When you’ve been researching The Beatles for nearly 20 years like I have, there aren’t many things that can surprise me. Having gone to Ringo’s school in the Dingle, and lived near Penny Lane for 30 years; my three daughters were born in the same hospital as John Lennon, and attended the same primary/ elementary school as John and George. But there was one surprise waiting for me when I spoke to Charlie Roberts.
Meet Charlie Roberts
Charlie decided to ask his friend Colin Hanton’s group The Quarrymen to perform in his street in Toxteth; Rosebery Street. The occasion was the 750th anniversary of the founding of Liverpool in 1207. Charlie thought that a skiffle group would add some great fun to the celebrations. Not only did he invite The Quarrymen, but when he borrowed a little camera and took a few photos. These turned out to be the very first photos ever taken of John Lennon performing with The Quarrymen.
“At that time,” remarked Charlie, “The Quarrymen would play anywhere for free, because they were doing it for fun. They became more serious after Paul joined, and maybe John was taking it serious, but it was really just friends having some fun. They all turned up, and set themselves up on the back of a wagon that Fred Tyler had brought along. He also wired up a speaker system so that they had something for the microphones, so they made quite a loud noise, which was good.”
“I thought they were great, playing good music and entertaining. When you compare them to other bands, I suppose they weren’t that good, but I enjoyed listening to them, and so did the crowd “I can’t remember what songs they played, but it was good fun. The street was decorated with bunting, and we had sandwiches and drinks, and had a good time.”
John Lennon causing trouble!
“There was an incident involving John, who seemed to upset some of the lads in the crowd. I think he had been winking at some of the girls, and it became obvious that there could be trouble, so as soon as they finished, they grabbed their instruments, and ran into my mum’s house. Some reports have said that the police came and escorted them to the bus stop, but The Quarrymen just stayed in our house for about an hour, and then after everyone had gone, they went home.”
“The party was such a success,” said Charlie, “that the City Council awarded us a prize for the best decorated street, and so the following week we had a second party, with entertainment provided by The Merseysippi Jazz Band, all paid for by the City Council, which was great.”
Charlie followed The Quarrymen to many of the venues they played, like Wilson Hall in Garston, where one particular incident sticks in his memory. “I remember Wilson Hall, when we all had to suddenly run away after the performance. I don’t know who started it or what it was about, but everyone legged it! I was okay, because I hadn’t been performing, so nobody knew me, but the others had to run. The first thing to discard was the tea-chest bass, which was too big and heavy to run with.”
The Quarrymen often went to “Barneys”, the club at St. Barnabas Church Hall. But, like most venues, alcohol was not available. “We used to meet in the Rose of Mossley pub on Rose Lane,” recalled Charlie, “and then we would go on to “Barneys”. We all had to wear proper suits and ties to get in there. After “Barneys” closed, we would then go to the Dutch Café on Smithdown Road, which was open late, one of the few places still open into the early hours of the morning.”
Cement in the Lock!
One of Charlie’s funniest memories takes place in an area called Ford to the north of Liverpool: “The Quarrymen had been booked to play at a party, and so we all travelled up there on the bus as usual. However, the party was in a house, and so there was not much room for the boys to play. By the time they had realised what time it was, the last bus had gone, and so they all decided to stay the night in the house. At some point, John and Paul went out for cigarettes, and there were obviously road works nearby, because they returned with a warning lamp they’d picked up. Everything went quiet, but when we tried to go home, we went to open the door, but somebody had put cement into the door lock! Nobody admitted doing it, but we all had our suspicions, because only John and Paul had been out. So, we all just left through the back door and said nothing.”
Charlie also talked about driving around with his friend Arthur Wong.
“Arthur’s dad had a very good business,” Charlie recalled, “and so Arthur had a Vauxhall Cresta PA, a great car with fins, two-tone paint, very much like the American cars. We used to drive around, and I clearly remember John and Paul on the back seat of the car, with Paul trying to master ‘Raunchy’. We had a great time driving around in it with Arthur and we would often end up at Arthur’s home at 42, Heydale Road, in Mossley Hill.”
John Lennon Played in My Road?
And that is where the coincidence comes in! Because, since 1989, I have lived in Heydale Road! And when we moved into this road, Mrs Wong still lived in 42, Heydale Road. As you can see, wherever I go, I am surrounded by The Beatles! A few years ago, I was giving a talk at the Liverpool History Show, and a man came up to me and wanted to see my book, The Fab one hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles. Why? Because he was Arthur Wong’s brother, and told me how he remembered Charlie and friends hanging out with them. Small world this Beatle world isn’t it?
There are more great stories from Charlie in The Fab one hundred and Four, along with those other important people who played a part in Beatles history.
And if that isn’t enough Charlie for you, he now has his own book about his life, and hanging out with The Quarrymen and The Beatles; Just Like Starting Over; John and The Quarrymen, My Teenage Years.