If you want to know the key events in Beatles History, then this is the page for you. This will help you navigate the website, to find the history you need to know. Each link will take you to a different page on the site, where a post, article or interview is located. I will be constantly updating the site, so check back for the latest in Beatles history, discussing Beatles names, Beatles members, Beatles drummers and who the original Beatles were.
How did The Beatles get their name? And how many Beatles names have there been?
When John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison decided they had had enough of the name “Quarrymen”, it was their latest recruit, Stuart Sutcliffe, who suggested a new name. In tribute to their hero Buddy Holly, whose group was called The Crickets, Stuart suggested “Beetles”. But how would it be spelled? In 1960, the group used many spellings, and variations, of the name Beetles. Interestingly, before calling themselves The Crickets, Holly’s group considered the name “Beetles” too. (Fab one hundred and Four)
the Beetles Myth
One often quoted myth can be debunked, which was quoted by George Harrison. The name was not inspired by the 1953 Marlon Brando film The Wild One, which refers to the rival gang led by Lee Marvin as “The Beetles”. The film was banned in England by the British Board of Film Censors until 1968.
27th March 1960: The Beatals
The first recorded use of the Beatles name was “Beatals”, in a letter written by Stuart Sutcliffe on 27th March 1960, calling himself The Beatals’ “manager”.
23rd April 1960: The Nerk Twins
The Fox and Hounds pub in Caversham, Berkshire was the venue for an unlikely pairing of two of The Beatles. John and Paul played on consecutive nights at this little village pub as The Nerk Twins, to only a handful of people. So how did they end up in the south of England in a tiny village pub?
They were in the Fox and Hounds because it was run by Paul’s cousin Bett and her husband Mike. The couple had both worked as Butlin’s Redcoats before taking on the pub and the teenage Lennon and McCartney were keen to get their advice. The Nerk Twins perched themselves on bar stools and, with their acoustic guitars and no microphones, played a set of songs together.
“It was the Easter school holidays and John and I had hitchhiked down from Liverpool to help out in the pub,” Paul recalled. “We generally dossed around for a week and worked behind the bar. Then Mike said that me and John should play there on the Saturday night. So we made our own posters and put them up in the pub: ‘Saturday Night – Live Appearance – The Nerk Twins’. It was the smallest gig I’ve ever done. We were only playing to a small roomful.” (Fab one hundred and Four)
10th May 1960: The Silver Beetles/ Silver Beatles
After the concert on 5th May 1960 featuring Gene Vincent alongside Liverpool groups, John, Paul, George and Stuart approached Allan Williams to be their manager. He agreed, and his first job was to find them a drummer; he achieved that. Tommy Moore joined the group, now known as The Silver Beetles – or The Silver Beatles. Nobody is exactly sure which spelling was used and when over the next couple of months. The first time it was used was on 10th May 1960, when music promoter Larry Parnes came to Liverpool seeking a backing band for his latest star; Liverpool-born Billy Fury (born Ronnie Wycherly in the Dingle).
Appearing as The Silver Beats – the only time they used this name – the group played at Lathom Hall, in the north of Liverpool, on 14 May 1960. Their drummer Tommy Moore was with them, but because he did not have his kit, they asked Cliff Roberts to fill in. In many reference books, there is confusion over which Cliff Roberts played that night, and most of them refer to Cliff Roberts and The Rockers. However, the Rockers’ Cliff Roberts was a singer and guitarist, not a drummer. The Cliff Roberts who played with The Silver Beats was the drummer with The Dominoes.
Johnny Gentle and His Group/ The Beatals
Although they didn’t pass the audition to back Billy Fury, The Silver Beatles did enough to persuade Larry Parnes to hire them to back another Liverpool-born artist, Johnny Gentle. They spent two weeks travelling around Scotland, billed only as “His Group”. However, the first set of autographs to show a variation on the Beatles name was signed on this tour, as The Beatals, using their stage names; Paul Ramon, Carl Harrison, Stuart de Stael. John Lennon always swore he never used a pseudonym, though it has been suggested he called himself Johnny Silver, or Johnny Lennon, or a variation on that. Tommy Moore was simply Thomas Moore.
