The Interview: Pete Best on life after The Beatles
Despite being one of just six people ever able to call themselves a ‘Beatle’, Pete Best is probably best known as the unluckiest man in music history.
After his dismissal as the band’s drummer on the cusp of ‘Beatlemania’, Pete took his own route in show business – a path which has now led him onto the theatre stage for the first time.
Ahead of his appearance in a play which follows a quest to find John Lennon’s priceless banjo, we caught up with him to talk about the show, life after the ‘Fab Four’ and owning a Penny Lane fruit and veg shop.
Words by Lawrence Saunders
How did you get involved with ‘Lennon’s Banjo’? You’ve never done any serious acting before have you?
A couple of years ago I was sent a novel called ‘Julia’s Banjo’ by Rob Fennah or Helen A. Jones, one of the two who co-wrote the book.
I read it and thought ‘that’s a nice little story that’. It’s factual, humorous, and all the other bits and pieces.
Anyway, one day I was in town and I bumped into Rob and I told him I’d be interested in doing a cameo if they ever did anything stagewise with the book. He basically turned around and started laughing but I was serious!
Low and behold, sometime later Rob got in touch with my manager and asked if I would be interested in a cameo role in the play.
It’s going to be me playing me, whichever way they want me to come across.
I’ve got lines. It’s not just a case of walking on and saying hello and walking off again. I’m adding to the play itself.
Before you read the book, had you ever heard about john Lennon’s banjo?
I’d heard about John’s banjo, or Julia’s banjo as it was, ever since I first got to know John but I’d forgotten about the instrument until I saw this book.
Julia taught him to play a couple of chords on it and from there he emanated, like most of the musos in Liverpool at that time, towards the guitar and the skiffle craze.
Do you think the banjo is still out there, waiting to be found?
I’m certain it’s out there somewhere – that’s the incredible thing about it. Wherever it might be god only knows, but it’s out there somewhere.
Looking back at your departure from The Beatles in 1962, were you ever given a reason for being let go?
To this day, hand on heart, I don’t know the actual reason why. There are plenty of people out there today who are more concerned with why or how I left The Beatles than I am.
It happened nearly 60 years ago and my life has progressed the way that it has done in show business, and I’m happy. That’s the beauty of it. I’m not reflecting back on it all the time – I’ve got my own band and I do performances around the world. I’m a busy guy and I love it.
Did you feel a sense of redemption when ‘Anthology 1’ (compilation of Beatles’ rarities, outtakes and live performances released in 1995) came out because it included 10 recordings which you played on?
It came completely out of the blue.
I knew ‘Anthology’ was coming out but I didn’t pay too much attention to it because I never figured that they would include me on it.
But then I got the offer from Apple and low and behold, I ended up on 10 tracks which was great. As you say, after all these years it was a bit like ‘I must have been fairly important to get 10 tracks out of 60’.
The bulk of the royalties came through when it was released and it was the icing on the cake after so many years. They keep drib drabbing in but you move onto another project like the play, which is a totally new experience for me.
“For me it was incredible to see ‘Love Me Do’ on ‘Anthology’ because it was the first time I’d heard it in over 30 years. It was a blast from the past!”
One of those 10 tracks included on ‘Anthology’ was the first recording of ‘Love Me Do’. It must still mean something to have been involved in some way with The Beatles’ first single, and one of their most famous songs.
It does. Especially because that particular version was never finished, it was the version which we performed for George Martin on 6 June 1962 (The Beatles’ first visit to Abbey Road Studios).
After we played it for George, it was very much a case of ‘fine, leave it with me, and when we come back we’ll decide on the final touches’.
For me, it was incredible to see it on ‘Anthology’ because it was the first time I’d heard it in over 30 years or so. It was a blast from the past!
You stopped drumming not long after leaving the band and only started performing again in the late 1980s. What made you pick up the sticks again after so many years?
I quit show business to raise my family. In 1988 I was persuaded to do a performance at a Beatles convention in Liverpool. I’d been refusing offers for years but this particular time they got me into a corner, and I said ‘okay I’ll do it!’.
I got my younger brother Roag in to play drums alongside me and we played some good old rock and roll – it wasn’t going to be Beatles stuff, it was rock and roll.
“Regardless of what happened, you’ve got to be proud of the fact that you can call yourself a Beatle.”
It went really well and at the end of the night my mum came up to me and said ‘Pete, you don’t know it but you’re going back into show business’.
I laughed because I thought it was just a one-off but how right she was – here I am still treading the boards today.
Despite all that went on with The Beatles, and you saying it’s a part of your life which is over now, do you still feel a certain sense of pride that you’re one of only six people who can or have ever been able to say, ‘I was a Beatle’?
Oh very much so. A lot of people have called my contribution to the band ‘the spadework’ which they emanated from. So yeah, regardless of what happened, you’ve got to be proud of the fact that you can call yourself a Beatle or an ex-Beatle.
Finally, is it true that you used to own a fruit
and veg shop on Penny Lane?
No, but a lot people seem to think I did! A tour guide even said on the radio that I used to have one. There was a fruit and veg shop on Penny Lane but it wasn’t mine.
I’ve no idea where the rumour came from. I’ve done most things in my time but running a fruit and veg shop is not one of them!
‘Lennon’s Banjo’ is at the Epstein Theatre from 24 April until 5 May. Pete will take to the stage on 25 April & 5 May.
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