‘Mike McCartney’s Early Liverpool’: Q&A on New Genesis Publications Book and Capturing the Beatles, Pre-Fame

Jeff SlateCategories:Featured ArticlesFeatures

Rock Cellar Magazine

On October 5, 1962, a then-little known beat combo from the North of England released its debut single. Though it peaked at Number 17 on the Hit Parade in the U.K. — some say the result of chicanery by the band’s manager, who reportedly sent the employees of his family’s furniture business around to record stores to buy up copies — it would have been impossible then to have imagined how music and culture would be shaped in the future by the band, known, somewhat peculiarly, as The Beatles.

“Love Me Do” turned sixty years old last month. Within barely more than a year of its release, John, Paul, George and Ringo would be international superstars of the sort the world had never seen. 

Still, 1962 had hardly been a watershed year for the band. Decca Records had passed on their New Year’s Day audition, and literally every label in England had subsequently passed on signing them before George Martin, the head of EMI’s Parlophone label, known mostly for its comedy records, took a chance on them. They’d also sacked their drummer, Pete Best, who had played the grueling, all day-all night sets in Hamburg, Germany that had made the band one of the tightest — and rawest — in the country, after a disastrous June 1962 recording session at EMI’s studios on Abbey Road in the St. John’s neighborhood of London with Martin, and had lost Stuart Sutcliffe, the band’s original bass player and resident “real artist,” as John Lennon referred to him, to a brain hemorrhage at the tragic age of just 21.

It’s all recounted in rich reminiscences and stark, candid photographs by the brother of The Beatles’ second bass player in Mike McCartney’s Early Liverpool, recently released by Genesis Publications in a gorgeous, limited-edition deluxe book. From family photos and Teddy Boy poses from his teenage brother Paul, to run-ins with the actress Jane Asher, when his brother brought her to Liverpool for the weekend in 1965, and much more, all of it chronicles a time in place that now seems magical because of his then-not so famous subjects.

In fact, as obvious as the band’s trajectory seems now, with sixty years’ hindsight, Mike McCartney remembers that origin year of The Beatles’ story, 1962, as a fraught, roller coaster of a year, one that saw The Beatles nearly splinter apart more than once, if not for an enormous amount of tenacity, and a large helping of Liverpudlian luck.

Not surprisingly, McCartney sees 1962 as the year of the birth of The Beatles as popular culture now knows them. Regardless of those awful downs that 1962 had had in store for the band, it was also a year that the group kept up a grueling live schedule, made the first of several hundred BBC radio appearances, signed that all-important record deal with George Martin — who would go on to become a crucial collaborator — and installed the man who put the beat in The Beatles, Ringo Starr. Below, that other McCartney remembers what living life in Early Liverpool was really like. 

Rock Cellar: I understand you have a sibling who started out on the trumpet. 

Mike McCartney: Well, neither of us could play. My dad used to say, “Purse the lips, son. Purse the lips. P-p-p-p-p. And then you get a sound.” In fact, all your readers are now getting extraordinary advice from my dad on how to play the trumpet from the corners.

RC: And yet, neither of you succeeded at it. 

MM: It just didn’t suit us. And you certainly can’t sing with a trumpet stuck in your gums. 

RC: One of the things I really loved about the book is that there are so many pictures of in regular settings as just a working class family in Liverpool, and your captions tell that story. There’s a great one of Paul where he’s sort of just pre-fame, and you’re taking it from above. He’s speaking to your housekeeper, who didn’t like her photo taken, but it’s such an arresting photo. You’ve already found your skill. It was an insight into the family dynamic that I really found special.

Mike McCartney with a Nikon (Photo: Mike McCartney/Genesis Publications)

Mike McCartney with a Nikon (Photo: Mike McCartney/Genesis Publications)

MM: That was because, by the way, when my mom died the house was going into a state. So, our auntie would come every Monday and lay all the linens out. She’d get dressed for the ferry, get the ferry, get another bus to our house, and then stay there doing all our washing and our ironing, and then cook us a Sunday dinner on a Monday night.

That was only once a week. For the other six days, we’re just deteriorating because we were in school, and Dad wasn’t around.

So Rose came, I think, once a week. Once a fortnight; whatever we could afford. And she was a lovely Liverpool lady. And I said, I have my camera with me, my Rollei Magic. And I said, “Rose, I’ll take your picture.” “No, no, no you won’t. No, don’t take that. It’s going to take my spirit.”