One of the places the group played in June 1960 was the Neston Civic Hall, and the local newspaper published a review, referring to them as The Beatles, the first time it had appeared in print.
The Man on the Flaming Pie?
So what about the “Man on the Flaming Pie”? Although Paul McCartney had an album titled Flaming Pie, and had a song; “I’m the Man on the Flaming Pie”, he wasn’t. On Page 2 of the first issue of Bill Harry’s Mersey Beat, John Lennon wrote his biography of the origins of the group, which Bill Harry titled “Being a Short Diversion on the Origins of Beatles (Translated from The John Lennon).”
In it, Lennon wrote:
“Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’. Thank you, mister man, they said, thanking him.“
For years, many have scoffed at this as a bit of fun. However, there is a true story behind the “man on the flaming pie”, as detailed in The Fab one hundred and Four. His name is Royston Ellis, and he was a Beat Poet who visited Liverpool, and was backed by a group, known as The Beetles, at Liverpool University. I interviewed him for the book, and he told me the story of what happened in Gambier Terrace, looking every bit like a Beatnik paradise. He sat there with John, Paul, George and Stu, and discussed the possibility of them coming back down to London to back him as a beat group.
While there, they had an experience with a drug, of sorts, remembered by John later:
‘By the way, the first dope, from a Benzedrine inhaler, was given to The Beatles (John, George, Paul and Stuart) by an (in retrospect) obviously ‘English cover version of Allen – one Royston Ellis, known as beat-poet (he read poetry whilst we played 12-bar blues at the local in-place!). So give the saint his due. Love, John Lennon
Whether it was under the influence of “Vicks” or not, Royston Ellis and John Lennon had a discussion about their group’s name. In a newspaper report, Ellise refers to the group The Beetles, and how he is hoping to bring them down to London as his backing group. “John and George liked the idea, though Paul and Stu were less keen.”
Beetles with an “A”
“I suggested that since they liked the beat scene and they were coming to London to back me, a beat poet, why not spell it with an ‘A’? I had bought a chicken pie and mushrooms for dinner. I might have had the money but I did not know much about cooking, and the result was that I overcooked the mushrooms and burnt the chicken pie. I have always assumed that gave rise to John’s reference to ‘a man on a flaming pie’ suggesting they call themselves Beatles with an A.” (Fab one hundred and Four)
And very soon afterwards, they settled on Beatles with an “A”, never to be changed.
When John and Paul realised that they needed a bass player in their group, they approached two of John’s friends, Stu Sutcliffe and Rod Murray, and offered them the position. The first one to accept would get the job, provided they had their own bass guitar.
They both welcomed the challenge, and Stuart Sutcliffe won. However, Stu has probably had more criticism than any other member of The Beatles over his talent, or perceived lack of musical ability. For decades, the memory of Stuart Sutcliffe has been tainted by those who claim that, even though he was a brilliant painter, he was not much of a musician.
How many times have you heard it said about Stuart?
‘He was only in the group because he was John’s friend’.
‘He used to stand with his back to the audience’.
‘He used to play unplugged so that they couldn’t hear how bad he was playing’.
‘He looked great on stage, but he couldn’t really play’.
Stuart’s talent as a painter has never been in doubt, with a long career as an artist assured, if only he hadn’t died at the tender age of only 21.
The Real Stuart Sutcliffe
Many art experts have said that, had he lived, Stuart would have been one of the pre-eminent painters of the 1960s. On the other hand, there have been many authors and commentators who have told us repeatedly that Stuart couldn’t play the bass. I decided to speak to the people who knew him best: his sister Pauline; Art College friend and flatmate Rod Murray; friend and fellow musician Klaus Voormann; and other musicians who were there at the time.
What evidence can we find to support the claim that Stuart was a good bass player? Or will we find evidence to substantiate the opposing view that he really couldn’t play?
