Obituary: Eric Griffiths

Quarry Man who made way for George Harrison

THE EVOLUTION of the Beatles line-up into John, Paul, George and Ringo was by no means clear-cut. What began as John Lennon's 1957 skiffle group, the Quarry Men, went through 16 changes in personnel and several names to arrive at the famed quartet in August 1962. Pete Best was the unluckiest member, being replaced at the brink of fame; Stuart Sutcliffe was the unlikeliest member, as his talent lay in art; but the Quarry Men themselves would not have come into being without Eric Griffiths's staunch support.

He remained in its ranks for 15 months, finally leaving the group in 1958, shortly after George Harrison's arrival, and nearly five years before the Beatles' first big success.

Griffiths was born in Denbigh in 1940 and his father, a fighter pilot, was killed in action a few months later. After the Second World War, his mother moved to the Liverpool suburb of Bootle with Eric and his sister Joan. When Eric was 10, the family had a further move to Woolton and, on his first day at Quarry Bank High School, Eric met two rebellious pupils, John Lennon and Pete Shotton. They grew up with an interest in girls, clothes and cigarettes, and, come 1956, the skiffle music of Lonnie Donegan.

"We both went to a guitar teacher in Hunts Cross," Griffiths recalled,

but the idea of trying to play the guitar properly and not being able to get a tune out of it for some time was pretty boring. John's mother retuned our guitar strings and

showed us her banjo chords and we played in that manner until Paul McCartney joined. We were more interested in playing than learning.

With another Quarry Bank schoolboy, Rod Davis, on banjo and an outsider, Colin Hanton, on drums, they became the Quarry Men and various members came and went on the tea-chest bass until the role was filled by Len Garry. Their early performances included an audition on the Carroll Levis Discoveries show at the Liverpool Empire, although neither Levis nor the audience recognised their talent that night.

On 6 July 1957, the Quarry Men played St Peter's Church fete in Woolton. This involved three appearances in one day: performing on the back of a lorry in the procession around the suburb, playing in a tent in a large field and providing the evening entertainment in the church hall. It was a fair assignment for an untried act but they did satisfactorily, being appreciated by their schoolfriends. The day proved significant, too, as the occasion when Lennon first met Paul McCartney.

By now the group's repertoire was expanding. According to Griffiths,

John was the leader and so what he sang dictated the repertoire, but he knew that we could only play what we could manage on our instruments. The skiffle songs were the easiest to play but, by the time of the fete, we were playing Elvis Presley's hits, which were a little bit more difficult.

Skiffle was tolerated by jazz fans at the Cavern club, but, when the Quarry Men appeared in August 1958, the club's manager, Alan Sytner, sent a note to the stage, "Cut out the bloody rock'n'roll."

When the 15-year-old guitarist George Harrison joined the group in 1958, Griffiths was asked to switch to bass, but the expense would have been too much for his mother. Griffiths left the Quarry Men to become an officer cadet in the Merchant Navy. In 1963, serving in the Persian Gulf, he heard on the radio the Beatles' "Please Please Me" - their first big hit.

Griffiths found his niche when he joined the prison service in 1967. He reported on the productivity of prisoners and became the head of Planning and Promotion for the prison service in Scotland. But he felt that his lack of formal qualifications prevented him from rising higher in the Civil Service, and in 1985 he bought a launderette and developed a chain of dry cleaners around Edinburgh. In 1993 he took redundancy from the Civil Service and built up his chain of CareClean shops.

In 1997, Griffiths's life changed again when he attended a party for the 40th anniversary of the Cavern. He was reunited with Shotton, Garry, Hanton and Davis and, after an impromptu set, they reformed as the Quarry Men for the next fete at St Peter's Church. Their success led to appearances at Beatle conventions and they toured the UK, North and South America and Japan. In 1997 they recorded their first album, Get Back - Together (1997), which was followed last year by Songs We Remember. The Beatles' official biographer, Hunter Davies, wrote a biography of the band, The Quarrymen (2001).

Their performances were shambolic, but that was part of their charm. If they had practised and become more proficient, it would not have been like the Quarry Men circa 1957 and so they would have missed the point. Griffiths had a crumpled face but he still had the mop of thick brown hair that he had had back then. He was too taciturn to be much of a stage performer but he was always courteous with fans.

When I saw the Quarry Men give a two-hour concert in the Paul McCartney Auditorium at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in 2000, I asked Griffiths if they sounded like they did in 1957. "Yes, we were pretty awful back then, much the same as tonight," he replied.

Eric Ronald Griffiths, guitarist and singer: born Denbigh 31 October 1940; married (three sons); died Edinburgh 29 January 2005.

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