Sam Leach (First Beatles Promoter) - Eppy and Me May 16, 2009 0:17:24 GMT -5
Post by yerblues1968 on May 16, 2009 0:17:24 GMT -5
Sam Leach www.samleach.com/
EPPY AND ME
As you could imagine my nose was put out of joint by the unfortunate - for me that is - arrival of Brian Epstein. The first time I became aware of him was shortly after the Aldershot `Safari.' Paul and John had left an urgent message for me to meet them at the Grapes Pub in Mathew Street around the corner from NEMS.....Brian's headquarters. Ultimately he would be my nemesis. When I strolled in - unaware my plans for the Beatles were about to go up in smoke - Paul and John looked a little uneasy to put it mildly. Stammering, Paul told me. "Sam there's this Millionaire wants to manage us. We know we have a handshake agreement and we're doing a record with you. BUT HE'S A MILLIONAIRE."
Dumbfounded I looked at them both. John in particular avoided my penetrating glare. Regaining what little composure nature has blessed me with, I replied a little truculently. "Y'what?? What are you bloody idiots talking about." Taking it in turn they told me about this `Eppy fella who owned a chain of shops and would I go check him out?....Please.' My gast was completely flabbered and I found myself agreeing to meet this interfering Epstein and give them an honest opinion about him. Making an appointment, I turned up at Brian's office next day hoping against hope he would prove to be a `phoney.' I hadn't been taken in by Paul claiming Eppy was a Millionaire.
In those days that could merely mean he had a car - taxed, insured and with petrol in it. I was ushered into his office and immediately I saw the extremely nervous ex-public schoolboy I relaxed. There was no way such an innocuous person could manage the Beatles!!! Surely he wouldn't possess the `street level smarts' needed to manage such a volatile group. Sounding more like a future Father-in-Law, I asked Brian what his intentions were. His enthusiasm was obvious as he outlined his plans to further the Beatles career. Ten minutes later we shook hands and I knew the race was over. Brian had the determination - and more importantly the finance - to get them away. Although painfully aware I was about to miss out, I had no choice. I duly reported back to John, Paul and George who were waiting in the Grapes. "He's your man. Remember me when you get to the top." A relieved Lennon promised. "You'll be with us. We'll get him to back the record." I'm certain John meant it at the time but as he would subsequently write. "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." You may have read in Ray Coleman's biography "Epstein" Brian and I became bitter rivals, not personally but in business. In fact his rancour surfaced long before I realised.
But in those early days he was content to give the impression of a newcomer eager to learn. He sought advice from everyone on the scene, including fans. Ironically, the first official booking he organised for the Beatles was with me at the Thistle Cafe, West Kirkby on February 1st 1962. That was also the night he faced his first problem. And almost blew it!! John Lennon had a bad attack of Laryngitis and for the only time in his entire career was forced to cry off. Brian was distraught and offered to pay my losses if I called off the show. I'd never cancelled before and I wasn't doing it tonight. Angry at his negative attitude I told him off. "Brian, don't give up so easily. Fans are coming from miles away and we're not letting them down. Anyway there's no problem. I'll get Rory Storm to stand in." Rory was only too delighted to oblige and somewhat dubiously Eppy picked him up.
As I anticipated Rory was brilliant and got a tremendous ovation, even from Lennon fans. That night Eppy learned the first law of `Showbiz.' For the next few months he listened to anyone who had an opinion or good advice to render. My contribution was in getting him to reduce the Beatles spots from over an hour - which included smoking and chatting - to 45 minutes non-stop pulsating aggression. This resulted in an even more dynamic show which left their audiences breathless. And me!! Then the `worm turned.' Suddenly, Eppy wanted £70 a night for the Beatles, a 100% increase. New Brighton Tower was the biggest venue on Merseyside and I'd always paid them £30 a night. Twice as much as anyone else, including the Cavern. With my having such big overheads he simply wasn't on. This called for some `street smarts.' As a compromise I offered him £10 extra and suggested he tell the other promoters I was paying him £70. If they asked I'd `confirm' it. This satisfied Brian immensely. And no doubt the Beatles. Eppy continued to learn and gradually steered the Beatles towards their destiny. Step by step he transformed their slightly unkempt stage appearance and improved their equipment
He seemed determined to assimilate every facet of the Beatles existence. In an effort to find what made them tick, he even joined them in rambustious trips to the Bowling Alley. One night Brian, John, Paul and I went on a pub crawl. Around normal closing time Paul was `pissed' out of his skull so we shoved him into a taxi and sent him home. I took John and Brian to a famous late night club where we stayed until well after three. Brian was puzzled that the Police allowed the place to stay open after hours. I introduced him to a Detective on the next table and the penny dropped. Eppy was driving, so he didn't have too many drinks. Around four in the morning he dropped me at my house and I invited him and John in for a Coffee.
