When Lennon met McCartney
Updated: Jul 6, 2023
6 July 1957 was a pivotal day for the history of modern music: it was the day that John Lennon met Paul McCartney for the first time.
In the afternoon the Quarrymen skiffle group played at the garden fete of St Peter's Church, Woolton, Liverpool. The performance took place on a stage in a field behind the church. In the band were Lennon (vocals, guitar), Eric Griffiths (guitar), Colin Hanton (drums), Rod Davies (banjo), Pete Shotton (washboard) and Len Garry (tea chest bass).
The group arrived on the back of a lorry. As well as music, there were craft and cake stalls, games of hoop-la, police dog demonstrations and the traditional crowning of the Rose Queen. The fete was a highlight of the year for the residents of the sleepy Liverpool district.
"The entertainment began at two p.m. with the opening procession, which entailed one or two wonderfully festooned lorries crawling at a snail's pace through the village on their ceremonious way to the Church field. The first lorry carried the Rose Queen, seated on her throne, surrounded by her retinue, all dressed in pink and white satin, sporting long ribbons and hand-made roses in their hair. These girls had been chosen from the Sunday school groups, on the basis of age and good behaviour.
The following lorry carried various entertainers, including the Quarry Men. The boys were up there on the back of the moving lorry trying to stay upright and play their instruments at the same time. John gave up battling with balance and sat with his legs hanging over the edge, playing his guitar and singing. He continued all through the slow, slow journey as the lorry puttered its way along. Jackie and I leaped alongside the lorry, with our mother laughing and waving at John, making him laugh. He seemed to be the only one who was really trying to play and we were really trying to put him off!" - Julia Baird, Imagine This
That evening the group were due to play again, minus Colin Hanton, this time at the Grand Dance in the church hall on the other side of the road. They were due on stage at 8pm, and admission to the show, in which the Quarrymen alternated on stage with the George Edwards Band, was two shillings.
While setting up their equipment to play, the Quarrymen's sometime tea-chest bass player, Ivan Vaughan, introduced the band to one of his classmates from Liverpool Institute, the 15-year-old Paul McCartney.
This historic occasion was the first time McCartney met John Lennon, one year his senior. McCartney wore a white jacket with silver flecks, and a pair of black drainpipe trousers.
The pair chatted for a few minutes, and McCartney showed Lennon how to tune a guitar – the instruments owned by Lennon and Griffiths were in G banjo tuning. McCartney then sang Eddie Cochran's Twenty Flight Rock and Gene Vincent's Be-Bop-A-Lula, along with a medley of songs by Little Richard.
"I remember coming into the fete and seeing all the sideshows. And also hearing all this great music wafting in from this little Tannoy system. It was John and the band.
I remember I was amazed and thought, 'Oh great', because I was obviously into the music. I remember John singing a song called Come Go With Me. He'd heard it on the radio. He didn't really know the verses, but he knew the chorus. The rest he just made up himself.
I just thought, 'Well, he looks good, he's singing well and he seems like a great lead singer to me.' Of course, he had his glasses off, so he really looked suave. I remember John was good. He was really the only outstanding member, all the rest kind of slipped away." - Paul McCartney, 1995
Lennon was equally impressed with McCartney, who showed natural talent for singing songs that the Quarrymen worked hard to accomplish. McCartney also recalled performing on the church hall piano.
"I also knocked around on the backstage piano and that would have been A Whole Lot Of Shakin' by Jerry Lee. That's when I remember John leaning over, contributing a deft right hand in the upper octaves and surprising me with his beery breath. It's not that I was shocked, it's just that I remember this particular detail." - Paul McCartney 1995
The particular detail was later recalled by McCartney in his introduction to Lennon's first book, In His Own Write:
"At Woolton village fete I met him. I was a fat schoolboy and, as he leaned an arm on my shoulder, I realised he was drunk. We were twelve then, but, in spite of his sideboards, we went on to become teenage pals.
The Quarrymen's set, remarkably, was recorded by an audience member, Bob Molyneux, on his portable Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder. In 1994 Molyneux, then a retired policeman, rediscovered the tape, which contained scratchy recordings of the band performing Lonnie Donegan's Puttin' On The Style and Elvis Presley's Baby, Let's Play House.
The tape was sold on 15 September 1994 at Sotheby's for £78,500. At the time it was the most expensive recording ever sold at auction. The winning bidder was EMI Records, who considered if for release as part of the Anthology project, but chose not to as the sound quality was substandard.
After the Quarrymen's show the group, along with Ivan Vaughan and McCartney, went to a Woolton pub where they lied about their ages to get served.
Later on, Lennon and Pete Shotton discussed the young McCartney, and whether to invite him to join their group. For Lennon it was a dilemma – should he admit a talented member who may pose a challenge to his own superiority within the group, or should he persist without McCartney, retaining his leadership yet likely consigning the group to failure?
They decided McCartney would be an asset, and roughly two weeks later Shotton encountered McCartney cycling through Woolton. Paul mulled over the invitation to join, and eventually agreed to join the Quarrymen's ranks.