I was born on 7th July 1940 at No.9 Madryn Street, Liverpool 8.
There was a light at the end of a tunnel that I had to get to, and I came out like that, and then I was born. There was lots of cheering. In fact my mother used to say that because I was born, the Second World War started. I don't know what that meant, really; I never understood it, but that's what she used to say. I suppose it was the only way they could celebrate, and it could be true - you never can tell.
I don't remember the war and all the bombs, although they did actually break Liverpool up a lot. Our neighbourhood was really bombed. We had to hide a lot, I've been told since; we used to hide in the coal cellar (it was more like a cupboard). I remember big gaps in the streets where houses had stood. We used to play on the rubble when I was older, and in the air-raid shelters.
My very first memory is of being pushed in a pram. I was out with my mother, my grandma and my grandad. I don't know where we were, but it must have been countrified in some way, because we were chased by a goat. Everybody was so frightened, including me. People were screaming and running because an animal was chasing us. I can't imagine it was in Toxteth or Dingle!
We've always been ordinary, poor, working-class on both sides of the family. My mother's mother really was very poor. She had fourteen kids. There's rumour that my great-grandmother was fairly well off - she had chromium railings round her house. Well, they were very shiny anyway. Perhaps I just made that up. You know what it's like: you dream things, or your mother tells you things, so you come to believe you actually saw them.
My real name is Parkin, not Starkey. My grandad was named Johnny Parkin. When my grandfather's mother remarried, which was pretty shocking in those days, she married a Starkey, so my grandfather changed his name to Starkey, too. (I went to have my family tree done in the Sixties, but I could only trace back two generations - and they couldn't find me! I had to go to my family to find out, and even they hadn't wanted to say anything in case the press found out.)
Dad was a baker; I think that's how my parents met. He worked making cakes, so we always had sugar through the war. When I was three he decided that was enough of that, and he left us. I was an only child, so from then it was just me and my mother, until she remarried when I was thirteen.
I have no real memories of my dad. I only saw him probably five times after he left, and I never really got on with him because I'd been brainwashed by my mother about what a pig he was. I felt angry that he left. And I felt really angry later on, going through therapy in rehab, when I came to look at myself and get to know my feelings, instead of blocking them all out. For me, I felt I'd dealt with it when I was little. I didn't understand that really I had been blocking my anger out. You get on with it, that's how we were brought up. We were the last generation to be told, 'Just get on with it.' You didn't let your feelings out much.
Mum didn't do too much for a while. She was in a bit of pain after my dad left, and she ended up doing any down-home job she could get to feed and clothe me. She did everything: she was a barmaid, she scrubbed steps, worked in a food shop.
We lived at first in a huge, palatial house with three bedrooms. It was too big and we couldn't afford it now my dad had stopped supporting my mother. We were working-class, and in Liverpool when your dad left you suddenly became lower working-class. So we moved to a smaller, two-bedroom place. (They were both rented - houses always were.) It had been condemned as derelict ten years before we moved in, but we lived in it for twenty years.
The move was from one street to the next, from Madryn Street to Admiral Grove - people around us didn't move very far. We went on a van and they didn't even put the back up, because it was only 300 yards. I remember sitting on the back of the van. It's such a heavy memory as a kid; you get used to being where you are. (Although, with my poor kids we seemed to move every other week.)
I don't remember the inside of our house in Madryn Street - I know we never had a garden - but a lot of my pals grew up on the same street and I went into their houses. I remember the Admiral Grove house, and that didn't have a garden either. It had a toilet down the yard; we never had a bathroom. But it was home, and it was fine. We had two bedrooms: one for my mum, and one for me.
In Admiral Grove there were the Poveys next door, and the Connors up the road. My grandparents lived on Madryn Street. You all moved in around the grandparents in Liverpool. My mother's best friend, Annie Maguire, also lived on Madryn Street.
Now my dad had gone, I was brought up by my grandparents and my mother. It was strange because the grandparents were the parents of my father; they weren't my mother's parents. They really loved me and looked after me. They were great. They'd take me on holiday, too.
My grandmother was a big woman, Annie (I never called her Annie, of course), and my grandad was a little guy. He'd maybe have a drink or whatever and get into things, and she would roll her sleeves up, clench her fists, take up a boxing pose and say, 'Come on, Johnny! Don't talk to me like that - get over here, you little bastard.' A big girl, she was, scrubbing steps and all, surviving.
She was also the voodoo queen of Liverpool. If I was ever ill, my mother would wrap me up in a blanket and take me down to my nan's, and she would fix me. She had two cures for everything: a bread poultice and a hot toddy - I loved those hot toddies! They were warm, and everyone would be fussing over me - the centre of attention. Being an only child, I was always pretty much the centre of attention anyway.
Grandad loved the horses: 'the gee-gees'. He'd come in and, if the horses had lost, he'd be swearing and throwing the paper around - 'Those bastard nags, blah, blah...' just like any other gambler. Grandma would say, 'Johnny, not in front of the child!' and he'd be saying, 'The bastards!' It was all pretty exciting for me.