The Beatles had no booking that weekend and Brian was trying to persuade John to accompany him to Amsterdam. In those days few of us knew about homosexuals and - innocent that I was - I advised John to go. As we sat around the table drinking the mud that I called coffee, Lennon suddenly kicked me in the shins. Looking at his bleary eyes, I figured he was well `tanked up' and so I ignored it. Eppy continued to extol Amsterdam's `virtues' and again I said John should go and enjoy himself. This time his kick drew blood and I glared at him angrily. At that moment Brian excused himself to go for a wee. When he left the room, I reached across the table and grabbed John by the throat, hissing. "Whaddayouplayingat Lennon??" Doubled up with laughter, John gasped. "You bloody fool. Can't you see he's after me." If anyone ever had a blank expression on their face, I must have had one then. My befuddled brain struggled to grasp what Lennon meant by Eppy being `after him.' I nodded sagely. "Oh, I see." Needless to say I didn't but I wasn't admitting it to a drunk. When Brian returned for the sake of my battered limbs I `reminded' John. "Rory's getting engaged on Saturday. We're invited so Amsterdam is out." Lennon didn't help this lie when he replied. "Is Rory getting engaged again?" Clearly disappointed, Brian dropped the subject.
At that weekend's party, I collared John and asked him what he'd been on about. Hooting with laughter, Lennon told the gathering what had happened. And also that I didn't know what he'd meant. Bloody sod. The next time I took my Tower publicity material to NEMS it was an embarrassed Epstein who asked if John had said anything bad about him. His relief was obvious when I lied. "No. And why should he?" Eppy's shirts and ties were immaculate and previously I'd ask where he bought them, much to his blushing gratification. But from then on I found my own.
One of Sam Leach's promotion fliers of Liverpool groups. The interior of The Tower Ballroom in New Brighton, where
The Beatles performed in the early 1960s.
Yet at my engagement party soon after, he pursued my future Wife's sister Vera Brown, with such determination it was hard to believe all the rumours. We continued to co-operate in furthering the Beatles career and he was appreciative of my extensive advertising campaigns. Especially when I referred to them as the North's top group. Some months later Paul dropped into the Grapes Pub and told me. "Eppy wants a chat. And he said its very important." I groaned. "He's not after more money is he?" Paul shrugged, no doubt hoping I'd guessed right. For once I asked Eppy to meet in my `office' - the Kardomah coffee shop opposite NEMS. Judging by his nervous manner, Brian obviously had something serious to discuss. After some small talk he asked to go into partnership on my Friday night shows at the Tower. I had worked hard for many months, developing Fridays to an average attendance of 2,000. Inwardly I felt he had a nerve expecting to be cut in. Then he explained he wanted to present big names there with the Beatles as support, thus giving them great exposure and experience. Thinking it over, I saw a secondary advantage. If I allowed him to finance my future shows and they were successful - which was to be expected - he might then back my record label. I nodded cautiously. "Okay Brian we'll give it a try. You put the money up and I'll do the promoting. We'll split the profits fifty-fifty." To my astonishment he shook his head. "No that won't do. My Brother and I are partners in NEMS Enterprises. You can only have a third." I was dumbfounded. Now Eppy was offering me a third of my own thing. What cheek.
Seeing the funny side I retorted. "There's no deal then Brian. I've got partners too. My Wife, Daughter, Mother-in-Law, a dog and a cat. You can have an eighth." Thereby ending the discussion. I was lying anyway. We didn't have a cat. Flushing deeply, Epstein stood up, we shook hands and the meet was over. However, glaring at me balefully, he warned. "You're making a big mistake." A few months later, I had reason to recall that ominous threat. Little did I realise, I'd made a rod for my own back. Recently I was studying Ray Coleman's definitive book on Brian and discovered something I'd overlooked all these years. Reading between the lines, it seemed that Eppy may well have been offering me a third of NEMS Enterprises, the company he'd formed to manage the Beatles. Ouch!!! I just kicked myself. 30 years late.
