How I Didn’t Become A Beatle is a fascinating memoir of life in Liverpool during a pivotal period in the city’s history: the late Fifties and early Sixties. Beatlemania was soon to grip Liverpool and the world, an active arts scene was about to ensure that the city’s cultural boom wasn’t confined to music, and the housing demolition programmes that would dramatically alter the physical appearance of parts of the city were already underway.
Brian Hudson was well placed to observe all of this, and he tells his story in a book that’s thoughtful, entertaining, moving and highly readable. An added pleasure is that the narrative is accompanied by many fine, evocative photographs, most of them taken at the time by the author himself.
Brian spent most of his childhood in Kent, before coming to Liverpool in 1957 (when he was 19), to study Geography and Civic Design for five years at Liverpool University. In his spare time he was a jazz fan and a keen drummer, and the book begins with his first visit to the Cavern, to see a performance by the Merseysippi Jazz Band. Over the next few years he’d see many other jazz shows in the city, starring American legends such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Count Basie, or British acts including Liverpool’s own George Melly. He became president of the university’s jazz club, which regularly staged their own concerts, and enterprisingly arranged for jazz bands who were playing at the Cavern in the evening to play lunchtime shows at the university Students’ Union. An early foray into writing was an article he wrote on the university jazz scene for one of the first issues of Bill Harry’s Mersey Beat magazine.
Brian played the drums in university jazz bands, and also had his own small part in the rise of Merseybeat. In 1959 at the Jacaranda Club he met Brian ‘Cass’ Casser and Adrian Barber, who were forming a rock group and needed a drummer. As a jazz musician, Brian was initially hesitant but decided to give it a go, and Cass and the Casanovas were born. He also took up Adrian Barber’s offer to share the flat he rented in Falkner Square. Cass and the Casanovas now enjoy a legendary status as one of the earliest Merseybeat acts, and as the group that eventually (after several changes of personnel) evolved into the Big Three. Brian’s stint as a rock drummer was relatively brief (hence the book’s title), but he gives a colourful account of the group’s gigs and his friendship with the charismatic Cass.
Another Jacaranda regular who Brian got to know well was the sculptor Arthur Dooley. The eccentric, plain-speaking Dooley is brought vividly to life in a series of memorable anecdotes. He recalls his last meeting with the sculptor on a return visit to Liverpool in 1987, when over cups of tea and bacon butties Dooley was still speaking confidently of securing the ‘big deal’ commission he’d been expecting ever since Brian had known him.
As well as the people Brian knew and met in Liverpool, the book brilliantly evokes the city of half a century ago. There are descriptions of the different houses he lodged in, and of drinking at Ye Cracke and the Myrtle St Hotel. During this period many streets and buildings were demolished, and as an expert on civic design he has some interesting thoughts (not always positive) about these changes. He was also a keen amateur photographer – a blessing for the reader, as the book is copiously illustrated with striking shots of street scenes, lost buildings and jazz performances.
Running through the narrative is Brian’s own personal story: how as a 19 year old the move to Liverpool meant the beginning of life as an independent man, the tragic death of an early girlfriend, his later happy marriage and how his post-university career as an academic has taken him to Ghana, Hong Kong, Jamaica and Australia, where he now lives.
In short, How I Didn’t Become A Beatle succeeds on many different levels. Of the many books that have been written about Liverpool at this time – and there must be hundreds now – it’s undoubtedly one of the best, and is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the history of the city.
How I Didn’t Become A Beatle by Brian J. Hudson is published by The History Press