Turned Lennon onto Rock
“I caught up with Pete and we had dinner together in Dublin in September 2003. He was living there as a tax exile from the U.K. following his lucrative sale of his share in the Fatty Arbuckle restaurants. It was a fascinating discussion. He was genuinely glad to see me which was nice and was very frank in what he had to say about how John had helped him make something of his life.”
Mike told me about the Little Richard record in question: “I bought it in April 1956 in Amsterdam. It was a U.S. printed record on the Ronnex label.
“I hadn’t heard it until I got to Holland. I think my Dutch friend told me about it but I am a bit hazy about that. It may well have been released in the U.K. before or after April 1956 but wouldn’t have got any air play on the U.K. radio (stuffy BBC only) in those days.
“It made a big impact on me and I couldn’t wait to play it for John when we got back and returned to school after the Easter holidays (during which we’d been to Holland). I was sure it would knock him out and it did. Fancy him remembering all those years later his exact words to us when he first heard that record. Just shows what a tremendous life altering impact it had on him. It’s no coincidence that this very same number ‘Long Tall Sally’ opened their first U.S. concert and closed their last one.
Mike and John drifted apart in 1957. Mike recalled, “I thought I’d better get down to some serious work. I did, John didn’t. He left school the boy least likely to succeed. He didn’t pass any of his exams, but he had talent in art and this restless energy.”
Mike moved overseas in 1963 at the age of 22 to the Middle East, then to Central Asia and then to Australia, where he has lived ever since.
He sold his record collection, but discussed his passion for collecting the records with me. “It wasn’t that difficult to buy them as I recall. I used to do a paper round from the age of 14 which was when my mother bought a big stand-up record player and radio – a radiogram as they were called.
“I don’t recall that any of my friends did paper rounds (lazy buggers all of them) so they would have had to rely on whatever pocket money they were given. I used to buy at least one record every week starting off with very square Top 20 pop music (by later standards) and moving into rock ‘n’ roll, traditional jazz and Hank Williams, all on 78’s. First rock ‘n’ roll records were Elvis, Bill Haley, and then Little Richard. The pride of my collection was the Little Richard record. I sold the cream of my 78’s records that we used to play in those lunchtime sessions with John, Pete and Don Beattie to Mark Naboshek.”
Mike Hill was also a pupil of Dovedale School with John and intends to put his memories of those times into a book he is writing. Another pupil was the famous British comedian Jimmy Tarbuck.
Mike says, “I could write some tales about Jimmy Tarbuck, who was a good friend more of my older brother than of mine.
“He was a year older than me and John. He too was a frequent visitor to our house in Dovedale Road school days. I didn’t see much of him after he failed the 11-plus and went to Rose Lane Secondary Modern School while John and I went to Quarry Bank.
“The 11-plus was a great divider in those days and I didn’t see much of another friend, Ivan Vaughan after his 11-plus success took him off to the Liverpool Institute.
“Jimmy was real hard case, funny, but with a nasty streak. He did an interview with ‘Parkinson’ not long after the ‘boys on the beach’ in the Isle of Man photo appeared in the press. The photo shows John and Jimmy and I am the tall boy with the happy grin standing behind them. The interview was hilarious when he talked about John.”
Albert Goldman, in his book, writes: “Though the impact of Elvis on John’s life was total, he was forced to recognize that there were better rock ‘n’ roll singers. At the same time that he discovered Elvis, he made an even more momentous discovery: Little Richard. The boy at whose home John heard Richard first was Mike Hill, who had a remarkable collection of American records, including all the great early R&B singers. Since Hill lived very near school and had a working mother, he was able to entertain John and his friends every day at lunch.”
John Lennon himself was to recall: “This boy at school had been to Holland. He said he’d got this record at home by somebody who was better than Elvis. Elvis was bigger than religion in my life. We used to go to this boy’s house and listen to Elvis on 78s: we’d buy five Senior Service loose in this shop and some chips, and we’d go along. The new record was ‘Long Tall Sally.’
“When I heard it, it was so great I couldn’t speak. You know how you are torn. I didn’t want to leave Elvis. We all looked at each other, but I didn’t want to say anything against Elvis, not even in my mind. How could they be happening in my life, both of them?
And then someone said: ‘It’s a nigger singing.’ I didn’t know Negroes sang. So Elvis was white, and Little Richard was black. ‘Thank you, God’, I said. There was a difference between them. But I thought about it for days at school, of the labels on the records. One was yellow and one was blue, and I thought of the yellow against the blue.”
Many thanks for Mark Naboshek for his help with the text and illustrations.