.60 Years ago this year, on Saturday 12th July 1958, five Liverpool lads made their way to the Kensington area of Liverpool to visit Phillips Sound Recording Service, a place they had heard about from a friend, where they could cut a record of their group’s music. John Lennon, carrying his acoustic guitar, was their leader; Paul McCartney, also with his acoustic guitar; George Harrison, with his acoustic guitar; John Duff Lowe, piano player and Colin Hanton, carrying his drum kit.
The five were all members of The Quarrymen, a local group which had started out a couple of years before, when John Lennon had first assembled his pals into a skiffle group at Quarry Bank Grammar School. Group members had come and gone since then and only Colin Hanton remained from the original line up. This was a time when the boys were venturing into the world of Rock and Roll, having heard Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.
The five teenagers arrived at Percy Phillips Studio as Percy was in the middle of transferring a tape to disc for a ‘Speke boy’, as the Studio log book records. They were offered a cup of tea and a piece of jam sponge cake by Mrs Phillips as they sat waiting in the kitchen area next to the studio and then they were invited into the small studio room by Percy Phillips.
As the boys prepared themselves, Percy set up two microphones on stands, one for the guitars and vocals and one for the piano and drums. It was quite unusual in those days for such a group to have a drummer with a proper drum kit so Percy put Colin Hanton back near the wall next to the fireplace and the three singer/guitarists in the middle of the room around the microphone. John Lowe sat at the upright studio piano against the wall. Blankets hung across the window and door and there were two layers of carpet on the floor to help get a ‘studio’ sound in the room.
Percy was preparing his tape recorder when it became clear that the Quarrymen did not have enough money to record first to tape and then cut onto a disc. It cost 17/6 (17 shillings and sixpence) to record onto tape first. This was the usual practice as it allowed for further takes if any mistakes were made. But as the boys did not have enough money, Percy told them that they would have to record direct to disc. This would cost 11/3 (11 shillings and threepence) and would require a perfect rendition of the songs, first time.
Percy would cut the disc as the group were playing, which was quite a nerve-racking experience. The Quarrymen chose ‘That’ll Be The day’ as side one. This Buddy Holly song was a favourite that they played in their live set so after a run through, Percy counted them in with his fingers and they played it directly onto the acetate disc. It was quite a skill on Percy’s part to operate the disc cutting lathe under such circumstances but it all went well and the group finished playing the song in just under two minutes and ten seconds.
Before recording side two, the boys had a discussion about what song it should be and decided on a song that Paul McCartney had written recently, called ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’. The group were not entirely sure how this song went but after a quick rehearsal, they started playing as Percy counted them in and began cutting the disc. After three minutes had elapsed Percy signalled to the group that they should end the song soon, as he could only fit three and a half minutes on the disc with the lathe set up as it was, so the Quarrymen brought the song to a close after three minutes and twenty five seconds, much to everyone’s relief.
And so, after about half an hour on the premises and after paying the fee, the group left the studio with their first ever record, a ten inch 78RPM aluminium and acetate disc with the ‘Kensington’ label, ‘recorded by PF Phillips’ and instructions to ‘Play with a lightweight pickup’. Later, Paul McCartney wrote on the label for side one, ‘That’ll Be The Day, Holly, Petty’ and on side two, ‘In Spite Of All The Danger, McCartney, Harrison’, giving George credit because he had played the guitar solo.
Paul McCartney remembers what happened next to their first record, ‘When we got the record, the agreement was that we would have it for a week each. John had it a week and passed it on to me. I had it for a week and passed it on to George, who had it for a week. Then Colin had it for a week and passed it to Duff Lowe – who kept it for 23 years.’ Paul McCartney bought the disc from John Lowe in 1981 and now has the disc in his record collection and this amazing Beatles artefact is said to be the most valuable record in the World.