Christopher Priest

THE BEATLES

Everyone of a certain generation has a story to tell about The Beatles, and this is CP's. This true account was written in 1986, nearly a quarter of a century after the events took place. It first appeared in Chuch, published by Rob Hansen and Avedon Carol. Very little of the story was reshaped in the interests of telling it: almost everything happened more or less exactly as described. A few names were changed, but everyone mentioned in the story is real. After writing this essay CP converted it into a script for a television drama, but it has never been taken up for production.

Because of the length of the essay, the following headings will take you to certain sections of the narrative, but the essay is best read in one piece:

IntroductionTimThe girlsMatthew StreetThe CavernThe setThe end

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Thank You, Girls

When I was sixteen years old it was decided I was going to grow up to be a chartered accountant, and my parents therefore signed the necessary articles of indentureship with an accountancy firm in London. The system of articles was a hangover from Victorian days -- it amounted to a form of middle-class slave labour -- but it did mean that so long as the articles existed I could not be fired, a state of affairs which quickly turned out to be to my advantage. I was never cut out for accountancy.

It soon transpired that there was an unacknowledged but real grading system in the firm, based on the clients for whom we worked. The talented trainees were usually sent away to check the books of the most glamorous, profitable or powerful clients ... while at the other end of the scale, the ones who learned slowly were sent to the lowlier clients: paint factories, tobacconists, car breakers, and so on. At the very bottom of the grading system was the most unpopular client of all: a slate quarry in a town called Llanruth, in North Wales. After only a few minutes in Llanruth you couldn't help thinking you were as far away from London as it was possible to be. The slate quarry -- whose office was a squalid, unheated shed beneath an overhang of crumbling shale -- was recognized by all the articled clerks as a just punishment, albeit a cruel and unusual one, reserved for those who most deserved it.

By the time I was nineteen, in late 1962, I had become a regular visitor to Llanruth, and the end of my accountancy career seemed foredoomed. (In fact I was to survive until 1965 when the articles expired, but then I was promptly sacked.) I was fairly phlegmatic about my doomed career. I was already much more interested in becoming a writer and the fact that I spent every winter in Llanruth at least moved me into a fresh environment. Years later, I'm still able to draw something from those days -- as a writer you can get inspiration anywhere if you go about it the right way. And on just one occasion, working in a freezing cold quarry in Llanruth two weeks before Christmas turned out to have put me in exactly the right place at the right time.

It began with the fact that in Llanruth there was almost nothing to do in the evenings. There were really only two activities open to us. One was to stay in the hotel bar, keep warm, and learn how to get drunk; the other was to set forth in search of girls. I have never had a great liking for alcohol, and when I was nineteen my sexual conquests were mostly in the province of the imagination. Even so, of the two possibilities the latter was the more interesting to me, but my luck remained bad. If there were any girls in Llanruth I never seemed to see them. I usually ended up in the hotel bar with the other articled clerks, nursing a glass of lager and lime and trying to look as if I was enjoying myself. In those long winter evenings in Llanruth, time hung heavy.

During the visit at the end of 1962 I was working with a recent recruit to the firm, a lad from Cuffley in Hertfordshire, called Tim. Tim was a year younger than me: he was tall, slim, had cool blue eyes and a shock of fair hair. He was distinctly interested in girls, and they in him, but the scarcities of Llanruth would have tested even Casanova. He and I made a few hopeful ventures together into the icy, deserted streets, but his luck was no better than mine and we soon resigned ourselves to long boring evenings in the bar, bragging dishonestly (at least in my case) about past conquests.

During one of these sessions in the bar we fell happily into conversation with Alison, the most attractive of the hotel receptionists. Alison, unattainable within her protective shells of job, formal hotel costume, aloof manner and -- most significantly -- engagement ring, always resisted our desperate flirting, but off-duty she was friendly enough. When she learnt that we were going to have to spend the coming weekend in Llanruth (the firm was too mean to pay our expenses back to London, except every now and again) she pointed out that there was going to be a Young Farmers' Dance in the Town Hall on the Saturday evening. It was the best news we'd heard all week.

