The Beatles-The True Beginnings, by Roag Best with Pete and Rory Best
Description (from the cover leaf):
“The Casbah Coffee club … was the brainchild of Mrs. Mona Best, the mother of Pete Best. It is well known that Pete Best was the drummer for The Beatles in their early days…. Less well known is that The Beatles’ origins were in fact at Pete’s mother’s club …
This book tells the story of how Mona Best created the Casbah, and in the process played a major part in creating The Beatles….
Seen here for the first time in forty years is the club’s interior as it was at the very beginning, juxtaposed with the rooms as they are today … A wealth of rare material from the Casbah and the Bests’ own archives, together with newly commissioned images …, documents the club’s and The Beatles’ intertwined story. Accompanied by a fascinating personal memoir …, written by Roag Best with his brothers Pete and Rory, this is both a moving family tribute from the Bests to their mother, and a unique insight into a remarkable period of Beatles history.”
I acquired my copy of this book one crazy weekend in 2003. I posted my account of that weekend here at the old Abbeyrd Beatles News website.I got Pete’s autograph in the book:
And I have the ticket stub from the Pete Best Band show I attended that weekend:
Unfortunately, I didn’t get Pete’s autograph in my copy of his other book, Beatle! The Pete Best Story. I must have forgotten to take that book along when I went to his show.
The Beatles-The True Beginnings features an opening quote by Paul; a Foreword by Pete; a Tribute of quotations about Mona Best; seven chapters (covering from Mona’s birth in 1924 to her last communication with John in 1966); an Afterword (reaching to plans to reopen The Casbah Club in 2002, the year the book was published); a List of Speakers (briefly describing persons quoted in the book); brief Acknowledgements by Roag, Pete, and Rory; and a decent Index.
In my opinion, the book’s best feature is its many pictures. Most are one-color, printed on the book’s light-brown pages. Although some pictures are familiar to Beatle fans, there are many that aren’t as well-known, and these include many provided by the Best family.
What I enjoyed most, though, were color photographs of the Casbah, Casbah equipment, and related items. These photos were taken by professional photographer Sandro Sodano, and they’re large and clear and allow for viewing every detail and are only second to actually being at the Casbah and holding these items.
The first chapter is titled Big White Elephant, the description given by Mona’s husband John to 8 Haymans Green when Mona expressed her desire to buy the future home of the Best family and of the Casbah. This chapter describes Mona’s early life in India, her marriage to John from Liverpool, and her relocation (with sons Pete and Rory) to Liverpool. I wouldn’t have minded if the chapter was a little longer; some of the accounts included were interesting to read, especially about the family’s voyage by ship to Liverpool and also about how Mona was able to purchase 8 Haymans Green.
Chapter 2, Birthplace of The Beatles, discusses the months leading up to the opening of The Casbah Club and the first few nights of its operation. The accounts describing preparation of the Haymans Green cellar by the Bests and their friends are exciting and fun to read. I enjoyed the paragraphs describing how the Casbah acquired its doorman Frank. It’s too bad what Ken Brown had to go through with his band The Les Stuart Quartet, but, as Beatle fans know, that led to The Quarrymen (John, Paul, George, and Ken) performing on the Casbah’s opening night. Unfortunately, their residency lasted only a couple of months, but we can appreciate that it was an important step in The Beatles‘ legend.
Chapter 3, The Floodgates Open, describes the success of The Casbah Club and the many Liverpool bands that played there. Just a few bands mentioned are Derry and The Seniors, early versions of The Comets and The Big Three, The Remo Four, Rory Storm and The Hurricanes (featuring drummer Ringo Starr), and The Blackjacks (featuring drummer Pete Best). Although The Quarrymen didn’t play at The Casbah anymore, John, Paul, and George are said to have attended shows at the club. The chapter even states that the Casbah was the setting for when Stuart Sutcliffe was pressured into using his recent art prize money to buy a bass guitar to use as a member of John’s band; Paul is quoted as saying, “That was actually where we talked him into it, at the Casbah.”
A ‘friendly rivalry’ existed between The Blackjacks and The Hurricanes, and one account describes Rory Storm’s unsuccessful efforts to draw a bigger crowd for his Hurricanes than for The Blackjacks. Although the book doesn’t mention Ringo being a member of The Hurricanes at the time, Beatle! The Pete Best Story does confirm that. And, so, in The Hurricanes’ failing to draw a larger crowd that The Blackjacks, this was one time when Pete Best bettered Ringo Starr.
Chapter 4, Losing the Silver, recounts Pete joining The Beatles and their first stint in Hamburg, Germany. Chapter 5 is titled Becoming Fab and Beatlemania, and describes The Beatles’ return to Liverpool and the fame they began enjoying performing back at The Casbah Club and at other venues arranged by Mona Best
Chapter 6 is titled Men in Suits and covers events from The Beatles’ second stint in Hamburg in ’61 until just before Pete was fired from The Beatles in ’62. Events covered include The Beatles recording with Tony Sheridan, their meeting Brian Epstein, their audition for Decca, the death of Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles’ third Hamburg stint (including befriending Gene Vincent).
The book states that on The Beatles’ second return from Hamburg, July 1961, at their first show (a Casbah Promotion), their performance of “Cry for a Shadow” was the first time an original Beatles composition was performed publicly in Liverpool. I wasn’t able to find any specific earlier performances of Beatles compositions in Mark Lewisohn‘s The Complete Beatles Chronicle, although it did list many (19 by my count) that possibly were performed as far back as 1957 when they were The Quarrymen. Lewisohn’s Tune In says that The Beatles started regularly playing their own compositions in December 1961. I can’t find in any of my other Beatles books any other reference to the first public Liverpool performance of a Beatles original.
Of course, Pete’s firing from The Beatles is covered. Chapter 7, All Change, begins with a brief description of the event (Epstein’s asking to meet with Pete, Neil Aspinall’s waiting outdoors for Pete, Epstein’s request for Pete to continue as a Beatle until Ringo was available, Epstein’s offer to help Pete find another band, Neil’s taking Pete afterward to The Grapes pub for drinks and consolation) and includes the aftermath (fan reactions, the release of “Love Me Do“, Pete’s time with Lee Curtis and The All Stars, The Pete Best Combo’s stint in the US). The chapter ends the main section of the book by describing Mona’s connection with The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album (with related pictures).
The Afterword, titled Going Full Circle, briefly discusses the years between 1966 and the publication of the book in 2002. Emphasis is given to 1988, the year The Casbah Club was first re-opened, Pete began performing again, and Mona passed away. Also quickly mentioned is Pete’s being recognized and rewarded for his part as a Beatle when tracks featuring his drumming were included in the release of Anthology 1 in 1995. Of course, specifics about how much he was rewarded aren’t detailed, but it’s still nice to see that it worked out favorably for him.
I have one minor complaint about the book: this poster is claimed to have inspired the writing of The Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!“:
Of course, Beatles fans are aware of the poster that was the true inspiration for the song:
Other than that one gripe, I enjoy The Beatles-The True Beginnings. It adds an interesting angle to a very important part of the Beatles story. It’s especially nice to see the Bests’ respect and appreciation for all that Mona did for The Beatles and for the Mersey Beat scene. I definitely recommend the book for Beatles fans.