By Royston Ellis
It was June 1960 and I was on the road, touring England as a beat poet giving readings of poetry to a rock music background. I called it Rocketry. I was in Liverpool to give a show and went to the Jacaranda, a coffee bar, to look for some musicians to back me. I got talking to a boy with a shock of long hair and a matelot-style striped T-shirt. He said his name was George. When I told him that I was in Liverpool to perform my poetry to rock music he marched me off to 3 Gambier Terrace.
And that's where I met John Lennon, as one of the bodies lying on the floor of a room where the lights were draped in red gauze to give it an eerie glow and towels and clothes partitioned the room and the beds. John, who had not long returned from playing with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe backing Johnny Gentle on his Scottish tour, was intrigued by the presence in his pad of a genuine beatnik poet who had been on television.
I stayed for a few days, sleeping on the floor with assorted guests at the Gambier Terrace flat, meeting John's friends and getting to know George better, as well as Paul and Stuart. John and I talked a lot. He badgered me with questions about the world of pop music and the life we led in London as though it were a different world. And it was. My performance at the Liverpool University Poetry Society was part of "An Afternoon of Poetry" on Friday 24 June 1960 with a further session of "A Reading of Beat Poetry" to music the next day. John, more than the others, was excited about the idea of performing poetry to a beat music background. He suggested I should try it out at the Jacaranda while his group backed me.
It seemed to work well and we spent half the night afterwards discussing excitedly how we could perform together. I said I would take John and his friends to London to appear on television with me. I asked John what was the name of his group. He told me. "How do you spell it?" I asked. "B, double E, T, L, E, S," he said in surprise at my ignorance. It was then I suggested that John should spell the name with an "A".
I pointed out to him that - as he was going to play with me and I was a Beat Poet writing a book about The Big Beat Scene and he was a beat musician and liked the Beats of the USA - Beatles would be a great spelling. They never got to London to back me. John sent me a message saying they had a booking in Hamburg and would I like to go with them as a sort of poetical compere? I declined, which is why I survived: an erstwhile beat poet (now living in Sri Lanka). There's more about it in my book, The Big Beat Scene, just republished 50 years after I gave The Beatles their name.
By Royston Ellis
Royston Ellis, author of over 60 biographies, novels and travel guides, now lives in Sri Lanka having left England, where he began as a beat poet, in 1961, age 20, for a life of travel. His latest book, The Big Beat Scene, has just been published by Music Mentor Books, in a new edition for the first time in 50 years with a foreword and afterword about his association with The Beatles.
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