Good Friend Nigel
By Bill Harry
The first manager of the group who were to become the Beatles was John Lennon's childhood friend Nigel Wally, who John humorously referred to as 'Wallogs.'
Nigel was born in the Woolton district of Liverpool on June 30 1941 and lived in Vale Road, to the rear of where John lived in Menlove Avenue and in the same road as another friend, Ivan Vaughan.
When John formed his group the Quarry Men, Nigel was invited to play tea-chest bass,
although he says he played it only occasionally, with Ivan Vaughan being the main bass player.
At the time Nigel was an apprentice golf professional at Lee Park Golf Club, and sadly was deterred from playing tea-chest bass for good by an unsavoury incident. Having finished a gig one night, the band
traveled home by bus, and when they got off they were approached by two aggressive local youths. Rod and Willo, who threatened to beat them up. Everyone fled, leaving the tea-chest bass in the road.
The group needed someone to promote them and also to get them gigs. No one really wanted to do it, but John asked Nigel, who then set about getting them work. He placed a card in the window of a Woolton sweet shop at 2d a week, took small ads in the Liverpool Echo and the Daily Post and even had professional cards printed. "The name on it was 'Quarry Men'," he says, "and the correct name is two separate words, not one, as people these days seem to think." His printed card read:
COUNTRY. WESTERN. ROCK 'N' ROLL. SKIFFLE.
THE QUARRY MEN
OPEN FOR ENGAGEMENTS
When the Quarry Men were deciding on their repertoire, Nigel says, "They picked out records by Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and popular rock 'n' roll numbers of the time. Elvis Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel' was a number John was particularly struck on. We saw Buddy Holly live with the Crickets when he appeared on the Liverpool Empire. It was one of the highlights of my life. "We picked the tunes from records that were readily available in the shops. That story about Liverpool groups getting their repertoires from records brought in by merchant seamen is a myth, although lots of Liverpool men went to sea. Pete Shotton's brother Ernie was in the navy."
Nigel used to go round to John's house and ask his aunt Mimi, 'Where's John?' 'Where do you think! In his bedroom, playing his guitar' was the standard response. Nigel would go up and sit on the bed while John would be playing. "He'd write a song in a few minutes," said Nigel. "I didn't think much of it at the time."
Lee Park Golf Club was an exclusive Jewish club. One of the members was Dr. Sytner, whose son Alan ran the Cavern Club, which was then a jazz venue that occasionally booked local skiffle groups as supports. Nigel asked Dr. Sytner if he could persuade Alan to book the Quarry Men at the Cavern. He was told that they'd have to see the group before they could be booked and he suggested they perform at the golf club first. If they were any good, then Alan would book them at his club.
They were told that as the appearance would be something of an audition, they wouldn't be paid. However, they could have all the drink that they wanted plus a slap-up meal, and the hat would be passed around. When they completed their performance they did have lots of drinks, a hearty meal - and the hat, when passed around, brought them more money than they'd ever received from a gig before. Not only that, Alan Sytner liked the group and booked them for the Cavern.
They appeared there on August 7 1957, although John was to upset Sytner when they did appear by singing Elvis Presley numbers at a time when rock 'n' roll was barred from the club.
Although Nigel acted as their manager, when he didn't actually perform with them on the tea-chest bass, Paul McCartney got upset and said that he should take a reduced fee.
July 15 1958 proved to be a traumatic night for Nigel. He'd dropped around to Mendips to see if John was at home, and found he was out. John's mother Julia was at the gate talking to her sister Mimi Smith. Nigel then walked along Menlove Avenue with Julia, having a chat, then continued on his way while Julia crossed the road. Hearing the squeal of brakes, Nigel turned to see Julia's body being tossed into the air as a car crashed into her. Julia, tragically, was killed.
The off-duty policeman, Eric Clague, who was driving, was sent to trial and Nigel was called as a witness. The inquest established that Clague was driving without a
license, but he still escaped with a reprimand and a period of suspension from duty. This verdict so angered John's aunt Mimi that she shouted 'Murderer!'
Nigel had to cease managing the group when his family moved from Vale Road to New Brighton as he now lived too far away from them to manage the band. He then left
Liverpool in 1961 when he qualified as a professional golfer and found work in a hotel complex in Semmering, Austria. He never returned to Liverpool, apart from occasional visits.
Nigel was invited round to see John when he lived in Kensington, London as John still liked to keep in touch with friends who knew him before he became famous as a Beatle. Nigel also visited John on several occasions at his Kenwood house.
Nigel has enjoyed a successful and happy career in the golf world after finally settling down at Wrotham Heath Golf Club in Borough Green, Kent.
Photographs © Nigel Wally