DIY and espresso were once so rock and roll

The Beatles
November 1, 2002

The Beatles did not owe their success to anyone else; there was far too much talent within the group for us to judge otherwise. Yet it is notable how fortunate they were with many of the key figures around them in their early years. Brian Epstein proved to be a uniquely gifted, if inexperienced, manager; George Martin was an innovative producer willing to trust his instincts; and road managers Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans were loyal lieutenants.

The True Beginnings presents the case for another of the supporting cast to emerge from the shadows: the late Mona Best, who championed them between mid-1959 and 1962. She gave the directionless Quarry Men (as they were then) their first residency at her new Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool, went on to promote dozens more gigs for them at the Casbah and other venues, and acted as informal agent and valued adviser.

Her generous assistance can only partly be explained as support for her son, Pete Best, who joined The Beatles in 1960 when they urgently needed a drummer to fulfil their first Hamburg booking. Paul McCartney, one of 45 contemporaries who contributes to this handsomely designed illustrated memoir, credits her empathy with Liverpool youth: "Some grown-ups are different. Mo was one of them... she understood what kids were going through."

Born in Delhi in 1924 of Irish parentage, the "Mother of Mersey Beat" arrived with her new husband in his home city of Liverpool in 1945. She broke out of her 1950s suburban frustration by buying a 15-room family home (apparently with the proceeds of a 33-1 Derby win), and then setting up and running in its extensive basement a nightclub that soon boasted over 1,000 members, live rock 'n' roll and the first espresso machine in a Liverpool club.

John Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison helped decorate the venue with simple motifs (still there today), and were to perform regularly on Saturday or Sunday nights. As they developed into a live powerhouse, chiefly through their months in Hamburg clubs but also at many Liverpool venues, the Casbah was a constant. It was also a favoured meeting place - it was there that Stuart Sutcliffe was persuaded to join and the management deal was reached with Epstein.

The True Beginnings , dedicated to Mona by its authors, her three sons, is a homage to an unusual mother. Their text covers thoroughly her influence on The Beatles; apart from her family background, though, it does not provide much new information, and there are some inaccuracies (The Beatles's final split was not in 1968, for example). It is mainly for the fine original photography of the preserved locations and artefacts that the book stands out.

The Casbah closed shortly before Pete was sacked from The Beatles, when they were on the brink of success. It was a ruthless and controversial decision; the authors profess not to understand it still, though they appear to have made peace with history. The replacement, Ringo Starr, may have been lucky but he fitted in more naturally as a musician and personality; he was a vital element in creating their distinctive sound and completed the image of a charismatic "four-headed monster" (Mick Jagger's term) with which the public fell in love. Mona felt let down by their treatment of her son, but remained friendly.

As for the Casbah, its position in Beatles lore has been dwarfed by that of another Liverpool basement club, the Cavern. The True Beginnings redresses that balance and will appeal to those interested in the history of Liverpool, Hamburg, popular music or youth culture.

Oliver Craske is senior editor, Genesis Publications, where he edited The Beatles Anthology and Playback: The Autobiography of George Martin .

The Beatles: The True Beginnings

Author - Roag Best with Pete and Rory Best
ISBN - 1 901680 66 5 and 65 7
Publisher - Spine Media
Price - £80.00 and £25.00
Pages - 200

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