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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project