When the weekend came we spent most of the Saturday lounging around but in the evening we put on our business suits and headed for the Town Hall. From the street outside we could hear a local pop group grinding amateurishly through a Gene Pitney number, but as we each paid our two shillings and sixpence and walked in, they finished this and began massacring a Shadows instrumental. The guitarists were performing the three-step jig that had become the Shadows' trademark, and which even they made look embarrassing. The Llanruth version was not helped by the fact that the lead guitarist was wearing prominently visible cotton-wool ear-plugs. The dance was being held in the central hall, a high, grim room, with paintings of past mayors in their robes of office, and wooden commemorative tablets carved with the names of war dead. For the occasion of the Young Farmers' Dance, the hall had been festooned with a handful of balloons. No one was dancing.

Our arrival in this discouraging room caused a number of immediate reactions, not the least in us.

From our point of view there was a remarkable innovation: the place was full of girls, dozens of them, all ages and shapes and sizes, crowding along the edges of the dance floor, their existence in Llanruth hitherto undiscovered. Tim and I exchanged a glance of genuine surprise and anticipation. A small group of young men had gathered in a defensive crowd around a makeshift bar set up at one end of the dance floor. They were ostentatiously ignoring the girls, drinking heavily, bracing themselves for some kind of blundering advance towards the end of the evening. They must also have noticed us, but pretended not to.

Meanwhile our entrance was causing a visible reaction amongst our own area of interest: a ripple of whispering, giggling and barely concealed stares passed along the lines of unattended girls.

Feeling very self-conscious, but also rather flattered and encouraged, Tim and I went to the bar for drinks. Here our hostile reception by the other men was quickly confirmed. There was a wave of mute but entirely tangible resentment all around us. Once we had obtained our drinks we quickly retreated to the dance floor, where we felt a bit safer.

Aside from the fact we were strangers in town, it was not difficult to work out why we were causing such a stir. Although every girl in the hall was dressed for the occasion, the men all appeared to have come to the dance straight from the fields. Several of them were wearing muddy rubber boots, and more than a few were unshaven and still in their working clothes. Tim and I, by contrast, were wearing dark suits tailored in the narrow Italian style then fashionable: we had button-down shirts, straight slim ties and trendily pointed shoes. Ironically, these were our own ordinary working clothes, but to judge by the way the girls were still staring at us it seemed that for once we were in the right job.

Tim and I consulted briefly and quietly, glancing back nervously at the bar, from where menacing looks were now coming with alarming frequency. We found we were in total agreement on two important subjects: we knew we could have the pick of any of the girls in the room ... but also that our lives were soon going to be in danger.

We quickly agreed on the two girls we most liked the look of (no time for anything more subtle than picking out the ones we thought were the prettiest), and moved in on them without delay. We had a couple of dances with them, then the four of us decided to depart before any trouble began. Tim had already been shoulder-barged by someone going across the dance floor. The prettiness and eagerness of the girls gave an extra incentive to being somewhere else. We waited nervously while the girls found their coats, then left. Behind us, the pop group launched into a hesitant version of Cliff Richard's Living Doll.

The girls' names were Liz and Melanie. Their Welsh accents enchanted us, we loved their pretty faces, their sexy bodies, their almost instantaneous keeness on us. We snogged with them briefly in the car. They were seventeen years old and although they lived with their parents in Llanruth they worked during the weeks in Liverpool, where they shared a rented flat. They said they had to return to Liverpool the following evening, and when we told them we were using a rented car they suggested we could drive them there. We agreed at once. The air was thick with unstated promises of what would happen when we got them back to their flat.

Rather to our surprise they seemed to be as interested in us as we were in them, much of this arising from the fact we were from London. They asked questions about the club scene in London. I don't know whether Tim's answers were bluff, but anything I would have said on the subject could only be based on my occasional visits to the trad jazz club in the suburb where I lived. Liz and Melanie said they wanted to show us what was happening in Liverpool. They claimed it was now the most exciting city in Britain, that even London had nothing to compare with the scene there.

Tim and I, still trading heavily on our imagined London mystique, felt this was dubious, and said so.

"What kind of scene?" we said.

"There are clubs everywhere ... the Iron Gate, the Mardi Gras, the Cavern. And the groups! Have you ever heard of The Beetles?"

The subject had changed. The girls were suddenly gabbling about this group, the enthusiasm spilling out of them. We hardly listened, mostly because we had no idea what they were talking about. They were right: we'd never heard of them, and we weren't frankly all that interested in what the group might play. Pop music in general was at that time going through a dull patch. Rock 'n' roll seemed to have faded away, and beat ballads were most of what could be heard in the pop charts. Many young people were losing interest in commercial pop, moving on. We obviously said something like this and the girls, perhaps surprisingly with hindsight, became defensive. Yes, they knew the group's name probably sounded provincial and silly to us, but it was spelt with an 'a', and if we heard them play we would find they were as good as anything London might have to offer.