He had his chair which he always sat in. He sat in his chair right through the war. He never went and hid anywhere, even though bricks were blowing out of his house; he just sat in his chair. So as a kid I always wanted to sit in that chair. He'd come in, and he would only point and I'd have to move. But, of course, because it was his, it was the only thing I wanted.
When my grandad died, it was one of the saddest moments of my life. I was nineteen or twenty. They put him in the ground and that was just the saddest day. From that moment I knew I'd be cremated - I'm not putting anyone through that terrible thing of digging a big hole and putting me in. It wasn't until that moment that I broke down. I couldn't cry until they put him in, and then that was it.
School is a event in my memory. St Silas's School. I'm not sure if I actually remember my first day, or if it's because my mother has told me so many times. She took me to the gate that first morning - it was just up the road, a couple of minutes' walk. In those days your parents took you to the gate and then just said, 'Well, on your way.' (There was no sitting with you in class, getting you settled, like we did with our kids.) And I have a vision to this day of a huge building - the biggest building on the planet - with about a million kids in the playground, and me. I was pretty fearful.
I walked home for lunch - as kids we could walk anywhere we liked back then; there was no danger. Supposedly, I came home and said, 'We've got a holiday.' In my little way I said, 'That's it for today, mum.' She believed me until she saw all the other kids walking by the window going back to school after lunch and said, 'Get out of here.' I don't remember ever enjoying school. I was always sagging off; I was only in school for about five years in all.
At six and a half I was very ill with peritonitis. My appendix burst; it was a huge drama. We were all at home and I was dying with pain, so there were quite a few of the family around. The doctor came and suddenly these people were lifting me up, putting me on a stretcher and carrying me out of the house. I was put in an ambulance and whisked away. When we got to the hospital, a woman doctor examined me, pressing on my side, and it was the worst pain I've ever felt.
As they went to put me to sleep for my operation, they said, 'Is there anything you want?' I said, 'Can I have a cup of tea?' They said, 'You can have a cup of tea when you come out of the theatre.' It was ten weeks later that they gave me the cup of tea, because that's how long it took for me to come round. They'd gone in and found I had peritonitis. That was a heavy operation, especially then. They told my mother three times that I'd be dead in the morning. That was hard for her, and I realised later why she was so possessive. I was very lucky to survive. Even after coming round, I was barely conscious for long periods.
Hospital was a boring place. It becomes your world when you're in for a long time - and I spent two years in there (the second year was when I was thirteen). Suddenly that's your life. You get in a routine. You have all these friends who are ill as well, and then you start getting on your feet and you lose touch with them. My mum would come in practically every day, and my grandparents. I'll never forget my dad coming in: he stood there with a notebook, because my birthday was coming up (I was six years old, going on seven), and he asked me 'What do you want, son?' and he wrote it all down in this notebook! I never saw him for years - he never bought me a damn thing. He wasn't in my good books.
I was put in a cot, so I got very good at picking things up with my feet: pennies, bits of paper, anything that fell out of the cot. When I'd been in the hospital about six months, I was really getting better and could have come home in a couple of weeks. I'd got a little toy bus for my birthday. The cot had sides on, and the kid in the next bed wanted to see the bus so I leaned over to get it. It was about four feet off the ground and I leaned too far, fell right out and ripped open all the surgery scars. That was a dangerous time. They kept me in for another six months for that.
I was in hospital for about a year and after that I was convalescing, so I didn't go back to school for two years. There was no catching up at school in those days. I was always behind at least a year. No teacher put his arm round me, saying, 'Well, let me deal with you, son.' I was just stuck in a class, always behind. I was the joker, and would make friends with the biggest boy in class for protection. I started to hate school even more, and it became easier to stay off. My mother would pack me off to school, but I'd just walk around the park with a couple of school friends. We'd write little excuse note.... but always get caught because we couldn't spell.
I didn't learn to read until I was nine. My mother couldn't take much interest in that because she had to go to work, but I was taught by a girl who used to look after me, Marie Maguire. She was the daughter of my mother's friend Annie, and she used to mind me when my mum went to the pub or the pictures. Marie taught me to read with Dobbin the Horse. (I can read, but I can't spell - I spell phonetically.) I regret not learning earlier: it means that your knowledge is so limited. I never took Latin. John took the Latin and the painting.
The Dingle was one of the roughest areas in Liverpool, and Toxteth still has quite a reputation. It was really rough. In those days there were still gangs and fights and madness and robberies. But kids were fine, women were fine and old people were fine. Nobody messed with those three groups of people. Nowadays - I'm disgusted - they're dragging people off wheelchairs and beating 90-year-old ladies. What absolute coward.... If someone beat up an old lady back then, all the gangs in the neighbourhood would come and find him and beat the fuck out of him. They would not let that go down.
Liverpool was dark and dreary, but it was great fun to a kid. Davy Patterson, Brian Briscoe and me: we were the Three Musketeers, we were the Skull Gang, and the Black Hand Gang - this little gang of three. We were going to do everything together. We were detectives we were cowboys and we went to the same school; we were really close. Up to ten or eleven it was my world, and all those bomb-sites were paradise. You didn't feel anything about the people who were bombed in them; it was just a big playground. 'I'll see you on the bombie,' we used to say.
