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Liverpudlians reveal new Beatles stories at Beatlefest panels

by Katie Hickox

At the Los Angeles Fest for Beatles Fans held October 10 thru 12 at the LA Airport Marriott hotel, there were several panel discussions that offered new stories into the early days of the Beatles in Liverpool as experienced by a diverse group of Liverpudlians. On Saturday there was a lovely "Afternoon Tea Time Chat" with Julia Baird, John Lennon's half-sister and with members of the McCartney family, Angie and Ruth McCartney, all of whom told delightful stories about the early days of the Beatles in Liverpool.

At the Scouser's Council panel discussion Sunday afternoon, there were many great stories shared about how the Beatles and in particular how John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Brian Epstein changed the lives of Liverpudlians Julia Baird, Angie and Ruth McCartney, author David Bedford, Beatles Fan Club Secretary Freda Kelly, recording artist and performer Billy J. Kramer, former Badfinger bassist Joey Molland, Cavern Club's performing artist Jon Keats and LA Beatles Tour Guide Gillian Lomax. Many of the panelists travelled all the way from Liverpool in England, over 5,400 miles away from Los Angeles, recreating the feeling of being amongst friends in an English pub setting (but without the drinks).

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Scouser's Council at Fest For Beatles Fans 2014

Julia Baird shared with the audience how Paul McCartney spent more time at her house than at Mimi's while her mother, Julia, was still alive. She said, "After John (Lennon) met Paul (McCartney) at the Woolton Village Fete in St. Peter's Church on July 6, 1957, Paul started coming over to our house even when John wasn't at our house because he had lost his mother the year before (in 1956). Paul was at our house all the time because our house on Blomfield Road was just 5 min away from his house on Forthlin Road. John's house on Menlove Avenue was further away, nearly 20 min away, and John's Aunt Mimi didn't let them play in the house so they preferred Julia's house plus she (Julia) would show them how to play the banjo, a very difficult instrument to play."

"My mother liked Paul and would give him a cup of tea whenever he came by, and would bring out the ukulele or a banjo and play alongside and sometimes show them a new chord. Paul arrived at our house with his own guitar right from the beginning, and was playing it left handed before he realized he could turn the strings upside down. When John and his mate (Quarryman bandmembers) showed up to rehearse, they would somehow all pile into the small bathroom because it had the best acoustics of any room in our house, and my mother would often accompany them in the cramped bathroom and play the washboard or banjo."

Julia said she "never realized just how famous they became until that day of the Liverpool Townhall Beatles celebration for A Hard Days Night." She said she couldn't understand why John had a car sent to their house to pick them up as they could just as easily have taken the bus. Julia then realized why the private cars were needed to get through because "all the roads were blocked and we could never have gotten through on a (public) bus."

At the big Liverpool Town Hall midday celebration for the Beatles that took place on July 10, 1964, during which the Beatles were presented with the keys to the city, Julia said she was standing behind them on the balcony of the Liverpool Town Hall, looking down upon the main street, and was overwhelmed to see the hundreds of thousands who had turned out to be there, nearly half the city of Liverpool. Julia's writes about this and her life growing up with her brother John Lennon in her book "Imagine This."

Paul's future stepmother, Angie McCartney, was at the same July 10, 1964 Liverpool celebration of the Beatles homecoming, but was one of the many thousands crowded together in the street looking up at the balcony of Liverpool Town Hall. Though Angie liked the Beatles, as a young single mother with a young daughter, she couldn't be a huge Beatles fan at the time, but came out to see the civic celebration. She said that the Liverpool Town Hall event for the Beatles made her realize just how famous the Beatles had become. Angie said, "I had never seen anything like the huge outpouring of nearly 250,000 Liverpudlians when I attended the Liverpool celebration for the four boys at Town Hall." Little did she know her life would be intertwined with that of one of the "four boys", Paul McCartney, who would soon become her stepson a few months later in November 1964.

Six weeks later she met Jim McCartney, Paul's father, on August 24 1964, and after a whirlwind romance they married a few months later in November 1964, and she became Paul's stepmother and also became famous overnight. Her marriage lasted 12 years until Jim died in 1976. Now in her 80s, Angie still has a passion for living and has started up an online tea company, Mrs. McCartney's Teas. Proceeds from each purchase are donated to the Linda McCartney Breast Cancer Research Centre in Liverpool, UK, as Angie "firmly believes that charity begins at home."