"They've just signed a recording contract with Parlophone," they said.

We knew Parlophone: that was a minor label belonging to the EMI group. Most of their catalogue consisted of dance bands and novelty records by Peter Sellers. We remained unconvinced, but Liz and Melanie had a trump card.

"Acker Bilk sometimes plays at the Cavern Club," they said.

At last we were impressed! Acker Bilk played traditional jazz, and Tim and I were jazz fans. Stranger on the Shore, a plaintive clarinet solo featuring Mr Bilk, had been in the Top Twenty for several weeks. While Tim and I reflected on this the girls pressed home their advantage. They said that the Beatles had just returned from a long stint in Germany, that they had already released their first single and were now playing the Cavern every Sunday lunchtime and evening as resident band. When we at last condescended to give them a chance, the girls bubbled with excitement, assuring us that one day the Beatles would be even more popular than Adam Faith. ("And Cliff Richard?" we said as a final test. "Possibly," they said.)

We saw the girls again the next afternoon. This time we managed to smuggle them up to our respective hotel bedrooms, where physical transactions were opened but not concluded. At least, in my case not concluded. Maybe Tim had more luck with Melanie, but I don't think so. In the early evening the four of us set off in our rented Ford Anglia for Liverpool, full of our different expectations. Tim and I thought only of the rented flat and what would almost certainly happen once we were in there with them, whereas Liz and Melanie seemed to be obsessed with pop music to the exclusion of everything else.

The closer we approached the city the more their excitement increased. They talked incessantly about the Beatles, calling the boys in the band by their first names. John, Paul and George: ordinary lads' names. There was something about the drummer, Ringo, they didn't like, but Melanie said she thought he was fairly sexy. Tim and I were not pleased with any of this. The intimacy with which the girls related to the band made us wonder just how well they might actually know them. They seemed, frankly, to be more interested in the Beatles than they were in us. Increasingly, it was becoming obvious to me that Tim and I had been retained as unofficial emissaries from London, our sole function being that we would carry the message about the Beatles back to the capital. Perhaps we would. At that moment, the lights of Liverpool visible ahead of us, we would have promised anything.

I drove the car through the centre of Liverpool, and Liz directed us to the warehouse district in the oldest part of the city around the docks. The mean streets here were closed in by massive Victorian buildings, dark rectangles blocking the sky. Matthew Street, where the Cavern Club was situated, was a narrow cobbled alley between two of these high, ancient warehouses. I drove slowly along it, looking for somewhere to park. Suddenly, Liz, sitting beside me in the front passenger seat, let out a terrible cry.

"Stop the car! Stop the car!"

I braked at once, thinking of course that it was an emergency. Liz wound down the window with frantic haste and yelled something to two young men who had been walking down the alley. They came over to the car and leaned down by the open window. They grinned in at us, cocky and self-confident. Liz was writhing with excitement and Melanie clambered forward from the back seat. They both seemed to be breathing with a weird rasping noise. Although they were only a few inches away from me I could not make out a word of anything that was being said; noise was somehow being generated around us, without an apparent source. I saw one of the young men lean in the window and kiss Liz, and Melanie thrust herself across Liz to the window, where she too was kissed.

"Got to be getting along now," one of them said.

"George! Don't go!" Tim and I were suddenly remembered. "Meet our friends! George, this is Chris, and this is Tim!"

"Nice to meet you," said this dark-haired, angular-faced interloper. "Whoever you are."

"They're from London," Liz said, her voice almost shrill with nervousness.

We shook hands coldly with George. He stared into the car at us, grinning sardonically. "I like yer suit from London," he said, puzzling me considerably.

The girls were firing questions -- is there a new record yet?, you're not going back to Germany are you?, what really happened about Pete?, where do you buy your shirts? -- but now the other one pushed George aside. He leaned through the car window and gave us a cheeky smile.

"Hello, everyone," he said. "I'm Paul."

"They're from London, Paul," said the other one, standing behind him. "Don't make any trouble, Paul."

Liz screeched, "Paul! This is Chris, Tim ..."

"Good to meet you. Gotta go!"

Paul ducked back from the window. I revved up the engine, wanting to get away from these two saturnine youths who were threatening to cut in on our dates. I heard George say to Liz, "See you later," and paranoia coursed through me.

I drove the car around the next corner, and parked. The girls were in a state of shock.