We used to walk everywhere as kids. My big ambition was to be a tramp, because they just walk to places. The three of us couldn't afford to get the bus. We were eight or nine years old, and we would walk five or eight miles to Speke, to the park, to the woods that were out of town. We used to follow the buses - 'Oh, it went left!' - and we'd run down that street and wait for the next bus to come along so we'd know where it went. I didn't have a bike until much later on. My mother got me a second-hand bike, and we cycled to Wales and back. I was so sore afterwards that lost a lot of interest in the bike. North Wales was only twenty or thirty miles away.
I had many plans besides being a tramp, when I was a kid. I always wanted to be a merchant seaman. It was like an automatic thing for me going away to sea: 'I want to go and see those places, and I want to buy those camel saddles.' Everyone in Liverpool had a camel saddle in the corner; because in every other house someone went to sea and would bring all this crap back. The good thing about it was they were bringing records and styles of clothes back. My first musical memory was when I was about eight: Gene Autry singing 'South Of The Border'. That was the first time I really got shivers down my backbone, as they say. He had his three compadres singing, 'Ai, ai, ai, ai,' and it was just a thrill to me. Gene Autry has been my hero ever since.
You could always tell the sailors: they were the best dressed. That was my plan - going away to sea. I was in the Sea Scouts. We'd go to a hall and drill, and play with rifles - that was the big thing. I was thrown out because I ran away with a rifle. I never saw a boat. I was never in anything too long; I always did something that annoyed people.
I did have some toys: Christmas came, and I got an orange and an old cardboard box... That's not true - I got presents as much as my mother or my aunties and uncles could afford. I always received a pack of sweets or some little toy. I was always swapping my toys anyway. I always wanted something else. So somebody would give me a nice present like a chemistry set, and I'd be swapping it for something else, and some of the family would be a little disappointed. I was never satisfied. I did a little stamp collecting, and collected Dinky cars, but awapping was my hobby. Me and my friends used to steal bits and pieces from Woolworths. Just silly plastic things you could slip in your pocket.
All my collections I ended up giving away. My collection of 78s I gave to my cousin, who sat on it. (When I left Liverpool I took the rest of my record collection with me, but my mother wouldn't let me take my Patsy Cline or Little Richard records - she laid claim to them.)
My grandad would bring bits of metal home, cogs and wheels from the docks where he worked, for me to play with. He was a boilermaker and one time he made me a train with a real fire in the engine. That was probably the most fabulous toy I ever had. You could sit on it; it was quite big. I was always an entrepreneur, and I decided I would charge people to have a ride. Or I would put on little plays, and have zoos in the backyard. We'd have a spider in a jam jar - just local stuff, no lions or tigers. Once we had a dead cheetah's skin, again from a guy in the navy. It would cost you a halfpenny to come in. On one occasion it cost you nothing to come in but a penny to go out - or you had to jump off the wall with an umbrella as a parachute! So we were always trying to make a penny.
I had a great scheme once, later on - I wasn't even that young by this time. I was going to call all these millionaires, including Frank Sinatra. Somehow I was going to get in touch it; I'd just have the interest. They wouldn't realise this, and one year later I'd give back their million dollars, thinking they wouldn't know about this scam! I never did anything about it, of course.
I moved to Dingle Vale Secondary Modern School when I was twelve, but I didn't go there much either. The biggest memory I have of Dingle Vale is buying lunch, which was a small Hovis loaf. We'd take out the middle of the Hovis and stuff it with chips. That was the best meal, because I hated the school dinners. We'd buy it outside, and then go and sit on the swings and eat it.
It was a hell of a walk to Dingle Vale - a good half an hour. We could either walk through Princes Park or down Park Road. I remember one time Brian Briscoe and I were walking through the park after it had snowed, and ours were the first footprints in the snow, so we didn't go to school; we just walked round the park all day making footprints.
There were always lots of little fights going on. If you had a fight with a kid and you hurt him, the next day there'd be a huge guy waiting for you at the school gate, and he'd either punch you out, or shake you or really frighten you by grabbing you: 'Don't you touch our Frank again!' I was always on the losing end. In my head I really wanted a big brother who could beat up the bastards who used to beat me up. I didn't have a father or a big brother, but my mother had many a fight for me. If anybody bigger picked on me, she'd be down knocking on the door and would deal with them. She was very, very loving. I was an only child and quite ill, so I was the apple of her eye.
Harry, my stepfather, came into the picture when I was eleven. He worked as a painter and decorator up at Burtonwood, which was an American army base. He made me laugh, he bought me DC comics; and he was great with music. He used to lay music on me, but would never force any of it. He was into big bands and jazz and Sarah Vaughan, while I'd be listening to stupid people. He'd say, 'Have you heard this?' That was always his line: 'Have you heard this?' He was a really sweet guy; all animals and children loved him. I learnt gentleness from Harry.
I loved Harry, and my mum loved him - and then she said they were going to get married. She asked me, 'What do you think?' I was pretty angry for a while, because I was thirteen; but I knew if I said 'no', she wouldn't have got married. It was a terrible position to be put in as a kid. But I said, 'Sure, great,' because he was a good guy.
The guy who owned the local sweet shop, Len, became a good friend of my stepfather. I got a bit of work with him, marking the newspapers. I never actually went out and did a round - I avoided the cold - but I would do odd jobs for him, so I'd get the occasional sweet. That was quite lucky, because we still had ration books then.
