I'll never forget Judy Garland: there was someone who truly bestrode the world of light entertainment like a colossus. A bloated and wobbly colossus in later years, admittedly, but a colossus for all that.
But then, there were giants in those days. I've got particularly fond memories of the Merseybeat scene: Billy and his Dakotas, Freddy and his Dreamers, Ken and his Diddymen... I was lucky enough to rub shoulders with the biggest group of them all, although this was before those four lovable mop-heads hit the big time. People have called me the fifth Beatle, but I can't really claim that title; in my time the boys were still trading as the Quarry Men. The sixth Quarry Man, that was me.
And yes, there were five of them in those days: John, Paul, George, Ringo and Stan. Ringo McGonagall played drums, of course, and his brother Stan - what did Stan do? Well, what didn't he do? At this distance I'm not sure either way, to be honest, but it seemed to work at the time. Hamburg changed everything, though. When they got the offer Stan dug his heels in and said he wasn't going - didn't want anything to do with 'the Germans', apparently - and then Ringo walked out in solidarity.
Well, as the Quarry Men they'd had quite a set worked out, with a few standards and some of their own material: "PS I love you", "Tomorrow never knows", "We are the Quarry Men (Hey Hey)"... Working without a drummer, and without Stan, that all had to change. Initially the boys attempted a radical new direction, abandoning regular rhythms altogether in favour of a prototypical ambient sound. They even took a new name, 'the Beatless'. After a while they bowed down to convention and got a new drummer, but the name more or less stuck. Terrible scenes, there were, when they wheeled out the Best chap on drums. I can still hear the fans chanting 'We want Ringo!'
But Ringo was back in Liverpool, as indeed he is to this day. Once the boys had changed their name, the way was clear for him and Stan to revive the Quarry Men moniker. And they've kept it going to this day, with the addition of various new members on keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and vocals. They're actually working separately now, sad to say; Stan's relocated to Manchester, and Ringo's outfit goes out as The Scouse Quarry Men. He and Stan don't speak. There were never any hard feelings between Stan and the boys who went to Hamburg, though; he would often say that he was their biggest fan.
When you keep a band going for forty years, you can imagine that quite a lot of young musicians pass through the ranks. And so it was with Stan McGonagall and his Quarry Men: apparently the lineup of the Hollies, the Chameleons and the Happy Mondays consists very largely of former Quarry Men. Not to mention the Smiths. As it happens, I broached this very topic with Morrissey the other day. He's living in Los Angeles these days, is old Morrie. In a tree. Well, not in a tree, that would be ridiculous - it's more of a treehouse. Lovely place - all mod cons, central heating, Vimto on tap. I was shown around the place by Morrie's majordomo, local chap named Hector. At least, I think he was the majordomo - he said something to the effect that it was actually his house, but I didn't like to pry.
They made me feel very much at home, anyway - Hector shakes a mean Vimtini, let me tell you. Perhaps it was the drink talking, but at one point I asked old Morrie what had gone wrong - why wasn't he the big star he used to be? He wasn't best pleased, I can tell you. He glared at me, brandished an old Smiths 12" and said, with great aplomb, "Sir Frederick, I'm still big - it's just the records that have got small."
I apologised, of course, and Morrie was soon his old charming self again. Apparently the restricted dimensions of CD packaging are a genuine concern for him. His last album, for instance - Morrie and his old bandmates have never really got on, as you know, and the title of the album was meant to be one last dig at their journeyman background: "You are the Quarry Men". When the roughs came back, the desingers had chopped off the last word so as to fit it all in. Morrie was distraught, as you can imagine. He dashed off a quick number to serve as the title track -
"You are the quarry
Just a great big hole in the ground
You make no sound
Just an unattractive hole in the ground
Someone at the record company didn't like it, though, and the song never saw the light of day. I believe it's going to be on his forthcoming collection of B-sides and rarities, "These are the Songs you Never Deserved to Hear (Hey Hey)". It's something to look forward to.