Tim said, "Are those your boyfriends, then?"

To our amazement, the only response was two loud screams, in unison. Eventually one of the girls gasped, "Don't you realize who they were?Those were the Beatles! THE BEATLES! George kissed me! I can't believe it! Aaargh!" (And so on.)

By now as irritated with all this as I was, Tim said, "How about finding a pub?"

"They'll be playing in a few minutes!"

There was no arguing with this, so we locked up the car and headed back down Matthew Street, the girls hurrying us on by tugging us by the hands.

We reached the dark doorway of the Cavern Club, which was lit by a failing illuminated sign and guarded by two monstrous bouncers. We were told the place was full and no one else would be allowed inside. While the girls argued with the doormen I felt a strong vibration coming up through the soles of my shoes, and I crouched down and touched the damp paving stones. The music from below was thudding like a jackhammer beneath the street. The girls' argument obviously succeeded, because in a moment or two we were allowed past the doormen. We went through the doorway and down into what seemed like a hell of darkness, heat, humidity ... and noise. The air was thick with smoke and sweat, the music cannoned off the walls and crashed up the staircase towards us. I gulped for breath as we went down, as if plunging panic-stricken into hot dark water with no known bottom. People stood or squatted on the steps and we stumbled past them in the narrow gloom. There was a small table at the turn of the stairs. We paid the entrance fees, the girls signing us in as their guests. A second staircase led down into the cellar itself, and here we had to push through the crowd to get near the stage. All the while the girls tugged us on, determined to be at the front.

The Cavern consisted of three short tunnels under the warehouse, connected by occasional gaps or arches in the brickwork. The stage was at the furthest end of the central tunnel: a tiny platform about nine or ten feet wide. A few seats for the audience were in front of this, but most people stood up in an untidy crush. When the place had been built it was obviously not intended for human occupancy. The curved ceilings were only about eight feet from the floor at their highest point, and because this was where most people wanted to dance we were crowded to the edges. Neither Tim nor I could stand erect. There were very few lights, and no ventilation. Condensation literally poured down the ceilings and walls, or dripped on us.

The band on stage as we arrived turned out to be another local group. It took Liz three attempts at shouting their name before we could register it: Gerry and the Pacemakers. Tim and I listened critically, then in the break between numbers gave our opinion. They were playing too loudly, we explained. If they turned down the volume a little, and didn't play so fast, then they might realize they weren't in tune.

Liz shrieked at me, "But they're fab gear!" She really said this. Perhaps it was a minor moment of pop cultural history, the first time it had ever been said in earnest to someone from outside the Merseyside area.

After a few more songs Gerry finished the set, and another band began setting up their instruments. They were the Red River Stompers, who played trad jazz. Tim and I instantly brightened -- this was more like real music! But Liz and Melanie would have none of it. They pointed out that they were merely the interval act, and so together with about ninety per cent of the rest of the audience we trooped out of the Cavern Club and invaded the nearest pub. Meanwhile, the Red Rivers stomped their way into their lonely evolutionary musical niche.

Half an hour later we were back in the Cavern. By dint of determined manoeuvring, Liz and Melanie took us to the furthest, most airless end of the right-hand tunnel. We were no more than three feet away from the stage, which was on the other side of one of the arches in the brickwork. The pressure of bodies forced me against the counter of the place where coats were checked in. The girl who ran this was leaning out so she could see the stage, her shoulder pressing against mine and her ball of fuzzy red hair making my face itch. Liz told me she was called Priscilla White, a Cavern Club notable. (As Cilla Black, she was destined within a year to become almost as big a star as the Fab Four.) The crowd was surging to and fro, shoving against us. Immediately next to my head was one of the main loudspeakers, giving out loud bangs and buzzes as instruments were connected up. The atmosphere of excitement and anticipation was infectious. Tim and I removed our ties.

The Beatles had been onstage for some time before I realized it was them. I had thought they were the crew who tuned the instruments, or checked the electrical wiring. Then I recognized Paul and George from the street. They all looked casual, bored, paid no attention to the crowd who were pushing forward at the front of the stage. There was some banter going on with the drummer, whose cap had been knocked off by one of the others, and carried around on the neck of a guitar. Girls at the front tried to grab the hat. Then, suddenly, the clowning was over. One of the guitarists stamped his foot three times and they went straight into Sweet Little Sixteen. My head, a few inches from the core of the loudspeaker, felt as if it had been clouted with a mailed fist. In galvanic response I craned forward to see the group better. The facade of lazy indifference had gone and they were belting out the music with a conviction I had never seen in any live group before. The sheer aggression, the driving beat, the explosion of movement and noise, the fabulous, primitive racket ... it hit me like a blast of heat from a furnace. Live rock, played hot and wild, is unlike anything else in experience.