It was a big day when the rationing ended, but it wasn't as though we could suddenly go out and buy sweets or butter or eggs, because we had no money. In fact wartime rationing didn't make any difference to poor people, because we were always rationed by economics anyway. I got lucky the first time I was in hospital because they wanted me to eat anything, so I lived on new potatoes and butter. A dollop of butter was big news in those days.
From about thirteen, things came into focus a little. I felt Liverpool was dark and dirty; I wanted to get out, to live somewhere there was a little garden. I wanted to escape Admiral Grove. I didn't need to move very far - just somewhere like Aigburth where there was some green. I used to love the park; we'd sag off school and go to Sefton Park and Princes Park. I have an affinity with green, the sea and space. In my life I have had houses with lots of land, but it's the view that I need. In Monte Carlo the view is to the end of the Earth. It's the space; I need to be able just to look. It doesn't have to be mine, as long as I can see it. If I had a little house with half an acre on a hill I'd be OK, because I could see. I remember when Maureen (my first wife) and I and the kids moved to Hampstead. It was very nice, but I hated the garden - everywhere you sat there was a bloody fence. So we got out; I just couldn't deal with it. I think that's all down to Liverpool being so closed in.
I'm still a bit of a mover, a tramp. I'm trying to stop, but it's something in me. Barbara (my wife now) and I laugh about it: we have a home, get it finished, decorate it, do everything - and then I feel, 'Shouldn't we move now?'
At thirteen I got pleurisy. Liverpool was a breeding ground for tuberculosis, especially where I lived. I had lots of time off with bad lungs, and it turned into tuberculosis: I was put in a greenhouse for a whole year.
That second time I went into hospital, there was Sister Clark and Nurse Edgington. Being thirteen or fourteen, it was puberty for me, and when the nurses would kiss us goodnight it was all quite frisky: 'Will you kiss me goodnight, nurse?' - and I'd get a really good kiss off a lot of them. They were all young (they weren't old, anyway): eighteen to twenty. We'd never ask the sister to kiss us goodnight!
We had two wards separated by a partition, with girls in one ward and boys in the other. There was a lot of hot passion going on. We'd sneak in at night to the girls' ward and fumble around. I'd stand there for hours trying to get a touch of tit. We all had tuberculosis, of course, spreading those damn germs to each other. You had your girlfriends, but it never lasted because once you got better you were out on the town. It was part of growing up, and it was so slow in those days. You'd go to the movies and try to get your arm round a girl so you could stretch it down a little and get a feel.
I'd found out about sex at a very early age, twice. Two girls told their mother that I'd had their knickers off and was looking at them and feeling them. This was when I was eight. We were all kids; we were just looking and touching - the natural way of growing up. It was like living on a farm. We had a friend whose sister we could all feel. We wouldn't do anything else; we'd just look at it and feel it, and all laugh.
I actually lost my virginity in Sefton Park at about sixteen. It was very weird: two girls and a friend of mine on the grass at the back of a fairground, and there was all the fairground music and Frankie Laine and millions of people around - and this was it, us in the grass and 'Ghost Riders In The Sky'! It was really exciting. And at that age, once in and you want to live there. It was always on my mind for a long time.
Before I went to hospital the second time, walking to school I used to pass a little music store on Park Road. It had guitars, banjos, accordions and mandolins in the window, but I used to look at the drums. There was one, a tom-tom, that used to freak me out and every morning walking to school I would go and look at it, and walking back I'' look at it again. It cost Ј26, which was a fortune.
Playing drums for me started in hospital in 1954, where, to keep us entertained, they gave us some schooling. A teacher would come in with a huge easel, with symbols for instruments shown on a big piece of board. She gave us percussion instruments: triangles, tambourines and drums. She would point at the yellow and the triangle would sound, and she would point at the red and the drum would sound. I'd only play if they gave me a drum.
I was in the hospital band. I started using cotton bobbins to hit on the cabinet next to the bed. I was in bed for ten months: it's a long time, so you keep yourself entertained; it was that and knitting. That's where I really started playing. I never wanted anything else from then on. Drums were the only thing I wanted and when I came out I used to look in music shops and see drums; that's all I'd look at. My grandparents gave me a mandolin and a banjo, but I didn't want them. My grandfather gave me a harmonica when I was seven - nothing; we had a piano - nothing. Only the drums.
I was listening to music at this time. At fourteen I bought three records: The Four Aces' 'Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing', Eddie Calvert's 'Oh Mein Papa' and David Whitfield's 'Mama'. The Four Aces lasted, and still holds up. I don't play the others too often now.
I was never really into drummers. I loved seeing Gene Krupa in the movies, but I didn't go out and buy his records. The one drum record I bought was 'Topsy Part Two' by Cozy Cole. I always loved country-and-western; a lot of it was around from the guys in the navy. I'd go to parties and they'd be putting on Hank Williams, Hank Snow and all those country acts. I still love country music. Skiffle was also coming through, and I was a big fan of Johnnie Ray. Frankie Laine was probably my biggest hero around 1956 - and I also liked Bill Haley. I went to see Rock Around the Clock in the Isle of Man. My grandparents took me there after I came out of hospital. The film was sensational because the audience ripped up the cinema, which was great to watch. I didn't join in, because I was a sickly child; I was just so excited that they were doing it for me.
