Unique is an overused word but if there was a day that changed popular music forever, July 6, 1957 was that day!
By David Hughes
Not that anyone knew it at the time, or probably for the next five or six years.
In the late 1950’s British music world, skiffle was King. Skiffle was a British invention, a combination of acoustic folk music and American blues, brought to public attention by the guitarist with a traditional jazz band led by trombonist Chris Barber.
The guitarist was Lonnie Donegan and he unwittingly started a music revolution in Britain. After years of dance bands and crooners, music loving kids could, by learning three chords on an old guitar, play the basis of a tune. Accompanied by home made percussion and a half decent voice, they could form a group and start playing.
Such a group in Liverpool was called The Quarrymen, led by one John Lennon.
The story has been told many times, and there is even an absorbing book devoted to every minute of this day, called, ‘The Day John Met Paul’ Briefly,
The Quarrymen were booked to play at the local church fete in the afternoon and be the support group to a local dance band in the church hall in the evening.
Paul McCartney had a guitar but no group. Ivan Vaughan, a mutual friend took him to see the Quarrymen play and in between afternoon and evening performances, Paul was introduced to John. Paul became a Quarryman, The Quarrymen became The Silver Beetles and The Silver Beetles became…….
On that same day, a young lad called Bob Molyneux wanted to try out his new Grundig
tape recorder, and decided that the Church Hall
evening performance would be a good opportunity. He recorded the whole evening, Quarrymen and The George Edwards Band on several different tapes. This was obviously of no significance to him because he lost all but the one tape, and even then he had erased all but two Quarrymen songs by recording a thunderstorm over the top!
But Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Puttin’ on the style’ and Elvis Presley’s ‘Baby let’s play house’ remained.
Fast forward 40 years to September 15, 1994 and Bob, having long before realised the value of his chance 1957 recording, decided to put both the tape and its recorder up for auction at Sotheby’s.
Despite not coming from Trust’s pre-defined 1897-1946 period, it was agreed by EMI that, if it were successful at the auction, the items would be donated to the Trust for preservation.
EMI’s then Corporate PR man David Hughes
was sent to Bond Street with a £50,000 bidding limit, Sotheby’s having put a £100,000-£150,000 estimate. Nervously he went up to, and then over his budget, and, having maintained anonymity in the room, emerged top bidder at £70,000 +commission.
So, a unique rarity, which to this day has never been heard in its entirety by the public – a snippet on ‘Puttin’ on the style’ formed part of EMI’s centenary exhibition, Radio 1 played a similar snippet, and more recently that same snippet was featured on the first ”People’s History of Pop” BBC 4 series.
Just one of the thousands of treasures held by the EMI Archive Trust.
David Hughes is a Trustee of The EMI Group Archive Trust