When the number finished the audience began screaming and whistling. The guitarist who had started it all stepped forward and bellowed into the microphone. "Sharrupp!!" Miraculously, a sort of silence fell. Liz whispered to me, "That's John, he's the -- " John Lennon heard her speaking, we were so close to him, and he yelled at her to shut up. Liz sighed, and pressed her body gratefully against me.

A second number began, one I didn't recognize. The audience obviously did, and hooted and whistled enthusiastically. (Later, Liz told me it was the best-selling single in Liverpool, and was in the bottom half of the national Top Thirty: Love Me Do.) Long Tall Sally followed, in a renewed blast of fiery rock and roll.

John Lennon dominated everything between numbers, but whenever the band was playing he receded into the group identity. Like everyone there, I was thrilled and intimidated by Lennon's raucous threats and announcements, but whenever the music started again I stared in a kind of wild trance at the whole group. Gerry and the Pacemakers had been loud, raw, chummy and incompetent, but the Beatles were simply in another universe. They looked aggressive and uncouth, they lit cigarettes between numbers, they abused the audience. But they were also highly professional. The songs were well rehearsed and played, they were uncouth but they had groomed themselves to look that way, they had a conscious group image, they were totally at home with the audience they so roundly insulted. They were the stars, but they were part of the same family as the audience. They wore white shirts, leather waistcoats and trousers, heeled boots. They had their hair combed forward. (Heeled boots! Hair combed forward!) They grinned at each other as they played, moved their bodies in time with the music, shook their heads when they chorussed. They played their music hard, fast and loud. The excitement mounted with every number. The overall effect was to create a feeling such as I had never known before. It was a blend of contradictions. Part of me deeply resented them -- I wanted to resist the powerful effect their music had on me, I disliked the way they intimidated me, I was jealous of the way they made the girls' eyes glow. But at the same time I could not stop staring at them, I wanted the music never to end. I had never heard such enthralling music in my life. I felt a close rapport with the young men in the band, envious of them but urging them to do well, to play even better, to become famous, and with all that an identification with what they seemed, obscurely, to stand for. Somehow I felt they were with me, expressings things I felt but could not articulate. I couldn't understand it. It was potent stuff, incomprehensible to me in the heat of the moment, and all I could do was stand there in silent rapture, feeling the sublime music battering the side of my head.

The Beatles closed their set with a second rendition of Love Me Do, and encored with Twist and Shout. Lennon's screams drilled painfully into me. Then it was all over and we reeled out into the rainy street, exhausted, deafened, damp with sweat. None of us said anything. We found the car, left Liverpool by going through the Mersey Tunnel and along the drab streets of Birkenhead, then drove the girls to their apartment near Port Sunlight and parked under a streetlamp opposite the Kelvinator factory. There was a blue neon sign on the factory wall, glaring down into the car. With our hands and faces livid in its light we mauled the girls half-heartedly for a few minutes, but the Beatles had changed everything. We had come out on the other side of something else. When the girls buttoned up their blouses and went inside the house without inviting us to join them, neither Tim nor I could have cared less.

We drove away from Merseyside and back towards Llanruth along the hilly roads, and we talked about the Beatles. We gabbled incessantly, just as the girls had done. We sung snatches of songs that we felt we had sung all our lives, but which had been completely unknown to us only two hours earlier. We were hoarse from the smoke and the shouting, but we kept laughing. Somehow, we made it back to Llanruth without crashing the car.

Two days later, our ears still ringing from the noise in the Cavern, we drove back to Merseyside, picked up the girls and went in search again of the Beatles. We toured several of the clubs, but it was Tuesday evening and the Beatles weren't playing anywhere. We settled for the Swingin' Blue Jeans who were playing at the Mardi Gras, and we sat in the balcony overlooking the half-empty dance floor, drinking beer and talking about the Beatles, talking about the Beatles.

It was December 1962.

