John and Paul didn’t know anyone else who did it, no one from school or college, no relative or friend …and yet somehow, by nothing more than fate or fluke, they’d found each other, discovered they both wrote songs, and decided to try it together.
Parents had been saying that about John Lennon since he was five – and rightly so, because he did.
But this hadn’t stopped a solid gang of pals – intelligent grammar-school boys, as Paul Mc Cartney was – idolising him as their leader.
Jim Mc Cartney would no more let Paul skip school than allow that boy in the house, so subterfuge was vital.
Afternoon sessions, two till five, ended with a hurried wafting around of smoke and washing of dirty dishes … “He’ll get you into trouble, son,” Jim warned Paul.
And what high and hysterical times he gave them in return.
In 1956-7, when John was 16, he turned his gang into his group, the Quarry Men, and for a while they rode the skiffle craze up on stage belting out rhythmic prison songs of the American South. But he was – first, last, always – a rocker, and his group was now charging headlong in that direction; newspaper ads for the dances they played were already calling them rock ’n’ skiffle, though actually it was rock all the way.
Towards the end of 1957, John wrote Hello Little Girl and Paul came up with I Lost My Little Girl; the similarity in their titles was coincidental but both were steeped in the Crickets’ sound. John and Paul’s passion for rock and roll wedded them heart and soul, and Liverpool Corporation’s education committee also played a part.
Unless the Quarry Men had a booking somewhere, Jim Mc Cartney’s disapproval of John meant Paul couldn’t see his friend at night. Situated up the hill from the city centre, Liverpool College of Art – where John, newly enrolled, was already proving himself a handful – happened to adjoin Liverpool Institute, Paul’s grammar school.
“I went off in a completely new direction.” Paul had much to offer, and John had seen it.
He had a great musical talent, an instinctive and untutored gift; he played piano and was a confident and characteristic guitarist who always knew more chords than John and was much better at remembering words.
The two buildings had been one, so with a quick dash through their respective exits John and Paul would arrive together on the same stretch of street at the same moment and were truants for the afternoon – “sagging off”. From a stop on Catharine Street, they’d board the 86 bus, a green double-decker like those driven by Harry Harrison, father of Paul’s young schoolfriend George.