She was so afraid of her spirit being whisked into the camera, and she’d never see it again. And so, I said to Our Kid, “You talk to her, I’ll go upstairs in our bedroom. You take her out in the garden, pretend to be doing up the washing or something like that, and I’ll get her from above.” So, that’s the reason for that picture.

RC: I have to say, as far as the shots of your brother and the others in The Beatles, it couldn’t have hurt to have such great subject matter. I’ve seen lots of photos of Liverpool from that period.

MM: You’ve got to realize they were not famous. 

RC: I understand that, but they looked great. They had style and flair. Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe took great photos. They were great subjects. John and George took great photos. I mean, there John is, grabbing Gene Vincent’s ass. Your brother, who was clearly there all the time, so he was an easy subject, he looks great in the photos.

They were great subjects even though they weren’t famous yet. They were just “regular people” at that point, but it had to be helpful to have such charismatic people in front of your lens. 

MM: Well, they were my dad and my brother and my mates, that’s all they were. I was finding my way in photos and Our Kid was finding his in music. In fact, those harmonies of theirs, which Paul and I learned as kids, I realized the other day what an important part of my brother’s and his group’s music that is. You were asking about “Love Me Do” before we started? Those are just the harmonies are to die for.

RC: What I’m trying to get at is, you’re developing your skills, you’re developing a style. As you said, you’re reading the books and you’re taking photos. At the same time, your brother is on this roller coaster.

MM: Hold on, now. I’ve suddenly realized my brother was practicing trying to do his music and then he slowly got better and better, and we know what happened. But that was the only thing that he did.

I suddenly realized as you were referring to me about my — I did my photography, but I had to work at the same time. My brother was doing his music, but that was his work. And I only just realized that I was doing my photography at the same time as trying to survive. I’ve never thought of that before.

RC: I’ll send you my bill for therapy when we’re over. 

MM: Can’t wait to pay it! 

RC: But this is something you’re doing not as a hobby, but it’s on the side. And suddenly you’re photographing Little Richard and Gene Vincent, simply because those are the people in your brother’s world, and you’re around and you have your camera. And then, in short order, he brings home Jane Asher. What’s amazing to me is the leap in skill. But what’s also amazing to me is that you were clearly a fan, but you didn’t lose your cool.

You said you like to stalk your subjects like a lion. Were you always comfortable with a camera in your hand, because then you were in control?

MM: Yes. Once I learned my art — of what you had to do and how many stops and what the speed was, et cetera — it was instinctive. I didn’t even need to have a light meter. I would just know instinctively how many stops to do. You know, in those days, you’re young, you work hard, and you get it. 

But I’m going to tell you, the first time I met Jane — we all fancied Jane Asher. And so, Our Kid, who was living with her at her parent’s house in London, brings her to our house to stay the night. And so Dad and I waited up, and kept waiting, and it was getting to 12 o’clock and Dad’s going, “I have to go to work tomorrow, I’m going to bed.” So, off he goes to bed. And so, I get into my pajamas and I’m in bed in my pajamas, and the next thing, about 2 in the morning, I was determined to stay awake, but just drowsing off, and I could hear the door. And I heard them coming in. I think they went and had a cup of tea or something.

Eventually I could hear them coming up the stairs and so I sat upright. I’d left the door open to my bedroom, so I could see straight out onto the landing, to the top of the stairs. So, I’m in my bed and so whoever comes round the stairs, I see them first thing. So, I sat up in bed in my pajamas and there is Miss London, coming towards me because she could see that I’m sitting up and I’m waiting for her. So, she comes straight over, with Our Kid behind, like shh, shh, comes straight to me, and so, I met the famous actress, posh London, in our house, in my pajamas.

RC: That is not in your book but it’s a great story.

MM: Well, it’s another world exclusive for you, then. 

RC: Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe, and the Jacaranda club as well, which is a featured performer in the book, too, are significant subjects in the story. What are your memories of that place? 

MM: Now, are you talking about the Casbah or the Jac?

RC: I was thinking of the Jac. I know Pete’s mom owned the Casbah, but the Jacaranda is in there because you took the photos of the murals that John and Stu painted.

MM: That’s right. I have to say, the book is a beautiful thing. Stu’s letter. His air-mail letter. Reproduced with Michael McCartney with a K — McCartney with a K — so you can take it out and put it back. That attention to detail. And John’s card, too. You can rip it out of the book and put it in your wallet. That, to me, is some magic.