Although I have no regrets, I'd raced through a crossroads in my Life. If that abortive meeting had gone the other way, we would have presented some truly memorable shows. Then it was a natural progression to launch our own record label. My original vision of the Beatles doing `Twist and Shout' might have been realised. Especially after the initial rejections by EMI and Decca. Fortunately for posterity - if not me - that wasn't to be. Brian and the Beatles took the route that fate had mapped out for them. Otherwise they might have been diverted down `A long and winding road' that led to `Nowhere Man.' Enough of my speculation on what might have been. Lets get back to what actually happened. Word spread around the beat scene that I'd turned down the `Nemperor.' It was therefore a `miffed' Epstein who approached Allan Williams and Bob Wooler to present rival Thursday shows. Allan soon dropped out describing the relationship bitterly. "Eppy wanted a dog and then barked himself." Bob Wooler - desperate to get a foothold in the Tower - eagerly accepted Brian's offer of 10% of the profits. Which turned out to be sweet nothing. With the Tower company refusing to give Friday nights to anyone but me, Epstein was forced to promote on Thursdays instead. Especially as the Tower had `persuaded' me to manage the ballroom for them. Using Bob Wooler as a front, he presented Jerry Lee Lewis on 17th May and Joe Brown on 27th July. Both flopped financially, having no adverse effect on my shows. Despite being a disaster, the Jerry Lee Lewis show was a memorable night for me. I'll explain why in the chapter `Twisting at the Tower.' However Epstein's abortive promotions were the `thin edge of the wedge.' A ruthless streak surfaced as he made other moves to work me out of the Tower. And the Beatles future.
Yet Brian was a paradox. Although he now saw me as a business obstacle, on a personal level we remained friendly. Proof of this lay in the following memo he sent to the Beatles on Friday 29th June `62. "Tower Ballroom, New Brighton. Neil will call for you between 6.45 and 7.00pm in order to arrive at the Tower at 7.30pm. This is a Leach night for which he has given you excellent publicity as stars of the Bill. With this point in mind and the fact that he has been fairly co-operative over several matters recently I would like you to give him one of your great performances. And as its the night before Sam's wedding! It should be a big audience which will be mainly paying to see The Beatles. Sadly at the Wedding reception the next day, Ted Knibbs unwittingly hammered in the last spike in both our relationships with Eppy. Ted - who had managed Billy Kramer's career brilliantly - was undoubtedly the nicest person on our scene. He made a complimentary speech to Joan and I during which he said. "Sam is still the top man on the Merseybeat scene." Dolly, my Mother-in-law, told me later that she noticed Brian who had been full of life, flushed bright red and became very quiet. Soon after he made his excuses and left. Dolly who was something of a psychic warned me. "You've made an enemy. Watch him." I should have listened. Suddenly Eppy cancelled three Beatle bookings, with only a vague excuse. At the time I wasn't too concerned as Summer was always dodgy for promoting. Nonetheless I complained to John and Paul who liked playing for me. With their support I nailed Brian down to a series of six bookings from August 17th to September 7th. Thanking them, I decided to hold a `Beatle Festival.' Three shows at the Tower, two at the Majestic and one at the Rialto, Toxteth. Aware the Beatles were about to release a record and go national, I distributed 1000 posters and 5000 handbills around Merseyside.
