13 September 2016
In 1960 Johnny Gentle toured Scotland with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who would later become the Beatles.
Original interview published in Scottish Memories magazine.
Even legendary musicians have to start somewhere, and while most fans of the fab four are aware of their stint in Germany before they found fame, few know that George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney played a tour of Scotland with Sixties heart-throb Johnny Gentle at the start of the decade they would later help define.
Liverpool-born John Askew found fame after winning a talent contest in London and was soon signed to Philips Records. Two singles followed as the 1960s began and before long the newly named Johnny Gentle was setting off on a tour of Scotland with a bunch of Liverpool lads.
‘Larry Parnes, my and Billy Fury’s manager, negotiated tours of Scotland with booking agent Duncan McKennon for most of Parnes’ artists to do a tour of several dance halls scattered around Scotland,’ Johnny told Scottish Memories. ‘Rather than send backing groups from London he arranged to audition Liverpool groups. It was arranged that the Beatles would back me.’
Johnny Gentle tour with the Beatles, 1960
- 20 May - The Town Hall, Marsh Hill Alloa
- 21 May - The Northern Meeting Ballroom, Church Street, Inverness
- 23 May - Dalrymple Hall, Seaforth Street, Fraserburgh
- 25 May - St Thomas’ Hall, Chapel Street, Keith
- 26 May - The Town Hall, High Street, Forres
- 27 May - The Regal Ballroom, Leopold Street, Nairn
- 28 May - The Rescue Hall, Prince Street, Peterhead
First show with John, Paul and George
Meeting their temporary lead singer an hour before the first show, the musicians struggled through the performance, as Johnny explains. ‘We sent the Beatles my repertoire about two weeks before the start of the tour so they could practice… The first night could have been better so we rehearsed all the next day and the second night was much better. They were a real fun bunch of lads.’
In just a few years the two guitarists and bass player would become household names but in May 1960, they were just teenagers, John and Paul were eighteen and George was just sixteen. ‘We did socialise after the shows and got to know each other quite well being cooped up in a van travelling from one gig to another. I knew then that John Lennon was an unusual guy who was very curious about the London showbiz scene and I did think that they should try their luck in London. At that time he seemed more serious than having a wicked sense of humour.’
Memories of the Beatles
Since that memorable tour Johnny’s career has been dominated by his link to the Beatles. ‘I never imagined how big and how good the boys would become,’ he says. ‘Had I known I would have kept a diary of everything about the tour and wish I had taped the shows we did.’
Despite not keeping a better record of the few weeks he spent with the trio, Johnny has a website and has written a book about his Scottish tour. He still has plenty of wonderful memories of the time.
‘Shortly after the tour I visited the boys in Liverpool and watched them doing a gig across the Mersey at a dance hall in Wallesey on the Wirral,’ he says. ‘When I walked into the hall John spotted me, announced me to the audience and invited me up to the stage to do a song. We ended up doing the whole set we did on the Scottish tour. I had several tours of Scotland after the Beatles tour and requested my manager get me the Beatles for my second tour but they were already booked to go to Hamburg in Germany. The rest is history!’
Other superstars that Johnny met included Eddie Cochran. 'I was on the show with him at the Bristol Hippodrome the night he was killed. The unfortunate thing was he asked me if I could give him, Sharon Sheeley and Gene Vincent a lift to Heathrow as they were going back to the USA that morning. Unfortunately I had a car full so had to refuse. I often think if a had room and could have given him a lift how different it could have been if he hadn’t needed to get a hire cab. This cab then went on to crash.’
Johnny’s career continued after the tour with more singles released, before he joined The Viscounts, but he will always be remembered for that legendary tour of Scotland that gave three Liverpool teenagers valuable experience for their world-changing careers.