Instant karma: schooldays with John Lennon
An Irishman’s Diary: ‘I remember him saying how easy pop music was and how easy it was to write songs’
‘Geoff Rhind points out that the Fab Four had many Irish connections and wonders why “Ireland never really claimed the Beatles” because, as he says, they belonged to “The Liverpool Irish”.’ Above, the Beatles perform in a club prior to signing their first recording contract. From left, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and original drummer Pete Best. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
We all meet creative individuals in our schooldays who don’t fit in with the system, but who are very clever, witty and imaginative and contribute to our wellbeing and sense of fun as we wade through the curriculum, year by year.
It’s easy to think of John Lennon in this category and first-hand confirmation is available from his Liverpool contemporary, Geoff Rhind, now a distinguished artist living in Dublin. Rhind – the name is of Scottish origin – recalls how Lennon and himself were in the same class at Quarry Bank High School over a five-year period.
The two boys were in the C-stream, so neither of them could be classified as “swots” and they sat next to each other for an hour-and-a-half every week in art class, which was one subject they were both good at.
It won’t surprise anyone to hear that Lennon was a something of an imp and a tearaway. Rhind is used to being asked the question: “What was he like?” The answer is that the future Beatle had what we now call charisma. Lennon was “funny but could be cruel”. Sometimes he would pick on other boys, or maybe one of the teachers, as the butt of his jokes.
Rhind describes his classmate as “very much a leader and trendsetter”. He loved word-play and used to circulate a “magazine” – really a school copybook – called “The Daily Howl” containing his humorous observations: a forerunner of his books, In his Own Write (1964) and A Spaniard in the Works (1965).
All the boys used to cycle everywhere and Lennon rode a green Raleigh Lenton. “John was always getting into trouble,” his classmate remembers. “He wouldn’t apply himself to the things he was supposed to be interested in.”
Although Lennon’s concentration wasn’t great, he was “brilliant in his own way and more concerned with getting people to laugh”. His musical genius was already coming to the fore: “I remember him saying how easy pop music was and how easy it was to write songs.” (Easy for you, John, say the rest of us.)
I became aware of the Rhind-Lennon connection during a recent tour of Beatle “homesteads” on Merseyside, organised by Britain’s National Trust. First we stopped off at the modest McCartney residence and then moved on to the distinctly more middle-class house where Lennon was reared.
The Lennon house, known as Mendips, displayed the famous photograph of John singing with his band, “The Quarrymen” at a garden fete on July 6th, 1957. Although Paul isn’t in the photograph, this was the first occasion on which they met and it was Geoff Rhind who took the picture.
The expression “Kodak moment” refers to a rare occasion captured in a photo and, appropriately enough, the camera Rhind used in taking the picture was a Kodak Cresta which he received as a birthday present seven weeks earlier. He recalls that, by today’s standards, it was a fairly basic piece of equipment, but it did the job.
Rhind points out that there are 17 people in the photograph, including the band-members and a bunch of young and curious onlookers, male and female, two of them wearing Brownie/Girl Guide uniforms. The picture captures the way John is strumming busily on his guitar while Len Garry provides support on the tea-chest bass that was popular with “skiffle-groups” at the time. There were four others: Colin Hanton (drums), Rod Davis (banjo), Pete Shotton (washboard) and the late Eric Griffiths (guitar).
The Quarrymen transmogrified into the Beatles three years later, with some changes in personnel. Rhind points out that the Fab Four had many Irish connections and wonders why “Ireland never really claimed the Beatles” because, as he says, they belonged to “The Liverpool Irish”.
We are told that Lennon had family connections with Dublin and with Omagh, Co Tyrone; that Sir Paul has links with Co Monaghan and that George Harrison’s forebears, on his mother’s side, hailed from the townland of Corah, near Ferns, Co Wexford.
When their schooling finished at Quarry Bank, both Rhind and Lennon went on to the Liverpool College of Art. The last time they ever spoke, John was about to be expelled: “I came across him in the corridor, he was standing outside the principal’s office; there was this guy glaring at us all the time and, in the end, John said: ‘I’m in the shit, I think you’d better go, Geoff’.”
Looking back on it all now, Geoff Rhind says of Lennon: “He was just an amazing character. He was a one-off.” Few of us would disagree with that.