Bill Harry has a very unique perspective on Beatles history. He not only witnessed it first-hand, he helped shape it from the very beginning. He introduced John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe, setting the stage for what would become The Beatles. He, along with his wife Virginia, founded Liverpool's legendary 'Mersey Beat', the music newspaper that chronicled the Mersey sound of the early to mid-sixties and gave The Beatles their first major publicity. Contrary to popular lore, he also brought the group to the attention of Brian Epstein.

Bill's recent projects include the online version of Mersey Beat, featuring many of the articles from the original publication as well as new articles written especially for the site.

In an exclusive interview for 'Beatle Folks', Bill Harry recalls those incredible years and tackles some popular myths that have grown over the decades.




Q: You introduced John Lennon to Stuart Sutcliffe while you were all students at the Liverpool College of Art. Do you remember that first meeting?

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Basically, yes. Stuart was the first. I'd heard whispers that there was a talented new student at the college. Somehow, I've always been drawn to creative and artistic people, so I made it my business to get to know him. We were in different classes, but everyone used to mingle in the canteen during breaks and lunchtimes and I introduced my self to Stu and his best friend Rod Murray.

I got to know John almost as soon as he arrived. I was sitting in the canteen one day and saw this cocky young man striding past. He was dressed a bit like a teddy boy, with a d.a. haircut (duck's arse) and had immediate impact. I remember vividly looking around at the other students. They were all wearing turtle neck sweaters in navy blue, grey or green, with duffle coats of navy blue or fawn. It was like an epiphany, suddenly it hit me that all these arty students thought they were unconventional, but they weren't, they all dressed the same and probably thought the same, this new guy with his swagger and teddy boy clothes was the unconventional one, he was the person I wanted to get to know, so I introduced myself to him and we got on from the start. John initially tries to intimidate new people he gets to know, but he couldn't do this with me as I came from a particularly tough background. Immediately that happens, John never tries to intimidate or bully again.

Students regularly went to the Ye Cracke, a nearby pub and it was while there that I introduced Stu to John. I must admit that at times John did find he could intimidate Stuart and occasionally tried to make fun of him in front of people. Also Rod, not John, always remained Stuart's closest friend at the college.
Nevertheless, we became a good quartet of friends.

Q: It's well known that Stu was closest to John as far as the group was concerned. What was his relationship like with the other members of the group? How much truth is there to the story that tension existed between Stu and the others, particularly Paul?

There doesn't seem to have been any problems in Stu's relationship with Pete Best or George Harrison. In fact, when Stu remained in Hamburg following the group's first trip there George wrote to Stu asking for him to rejoin the band saying that they weren't any good without him. On the other hand, at the time John offered Chas. Newby (who played three dates with the Beatles on their return from their Hamburg debut), Stu's job as bass guitarist with the group. Chas turned him down. To be quite frank, John used to put Stu down and often humiliated him in front of people, but that was John's way if he could get away with it.

There was also tension between Paul and Stu which resulted in a physical fight on stage at the Top Ten Club. Apparently, Paul had been baiting Stu and knew his vulnerable spot - his love for Astrid. So when Astrid came into the club he began making remarks, which resulted in Stu rushing across the stage to tackle him. Later, when Stu left, the relationship improved and I believe Stu let Paul have his guitar.

Q: Do you think Allan Williams has overstated his part in Beatles history? If so, what are some of the myths you think he has created or perpetuated?

Mersey Beat OnlineYes. He was there. He was part of it, but he needn't have created so much inaccurate rubbish that has been the ruination of the credibility of various writers who have referred to his 'The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away' book. I have Allan Williams' original biographical manuscript which was written by Mersey Beat columnist Bob Azurdia, which Allan himself gave to me. The Beatles are only a very small part of it. Daily Mirror reporter Bill Marshall then collaborated on a book with Allan which Marshall sensationalized and created lots of myths with. He was interested in getting a book which would be a page turner and exaggerated much of the story. Bill actually revealed to me that it was his book more than Allan's. To sell it, he decided that Allan should be regarded as the Beatles first manager rather than the occasional agent he was. So he immediately states this, saying Allan still has the contracts, slightly burned. Those actual contracts are for their first booking with Bruno Koshmider in Hamburg and were burnt when Allan's Liverpool club, the Top Ten burned down. They are an agent's contract and not management contracts - but the trick seems to have worked!

There are many holes in Allan's book which can be disproved, but I don't need to go into them. What concerns me is when other people distort my own personal history. Not only did I chronicle the entire scene in Mersey Beat, Bob Wooler called me 'the Boswell of Beat' because I reported on everything that happened.

As a trained observer, not only do I have the proof of many of the stories in black and white in Mersey Beat itself, I specifically remember various events and can back them up with other witnesses. I also kept diaries, but unfortunately they were all lost in a move from Westbourne Grove in London. However, there is no doubt that at the time I was basically the only person actually documenting the entire Mersey scene as it happened.

