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(Credits: Far Out / Alamy / Micah Boswell / Fleur)

Music

Paul McCartney remembers the first time he met John Lennon

When Paul McCartney first arrived at the garden fete of St Peter’s Church, Liverpool on July 6th, 1957, he didn’t quite know what to expect. All he knew was that his school friend, Ivan Vaughan, would be playing in a Skiffle band that day called The Quarrymen. What McCartney didn’t know was that this particular band was led by his future musical collaborator, John Lennon.

“I remember coming into the fete and seeing all the sideshows,” McCartney told Record Collector in 1995. “And also hearing all this great music wafting in from this little Tannoy system. It was John and the band. I remember I was amazed and thought, ‘Oh great’, because I was obviously into the music. I remember John singing a song called ‘Come Go With Me’. He’d heard it on the radio. He didn’t really know the verses, but he knew the chorus. The rest he just made up himself.”

Lennon was a year older, slightly tipsy, and was playing a guitar in open G banjo tuning. Despite the rag-tag nature of the band itself, McCartney was impressed enough with Lennon to remember him as he continued on throughout the party.

“I just thought, ‘Well, he looks good, he’s singing well and he seems like a great lead singer to me.’ Of course, he had his glasses off, so he really looked suave,” McCartney added. “I remember John was good. He was really the only outstanding member, all the rest kind of slipped away.”

That was until Vaughan found McCartney and invited him the where the band were hanging out after their first set of the night. Now formally introduced, Lennon and McCartney began chatting about music, mostly the upstart genre of rock and roll. McCartney mentioned that he could play the piano, showing off his skills to Lennon for the first time.

“I also knocked around on the backstage piano and that would have been ‘A Whole Lot Of Shakin” by Jerry Lee [Lewis],” McCartney is quoted in Philip Norman’s biography John Lennon. “That’s when I remember John leaning over, contributing a deft right hand in the upper octaves and surprising me with his beery breath. It’s not that I was shocked, it’s just that I remember this particular detail.”

“John was a little afternoon-pissed, leaning over my shoulder, breathing boozily,” McCartney remembered of the inebriated encounter in Anthology. “We were all a little sloshed. I thought, ‘Bloody hell, who’s this?’ But he was enjoying what I was playing, ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ in C; and I knew ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’. Then I played guitar – upside down. I did ‘Twenty Flight Rock’, and knew all the words. The Quarrymen were so knocked out that I actually knew and could sing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’. That’s what got me into The Beatles.”

Eddie Cochrane’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ proved to be the song that solidified McCartney’s skill to Lennon: none of The Quarrymen could play the intricate guitar figure or remember all of the song’s words. As the band’s leader, Lennon was beginning to move The Quarrymen away from skiffle and towards rock and roll, something that he saw could be achieved with McCartney in the group.

“I knew all the words because me and my mate Ian James had just got them,” McCartney added. “He and I used to get into all these records and write down the words. ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ was a hard record to get; I remember ordering it and having to wait weeks for it to come in. We’d buy from Curry’s or NEMS. We used to go around shops and ask to hear a record, and then not buy it. They used to get very annoyed but we didn’t care – now we knew the words. I never had a very big record collection.”

Years later, McCartney would remember his first encounter with Lennon in the introduction to Lennon’s book In His Own Write. “At Woolton village fete I met him. I was a fat schoolboy and, as he leaned an arm on my shoulder, I realised he was drunk. We were twelve then, but, in spite of his sideboards, we went on to become teenage pals.” The rest, they say, is history.