The Pete Best interview

(This interview was conducted by telephone on July 12, 2003, done in conjunction with a local newspaper to publicize upcoming concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area. The text has been edited slightly for continuity. Abbeyrd Beatles Page and may not be used anywhere without our permission.)

The Pete Best Band: From left, Dave Deevey, Chris Cavanagh, Mark Hay, Pete Best, Roag Best and Phil Melia.

SM: I wanted to start first about the book. I'm really really impressed with how beautiful the book looked and how it was done. Did you guys do that? The layout is just gorgeous.
PB: Yeah, well, basically what it was when the publishing company, finally we finally made a deal with the publishing company, we turned around and said we had ideas on how we wanted the book done, and you know, the photographs, the memorabilia that needed to be displayed, we all sat 'round the table, and we turned around and said we don't want it to be just another book, you know, we wanted something that people would look at, the photographs have got to be beautiful, the anecdotes and the layouts, so we basically worked on it alongside the publishers, but a lot of the input came from us. They were the ideas we had for it, you see.
SM: Did most of the pictures come from you?
PB: Yeah, 90 percent of them, 95 percent of them are basically ours because they come from our own archives and photography and the memorabilia, that's still ours, and the internal photographs of the Casbah, they're exclusive, they've never been photographed before, the first time that anyone's seen the interior of the Casbah since it closed back in '62. So you can basically turn around and say 95 percent of the photography in that and content in it was basically ours. All the memorabilia is ours.
SM: That was my other all that memorabilia yours? There's some tremendous stuff in there. You look at it and go, "God, I didn't even know that stuff existed."
PB: Oh yeah, that's the tip of the iceberg. There was only so much we could put in the book. So it was one of the ones...what are pieces people wouldn't expect to find memorabilia-wise. A lot of people have seen paper, a lot of people have seen prints and all the other bits and pieces, but the memorabilia we've got, making the choice of it, when we explained to people what it was, and the history behind it, it was just a case of, "Oh, my goodness, we've got to use that." We laugh and joke about it, because we know the memorabilia content we've got that isn't in the book, so even though there's a lot of memorabilia in the book, it's just the tip of the iceberg.
SM: Are we gonna see more of it eventually?
PB: Memorabilia? Well, hopefully there will be another book out. We're looking at a prequel and a conclusion. When they come to fruitition, depending on the circumstances, the way we go about it, there will be some memorabilia content in there as well. What we're looking at is basically that the Casbah will open next year.
SM: There will be at least another book and possibly two.
PB: We're looking at two. But first of all, the way we've done it, we've done the middle section, "The Beatles: The True Beginnings." Then we'll do ... it's a little bit like "Star Wars," in a way ... then we'll do the prequel to that. And we basically said the conclusion, to me it's never ending. So it'll be, like, whenever we conclude it. Whenever we write that third one, that will be the conclusion at that point in time, if you understand what I mean.
SM: Most people would think would think what's in the first book would be the prequel. What would be in the prequel that's not in this book now?
PB: Well, what we've found from people who have read the book, have turned around and said they would like to know more about my mother, more about the involvement before the Casbah, because she was such an incredible woman. So we're looking at that. It's a good story. And it's an intricate story. I mean this is one of the beauties of it. It's a story that's got that much intricacy in it. We can fulfil a lot more because there's a limited amount of text in that. We actually took some out because it was making it too big for the ideas we had. So a lot of it could be moved into the prequel. And it would center on her. She's an unsung hero. But it's a very intricate story. And that's the reason why people who have actually read it say, "Oh yea, we can see it from here, but we'd love to know more about what happened before that particular date.
SM: Do you have a time as to when this is gonna happen?
PB: It'll depend basically when the publishers feel that it's right. That's the way we're looking at it. We're leaving in the publisher's hands. Because they would have to come to us. We have time constraints and everything.
SM: When would you like it to happen?
PB: When would I like it to happen?
SM: Yeah.
PB: Most probably at the end of next year. That would give this book enough time to be out because what we've got to look at is that it's released in America and it's released in other parts of the world as well.
SM: Are there still other places it has yet to come out?
PB: Oh no, that's why I'm turning 'round and saying it's coming out in different places in the world. It's coming out in a different time scale. We've basically gone for the UK and the American markets at the present moment. Consequently, we have to go to the other markets in the world and that depends on the publisher. So we're still basically in the infancy. That why I'm saying we're leaving it in the publisher's hands. We need to know basically because we won't start writing and preparing it - there's three brothers involved in it - and we won't actually get down on tape and script it till we find that we've actually got a timeframe for it.