Paul's stepsister Ruth McCartney, Angie's daughter born in February 1960 from a previous marriage, told how John Lennon taught her how to ride a bike when the other Beatles were still fast asleep from late night engagements. As a young girl in the late sixties, she desperately wanted to meet David Cassidy and she persuaded her big brother Paul McCartney in the early 70s to contact Cassidy when he was staying at the Dorchester hotel in London. So when Paul finally got ahold of David by phone and said "Hullo, David? This is Paul McCartney." David replied "Yeah? and I'm the f--ing Duke of Edinburgh," and then hung up the phone, shocking Paul. Cassidy thought the caller was a prank call and had no idea that Paul would be calling him. Regardless, years later Ruth finally got to meet David Cassidy with help from her big brother Paul. Ruth is now the CEO of McCartney Multimedia in Los Angeles and David Cassidy has been one of her clients.

Billy J. Kramer had a great story to tell about how important the Beatles had been in his life. He said, "It was John Lennon who came up with the final name to call myself, Billy J. Kramer." Shortly after Billy signed a contract to be managed by Brian Epstein, John Lennon suggested he change his name from "Billy Kramer" to "Billy J. Kramer". According to John, "it sounded better".

Billy J. Kramer saw the Beatles for the first time when they played at the Litherland Town Hall in Liverpool, and later on, he got to know them personally when he was playing on the same stage with them. In a recent conversation with Billy J. Kramer's manager Steven Gardner, he explained that "after Billy signed up with Brian Epstein, it was John and Paul who gave the thumbs up when the Dakotas were auditioning for Brian at the Cavern Club to become the new backing band for Billy. John and Paul had made a point of being at the Cavern Club to hear them play and they wanted to help Billy become a star in addition to John writing a few songs for him to record many of which became big hits. The audition was held when Brian decided that Billy needed a professional band instead of the Coasters, Billy's original backing band, because they were not professional musicians."

Billy has always thought that John picked the initial J because John has always favored names starting with J since his own name and that of his son Julian and mother Julia all start with a J. As Brian Epstein was a mentor and coach to Billy and made him a star, Billy gave a shout out to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for finally inducting Brian Epstein to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last March, 2014, after campaigning more than 25 years, starting in the nineties.

You can catch Billy J. Kramer next year on Silver 60s' tour with 27 concert tour in the UK and Scotland over three months starting in March 2015.

Other panelists who traveled all the way from Liverpool whose lives were touched and changed by the Beatles included author David Bedford, who began writing about the Beatles and Liverpool as a second career, and has now published a second book "The Fab one hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles, from The Quarrymen to The Fab Four - '56 -'62."

Also on the panel was former Beatles Fan Club Secretary Freda Kelly who was featured in the new award winning documentary film "Good Ole Freda" about her amazing work handling all the millions of fan letters received during her time as the Beatles Fan Club Secretary. In December 1962 when she began her new job handling the Beatles fan mail, she received less than 300 pieces of fan mail mostly from local fans in the UK, but that all changed in 1963 with the beginning of Beatlemania in the UK, as she was inundated with thousands of letters and packages from all over the world in a single day. Many letters were simply addressed, Paul McCartney, England, yet even those letters were forwarded off to the Beatles fan club in Liverpool.

Also representing Liverpool were Cavern Club musician and singer Jon Keats who performs the music of John Lennon and former Badfinger bandmember Joey Molland who got to know the Beatles when he was hired by Badfinger in the late 60's.

In addition, Los Angeles Beatles Tour Guide and Radio Personality Gillian Lomax was on the panel, she grew up across the Mersey River from Liverpool and has created a one of a kind Beatles in Los Angeles Magical History Tour that is highly recommended.

The Beatles transformed each of these Liverpudlian's lives, and without the Beatles, these panel discussions wouldn't have taken place, and the forty years of Fest for Beatles Fans wouldn't have taken place. The Beatles brought panelists and the audience all together on a long and winding road that is still going on, even if two of the Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, are no longer with us. We salute and honor the influence that the Beatles have had on all of us and thank these Liverpudlians for coming together and giving the audience a chance to hear their stories.

Published October 16, 2014

This article is Copyright © 2014, Katie Hickox, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission

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