An Interview with Rod Davis of the Quarrymen

From the archives of the London Beatles Fan Club Magazine: Rod Davis of the Quarry Men remembers the day that John Lennon met Paul McCartney

  • How did you meet John Lennon for the first time

I met John when I was about four or five years old – I lived in Woolton and if you were church of England you would go to St Peter’s Sunday School. In the same class was Pete Shotton, Nigel Whalley, Ivan Vaughan, Geoff Rhind – about 15 or 20 kids. John and Shotton were always the ones chewing gum or doing something

 

  • They were the bad boys from the beginning?

 

Yes they were pushing the limits right from the word go. I lived on the lower part of the hill and they lived on the other side so we weren’t playmates by any means. –

 

  • Did you always regard John and Pete to be the bad boys?

 

Quarry Bank was fairly academically oriented so any boy that didn’t pull in the same way as the others stood out a bit. In a comprehensive they wouldn’t have stood out at all. They weren’t desperately wicked but in the context of Quarry Bank they were rebels. To get on in this society you have to conform but John was very lucky that in later life his non-conformity was rewarded.

 

  • How did you get started in music?

 

When I was 4 my mother (who I think wanted a daughter) enrolled me in dance classes doing tap and ballet – which is why I’m such a lovely mover now! In the same class was Rita Tushingham. When I was about 6 my sister was born, thank god! – so I hung up ballet shoes. I started playing the piano but it never really inspired me. My brother and I gave up lessons when I sat my 11 plus. I also played the recorder. Then it came to skiffle and my mother and father played the violin and when Rock Island Line came out I tried to find an instrument and they weren’t cheap and I had an uncle that played a fiddle and saw and his brother played the banjo and guitar. Unfortunately for me and maybe fortunately for The Beatles he’d sold the guitar by the time I got there. I came back with a banjo that cost £5 in 1957 which was a lot of money then. I bought it on Sunday and on the Monday morning I went into school and saw Eric Griffiths. I told him about the banjo and he asked me if I wanted to be in a skiffle group. I said yes and that was it!

 

  • This was the early Quarry Men?.

Yes. I asked who was in it. Eric said ‘well it’s John Lennon, Pete Shotton on the washboard and Bill Smith on the bass. I knew Lennon Shotton and Eric Griffiths very well because Quarry Bank was divided into ‘houses’ and although I wasn’t in the same class we were in the same house. We were together half an hour a day. We think it might have been in march. My dad had a book he kept his mileage in. Eric used to shout out to me which chords to play and eventually some musical talent somewhere took over and I could do it. We went down to John’s mother’s place to practise she would say ‘A banjo! a real banjo – give me that – its better than a blinking guitar’ and she would grab my banjo and show us how to play things. We had great tuition.

 

  • What did you think of Julia?

Well, my mum and dad were positive towards the music, but she was nice friendly happy person. Especially when we went to Julia’s we used to practise standing in the bath because you can hear yourself in the bathroom better.

 

  • Do you remember your first gig?

One of the first gigs was at Childwell Golf Club but we may have played at St Peter’s before. I remember it well because our stage uniform was supposed to be white shirts and black jeans – which was where the Black jacks name came from – but lot of parents didn’t allow Jeans -including mine. I went to my friend Mike Rice and he sold me a pair. Zip flies were just coming in and as we were tuning up the zip split so I hung the banjo extremely low and hoped for the best!! I don’t remember anything else about it. The club still have some records from those days so I’m hoping to find out the date. I don’t know how long we were the Black Jacks for. Nigel Whalley’s dad was a member of the club and Nigel became a golf professional. We were asked to play and we changed to the Quarry Men came from the Woolton quarry and from the fact we were from Quarry Bank.

 

  • Is Quarry Men one word or two?

 

I was never quite sure – I write it as one word and John Lowe writes it as two. I tend to err on the side as one. The problem with a band is that promoters often get it wrong anyway

 

  • The Quarry Men had been going a few months before St Peters Church.

 

Yes. I also want to get in touch with people who have the Quarry Bank school magazine because it would record the dates we played there.

 

  • On to St Peter’s did you regard it as a big thing?

 

Yes, it was a different audience you were playing to. Normally we’d only play for a youth audience and its always a difficult thing to play for an audience that you don’t know whether there going to be receptive to what you are doing. We were a bit concerned by it because it was in front of our friends and relations but I don’t remember agonising over it

 

  • Do you remember much about the day itself?