SM: Who's in the band now?
PB: At the present moment, it's myself and my younger brother Roag. We have double drummers in the band, twin drummers onstage at the time. Phil Melia is one lead guitarist.
SM: I have pictures of you guys, but I don't know who everybody is.
PB: Well, Phil should be holding the Rickenbacker. Then you've got Dave Deevey, the bass player.
SM: He's the one, dare I say it, that looks kinda like Paul.
PB: Yeah. The other lead guitarist, because they're both lead guitarists in their own right when they take their turns, but totally different styles, that is Mark Hay.
SM: And which guitar does he play?
PB: I think he's got the Epiphone. Then you've got Chris Cavanagh, who's the singer, even though we all sing.
SM: How long has the band been together?
PB: This particular band, close on six years.
SM: And have this band been on any of the CDs you've released in the last couple of years?
PB: A couple of them would have been on "The Casbah Story."
SM: But not the whole band?
PB: But not the whole band. The lineup changed quite considerably with the musicians we used and that was simply because people stop touring, families didn't want to be involved with the music business.
SM: You know that well.
PB: Oh yea. It's great now. This particular lineup has been together about six years which speaks volumes.
SM: OK, let's go back to the Beatles. How were the Beatles different when you were with them compared to what Americans saw later on during Beatlemania?
PB: I suppose you could turn around and say we were more powerhouse, more charismatic?
SM: You think so? Why is that?
PB: I think it was just the appearance, because initially if you look at the Beatles, there's three stages as regards to images. When we first went out to Germany, before we were into leathers, it was stage jackets, black pants, black shirts. Then you got us into the leather syndrome, which you know, is a great period for them. Then you got, you know, just before my eclipse with the band, you got Epstein changing us into suits. And what the world saw after that was the evolution of the suited Beatles.
SM: Things were still coming together in that pre-leather stage.
PB: That was basically the infancy of it. We were still wearing that when we first went out in Germany because of the long hours we were playing out there. We were playing six to seven nights a week, six-seven hours a night. We found that the stage jackets basically just disintegrated along with the rest of the stage clothes. Leather was a commodity which we liked and we liked that image and we found that leather was a cheap commodity, we could afford it, it was something we could utilize onstage and live in it offstage as well. It served a dual purpose, if you could put it that way.
SM: You lived in those things offstage, too?
PB: Yes.
SM: Wow. How was the weather in Hamburg? Was it cold all year 'round?
PB: Well, we got four seasons. We were there during the winter, we were there during the summer, we were there during the spring, we were there during the autumn. They were something we could wear or not wear.
SM: I'm sure you've heard the Hamburg tapes that were released for a while. Even though you're not on that tape ...
PB: This is the Christmas show '62, isn't it?
SM: Yes. You're not on that.
PB: No, I was out of the band then. On some of the sleeve notes it says I was playing there, but I wasn't.
SM: Was that pretty close to how things were live back then when you were there?
PB: Yeah, I could say so. The quality of that doesn't capture a lot, but it does give you a flavor of the type of material we were playing at the time.
SM: I understand there's a couple of live recordings with you on it. There's supposed to be one from, I think, 1961, that Paul owns. PB: I've heard something about this, you know, I was unaware of it, but you know, we're not always aware of what people have recorded.
SM: You've never heard the tape.
PB: No, not at all.
SM: Are there any videos that you know of, any film taken back then?
PB: No, that's the same thing again. We were unaware of it.
SM: You don't have anything?
PB: No, no. I've got photographs, but no videos, no pre-recorded tapes, nothing.
SM: Getting back to the Beatles again, who were you closest to?
PB: John.
SM: What was your friendship with John like?
PB: It was good. I was close to John simply because I liked him as a person. He liked me as a person. We spent a lot of times at one another's houses back in Liverpool. We spent a lot of time together in Germany.
SM: Can you describe each of the guys, give a short little description of each one?
PB: Yeah, I think you can basically turn around and say John was very much what the people saw, the acidic human person, which the world saw, but there was another side of John that I had the privilege of seeing and that's why I basically saw him as a total person, not just what the world saw, a very tender and a very loving person as well. The underlying factor in all this is that they were all great musicians, so I'm not gonna go down that road. That's just taken for granted. Paul, very much at the early stage, a public relations man and I think he still is, you know. Very much (unintelligible) with what happens, very p.r., major part of his life. George was very much into his music, the quiet member of the band. He spent most of his time trying to improve his guitar technique. He certainly did.