My first kit came on the scene about this time. I bought a drum for thirty shillings. It was a huge, one-sided bass drum. There used to be lots and lots of parties then. An uncle would play banjo or harmonica, my grandparents played mandolin and banjo; there was always someone playing something. So I would bang my big drum with two pieces of firewood and drive them mad, but because I was a kid they would let me do it. They would say, 'Oh, yeah,' and then just move me out.
They would have played songs like 'Stardust', 'That Old Black Magic', 'You'll Never Know' or 'They're Building Flats Where The Arches Used To Be' (that was Uncle Jim and Auntie Evy's big number) - all those old-time records, the sort of songs I had on my Sentimental Journey album. Everybody had their party-piece in Liverpool - you had to sing a song! My mother's was 'Little Drummer Boy'; she would sing it to me, and I would sing 'Nobody's Child' to her and she would always cry. 'I am nobody's child, mum.' She'd say, 'Oh, don't!' 'Climb Upon My Knee' was another one they all loved.
When I was about fifteen, I used to sing in the choir - for the money. I'd been to Sunday school a little when I was younger. I was a Protestant - my mother had been a member of the Orange Lodge for a while although not for long. On 17th March, St Patrick's Day, all the Protestants beat up the Catholics because they were marching and on 12th July, Orangeman's Day, all the Catholics beat up the Protestants. That's how it was, Liverpool being the capital of Ireland, as everybody always says.
I never went back to school after thirteen. I had to collect my sign-off papers one time so that I could pick up the dole until they found me a job. I went to the school and said, 'Excuse me, can I have the piece of paper to say that I'm actually fifteen and that I was at this school?' And they went through all their files, everything, and said, 'You never came to this school.' I said 'Honestly, I came here.' They found me in the end, but the fact is they had no recollection of me ever being there. Then, seven or eight years later when we'd made it in The Beatles, they had 'my' desk at the school garden party and were charging people to sit in it. They wouldn't know my desk from anyone else's.
It was easy then for school-leavers to get jobs. I started work as a messenger boy on the railways, and was there for five weeks. I'd gone to the railways because they used to give you suits - it was a good way to get warm clothes. But they only gave me the hat before I had to leave I was very disappointed. During my fifth week they'd sent me for the medical, said, 'Are you kidding?' and discharged me. My sickliness left me when I was about sixteen, so I was OK from then on.
Then I worked on the St Tudno, a pleasure steamer that went from Liverpool to Menai in North Wales. I wanted to go deep sea, and this was an easy way to get my ticket. If you did three months on the local boats, it was easier to get on the big liners. I got as far as the day boats but that was it. It was great for picking up chicks in the pub, because I pretended I was in the Merchant Navy. I'd say 'Yeah, just got back from Menai.' They would say, 'Oh yeah, when did you leave?' and I would say, 'Ten o'clock this morning.' And then they would tell me to piss off.
I was terrified about conscription and the thought of being called up to the army. That's why I became an apprentice engineer, because the army weren't taking apprentices in 1956 or '57. It got down to, if you've got a real job, we won't take you.' It seemed the best way out for me. The last place I wanted to go was in the army. My dad knew someone in the pub who knew of a job at a firm called H. Hunt & Son. I went there to be a joiner, but they put me on the delivery bike for about six weeks. I got fed up and I went to complain: 'Come on, I'm here to be a joiner, not on the bike.' The man said, 'Well, there's no places for joiners - would you like to be an engineer?' So I became an apprentice engineer, going to school one day a week and working with the guys the rest.
It was at this place - my last proper job - that I met Roy Trafford. We became great friends. We still are; although we don't see a lot of each other, I still love the guy. He and I would go to the pubs (I was introduced to pubs at a young age, sixteen) and then to the Cavern. At the Cavern we'd get a pass-out, go to the pub - and then go back in and pass out!
Roy and I loved the same sort of music - we loved rock'n'roll. I listened to Radio Luxembourg all the time. The reception was bad, but it was great whatever you got, because at least they were playing different music. Alan Freed used to have a show on Sunday, and we'd always be at Roy's house listening to it. We'd hear rock'n'roll, and it was great. Roy and I would dress alike, and go and have our suits made together, because we were Teddy boys. I'd have it in black and he'd have it in blue. We did everything together.
We were by the docks in Liverpool and each and every area had its own gang. It was like New York or Hamburg. I was a Teddy boy; you had to be. Where I lived, you had to associate with some gang otherwise you were 'open city' for anybody. The choices were: you could either be beaten up by anybody in your neighbourhood, or by people in other neighbourhoods (which I was, several times).
There was a terrible thing in Liverpool where you'd walk past somebody and they'd say, 'Are you looking at me?' If you said 'no' they'd say, 'Why not?' and if you said 'yes' they'd get you anyway. So you couldn't win. There was no answer to that question. If you were in a gang, you were safe. It must have been difficult for John, Paul and George because they were never in gangs. None of them were Teddy boys, really.