This used up what little money I had saved. Then on August 16th the scene erupted. Pete Best was sacked. The news hit Liverpool like a bombshell. Pete Best fans, blaming Brian unfairly, tried to attack him at the Cavern. In the ensuing melee, George received a black eye. Due to the threat of violence, fans stayed away in droves. Needless to say attendances at my Beatle Festival were severely reduced. When I asked Eppy why he hadn't warned me, he merely shrugged. "What can I do? It's your problem. Cancel the bookings if you wish." However it takes more than the sacking of a Beatle to stop me. Working even harder, I managed to more or less break even on the first four shows. Whether or not I would recoup the money spent advertising depended on the Rialto and the Tower. Then the malicious rumours began. The Beatles were told a Toxteth gang were going to beat them up at the Rialto because of the Pete Best affair. Not for the first time, someone from the Cavern also spread it around they didn't want to play for me. No, it wasn't Eppy. I was concerned there might be some truth in the threat to the Beatles. Therefore I asked an old friend Alan Tanner, the famous boxer, to check it out with the local hard cases. Alan assured me everyone was looking forward to seeing the Beatles perform and there would be no trouble. Brian, the Beatles and I met to discuss the problem. Eppy was dead against them appearing but John asked me how I felt. I convinced him they would be okay and guaranteed they would each have two minders as back-up, even Brian. Paul and John looked at each other and nodded their approval. However, the `Nemperor' was livid at being over-ruled. Unfortunately Pete Best's sacking and the damage caused by gossipers resulted in another disastrous attendance. But of more concern to me, the Beatles were given a great reception. Much to their delight. I stayed at their side all through the set. At one point John shouted to Eppy. "I told you Sam would look after us, didn't I." Much to my delight of course. Then I made a stupid error. The Beatles were on last so I had paid the other three groups first. All that was left in the till was £11, which left me £19 short on their fee. I wasn't too worried because I could pay the balance the following night at the Tower. That is until Eppy's other `self' surfaced. Although the Beatles weren't bothered, he caused a scene in the dressing room, which I felt was intended to embarrass me.
This rebounded on him as John merely laughed and remarked. "Sam's okay. He'll pay us tomorrow night. Won't you Leachy?" Trying to defuse the situation, John clenched a mock fist in my direction. This `other' Epstein wouldn't budge however and asked me to come to his office the next morning. Seeing my concern, Paul pulled me aside. "Don't worry Sam. We'll sort things out with Brian on the way home." Next day I called into the Whitechapel shop and before seeing Eppy, made a beeline for the ticket agency. To my shame the girl haltingly told me Brian had withdrawn the Tower Tickets and she was to tell the fans the Beatles wouldn't be appearing. Dazedly, I went up to his office unable to believe this nightmare was real. Epstein's stance had hardened overnight. He demanded the £19 forthwith or the Beatles wouldn't be playing. Delighting at my predicament, he also refused to re-open the ticket agency, even though it normally took a minimum of £30. He was unconcerned at sabotaging the show and disappointing the fans, many of whom traveled miles to see the Beatles. Clearly this egomaniac was out to assert his authority and to hell with anyone else. Even as I left the shop, two fans were turned away. I was too embarrassed to explain and avoided their puzzled gaze. At lunchtime I told Paul what had transpired and - being the good lad he is - he went to argue my case with Eppy. To my delight Paul's diplomacy worked and Epstein brought them over. Albeit with a `gob' on him. Once again the rumours emanating from the Cavern management and the unrest over Pete Best hit the attendance hard. However it looked as though I'd scrape through and be able to pay everyone including the Beatles. At nine o'clock I had paid the rent, the staff and the other groups. To Paul's relief I offered Eppy the £19 due from the Rialto.
I'll swear he was disappointed. This suspicion was borne out when he refused the money saying. "I also want tonight's fee of £35 before they go on. That's £54 in pound notes. Right now." Epstein knew the latecomers after 10pm would easily take care of that night's fee. Despite pleas from Paul, John and his brother Clive, Eppy wouldn't budge. Paul offered his share of the fee but to no avail. Then a report came that Ringo - clowning as usual - was walking around with a placard which said. "No pay - no play." The `joke' back-fired. On me. People began asking for their money back, causing chaos at the pay box. Yet again Paul and John showed their support by telling them. "Hold on, we'll still be playing." Enraged at what he perceived to be another threat to his authority Brian gave the Beatles an ultimatum. "You went against me last night at the Rialto. Do it again and its all over with us." The clamour in the pay-box ended abruptly as we realised what Brian had just said. The Beatles had supported me but now their future was on the line. Ordering Eppy to leave I said. "Lads, you've got to obey your manager. But thanks for trying." Smirking triumphantly Epstein ushered the Beatles out of my life. He had finally severed my close relationship with them. Eppy clearly hoped this would force me to relinquish my Friday night concession at the Tower. He had under-estimated my determination. Even though I knew it was `mission impossible'
I began to look for big names to replace the Beatles. And they didn't come bigger than Little Richard. I rang the Don Arden agency in London and eventually they confirmed the `King of Rock' would appear for a fee of £350. Putting the phone down, I did a jig of elation in the street, much to the alarm of passers-by. However my delight was to be short lived. I made the stupid mistake of advertising my `coup' in the Echo - before receiving the contract!! The news that Little Richard was coming to the Tower electrified Liverpool. And sent the `Nemperor' hopping mad. Well he would be wouldn't he?? Even as an over-whelmed Derry Wilkie came to the Tower to shake my hand, a fuming Epstein was phoning Don Arden, telling him I had no money. These low tactics didn't work at first, but Epstein eventually gazumped me by offering £500. Such an exorbitant fee wasn't viable, but Epstein was hell-bent on retaining his self-styled position as `Nemperor of Merseyside.' A few days later I gave up my Tower franchise in protest at their lack of support against his unethical methods. Epstein tried to make the show profitable by doubling admission charges. Consequently the event was a financial disaster with only 1200 people attending.
