Since Christmas Day I’ve been reading Tune In, the first of three volumes in which Mark Lewisohn intends to tell the definitive story of the Beatles. It’s a grand book in every sense of the word: this volume clocks in at close on a thousand pages and ends just as the group travel to London to record their first single ‘Love Me Do’; it’s also meticulously-researched and written with passion, authority and elegance. This is not your average pop hagiography, but an informed and insightful social history of Liverpool and the emergent youth culture of the 1950s.

As the year turned, I found myself coincidentally reading Lewisohn’s evocative descriptions of two New Year’s Eves in Liverpool at the close of the 1950s. I thought I’d share them.

John, Paul and George, at the time known as Japage 3 on 20 December 1958 at the Childwall Abbey Hotel on Childwall Abbey Road. Paul's brother Mike made up the foursome.
John, Paul and George, at the time known as Japage 3 on 20 December 1958 at the Childwall Abbey Hotel on Childwall Abbey Road. Paul’s brother Mike made up the foursome.

New Year’s Eve, 1958

John and Paul were closer than ever at the end of 1958, a double-act forged through so many dimensions. No one ever made Paul laugh more than John …

Reflecting on this period less than a decade later, Paul remarked how ‘Each year seemed five years’ – but they were growing up fast. At the McCartney clan’s annual New Year’s Eve knees-up in Aintree, Paul was now deemed old enough to work behind the bar (a plank of wood on a few crates), pouring ale from the barrel, learning about ‘gin and it’ and ‘rum and black’. There was his dad leading the singing from the piano, playing all the wonderful tunes of the 1920s and ’30s; there was his dear Uncle Jack cracking great jokes to all the kids; there was the entire bevvied Liverpool lot of them swaying to Carolina Moon; there was the lone piper entering the house at midnight; and there was Paul, filled to the gills with black velvet, seeing in 1959 in the time-honoured fashion … by throwing up.

Paul and John, The Quarrymen at the Casbah in West Derby village, 29 August 1959
Paul and John, The Quarrymen at the Casbah in West Derby village, 29 August 1959

New Year’s Eve, 1959

According to the Daily Mirror headline, Thursday 31 December 1959 was THE GAYEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR. The lemonade fizzed and flowed at its grand Teenage Ball at the Waldorf Hotel in London, graced by celebrities Lonnie Donegan, Shirley Bassey and another Larry Parnes discovery, Vince Eager. Two hundred miles north, Ringo Starr had returned to Maxwell Fyfe Hall – the Conservative Club at Back Broadway, near Norris Green – as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes twanged out the old and sang in the new […]. The decade that began with peace secured by an austere, law-abiding, backward-looking Britain, ended with an ear-splitting dose of American rock and roll.

The Quarrymen had no booking this evening, and one can only surmise where they were: Paul probably getting bevvied at his family’s annual Aintree knees-up; George maybe at home with his family; John perhaps somewhere in town with Cyn, shouting to make themselves heardin pubs even more uproarious than usual because New Year’s Eve licences allowed boozing beyond midnight.

And when they all woke up the following morning, it was the Sixties.

Lewisohn Tune In cover

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