One time, Roy and I decided to go to the Gaumont cinema. When we came out, we walked up Park Road and saw the gang who used to meet on the corner. We knew them, but they said: 'Come here.' So we did, and they said, 'We're going to Garston to have fights, so just hang out till we go.' You knew immediately that you could either say 'no', and the whole gang would beat you up there and then, or you could go to where the fight was going to happen and take your chances. You could mingle with the crowd, rip your belt off, just look OK and hope to God that the big guy in the other gang didn't pick on you. There were a lot of really angry people around: Liverpool working-class, tough-gang shit.
I had a Teddy-boy suit. My cousin who went to sea - it all revolves around sailors - would give me his old clothes, and he was a Teddy boy; so I had a big long jacket with very tight trousers and crepe-soled shoes. But he was much bigger than me, so I had to strap the pants up with a big heavy belt, which I'd put washers on. I started to dress like that when I was sixteen. Then I began getting some money and buying my own clothes. Besides the money I made at the factory, we were bartering and 'borrowing and selling' - quite a bit of that went on.
The washers and the buckle on the belt would be field down sharp, and a whack from that would really hurt - all that Teddy-boy madness. People would have razor blades behind their lapels, so whoever grabbed them would get their fingers chopped off. It was deadly serious, because that's what life was about.
We were into area fights. I wasn't a great fighter, but I was a good runner, a good sprinter - as I still am - because if you were suddenly on your own with five guys coming towards you, you soon learnt to be. There was no messing about; it was, 'You! Come here!' - bang, bang. I didn't knife or kill anyone, but I got beaten up a few times - mainly by the people I was with. It's that terrible gang situation where if you're not fighting an outsider you get crazy and start fighting among yourselves, like mad dogs. It was quite vicious. I have seen people beaten up with hammers.
The gangs didn't have names, but there were leaders. We were the Dingle gang. There were several gangs in the area and you'd walk en masse to try to cause trouble; 'walking with the lads', it was called. But all you'd do was walk up and down roads, stand on corners, beat someone up, get beaten up, go to the pictures... It gets boring after a while. I wanted to leave all that, and I started moving out of walking with the lads when I started playing. Roy and I wanted to be musicians, and we started leaving the gang life. Music possessed me and I got out. I was nineteen when I finally made it out, thank God.
From 1957 the big craze was skiffle. It was based on American blues; bottle parties or rent parties, where it would be open house and people would pay a quarter or a dime towards the rent. You'd have someone with a jug, someone with a washboard, a tea-chest bass and a guitar - made-up instruments.
I thought about emigrating to the USA with a friend called Johnny (I don't want to give his second name because he may still be in hiding - he had some difficulties a few years later!). I wanted to go to Texas to live with Lightnin' Hopkins - the blues man, my hero. I actually went to the Embassy and got the forms. This was in 1958. We filled these in and, God, they were hard, but when we got the second lot of forms it was just too daunting: questions like, 'Was your mother's grandmother's Great Dane a communist?' Like teenagers, we gave in. But we'd got lists of jobs to go to in Houston - factories that would take us. We were pretty serious about it.
In England there was Lonnie Donegan and The Vipers skiffle group. It was traditional jazz and skiffle then at the Cavern (that's why we started playing skiffle). Eddie Miles, Roy and I started a skiffle band together: the first band I was in - the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group. (There wasn't really an Eddie Clayton.) We all worked in the same place. Eddie was a lathe operator, I was an apprentice engineer and Roy was a joiner.
When someone in Harry's family died, he'd gone down to Romford and there was a drum kit for sale for Ј12. The whole family collected together and he brought this drum set to Liverpool. I was given it for Christmas. Up till then I'd been playing drums at home - just something I'd made myself from biscuit tins and pieces of firewood. This kit was amazing. It wasn't a drum but drums: a snare, a bass drum, a hi-hat, one little tom-tom, a top cymbal and a bass-drum pedal (I didn't have to kick it any more).
I had about three lessons once I got interested. I thought, 'Every night I'll read music and learn how to play.' I went to the house of a little man who played drums, and he told me to get some manuscript paper. He wrote it all down and I never went back! I couldn't be bothered; it was too routine for me, I couldn't stand it.
Once I'd got my drum kit, I set it all up in my bedroom, the back room, and off I went, banging away. And then I heard from the bottom of the stairs, 'Keep the noise down, the neighbours are complaining!' I never practised at home. The only way I could practise was to join a group. I got the drum kit on Boxing Day and I was in a group by February, so these wasn't a chance in hell that I could play by then. But neither could anyone else except the guitarist, who knew a couple of chords. The rest of us were making it up. We had no sense of time - though Eddie was a great player, one of those guys who, if you gave him any instrument, could play it. Very musical.
I was working in the factory and we played for our fellow workmen at lunchtime in a cellar. With a few of the other guys from the factory we built up the band. And then we started playing all the freebies we could get, playing clubs or weddings.
We did a few weddings. Someone we knew would get married and we'd fetch the gear along and play for a few hours. Once a guy at work said, 'You've got to come and play at this wedding,' and then, cheeky git, 'Can't I join the group if I get you the booking?' We said, 'OK,' and he joined and said, 'We're going to be all right here, it's a big fur-coat wedding. It's all shorts, there'll be none of that beer.' They were all out at the pub when we arrived to set up. When they came back it was with medicine bottles full of brown ale - it was the roughest wedding I'd ever been to! 'It's a real fur-coat do...'