Okay, I hold my hand up and admit. I was `chuffed.' But to my disappointment Little Richard seemed lethargic and his dance routines `square.' The funniest part of the night was when - to the crowds delight if not Little Richard's - an inspired Derry Wilkie jumped onstage and joined his hero in What'd I Say. Derry even showed the subdued `King' how to `bop.' Naturally, The Beatles stole the show. This became a regular occurrence no matter whom the advertised `Star.' Just as I had predicted almost two years before. Proudly I applauded as loudly as anyone when they finished their set. As they left the stage Paul gave me a thumbs up and John winked. Dolly's warning and Eppy's flushed cheeks when I refused to bring him in on the Tower came to mind, albeit too late. It was impossible to forget Epstein's harsh treatment of me in our business struggles.
But as a totally committed Beatle fan he was second to none. As my Wife Joan and I walked away from the Tower that night, she muttered. "You're better off without them. Brian Epstein hasn't got a clue about Rock 'n' Roll." Although Eppy was to prove the most successful entrepreneur of all time, Joan's opinion was confirmed the next time I saw him and Paul at the Empire theatre six months later. Please, Please Me had become their first `No I' and I suggested their next record should be Twist and Shout. Brian scoffed saying. "That isn't commercial enough." Paul looked suitably embarrassed and gave me a wink. Years later, when Beatles On Broadway was released, the first cheque I sent from the royalties was to NEMS for £19. Although Eppy had cost me money at that fateful final booking that never was, I felt it was a personal debt to the Beatles. Brian wrote back. "It really wasn't necessary but I appreciate it was important to you. My boys send you their kind regards in return." Whose boys? Not his.....or mine. They now belonged to their fans. That sentiment was proven when the Beatles returned to Liverpool in triumph for the premiere of Hard day's Night. Eppy sent complimentary tickets for Dolly, Joan and I. The Beatles had been worried that having been `AWOL' Liverpool might turn its back on them. Fancy them thinking that. Over a million turned out to welcome them back. Fans from Wales - including Tom Jones - were pretending to be scousers. Standing in the foyer, I admit there was `something in my eye' as the crowd's roars heralded their approach. Suddenly the side doors flew open and in the ensuing bedlam I saw George and Ringo being rushed in by their `minders.' George gave a quick wave saying "Look, there's Sam." And then they were whisked upstairs.
Up in the Circle we were seated just behind the four ordinary lads who had turned an unsuspecting World on its ear. Just before the Film started, I managed a few words with Paul. He grinned with delight when I asked. "What have you been doing these last few years? Can you play Knotty Ash Hall Friday?? But don't tell Eppy!!" Paul grinned. "I wish we could. Its been lunacy. No-one hears a word we sing anymore." At that moment Brian turned and chuckled. "I heard that Sam. Money up front of course?" Animosity shelved, Brian and I shook hands for the last time. Eppy had became a Rock in the Beatles career. I was content being a stepping stone.
Sam Leach interview on how he met The Beatles. (8:13 minutes)
January 25th 1961:
It was a damp and foggy night as I nervously approached Hambleton Hall, a miserable little dance hall on the outskirts of Liverpool. I was tense because a gang of `Teddy Boys' were following me to the same little dive. They were putting the boot into cars, lamp-posts and the occasional cat. We were all going to see a new group called The Beatles, who had just returned from Hamburg.