Since news surfaced about the Beatles gig receipt from the Birkenhead YMCA signed by Neil Aspinall that was recently rescued from the trash bin, musician Dean Johnson, who revealed that news, told Beatles Examiner Thursday he's been contacted by a member of the band, musician Billy May, who also played on that gig with them at the Birkenhead YMCA.
On Sept. 8, 1962, May's band the Beat Cats shared the bill with the Beatles with Ringo Starr on drums.
“I always remember them because John Lennon had just acquired his jumbo Gibson acoustic guitar that was featured in the 'A Hard Day’s Night' film,” May says. “It was so new he did not have a strap for it and he borrowed mine. They did their first set then took off to The Majestic Ballroom for their set there, and then came back to the YMCA for their second spot, and on again to The Majestic to finish their engagement. They shared our equipment, which was very primitive, and I still cannot believe that they used it. It consisted of mic stands that were handmade at The Cammell Lairds shipyard and a snare drum from the local Boys Brigade.
“Our makeshift PA system was an old tape recorder microphone plugged into an a radio speaker, and all three different instruments were being fed through this tiny little box. The Beatles just plugged in and rocked the room.”
Johnson said May says that also shared a gig with the Beatles earlier that year while Pete Best was still at the drum stool. May said one Beatle at the early gig was clearly the most popular, and it wasn't Paul McCartney, John Lennon or George Harrison.
“They were way ahead musically of anyone else and all the girls were screaming for Pete, with very little interest in the other three,” May says. “When it came to our time to play, I did a song I had written myself and John and Paul sat at the back of the hall and listened. When I finished, they were the only people that applauded, and that was such a compliment. John never did return my guitar strap that night, and, of course, I wish I had it now.''
When the Beatles returned on Sept. 8 with Ringo Starr, the fans made their negative feelings for Pete's replacement felt. The Beat Cats received a great reception and were also joined on the bill by The Peppermint Twisters, a couple who demonstrated The Twist, which was all the rage then due to Chubby Checker (“Let’s Twist Again,” etc.). Tony Casey, a boy, danced with a girl from Hoylake. The diminutive Tony wore Cuban heel Chelsea boots. They gave demonstrations in clubs all over Merseyside, including The Cavern. May says the Beatles and others copied Tony with his Cuban heel boots after they saw them.
The Beatles left Birkenhead that night destined for stardom, and Billy May soon became their label mate on Parlophone Records when he was asked to join The Pathfinders. The story will be among the stories included in forthcoming “The Beatles and Me” book of personal encounters with the Beatles.
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