I became semi-professional: I was an engineer during the day and I'd play drums at night. I would go and play at dances in other neighbourhoods with Eddie Clayton or some other band, and later with Rory. We would play, and the girls would always be looking at the musicians, which would piss the other guys off. So we'd be lucky to get out of those clubs without being beaten up, because we were in strange neighbourhoods without our local mates.
My career started there. Then I began going through bands in Liverpool: The Darktown Skiffle Group - that was the biggest band at the time - then it was Rory Storm, then with Tony Sheridan, then with The Beatles. I played with a lot of groups. I practised with every group in Liverpool. We were all intermingling in those days. We all got to know each other, so if someone was sick or didn't turn up you'd sit in with another group.
The drum kit I was using had a really cool snare and everything, but it was old. So in the summer of 1958 I went to my grandfather and borrowed Ј46 and took it down to Frank Hessy's music shop in town, where I bought an Ajax single-headed kit, which looked similar to the Ludwig Silver Pearl one.
I thought Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were great. They were the first ones in Liverpool who really wanted to get into rock'n'roll. We were all playing skiffle before that, but they had a rock'n'roll blond hair attitude - Rory liked to be the big cheese, to be Mr Rock'n'Roll, and Johnny 'Guitar' Byrne was Liverpool's Jimi Hendrix.
I'd left Roy and Eddie behind by now and was playing with The Darktown Skiffle Group. They decided they wanted to stay as they were - they didn't want to make it their careers. They stayed as engineers and joiners, got married, and did that, while I auditioned for Rory and the Hurricanes. It was good; I knew all their songs - every band was playing the same songs. I don't even know if Rory auditioned anyone else, but I passed the test, they said 'yes', and I joined. It's interesting because Rory and, later, The Beatles both had the same first impression about me. When I went for the audition I looked a bit rough: I was still in my black drape jacket with my hair back, looking like a Ted, so they were a bit insecure about me.
When trad jazz was the big thing, a skiffle group would play in the intermission, because they were cheap. You had to get a lot of gigs to make any money. In Liverpool, the Cavern was the place to play with any band. There was a lot of screaming in there. When I played there with Rory, we were thrown off because we were meant to be a skiffle group but Johnny Guitar brought a radio with him, and he plugged his guitar into it and it suddenly became electric. So we were a bit more rock'n'roll. We were thrown off for being traitors: 'Get that damn noise off!' They wanted 'Hi Lili Hi Lo' - that stuff. There were a lot of people in big sweaters. I was in black corduroy in those days - we were all like beatniks.
With Rory and the Hurricanes, we played loads of places, up and down the country, and even abroad. When we came down to London for a gig, I remember that we went to the Lyceum and no girl would dance with us. As a group, the five of us would line up and pick on one girl and we'd say, 'Excuse me, do you want to dance?' She'd say, 'Huh? Crazy.' And the next one would get the same, and I would say, 'Excuse me, do you want to dance?' - 'Piss off.' The only dance I had that night was with a French girl who didn't know any better. That's how it happens.
I was earning a bit of money, working and drumming, and I got my first car at eighteen. It was a big thing, because before that I was dumped all the time. I'd have to go to gigs on the bus, so most of the time I could only take a snare drum, a cymbal and the sticks. I'd have to beg to borrow the bass drum and the toms from the other bands who were playing that night. Sometimes I didn't get them. And on the occasions we did take my equipment, doing to the gig everyone was so helpful, but after it they just split - so I'd be dumped with the lot. I remember one miserable night when the rest of the band had helped me get my kit on the bus. I got off at my stop, and it was half a mile to the house, and I had four cases. I had to run twenty yards with two cases, keeping my eye on the other two left behind, then go back, pick them up and run forty yards with those, drop those, go back, and so on. It was the most miserable thing and all I thought was, 'Shit, I need a car.'
Johnny Hutch, another drummer, was making cars out of spare parts - and from him I got a Standard Vanguard. I loved that car. It gave me a terrible time: the tyres were always puncturing and it wouldn't go into second gear, but I used to be so proud of it. It was hand-painted red and white, like a big ice-cream car. 'Hand-painted' just meant he couldn't afford to have it sprayed, but O would always say, 'Oh, it's hand-painted, you know?'
In 1959, the army decided that anyone born later than (I think) September 1939 would not be conscripted. I'd made it by ten months. That's when I thought, 'Great, now we can play,' and I left the factory and decided to go professional with Rory. We had a big family meeting when I asked to go with Rory and the band to Butlins, to play in the Rock and Calypso Ballroom for Ј16 a week. Up to then I had been playing just at night, or some afternoons.
I come from a long line of labourers and soldiers, and I would have been the first in our line to get a piece of paper to say he was actually something - an engineer. I remember my uncles, my aunties and the boss of the factory saying, 'You'll come back in three months, and you'll only be semi-skilled when you do.' I said, 'I don't care. Drums are my life, I want to be a musician and I'm going away with Rory to Butlins to fulfil this dream.' Which I did. I stopped work at twenty. I've always believed I'd be playing drums. That was my dream, although through my life I've forgotten that dream occasionally and let substances take over.