SM: It was interesting after George passed away just how many people turned onto his music or made it known they'd always loved his music and how much more recognition he got after.
PB: Yeah, but I think that's the sad thing about it. You have to pass away to get recognition. It's happened in so many circumstances. People are loving Stu Sutcliffe's art now. Now they're starting to recognize what a brilliant artist he was and George, what a brilliant musician he was. John, what a brilliant charter he was in total, but unfortunately, they're no longer with us. That's the tragic thing of it.
SM: How about Stu? You didn't mention what Stu was like?
PB: Stu was very much, again, a quiet guy. Smallest in the band stature-wise, but we all knew deep down he was very much into art, even though he loved the Beatles 200 percent then, he was a brilliant artist, and I think when he fell in love with Astrid, he realized he was gonna go back and resume his art career and that was a foregone conclusion, really.
SM: I met Astrid a couple of years ago. She's a very interesting woman, extremely interesting woman. Have you seen Astrid in recent years?
PB: Oh yeah, yeah. She always was and always will be a very interesting and very lovely lady.
SM: What do you remember about the Decca sessions?
PB: I remember that we'd celebrated the night before, because it was New Year's Eve. ... And we got to the recording session late, which Brian wasn't too happy about. A major record audition with the biggest company in England at that time. But we got there. We were fortunate because Mike Smith, who was gonna be the A&R man, he'd been celebrating as well, so he landed up late. So that sort of placated the session a little bit, you know, but everyone calmed down and we buffed it up about 15 numbers. We didn't spend too much time on it because we were only there for most part of the day and, you know, really that was it. The choice of music, the choice of stuff that we did on that particular session was, I suppose you could turn around and say, chosen by Brian Epstein, you know, because he felt the music, the audition gave a cross section of what the Beatles talent was. It involved country, it involved harmonies, it involved comedy, and also original material and out-and-out rockers as well.
SM: I hadn't even considered it was ... I figured it was you guys that had chosen those. Has everything come out now?
PB: Everything's out as far as I can remember concerning that session. Don't take that as 100 percent because a lot of water's gone under the bridge. I suppose looking at the first bootleg of it, the bootleg Decca Audition Tapes, which was the first. To my knowledge, that was the master tape.
SM: There were some idea among collectors that the original tapes were at the wrong speed. Was that correct? When the album came out that you were involved with, were those at the correct speed as you remember them?
PB: To be quite honest, I can't remember. We played 'em fast and we played 'em furiously in those days. There was basically what happened behind the desk, whether we recorded 'em too fast or they needed slowing down or ..
SM: Well, no, they were tapes saying the tapes as they were mastered on those recordings were mastered too quickly, were master too fast and the voices were higher than what they should have been. Do they sound speeded up to you?
PB: You got me there because I wasn't in the studio to realize what was going on. All our memories are was basically, as far as we're concerned, if that was the Decca audition tapes, whether they transferred them or whatever they did in the studio, we were unaware of it.
SM: Is it possible that maybe whoever had the tapes later, the bootleggers, messed with them?
PB: I have no idea. I couldn't answer that question and wouldn't even dare answer that question.
SM: How about the movie "Backbeat"? What'd you think of "Backbeat"?
PB: I thought it was a good movie. If I wanted to be very cynical about it like a lot of people in Beatle lore and Beatle folklore, I could dig holes in it. But at the end of the day, entertainment-wise, it entertained the people. I think the publicity was wrong. The media was publicizing the story of the five lads in Hamburg, but everyone knows it was just the love story, the wonderful love story of Astrid Kirchherr and Stu Sutcliffe and we were there while this was just going on. But I thought the saving factor was the soundtrack was excellent. I think they worked very hard to capture the sound, the energy we had in those days. But overall, entertainment-wise, yes.
SM: Yeah, I thought the soundtrack was really good, too. What songs did you sing with the Beatles and will you be singing them again?
PB: (Laughs) What songs did I sing with the Beatles? "Matchbox," "Peppermint Twist," "Rose Grows Wild in the Country."
SM: "Rose Grows Wild in the Country"?
