Historic Beatles guitar on sale for £100,000

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The Independent Culture

Ian James gave his school friend Paul McCartney his first lessons on a cheap Rex acoustic guitar. Now Mr James is putting it up for auction and the £100,000 it is expected to fetch will fund his retirement.

Accompanying the instrument, a signed letter from McCartney states: "The above guitar belonging to my old school pal Ian James was the first guitar I ever held. It was also the guitar on which I learnt my first chords in his house at 43 Elswich Street, Liverpool 8."

Those first chords from 15-year-old McCartney impressed John Lennon, who was a year older and was playing with his band, the Quarrymen, at a summer fête at St Peter's church hall in Woolton on 6 July 1957.

On being introduced to Lennon by a mutual friend, Ivan Vaughan, McCartney picked up a guitar and sang Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock" and Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula", convincing Lennon to let him join the group.

McCartney is quoted in The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz: "I showed him a few more chords he didn't know. Ian James had taught me them, really. Then I left. I felt I'd made a good impression, shown them how good I was."

A recording of the historic 1957 Quarrymen gig, where Lennon and McCartney met, sold at Sotheby's for £78,500 to Lennon's former record company EMI Records - the highest price ever fetched for a recording.

Mr James, whose grandfather was the bandmaster for their local Salvation Army band, had access to all kinds of instruments at home including a Spanish guitar which he taught himself to play. Now aged 64, the same age as McCartney, Mr James is a salesman with two children and lives in Ormskirk, Lancashire. He said: "When skiffle and subsequently rock'n'roll became popular around 1954-55 I wanted a more modern guitar. My grandparents bought the guitar for me when I was 12 or 13.

"I don't know exactly how much it cost, but it was definitely shillings rather than pounds. It was at the cheaper end of the scale."

He added: "I suppose in a way I helped to introduce Paul to playing music. I would like to think so anyway. Paul and I hung around together and after school we would often go back to my house. We both had an interest in rock'n'roll and I would show him a few chords and things.

"I taught Paul so he could play popular tunes and sing at the same time. I remember one day he told me he'd written a song and I thought, 'Blimey, that's hard.' I'd only ever been interested in playing the hits of the day. But from the outset Paul showed he had a skill for writing songs."

James narrowly missed playing alongside McCartney at the Woolton church fête. He recalls that day: "Paul had his own guitar by then and I had mine.

"I met John for the first time and one or two other members of The Quarrymen. They were deciding on who'd be playing which songs that evening. Then the vicar turned up and said the show wasn't on so we all went to a coffee bar, but I didn't stay too long - I got a bit fed up.

"I believe they went back to the hall and played together. That was the closest I got to being in the Beatles. I've got no real regrets. I don't know if I'd have taken to the lifestyle."

The friends, who went to the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, lost touch for 28 years but were reunited in 1991, at a Wings concert in their hometown.

James said: "When I met him it was quite emotional. Since then we've kept in touch."

Cooper Owen creative director Louise Cooper said: "Who knows what would have happened to the history of music if Ian hadn't taught Paul those first few chords? That famous meeting at the Woolton Fête may never have taken place and we could have been deprived of the world's greatest band. This is a significant and historic guitar."

The guitar, which goes on sale at the Cooper Owen's Music Legends auction at Abbey Road Studios on 28 July, includes a photograph of McCartney playing the guitar and a photograph of James playing the guitar in 1957 taken by the former Beatle.