Rod Davis, a banjo player in John Lennon’s first group, recalls the day two of the greatest songwriters of all time came together. BOB HIND reports
Some weeks ago I wrote about the late Pete Shotton, a great friend of John Lennon who played in a skiffle group led by Lennon called the Quarrymen.
Pete, who ran a supermarket on Hayling Island allegedly acquired for him by Lennon and George Harrison, died in March aged 75.
Pete did not last long in Lennon’s group. He played the washboard but said he ‘felt like an idiot’ playing it. When he told Lennon he wanted out, Lennon smashed the washboard over Pete’s head. However, they remained lifelong friends.
After the Beatles hit superstardom there is a myth that Lennon and Harrison bought Pete that Hayling shop. Turns out this is not quite true, as Rod Davis, an original member of the Quarrymen, told me.
In fact Lennon gave Pete a £25,000 interest-free loan and it had nothing to do with George Harrison. The store was in Creek Road, Eastoke, and has since been demolished. A block of flats built on the site is named Shotton Court.
I asked if anyone remembered working with Pete in the shop.
Better than that, I was contacted by Rod who was a good friend of Pete Shotton.
Rod had known Pete from the age of about five when they were both in the same class at St Peter’s Church Sunday school in Woolton, Liverpool.
Rod was also at Quarry Bank High School in the same year as Pete for five years and was the banjo player in John Lennon’s Quarrymen skiffle group, for which Pete played washboard.
He lost touch with Pete for many years, then, at The Cavern’s 40th birthday party in 1997 the old group got back together.
Pete Shotton, Eric Griffiths, Colin Hanton, Len Garry and Rod were all on stage with John the day he met Paul McCartney.
They were asked to play at a re-creation of the Day John met Paul to be held in Woolton that July.
It was a great success and as a result they made a record called Get Back Together which produced invitations to play around the world.
During the next four years they visited north America several times, appearing in New York, Las Vegas, Boston, Orlando, Chicago and Vancouver; Dublin and even Havana, Cuba. They also made numerous television appearances.
At a July 4 concert in 1998 beside the Hudson River, Pete, who at that time was living in Dublin, announced to the audience: ‘We don’t do this for the money, we only do it for the craic!’
Rod says: ‘This was totally misunderstood by the family audience of good, clean-living Americans who obviously thought we were a bunch of British druggies and we were lucky not to have been run out of town.
‘With Pete and the Quarrymen we enjoyed many good laughs over the years. Pete hung up his washboard in 2000 after a couple of heart scares, but he refused to have surgery and he retired into what was for him a welcome obscurity from which he rarely emerged despite the constant clamour for interviews about his relationship with John and The Beatles.’
Rod saw Pete a couple of times in Pete’s final three years
The last time he saw him was in January this year. They walked over the road to his favourite pub in Knutsford. He was unwell and had to hold Rod’s arm. When they arrived at the pub Pete had to sit down quietly for half-an-hour on his own until he felt well enough to make his way back home.
Rod feared he would not see him again and that proved to be the case. He spoke at his funeral in April.
I asked Rod about the Quarrymen and more on the Beatles.
He told me McCartney replaced him on guitar and the banjo was axed. He could not remember actually seeing Lennon meet McCartney but was at the gig where that ‘event’ took place.
On Saturday, July 6, 1957, the group played on a flatbed lorry going round the village then again at the St Peter’s Church Rose Queen and Garden Fete in the field behind the church. In the evening they again appeared at the Grand Dance which took place in St Peter’s Church hall.
The meeting between John and Paul seems to have taken place between the afternoon and evening performances.
This year on Thursday, July 6, 60 years on, there will be another re-creation of that day.
I asked Rod if he ever wondered what might have been if he had become a Beatle.
‘Never,’ he says. ‘The Beatles had a different taste in music as to what I wanted. Fame is great but there are many downsides to it.’
When Pete sold the Hayling shop he became a personal assistant to Lennon.
In later life, he was looking to get into the restaurant business and, with his business partner Billy Turner, he bought a fish and chip shop at Hyde on the Isle of Wight, called Long John Silver’s.
After three years they sold it and found an American-style diner in Southsea called Fatty Arbuckle’s, which they bought. Pete liked the name so they kept it for the chain which eventually comprised 60 restaurants, some fully-owned, some franchised.
• Rod will be talking to Pete Cross on Angel Radio during his Sounds of the Sixties Show tomorrow (June 3, 2017) about 9.30am.