Stuart’s musical skills began when he started playing the piano as a young boy. “Stuart had previously been learning the piano,” said Millie Sutcliffe, Stuart’s mum. “Stuart’s father was a wonderful pianist, a classical musician, though not commercial or anything like that. He played just for his own pleasure. Stuart’s knowledge of music helped him, and he was a pretty good singer, too.”
As Stuart was learning the piano, his father Charles bought him a Spanish guitar, which he played a little, but not to any great level. This alone was not enough to give him an edge in joining the group. As his mum Millie had said, Stuart was also a good singer. He was, in fact, the head chorister at his local church of St. Gabriel’s, Huyton.
Rod Murray or Stuart Sutcliffe – the Bass Race
When John, Paul and George needed a bass player, they offered the position to Stuart and his flatmate Rod Murray. Neither could afford to buy one, so Rod, also at Art College, designed and started to make his own bass guitar.
Stuart’s painting was purchased at an exhibition in the Walker Art Gallery. The exhibition ran from 19 November 1959 to 17 January 1960 and, contrary to some reports, Stuart did not win the competition. However, John Moores, who sponsored the competition, purchased Stuart’s painting, giving him the money to buy the bass guitar. Rod still has his part-made bass guitar, and told me all about it in my interview for The Fab one hundred and Four.
Admittedly, when Stuart purchased his bass guitar, he couldn’t play it. But as a natural musician, and under the tutelage of musician David May, he soon picked it up.
Hamburg – Howie, Dick and Klaus
In order to provide continuous music, Koschmider split up The Beatles and The Seniors, giving Howie Casey the chance to assess Stuart’s competence as a bass player up close. “I was given Stuart Sutcliffe along with Derry and Stan Foster from the Seniors, and we had a German drummer. Stu had a great live style,” he recalled. (Fab one hundred and Four)
Rick Hardy of The Jets also witnessed Sutcliffe at close hand in Hamburg. “Stu never turned his back on stage,” he said emphatically. “Stu certainly played to the audience and he certainly played bass. If you have someone who can’t play the instrument properly, you have no bass sound. There were two rhythm guitarists with The Beatles and if one of them couldn’t play, you wouldn’t have noticed it – but it’s different with a bass guitar. I was there and I can say quite definitely that Stuart never did a show in which he was not facing the audience.”
One of those who became very close to Stuart in Hamburg was Klaus Voormann, who himself became a great bassist respected the world over. “Stu was a really good rock and roll bass player,” said Voormann, “a very basic bass player. He was, at the time, my favourite bass player, and he had that cool look. The Beatles were best when Stuart was still in the band. To me it had more balls. It was even more rock and roll when Stuart was playing the bass and Paul was playing piano or another guitar. The band was, somehow, as a rock and roll band, more complete.”
Pete Best on Stuart
In a rock ‘n’ roll band, the rhythm is driven by the drums and bass guitar working closely together, so the opinion of The Beatles’ drummer, Pete Best, is an important contribution to this debate. ”Stu was a good bass player,” Pete said. “I’ve read so many people putting him down for his bass playing. I’d like to set that one straight. His bass playing was a lot better than people give him credit for. He knew what his limits were. What he did was accept that and he gave 200%. He was the smallest Beatle with the biggest heart.” (quote from interview for Liddypool).
After he’d left The Beatles, not long before his death, Stuart was asked to play with a German group, The Bats. He borrowed his old bass guitar from Klaus Voormann (who had recently purchased it from Stuart) and played with The Bats at the Hamburg Art School Carnival and the Kaiserkeller.
Hopefully, that puts the argument to an end. Stu could play bass!
Stuart brought style, image and a fashion-sense to make The Beatles look cool on stage. He was a great and talented artist too. But he was more than that; he was a good bass player, at a time when John Lennon said The Beatles were at their best. John always remembered his friend; “I looked up to Stu, I depended on him to tell me the truth.”
For the last few years, it has been my privilege to help run the official Stuart Sutcliffe Fan Club on behalf of the family. Join us for free and get updates on events etc to do with Stuart. You can also see examples of his artwork online as well.