PB: Yeah. That was about it. That's all they could persuade me to sing at that time. And I suppose I will turn around and sing them sometime but I'm not gonna turn around and tell you when.
SM: No time maybe on the 23rd maybe?
PB: Well, you never know, you never know.
SM: Getting back to the Casbah. The Cavern generally gets credit for the birth of the Beatles, but the idea of the book is that the Casbah should. Why do you think the Casbah should?
PB: Because it was the catalyst for the Mersey Beat sound long before the Cavern. The Casbah was the birthplace of the Beatles, the birthplace for many of the bands in Liverpool. It became the catalyst for the Mersey Beat sound that later conquered the world, and every major band in Liverpool played there, as well as the major bands playing there. The well-known bands, the Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Searchers, the Blue Jeans, the Beatles ... I could go on onwards and onwards. It was also a launch pad, because, again, my mother wanted to give everyone a chance, so it was a good breeding ground for young bands to come in and try and establish themselves and if didn't seem right for that particular occasion, they were told to go away and practice and come back again when they were good enough, which is the sensible way of looking at things. This was evolving while the Cavern was still a jazz cellar. It was only when the Casbah basically closed its doors that the Cavern gradually transported itself from jazz t o jazz and rock 'n' roll, then rock 'n' roll at the Cavern as the world knows it today. So the Casbah should really achieve and hold the ... that was the music center for Liverpool way before the Cavern.
SM: I know you've been asked this many times. How did you learn you were out of the Beatles?
PB: I don't need to answer that. It's been well chronicled. I was called into Brian Epstein's office. We'd played the Cavern the night before. I was told Brian was very agitated. After talking around the subject for a while, I could tell he was very disgruntled and agitated, edgy. Then he turned around to me and said, "Pete, I don't really know how to turn 'round and tell you this. You're out of the band on Saturday. That's as fast as it happened. There was no forewarning. It was done. It was already committed to stone. The boys weren't there so I could discuss it and find out what their views were. But that was it. One day I was a Beatle and next day, I was out.
SM: Do you think there was one person more responsible for getting you out?
PB: I don't know to be quite honest. I'm not privy to that information. Over the years, or a short while after it happened, I tried to find out. It hasn't been very forthcoming. As we turn around and say it's still very gray and very murky.
SM: A lot of Americans remember you from "I've Got a Secret." What do you remember about that?
PB: (Laughs) "I've Got a Secret." I remember someone turning around and saying I should get a haircut. But it was something. They wanted me to go on the program. It was good promotion for me because I was still in the music industry. It was quite humorous. I wasn't ashamed of turning around and telling who I was, or what I had been.
SM: Are you getting any money from the video that's out?
PB: Not that I'm aware of, no.
SM: The Casbah will reopen next year?
PB: The Casbah will reopen next year, early part of next year.
SM: And one of the pictures in the book shows John's name scratched on the wall. Is that still there?
PB: That's still there. It's part of the Casbah history.
SM: Is a new record coming out soon?
PB; We're working on it. We're looking at the early part of next year. But that depends on schedules and how much time we get in the studio, because, at the present moment, we're very busy touring and documentaries and the other projects, so we'll have to take a little bit of a backwards step. So I basically have to say that's a potential date, but it basically depends on when we get into the studio to see what we want to do.
SM: You mentioned documentaries. Is there a video coming, too?
PB: We're working on it. There's one that should be in the pipeline, but that's all I'm allowed to say at the present.
SM: Have you been in touch with any of the Beatles or Sir George in recent years?
PB: No, if you'd have asked me that 15 years ago, I'd probably turned around and said no, but as you can see from the book, you know Paul was involved, he supported it, you know, the quote he makes at the beginning of the book, which basically says, the world knows about the Cavern, but it's about time the world knows about the Casbah, because this was our club. It's a magnanimous quotation from him. But I think because of that quotation, he realizes how important the Casbah was, how significant the roots were, for the Beatles and the musical legacy of Liverpool. And as far as I'm concerned, the door's always been open. But I hope that one of these days we will meet up. It'd be nice to meet up again after all this time.
SM: You never talked to George or Sir George in recent years?
PB: No, unfortunately not.
SM: That's it, Pete.
SM: Thanks very very much. Good luck to you.
PB: Gotta go, gotta run.
SM: All right, bye bye.
PB: Bye bye.

  • San Jose Mercury News: Beatle at the Beginning (Note: This is the version of this interview that we wrote for a local newspaper.)

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