We were down at the Jacaranda club in Liverpool one afternoon, shortly before we were to go to Butlins. They usually had a steel band downstairs at night, but this afternoon there were three guys down there messing around on their guitars. Rory, Johnny Guitar and I wandered down to see what was happening there. I didn't know them: it was John and Paul teaching Stuart Sutcliffe to play bass. We were the professionals and they were the boys, the struggling artists. They didn't have a big image in my head. They meant nothing in those days - they were just a group of scruffs. We were ready to go to Butlins: we had the suits and shoes that matched - black and white shoes, red suits, red ties and a hankie - so we felt we were big time. (The reason Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were the biggest band in Liverpool at one time was the matching suits. Later on Brian Epstein started doing that to The Beatles.)
We were away at Butlins for three months, and it was fabulous. When we first arrived there, we all picked names. That was when Johnny Guitar picked his; and for me, it started because in Liverpool I was still wearing a lot of rings, and people were starting to stay, 'Hey, Rings!' My name was Richard, hence Ritchie... and Rings. When we changed our names, I called myself Ringo. It was going to be Ringo Starkey, but that didn't really work, so I cut the name in half and added an 'r'. I had it put on the bass drum, and it's been that ever since. We were working steadily, with a new audience every week. It was the best place we could have been. It was the summer months, and we weren't missing anything back in Liverpool. Winter was always the club time there. Rory was a real athlete. There was a piano behind the drums, and the finale of Rory's act was that he would climb on top of it, shake, and then jump over my head. This was fabulous! My favourite number was 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'.
A new coachload of girls would arrive every week at Butlins, and we'd be like, 'Hi, I'm with the band, you know.' It was paradise for that. There'd be tears at the end of the week, and then a new coach. In a way it was part of the attraction of rock'n'roll. My main reason, of course, was to play, but you couldn't help but enjoy yourself at Butlins every week! I ended up living with a hairdresser in a caravan at Butlins. It was growing up. Everyone was on holiday. It's the same as does on now, except that they go to Benidrom.
I got engaged to one girl, but it didn't last because she started to put the pressure on: it was her or the drums. That was a very poignant moment in my life. I left her one night, and I got on the bus and thought, 'Well, what happens if I don't go back?' And I never went back. I just wanted to play; it was more important to me. But I was engaged and I did love her, and she loved me, and we'd got our bottom drawer started and made all the preparations that go into marriage.
I sold the Standard Vanguard to another drummer in Liverpool, and after the first three months at Butlins I bought myself a Zephyr Zodiac, which I adored. I was The King in that car. I was The Big Guy With The Car, driving people around. I drove to the factory in it, parked it outside and went to see the guys still working there: 'Hey, I'm really doing well!' - because my wages had gone right up. I'd been getting Ј6 a week in the factory and Ј20 a week at Butlins. I was loaded.
It wasn't all rosy; I was on the dole a lot, too, and I still have a piece of paper from the DHSS saying, 'He left the factory to join a dance band.' There wasn't that much unemployment then, and I could always work. But I had to join the dole queue. There were a lot of old winos in the queue, shaking - that was the first time I saw that happen. There were a lot of us queuing up, but it wasn't like it is now.
When I was a kid, we'd never really been on holiday. We'd go up the coast to Seaforth now and then, or across to New Brighton. For my big holiday I went to London with my mum and Harry when I was fifteen. Actually we went to Romford, because that's where Harry's folks were from. But I recall we went to London for the day, and there's a photo of me with the Horse Guards and my hand patting the horse. We did all those things: Buckingham palace, the British Museum, the Tower of London. That was the big day out. I went to the Isle of Man a couple of times with my grandparents, so that was like going abroad, but we never went to Europe.
I went abroad in 1962 with Rory and the Hurricanes, when we got a job playing American army bases in France. The problem was we needed a girl singer, because the army didn't want to look at us guys. So we found a blonde girl in Liverpool (whose name I can't remember) and we went out there and played in all those bases in the wilderness.
On the way there, when we got off the boat, we got on a train which was supposed to go right through to Lyons - but once it pulled into Paris, we were all thrown off. It was frightening. The French were fighting the Algerians at the time, and there were cops with machine guns right in my face because I had the big drum cases. Clutching my passport, all I could think of was to scream, 'Anglais! Don't shoot!'
The rooms we were in were very cheap, but French food cost a fortune. We had no money, and we were in doss houses. But we didn't care because the audiences were great and the personal expenses were great. We could go and buy hamburgers in the American canteen store and eat like kings for nothing, because we were getting food for the same rates as the soldiers. We weren't really allowed in the mess, because we weren't American - and they kept trying to throw us out - but we would go in anyway, and stock up with Hershey bars and hamburgers.
My apprenticeship was with Rory - we were real professional. We'd go away to play and come back to Liverpool. That's what I was doing while John, Paul and George were still getting it together. We were doing so well that when the first offer came to go to Hamburg, we turned it down. But in the autumn of 1960 we eventually went to play in Germany and that's where I met The Beatles. Whatever happened to those guys?
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