 

I remember going around the village on the back of a lorry. I was reading Jim O’Donnell’s book and it came back to me that when the lorry started moving down the hill the lorry jerked and that feeling came back to me. We went down Church Road and Kings Drive and the real problem was we didn’t have a microphone so I don’t know how much we put into the performance on the back of the lorry. The real thing that saddens me is that nobody anywhere seems to have pictures of us on the back of the lorry. I find it astounding because my father later took the official photos for the fete. I’ve got loads of photos from 1958 and 1959 and nothing from 1957. My own dad who photographed every tree, every blade of grass never took a single photograph. I’ve been looking through the negatives I have but there is nothing!

 

  • Then you went to the church hall where the historic meeting took place.

 

Well, I have a problem with this. I gather that sometime during the day McCartney saw us playing and Colin Hanton remembers 2 guys turning up. Eric also remembers someone turning up too. Then in the evening we went over to the hall. All of us, was the exception of Len Garry, lived within ten minutes so its quite likely that between the end of the afternoon and the start of the evening I might have gone home for my dinner. I don’t remember anything about the meeting so I’ve starting saying to people for a laugh that I must have gone for a pee! However being more serious I might have gone for my dinner. Also ultimately I was going to out and McCartney in so I might have been the last one to be told. The only thing I’ve got is negative conjecture. That is John and Eric both played guitars right handed with banjo tuning. The idea of Paul showing John things on Eric’s guitar is difficult as that even if he picked up Eric’s guitar and retuned it the problem is he couldn’t have played anything on it as you were either left handed or right handed. You had to be a great musical talent to do that. I asked Eric and he recalled the meeting where Paul impressed them with his guitar playing took place later at Paul’s house – that makes sense to me but it ruins a beautiful story!

 

  • Many different dates have been put forward for the St Peter’s Church Fete…

 

The first time I knew what was happening was 1983, I think, when an ad appeared in the Liverpool Echo saying ‘Where are John Lennon’s Quarry Men?’ My aunt sent me this and said ‘Why don’t you get in touch?’ As a result we went to the Beatles Convention at the Adelphi – Colin Hanton went, Len Garry was there but Pete Shotton was in the States promoting his book. We were talking amongst ourselves and Colin was convinced we played at St Peter’s twice. A guy was standing a foot or two behind us and came over and said ‘It was once – on July 6 1957 – my name is Mark Lewisohn and I’ve got all the newspaper cuttings.’ We thought ‘Oh my god – somebody else tells you what you ought to know!’ Mark was an absolute revelation.

 

  • You also played at the Cavern Club…

 

I played at the Cavern three or four times. I had an argument on stage with John about playing rock.

 

  • Was it because you were a ‘folk purist?’

 

No, its like playing heavy metal to a group of new romantic fans. It was the fact that you’d be torn limb from limb for playing the wrong music to the wrong crowd. Rock music and trad jazz were poles apart and the Cavern was a jazz cellar. I don’t know why John was so keen to be torn apart! We’d had a few narrow escapes before this. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a purist – I wanted to save my skin!

 

  • Paul McCartney is always telling the story of being told to stop playing rock at the Cavern..

 

He wasn’t there! It was a rock venue when Paul first played there. When the Quarry Men played he was away at scout camp. I remember arguing with John and Colin remembers about the note coming. John thought he had a request >from the audience but it was a note from the manager saying ‘Cut out the bloody rock!’ John was keen on rock music and every time he was there he wanted to play it. I will admit I was probably less keen on rock than John. Later on I became more interested in folk and country.

 

  • What did you do when you left the Quarry Men?

 

My brother and I bought guitars and in Sept 57 there was a jazz pianist at school called Gerald Greenwood and another called Les Brough who had a snare drum and we had a jazz trio.

 

I’ve known Rod for many years, and met up with him at the 40th Anniversary Celebrations for the Cavern Club. Rod told me all the original Quarrymen were coming, and that I should stick around. I therefore got the first pictures of the Quarrymen together for 40 years!!

Rod Davis, Eric Griffiths, Len Garry, Pete Shotton, Colin Hanton and John 'Duff Lowe' at the Cavern Club
Rod Davis, Eric Griffiths, Len Garry, Pete Shotton, Colin Hanton and John ‘Duff Lowe’ at the Cavern Club

 

Author Richard Porter is a professional London Beatles Tour Guide – for more info on his tours, see http://www.beatlesinlondon.com

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