being only just fifteen and being in spitting difference of seventeen felt like a lot – but John was smart enough to know that this age difference would be increasingly less meaningful.  If he was to invite someone who could sing as well as he could and who could play the guitar considerably better into his band, then the band would no longer be John Lennon and his Quarrymen – the band would become something else – something far far better, but something that John could not be certain of controlling.  Teenagers, as I vaguely recall, control comparatively little and can be fiercely defensive of the small areas of autonomous freedom they enjoy.   The shackles of dependency chafe with especial irritancy when you’re sixteen and a half.  To decide to invite Paul into this sort of band was to knowingly sacrifice a kind of autonomy for a new kind of co-dependency – a tough decision for a certain kind of intelligent teenager to make.

Even at his worst, his bitterest moments (between 1970 and 1973), John never regretted this decision.

When Paul joined John’s band, he not only brought his own musicianship of course.  Before very long, he brought George Harrison.  Within a few weeks, the core of a band that was actually good at what it did was assembled.

Some of us make important decisions when we’re sixteen or seventeen, but few if any will make decisions comparable to John Lennon’s decision sixty years ago.  To assert that it was the best decision he ever made is obvious.  Because in all honesty, we would not be celebrating successive anniversaries of the Quarrymen’s transcendent achievements had he decided to exclude Paul McCartney from the band.   (John did not make the decision in complete isolation, but his was the vote that counted.)   Indeed, we would not be talking about John Lennon in any twenty-first century cultural retrospective discussion, had he decided to to excluded Paul McCartney from the band.

Without the support of Paul McCartney, I suspect, John Lennon’s various frustrations and insecurities – together with a recurring natural tendency towards indolence – would have hamstrung his ability to achieve anything resembling a global audience for whatever it was he ended up doing.  He might have ended up as an interesting failed painter, or an infrequently anthologised poet, or a folk singer with a dedicated drunk following.  He might have been a footnoted Liverpool “character”.

With Paul McCartney, John had a partner not only with discipline, focus, and professional determination but also a kind of generosity – the kind of generosity that knows that inner demons need to be put on ice from time to time when it comes to giving of yourself to others.  So this summer fête was not only the making of The Beatles, but the making of John Lennon.

And what did Paul McCartney learn from John Lennon?  Unlike John, Paul could have “made it” on his own.  He had a showbiz work ethic and a remarkable skills set, including the ability to construct original melodies from a very early age.  He could have formed a successful band – a band that we’d have heard of today.  He could have been a solo artist – one who we’d still buy recordings of today.  What John gave Paul, however, was the ability to critique the terms of “making it”.  What John gave Paul was a sense that the pre-existing categories showbiz, music, rock and roll (whatever you want to call it), were there to be adapted, subverted and made fun of.  Something of this, Paul intuited when he enjoyed John’s brazen improvisations on the back of a Lorry sixty years ago today.

There are those who regard The Beatles as having provoked such as deplorable anxiety of influence that they feel that the meeting sixty years ago was a disaster.  They posit bold alternate universes in which other, supposedly more authentic forms of music flourish – supposedly organically – without having to trail in the disproportionate wake of the Fabs.  Some of those people are doubtless working on time machines just so they can put a puncture in Paul McCartney’s bike and prevent him from getting to the fête.

A world without The Beatles?  I’d as soon try and live in a world without sunshine.  Or cheese.


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