Back to my own personal history and how Allan Williams has tried to warp that.

Cilla Black had asked me on a number of occasions to manage her. This I couldn't do as I was too involved in producing Mersey Beat. At one time I took her to the Coffee Pot, a nearby coffee bar. She told me she wanted to sing jazz and needed a jazz trio to back her and she wanted to sing a repertoire with numbers such as 'Fever.'

One night in 1963 down at the Blue Angel club, Virginia and I noticed Brian Epstein at the downstairs bar with Andrew Loog Oldham. Cilla was also downstairs with her mate Pat Davies. I had a sudden inspiration. I went up to Brian and asked him if he'd do me a favour and listen to a girl singer. He agreed. I went to Cilla and told her, asking if she'd get on stage to sing 'Boys' with the band. The group on stage was the Masterminds, who were the current resident group at the club.

I went up to them and asked if they'd back Cilla on 'Boys', a number most local groups had in their repertoire. They agreed and Cilla sang the number. When she finished I took her over to Epstein and left them to talk. She then came to me to say Brian had asked her to come to his office in the morning and she phoned me later the next day saying he'd agreed to sign her.

That is the true sequence of events.

I was flabbergasted when Cilla, in her biography, said Brian discovered her when she got up at the Blue Angel to sing 'Bye Bye Blackbird' with a jazz group. Utter fantasy, although a number of people told me that Cilla was confessing she couldn't remember many of the events from her early career anyway.

Apart from Virginia and me remembering this specific night in detail, I decided to follow it up. I contacted Andrew Loog Oldham, who also remembered the night and said that indeed he recalled me coming up when he was with Brian and asking about Cilla - and then getting Cilla to sing. Not only that, as Andrew listened too, he then signed up the Masterminds and recorded Bob Dylan's number 'She Belongs To Me' with them. I also contacted the Masterminds who confirmed that I asked them to back Cilla that evening.

Where does Allan Williams come in? In another retelling of his 'story' by Lew Baxter, he now claims to have got Cilla up on stage that night. Actually, Allan wasn't even in the downstairs bar that night - he was upstairs.

Al Aronowitz - 2004Another event concerns Bob Dylan. When Saturday Evening Post writer Al Aronowitz came to Liverpool to cover what was happening in the city, including the Civic reception, Virginia and I took him round the pubs and clubs. He was continually enthusing about Bob Dylan, a friend of his, so I went to Nems in Great Charlotte Street and bought Dylan's album. Aronowitz had also switched John Lennon onto Dylan.
When I went to London to attend the Dylan reception at the Dorchester Hotel, he seemed bored with the usual questions from the press. I went to him and mentioned Al Aronowitz, then we got into a conversation about the Beatles, Liverpool, poetry and I took him into a hall where there was a phone and I called John and put him onto Dylan, who was then invited to visit John in Weybridge. Bob told me that when he came to Liverpool he'd be staying at the Adelphi Hotel and we must call him there and take him around Liverpool.

In the meantime, a furious Wendy Hanson, Brian Epstein's p.a. came up to me and started telling me off for contacting John. I told her to piss off.

After we'd seen Bob's Liverpool concert at the Odeon, we went around to the Adelphi. Bob had left a message that we would be calling and we were shown to his room. He asked if we could take him to see some local poets. First we decided to go to the Blue Angel club. We went to the ground floor bar and I asked Bob what he'd like to drink. He asked for Beaujolais. Unfortunately, the Blue only sold beer and spirits, so Bob said he'd like to leave as he had lots of Beaujolais in his room. In the meantime we'd introduced him to Mike McCartney and Roger McGough of the Scaffold and to the Poppies, an attractive trio of black girl singers. He invited them all to join us back at his hotel.

When we returned to the Adelphi we went to his room and one of the tables had a full box of Beaujolais taking pride of place on it. His manager Al Grossman was also there, ensconced in an armchair, and we then began chatting throughout the night, with Bob telling me about 'Tarantula', a book he was writing.
Not only do Virginia and I remember that night in detail, but Mike and Roger can attest to it - and the Poppies as well. In fact, Bob was so enchanted by the Poppies that he invited them down to London and recorded them - although I never heard of any release.

When Lew Baxter was writing the second Williams' biography, he also asked if he could write a book about Allan's girlfriend, Beryl Adams, former secretary to Brian Epstein. Sadly, Beryl died of CJD (mad cow's disease) in 2004, but I bought a copy of the book 'My Beatles Hell,' which contains a lot of the stories Allan had obviously told her.

One item reads: "Williams told Beryl that the Blue Angel's bouncers had turned Bob Dylan away because he looked like a tramp. Then when he recognized the singer poet he ran after him, begging him to come back. She wasn't convinced that he did and yet it's become just another Allan Williams' folk tale, embellished as the years pass."