9 November 1961 – Brian Epstein Visits the Cavern Club to See The Beatles
Brian Epstein – “Can’t Buy Me Love”: the highs and lows of The Beatles’ manager.
Isaac Epstein, Brian’s grandfather, was born in Hodan, Lithuania, and came to England at the age of 19. He met his future wife – whose family came from Poland – in Liverpool, and they got married. Brian’s father Harry was the third of six children.
Brian was the eldest son of Harry and Malka Epstein – pronounced Epstine, not Epsteen, according to his family. Promoter Sid Bernstein – pronounced Bernsteen – recalled laughing with Brian about how their names were spelled the same but pronounced differently.
Brian was born in 4, Rodney Street in the centre of Liverpool on 19 September 1934, and grew up in the family home of 197 Queens Drive. After Brian found fame, he moved his parents away from his childhood home and out to a beautiful bungalow in Gateacre called Treetops, though sadly Brian’s father Harry died just a few months before Brian. Queenie eventually moved into a flat in Crompton’s Court, near Calderstones Park. He would also visit his grandparents’ home in Anfield, now Epstein’s Guest House, where he developed a friendship with Joe Flannery, later to become a Beatles promoter.
However, although he sounded and acted professionally, and came across as a learned man, Brian didn’t enjoy school, and didn’t settle in any of the many expensive fee-paying schools to which they sent him.
The schools Brian attended were:
Prestatyn Nursery School, North Wales
Beechenhurst College, Liverpool (Woolton)
Southport College, Lancashire
Croxton Preparatory School, Liverpool
Liverpool College, Liverpool (Allerton)
Wellesley School, Liverpool (Toxteth)
Beaconsfield Jewish School, Sussex
Claysmore School, Somerset
Wrekin College, Shropshire
Brian was labelled a problem child at Liverpool College, expelled for being lazy and having a lack of concentration, though his family always thought it was more likely anti-Semitism.
Brian’s only musical accomplishment was a brief period of playing the violin at school.
NEMS (NORTH END MUSIC STORES)
However, years before, after leaving school, he had to decide what to do. Brian’s family owned a thriving furniture business, I. Epstein and Sons into which Brian was expected to go. Brian disappointed his parents by revealing that he didn’t want to join the family business, but instead wanted to become a dress designer! He eventually relented, and learned the furniture business at Times Furnishing.
Brian took on the responsibility of dressing the windows, and this became an art form in itself. Epstein took on this role when he became manager of NEMS, and his window displays in their Whitechapel store were famous. It was here that he was able to announce that he had the record “My Bonnie”, and of course later that he had all the new record releases from The Beatles.
Before then, Brian had made friends with an actor called Brian Bedford (no relation) who persuaded Brian to audition for the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts. As with most things in his life, it didn’t last, and he soon returned to Liverpool.
After successfully running the record department in the NEMS shop in Great Charlotte Street, Liverpool, Epstein’s family decided to open a new shop: NEMS in Whitechapel. Brian would be the manager, and the rest, as they say, is history.
At the suggestion of Raymond Jones, Brian then went to the Cavern. (See Alistair Taylor interview)
Hello Little Girl
Most people don’t realise, or misunderstand, what drew Brian to The Beatles. Yes, we know of his sexual preferences, and the “boys” dressed in leather would have been attractive. But don’t be fooled! In my interview with Alistair Taylor, Brian’s PA who accompanied him to the Cavern, he pinpointed the real reason why Epstein, a record retailer, was interested in The Beatles. Firstly, they had a record, “My Bonnie”, which had been released in Germany, and which he sold.
However, during their set that lunchtime in front of Brian, as well as the usual cover versions of popular songs, they performed “Hello Little Girl”, an original song. Brian, who had an ear for a hit record, realised that if The Beatles could write more original songs like this, then, as a record retailer, he knew there was money to be made. And that is why Brian wanted to manage The Beatles.
Brian the Manager
Brian was the guiding light for The Beatles, and the man who kept them together. But, as a homosexual Jew, growing up in a Europe that had been ravaged by anti-Semitic uprisings at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal, he was a tortured soul. He kept a private flat at 36 Falkner Street for his liaisons, outside of the glare of his family.
When he became the manager of The Beatles, he saw the theatrical potential of this dynamic, charismatic foursome who could entertain crowds with their acting up on stage (a skill learned in Hamburg), their interaction with the crowd and the way they bounced off each other like variety performers. They could sing, they could tell jokes; they were a modern day Vaudeville act – unlike any other band around at the time.
Brian wasn’t a lover of rock ’n’ roll – he was a classical music buff. So why take on this undisciplined, scruffy bunch of loudmouths? I believe he saw them through theatrical eyes, not rock’n’roll eyes. He was creating the first engineered “boy band” – something that is commonplace these days. They were a group already, but Brian put together an image for the masses, a bit like the Monkeys in the 60s, who were put together to mimic The Beatles.
Admittedly, Brian didn’t have to go through the process of choosing the band members, as they had done that themselves, though how much say he had in the sacking of Pete is debatable. Brian said none, but I am not so sure.
Brian set about becoming the first manager to actively see the whole picture of managing a band – it was more than just plugging in the instruments and playing. He became a theatrical impresario with a new musical sensation.
When The Beatles signed their contract with Brian, they agreed that he would be responsible for their costume, make-up (honest!) and the songs they played. It was more than just a straightforward management contract.
Brian creates the first Theatrical “Boy Band”
Look what he did straight away:
He got them out of their scruffy clothes and into smart suits. (Their theatrical costumes.)
He tidied their hair. (To get into the ‘mop-top’ character.)
He reduced their playing time to sets of 35 minutes or so (a play in one act), with him providing the set list of songs. (Brian was the director of this musical.)
He renegotiated their fees from £15 upwards – an exorbitant increase, but he got away with it and most Merseybeat groups were delighted because they received increased fees too! (A better ‘Equity’ actor’s rate for professional artists.)
He introduced the bowing at the end of songs, which he had pointed out to them when he had taken them to see The Shadows. (Just like at the end of a play.)
He stopped the swearing, eating, drinking and clowning about on stage – they were now serious actors, not jesters. (They had to learn their lines and stick to the script – no ad-libbing, something John did well.)
They made it to the Royal Variety Performance. Can you imagine them doing their ‘Hamburg’ set in front of the Royal Family? They wouldn’t have made it without Brian’s help. (Playing the best theatre.)
In the end, he never referred to them as a group or band. He only referred to his ‘artists’ as ‘acts’. (A true thespian.)
Once they became famous, we didn’t see the real ‘them’. Those that knew them in Liverpool and Hamburg had seen the real Beatles, exactly as John said; if you haven’t seen The Beatles in their black leathers in Liverpool or Hamburg, you haven’t seen the real Beatles. Those that had seen them understood.
This is an excerpt from “Liddypool”, which includes other interviews about Brian.