The Christmas lull comes to an end today with someone asking me whether it is true that I was nearly a Beatle. That's going a bit far, but, as I've said before, there's a grain of truth in every legend.
I moved to Liverpool from Wales in 1951 and did my secondary schooling at St Mary's College in Crosby. I played clarinet in the school orchestra, but after Bill Haley and the Comets arrived on the scene I invested in a second-hand alto sax. Sometime in the mid-50s a group of us got together to play - trad jazz first, and then rock. The critical factor was that someone had to have a drum kit, and that someone was Dave Lovelady, so we rehearsed a lot at his place. As Beatles-historians very well know, there were groups forming all over the city at the time, but the sax helped to make ours distinctive. I think we were the first Liverpool group to use one in the line-up. We called ourselves the Zodiacs - though I suppose I should now say the 'original' Zodiacs, because the name was used by at least two later groups. We played our first gig at a church hall in Maghull, and then did the rounds of the various venues where kids gathered for dancing, such as St Luke's Hall and some of the city centre clubs. It was a lively time. The Cavern opened in January 1957. There were a lot of other unknown groups playing sets at these clubs. One was called The Quarry Men.
We played somewhere every week or so until 1959, when two of us found ourselves having to spend a bit of time rehearsing for A-levels. Whether the group was to continue would depend on the results. If we passed, two of us would go on to university, and the group would fold. If we failed, we would certainly become the greatest group in the history of pop music. We passed. I went off to London and started to read English. Another group, I believe, became the greatest.
I'm not sure what happened to all the members of the Zodiacs who stayed in Liverpool. I know that Dave Lovelady ended up as drummer with the Fourmost. I imagine that my entire student grant over three years was less than what someone like him would have earned from one Hamburg gig. I took my alto sax to London, got into modern jazz a bit at UCL, then traded it in for a baritone, until I realized that you needed more puff to manage that brute than I had available. In the end, needing money to eat, I sold my sax to a music shop in the Charing Cross Road. Cue violins.