But the Jac, was me just asking Stu how to do murals because I wanted to go to art college. The Jac was just a place that Allan Williams had. He was the man that famously, when Brian Epstein asked him, “Allan, I’m thinking of managing the Beatles. I believe that you managed them at one stage. And so, I just would like your impression on should I do this, should I manage them? What is your opinion?” And Allan Williams said, “I wouldn’t touch them with a fucking barge pole.” Yeah, he was good, Al.

George, John, Paul and Dennis (Michael McCartney/Genesis Publications)

George, John, Paul and Dennis (Michael McCartney/Genesis Publications)

RC: So, memories of Stu and Pete? They’re significant figures in the book too. 

MM: Pete, I always felt … you know, they had to get Richie in, I think. Pete had eloped. You could see that, when Eppy said to them, “If you want to get ahead, these leather ones are not gonna work.” Because, at that time, stars were all clean-cut; in suits and nice, showbiz short haircuts. Eppy comes along and says, “Okay, I love you in your leather, but this is a business, and if you want to make a million, then you’ve got to change your look.”

And all of them, I remember Lennon particularly, didn’t like that idea, but there’s certainly a thought, “If you want to make a million” … yeah, okay. At all of them got suits from Dougie Millings, and I remember Our Kid coming into Forthlin Road, coming home with a box, and he took the box upstairs, I said, “What’s in that box you just brought in?” He said, “Oh…” and he opened the box and there was this tissue paper, and I opened the tissue paper and there’s a mohair suit.

I said, “What are you doing? You’ve got a suit, a mohair suit. We said we’d never go along that route, never become the Shaggers or Frank Ifield and all those Jones Boys. What are you doing? You said you’d never be a sellout!” And he’d already worked it out, he said, “But look at ours, ours have velvet collars.” Oh, dear God. And they had all bought their first suits. And the terrifying thing is, Pete must’ve bought the same suit, because the next picture you see in the book is the Tower Ballroom. And there is Pete in his suit. But then the next photograph is Ringo, in the same suit the next week. Poor Pete had been let go.

RC: Infamy rather than fame. It sounds like it’s not just that you felt badly for him. It sounds like you liked him. 

MM: Yeah, Pete’s a lovely lad. Still is. 

RC: And Stu, what are your memories? This year is 60 years since Stu passed away. He was a light that burned very brightly, the way it’s told in Beatles history. What was he like as a guy? What were your memories of Stu as just a guy, a friend?

MM: I always remember him, and John and Cyn, because they were an item then. And Jeff Mahomed, who was another of John’s mates at the art college.

I just remember him being around. Then he went over to Hamburg and worked with them until he met Astrid, fell in love and that was his life. The Liverpool Echo, when he’d just died, asked me what I thought of him. You’ll find a little bit more in that if you can find it. I don’t remember everything now. But I do remember him. You asked about it earlier, but I always told people about the murals he did down at the Jac. I always told people about these giant murals on the walls that Stu had painted. I told this story for years.

I was impressed with those murals, because they were great. What I didn’t know is it was Stu and John. And so, for this book, I got it right. Somebody told me, “Do you realize it was both of them that did those?” If you go there, it’s all a bit clinical, and they don’t feature them well. They should, really. There’s, like, amps in front of them. I told the guy who runs it now, “Hold on, do you realize that is a John-Stu actual bloody painting on your wall?”

I think after I told him that, the new Jac owner, I think he might’ve done something about it. Now they’ve sort of made it more commercial, but that is what I remember as a lad going down into that smoky atmosphere. And now I know that it was Stu and John.


  • Rick D Perry says:

    It takes a concerted effort for a reader to step back to take a look at the the ordinary lives of the Beatles (or Quarrymen/Silver Beatles) when they were just ordinary teens… then amateur musicians… then budding local celebrities… then BOOM! Change is slow to take place, and they were probably still themselves for a year or so, until they stumbled into world fame. Pete and Stu never made it through that door. Ringo had similar roots but not the same origins. Altogether, a compilation that just got lucky enough to form and catch fire. And brother Macca had an insider view to those beginnings, until the enormity of legendary status put them on different worlds. Mike McCartney had a priceless – but very brief – insider connection; he rarely saw them after Beatlemania. Its nice that his book gives his recollections; another piece to the puzzle, and some small recompense for him. I have no idea how close the brothers are now… as the BEATLES story comes near to closing for us all. Nice that Rockcellar got this while it still matters.

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