Chas Newby is finally getting the notoriety he deserves.
As the Beatles’ bass player for one month in 1960, Chas was onstage for the breakthrough performance that put The Beatles on the map as a serious Liverpool band. Chas played on only four gigs—filling in for original bassist Stu Sutcliffe—but he made an impression on the lads and was invited by John Lennon to continue with the band for their return to Hamburg, Germany.
What was especially newsworthy about this—as mentioned in my post last month—is that Chas declined the invitation to remain with The Beatles because he wanted to return to school to get his chemical engineering degree. And he has zero regrets about his decision—and the possibility that he might have become the permanent bass-player for the world’s most successful band, given the fact that Stu badly wanted out of the band to focus on painting. (Stu quit for good 6 months later.)
Picking up where I left off in part one of my interview…
Me: The Beatles' performance that you took part in on December 27, 1960 at the Litherland Town Hall is considered historic: a critical turning point for the band, giving them significant local attention for the first time ever. Can you tell me your memory of that gig and the Litherland audience?
Chas: They were not prepared for the post-Hamburg tightness of the band, or the performance experience of playing virtually every night for four months. Litherland Town Hall was a public dancehall, with a sprung floor and elevated stage. People went there to dance, the bands were there just to provide the music. We were billed as “direct from Hamburg,”and there were some people in the hall who thought we were German. Bob Wooler introduced the band, set up behind the stage curtain, along the lines of “Ladies and Gentleman, direct from Hamburg, the B…..” He got no further, the curtains opened and Paul nudged him off the microphone and blasted out the opening line of the Little Richard song “Long Tall Sally”.
Me: Did the crowd go crazy?
Chas: The audience were expecting to dance while the band minced about on stage providing sterile music. They were not prepared for the band to perform on stage, assaulting them with noise and excitement. The reaction was swift, the dancing evaporated and the audience clamored around the stage to watch and react to a performance.
Me: Must have been amazing.
Chas: The other guys had their cowboy boots, but I was wearing normal shoes. My lasting memory was that my feet hurt from all the stamping on stage. Happy days.
Me: Given the power of that performance, did you think they might make it to the top someday?
Chas: Up until Christmas 1960, The Beatles were not even well known in Liverpool, but that changed when people realized what a talented group of performers they were. At that time, there were no professional recording studios or music publishing facilities in Liverpool. All of that type of activity was located in London. Over the next few months The Beatles cemented their position in both Liverpool and Hamburg. Despite their undoubted talent both as performers and writers they were up against enormous odds against achieving any lasting success. Brian Epstein was the guy who enabled and organized their greater exposure, first in the UK and then worldwide. Cream will always rise to the top, but the odds against a talented group from Liverpool were substantial.
Me: What was your reaction when the Beatles exploded in the UK in 1963—and internationally in 1964? Were you shocked? And even though you were happy with your career choice, did you allow yourself to fantasize what it might have been like for you, if you had joined the band and they had achieved the same level of success?
Chas: When the Beatles finally made it in the UK at the end of 1962, I was really pleased for them, as was everybody who lived in Liverpool. I knew how much effort they had put in to succeed against the odds to penetrate the business, which was entirely centered in London at that time. Fantasizing about what might have happened is just so negative. Forget yesterday, concentrate on tomorrow. I had other objectives which fortunately, I was able to achieve.
Me: I hear different opinions about Lennon being the boss in the early days. But Pete Best told me the band was run very democratically. From your time with them, did you get a sense of how much John was calling the shots?
Chas: In my brief time with the band, I wasn’t aware of John being the boss. I agree with Pete’s view that it was more of a collective atmosphere rather than a leader and the others following.
There's a lesson here for business organizations: growing talent from within has its advantages. After Chas turned down the gig and Stu eventually quit, Paul McCartney—who was the third guitarist in the group—was “promoted” to bass where he had more influence on the sound of the band. This move dramatically improved the rhythm section (Paul was years ahead of Stu musically) while “trimming headcount.” A tighter, more efficient band was the immediate result.
And there's a lesson here for students who are considering interrupting school and their path to a business or academic career by jumping into a band (as I did myself): it's important to know what your goal is. For Chas it was a degree in Chemical Engineering and ultimately a career in chemistry. Music came second. In my case music came first. Fortunately, each of us followed our own compass and neither of us is second-guessing our decision.
As mentioned in part one of the interview, I’m hoping Chas will write a book about his experiences. Readers are invited to continue to share their suggestions for the title. My favorite so far (thanks, Mark Foscoe) is Hello, Goodbye: My Brief Life as the Fifth Beatle.