15th June, 2015

Interview: Joe Flannery, Booking Officer for The Beatles

Could you describe the relationship you had with John Lennon growing up?

"John was a friend and a regular visitor to my home. The whole group used to visit me, Pete Best was the drummer back then. I lived in Tue Brook, Liverpool, and John visited my house separately on occasions, he used to call it "the posh house". He seemed to enjoy spending time in front of the open fire. I remember he used to lie on his stomach with his legs beating out a rhythm behind him, writing songs on scraps of paper. I used to throw the papers on the fire - maybe I should've kept hold of them!

"John and I made regular trips down to the Pier Head area of Liverpool where we could enjoy a coffee and a pie whilst listening to Radio Luxembourg. They used to play all the rock n' roll hits in the 60s and we used to listen out for the early Beatles recordings. He used to wonder how successful the band could become and I remember him saying that if it didn't work out he was going to join the merchant navy and go on to live in New York. As it happens, the latter part of that came true."

Please tell us a bit more about your role of Booking Officer for The Beatles.

"Brian Epstein and I grew up together and met as youngsters through a family furniture business. After school and some time together in the army, our friendship gelled. Brian always wanted to be an actor and I, having such a passion for music, actually wanted to be a singer. I remember Brian coming to me and asking if I'd go round the clubs taking bookings for The Beatles because he was very well spoken and didn't think it would suit if he was going round taking the bookings. So that became my job and Brian handled the contacts and business side of things. We would meet up every few days to share notes. We had other bands on our books too, such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla, Beryl Marsden and Billy J Kramer."

 

How did the success of the band affect your friendship?

"We seemed to go our separate ways for a while following the success of the band. When I got to the Star Club in Hamburg, I soon became stage management and still worked with Brian - then of NEMS - to book bands under Carlton Brooke Management. Had I accepted Brian's offer to join him in London, I would've been in a similar position to Robert Stigwood."

Having lost contact with John for a while, please tell us about that phone call from New York?

"After a number of years, John had retired from The Beatles and was living in New York. Many people thought that his productivity had slowed down since the band split, but I always knew he'd keep writing. I was sat in an office with Clive Epstein when we heard the news that John was back in the studio recording his first solo album in five years (Double Fantasy). I called Hit Factory studios that day in an attempt to contact John. I remember being greeted by a receptionist with a deep Bronx accent who told me I couldn't speak to John, but I insisted that she left a message to say his good friend 'Flo Jannery' had called. It was literally only 20 minutes until the receptionist called back asking "who exactly are you?" because John was waiting to speak to me from the studio."

So tell us about that conversation, what did you and John speak about?

"He was asking what Clive and I were doing and told me of his plans to return home "in a blaze of glory". John told me that he wanted to charter the Cunard's QE2 to bring him home to Liverpool via the River Mersey. I in turn told him that I didn't think it was possible because the river hadn't been dredged. I did, however, contact the Cunard offices who were more than happy to fulfil John's wishes. In fact, John had also asked for Clive and I to fly over to New York to meet with his entourage and join him for the return journey. Sadly John never got the chance to carry out his journey home. I did still travel to New York, I visited the Dakota building and paid my respects to Yoko Ono and family."

 

Joe Flannery has been described as the 'Secret Beatle', and as the business associate and partner of Brian Epstein, he became an integral part of The Beatles' management team during their rise to fame in the early 1960s. Standing in the Wings is Flannery's account of this fascinating era, which included the controversial dismissal of Pete Best from the group (nothing to do with London, but matters back in Liverpool), Brian Epstein's fragility, and the importance of the Star Club in Hamburg. This book is not simply a biography, as it also considers issues to do with sexuality in 1950s Liverpool, the vagaries of the music business at that time and the hazards of personal management in the 'swinging sixties'.

At its heart, Standing in the Wings provides an in-depth look at Flannery's personal and professional relationship with Epstein and his close links with the Fab Four. Shortly before John Lennon's murder in 1980, it was Flannery who was one of the last people in the UK to talk to the great man. Indeed, Flannery remains one of the few 'Beatle people' in Liverpool to have the respect of the surviving Beatles, and this is reflected in this timely and revealing book.

 

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