The Big Three Story
By Bill Harry
The three remaining members of the Cassanovas stayed together and in January 1961 emerged as the Big Three. Hutch turned down a two-year contract with Johnny Kidd & the Pirates to remain with them. This was a classic line-up with Barber, Hutch and Gus, a trio who lasted in that form until June 1962. Sadly, no recordings exist of this, one of the most powerful of the Big Three trios, although Allan Williams allegedly once made a tape of them and sent to it Germany - but forgot to put a return address on it.
They were the first Merseyside group to play Ray Charles numbers (such as 'What'd I Say') and had a raw edge to their sound.
At one point, on August 17 1961, Johnny Gus joined the Beatles on stage at St. John's Hall, Tuebrook.
Despite the fact that they were a trio, they were one of the loudest bands on Merseyside, due to Adrian's electronic wizardry. He made giant amps, standing over five feet tall, which were nicknamed 'coffins.' They were in big demand and the Beatles and other groups asked Adrian to make 'coffins' for them.
Adrian was regarded as an electronics whizz-kid and surprised friends at the Jacaranda Club, one of his haunts, with his little gimmicks, such as putting a radio in a Coke can. His impressive contribution to the local sound was his development of these 'coffins' amps, which gave the trio a powerful stage sound. Mersey Beat columnist 'Onlooker' wrote in the November 30 1961 issue: "A good night at the OPB last Saturday with the Big Three. I wonder who carried their coffins upstairs. The Undertakers probably - they were there as well. These enormous amplifiers on wheels always intrigue me. They must have quite a job getting them on some stages I've seen."
Johnny Gustafson commented: "Our speakers were five feet high by one and a half to two feet wide. Adrian Barber was a bit of an electronic wiz - he concocted these things. He got two Goodmans 15-inch speakers and made up this great big amp - it was only 50 watts but he acoustically designed the cabinets to give it the most oomph and they did sound very, very loud."
According to singer Cilla Black, who initially sang regularly with the Big Three, when Pete Best was sacked from the Beatles in August 1962, Hutchinson was first choice as his replacement. Then the Beatles had second thoughts because of his reputation for
belligerency and they felt they needed a drummer with a more subordinate personality and chose Ringo Starr.
In the few dates between Best's departure and Ringo's joining, Hutchinson played with the Beatles, namely on August 16 at Riverpark Ballroom, Chester and the following night at the Majestic Ballroom, Birkenhead.
It has also been suggested that Epstein, aware that Hutchinson was regarded as Liverpool's top drummer, offered him the Beatles seat, but he turned it down.
Hutch was to comment, "Brian asked me to join the Beatles and I said, 'I wouldn't join the Beatles for a gold clock. There's only one group as far as I'm concerned and that's the Big Three. The Beatles can't make a better sound than that, and Pete is a very good friend of mine. I couldn't do the dirty on him."
The Big Three appeared on numerous bills with the Beatles. In 1961 they included the Valentine's Night 'Rock Ball' at the Cassanova Club on Tuesday February 14 and an appearance at St. John's Hall, Bootle the same month. They also appeared on the 'Rock Around The Clock' all-night session at the Liverpool Jazz Society on Saturday March 11.
In 1962 they included the 'A Night To Remember' at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton on Friday, April 6; the 'Star Show' at the Tower on Thursday June 21; the Plaza Ballroom, St Helens on Monday June 25; Heswall Jazz Club on Saturday June 30; the Tower Ballroom on Friday July 27; the 'Beatles Show' at the Rialto Ballroom on Thursday September 6; the Cavern on Wednesday September 19 and the 'Little Richard Show' at the Tower on Friday October 12.
The Big Three's reputation locally was very high and, after the Beatles had signed with Epstein, Hutchinson approached Brian to sign the group up, primarily to get them a gig in Hamburg. Epstein initially tried them out by putting them on a shared bill with the Beatles at Southport and then booked them into Hamburg.
Adrian was to say that they were the second group to be signed by Epstein immediately following the Beatles, although this is more likely to have been Gerry & the Pacemakers who had been placed No.2 to the Beatles in the Mersey Beat poll.
Adrian Barber had never been happy with the idea of Epstein managing the group. the Big Three had creamy yellow and pink suits ("always dirty"), which Epstein said they had to dispose of. He then began 'interfering', telling them they couldn't smoke on stage and then began dictating what music they had to play, insisting they introduce soft numbers into their act. Adrian fought Epstein at every stage and was surprised that the others didn't back him up. The crunch came when Epstein said that for the German season they had to be a four piece, as the contract demanded they had to be a quartet - and added Brian Griffiths, former member of Howie Casey & the Seniors, to the line-up. Adrian decided it was time to leave. "After all, we were supposed to be the Big Three, not the Big Four," he said.
Together with Adrian they spent a month playing at the Star Club, Hamburg from July 1962, with Brian Griffiths on guitar. Adrian decided not to return to Liverpool.
Star Club owner Manfred Weissleder wanted to start a Star Club record label and record the acts on stage, so he engaged Adrian to develop a special sound system, also appointing him stage manager of the club.
While Adrian was fitting in the system he was also testing it out by recording various groups, including the Beatles and Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes.
He had been experimenting with a domestic tape recorder to check out the acoustics. With a single mic fixed in the right spot, he found he could get good results recording the Beatles on stage, complete with the dialogue between the group and the audience, the repartee, the jokes and even a
laugh and a bit of a song from Horst Fascher, the club manager.
Adrian completed his recordings on Monday December 31, 1962 and was approached by Taylor for the tapes of the Dominoes. The Beatles recordings from their final engagement at the Star Club were also on the tapes and these were the ones that eventually emerged as the double album 'The Beatles Live! At The Star Club in Hamburg, Germany: 1962.'
There are many amusing legends about Adrian's stint at the Star Club, including tales of his pet pig, which he used to walk around the St. Pauli district on a lead.
When Joey Dee & the Starliters appeared at the Star Club, Dee was so impressed by the sound system Adrian had devised that he invited him to New York to design and install a sound system in the Peppermint Lounge.