We never saw the girls again. At the end of the week Tim and I returned to London for the Christmas break. I spent Christmas at home with my parents, and one evening I went with my sister to a party at the local jazz club. I tried describing the Cavern Club to several of my friends in the club, but jazz and pop music have never mixed socially. I was a disillusioned rock 'n' roll fan who had grown away from the watered-down stuff in the pop charts and was starting to enjoy jazz. But the Beatles had blown everything open again. The familiar, predictable syncopation of New Orleans jazz made me restless to hear the wilder assaults of live rock.

When I returned to the London office at the beginning of January, Tim had already been sent to check the accounts of a client in another part of England. I was due to return to Llanruth the following week. I drifted through the days, planning a new assault on the Liverpool scene once I was away from London again. At the end of the Friday afternoon Tim came into the office to pick up his pay. He saw me at my desk and came straight over to see me.

"I hear you're going up north again next week."

"Yes," I said.

"Lucky devil!" he said. "Their new record's out," he added, no more explanation being necessary. He showed it to me. It was called Please Please Me. With the precious record lying on the desk between us we sat and talked about the Beatles, suddenly as exhilarated as we had been after the Cavern. Other people came over to find out what was going on, so we told them, the flame of zeal in our eyes.

"The Beatles!" they cried scornfully. "What kind of a name is that?"

We said, lamely, "One day they'll be bigger than Elvis."

Still they mocked, but we were sure.

I called in at a record store on my way home, and tried to buy a copy of the new single. The woman in the shop had never heard of it, and when I spelled the name for her she simply smiled. I made her look in the Parlophone catalogue, but the only Beatles record listed was Love Me Do. At a second shop I was more lucky; I bought one of the three copies they had in stock. I carried the record home, thinking it was the most valuable thing I had ever possessed. I played it as soon as I was home, volume on full, ear pressed against the tiny loudspeaker of my Dansette portable, trying to recapture the experience in the Cavern Club. I played the record again and again until my irate father threatened to break it in half.

Seven weeks later, Please Please Me reached number 1.

Seven months later, with the entire country in the grip of Beatlemania, Tim died of cancer. I went to his funeral with a small group of people from the office, stood dry-eyed as he was buried. He was still only eighteen years old. I had never really known him very well; he had just happened to be there at the time, as I had been there for him, and most of what we had in common was our discovery of the Beatles. We had hardly seen each other again before he went into hospital, but whenever we met we talked about the Beatles, as unrelenting in our interest as ever. For a time we had sincerely believed we were the only two people outside Liverpool who knew what was about to break on the world. But even this had changed by the time of Tim's death in August. Everyone was obsessed with the Beatles, everyone knew the songs, everyone had a story to tell. Tim and I had simply been there a few weeks before anyone else.

I did cry in 1980, when John Lennon was killed. I had never known Lennon at all, not even to shake his hand resentfully through the window of a rented car, but his death was a shocking personal blow, one I shared with millions of others around the world. He had grown into a personal hero, before Yoko got her hands on him and made him look neutered and silly. I never really understood why the Beatles had the effect on me they did. Looking back, it seems almost to have had religious qualities, but at the time it was simpler than that. I loved the music and admired the four people who made it. It was an intensely private feeling, one that was in no measure diminished just because millions of other people happened to feel the same.

And, of course, feelings changed with time. The early days, when the word was spreading: no one today can imagine what it was like to play a Beatles record to someone who had never heard one before. The amazed rejoicing as the Beatles succeeded beyond the wildest imaginings. The growing sense of disillusion as they were adopted by the fatuous wing of the media, by governments, even by parents. The sense of betrayal as they succumbed to drugs and the Maharishi. The feelings of disgust as the businessmen squabbled, the con men moved in, the names were called, the lawsuits flew around. But through it all the marvellous songs survived, the unique sound, the witty remarks, the candour, the refreshing sense that whatever else might be going wrong the four individuals were still there, hanging on. A personal identification with the Beatles survived all this, even with John Lennon, bombed out on drugs and sitting inside a bag with Yoko, ending up as a sad broken ghost of what he once had been. I trace my own identification with them right back to the evening in the Cavern Club, when I had first felt that obscure sense that they stood for something. Even though they dazzled my girlfriend and mocked my suit, they were somehow there on my side, saying things that would never enter my head, living a life I could only fantasize about, yet still managing to speak for me and make me feel I was a part of it all. It became a truism that the Beatles changed the lives of a generation, but however trite it is I know my own life was fundamentally altered by that evening in a cellar in Liverpool. The miracle of the Beatles was that they could wreak the same transformation in millions, yet leave everyone with a sense of individual gain. Nothing like them will ever happen again.