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31st March, 2019

Mother, You Had Me: The Beatles' Mothers and their influence

As fans all over the world today still thirst for all the knowledge about The Beatles they can get their hands on, it’s no secret that details about the lives of the four lads from Liverpool that shook the world are documented extensively. Intricate details of their lives before The Beatles, their journey to stardom and the solo legacies that came after are so readily available that now, anyone can relive the story of the biggest band of all time. But what of the four women that brought them into this world? It is perhaps surprising that throughout the reams of literature written on the fab four, there isn’t more celebrating the women that raised them.

This Mother’s Day, The Beatles Story has decided to celebrate these four women and their influence on each of The Beatles.

 

Julia Lennon

It is well known amongst Beatles fans of John Lennon’s pure admiration for his mother. She was known by those in her life as being high-spirited, musical, and having a strong sense of humour; traits that could arguably be used to describe John also. Julia’s influence on John was profound; from fuelling his musical desire in her life, to influencing John and his music long after her tragic ending.

Julia was born on 12th March 1914 in Liverpool. She was always a heavily musical spirit, playing ukulele, piano accordion, and banjo. It has been said that she loved to sing too and would regularly break out in to spontaneous song.

 

 

Although John was raised predominantly by Julia’s older sister Mimi, Julia kept in contact with John as often as was possible. Julia greatly encouraged John in pursuing music and even bought him his first guitar. As John initially had difficulty learning guitar chords, Julia taught him banjo and ukulele chords, which were simpler.

“The very first tune I ever learned to play was ‘That’ll Be The Day’. My mother taught it to me on the banjo, sitting there with endless patience until I managed to work out all the chords” - John Lennon

Julia's banjo was the first instrument that John learned to play. After Julia's untimely death, the instrument that was the catalyst for one of the greatest musical legends of all time was never seen again. Its whereabouts still remains a mystery to this day.

On 15 July 1958, when John was just 17 years old, Julia was killed by a car driven by an off-duty policeman. John was traumatised by her death. It contributed to the emotional difficulties that haunted him for much of his life, but also served to draw him closer to Paul McCartney, who had also lost his mother at an early age.

Julia's memory inspired John to write songs such as the 1968 Beatles song ‘Julia’, with its dreamlike imagery recalling John's memories of his mother.

“Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering
In the sun
Julia, Julia”

John also wrote ‘Mother’ and ‘My Mummy's Dead’ inspired by his mother’s memory, both of which were released on his solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band in 1970. His first son, Julian, was named after his mother.

It is impossible for us to determine whether John Lennon’s legacy today would be different if not for Julia, but what is evident is that Julia’s influence on John is intertwined with his musical endeavours throughout her life and following her death. To this day, Julia’s memory lives on through the legacy of John and through his immortalisation of her in his music.

 

 

 

Mary McCartney

In years to come following the release of ‘Let It Be’, fans across the globe would interpret ‘Mother Mary’ as a religious symbol, but the truth was much was more literal for Paul McCartney. Around the autumn of 1968 when tensions within The Beatles grew more difficult, Paul wrote the song after his mother, who had passed away 10 years previously, appeared in a dream of his.

“There was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: ‘Let it be’.” – Paul McCartney

Today, the story of the dream that inspired this heartfelt song is well-known amongst Beatles fans, but much less is known about the women who spoke the words of advice that calmed her perturbed son and inspired a hit.

Mary McCartney was born on 29th September 1909 in Liverpool. At the age of 14, she began training as a nurse and for the remainder of her life, worked as a midwife. Her occupation meant she was on call day and night; Paul’s earliest memory of his mother was watching her cycling to work at 3am one morning when the streets were “thick with snow”.

 

 

Shortly after Paul entered his teens, Mary was sadly diagnosed with cancer. She died of an embolism on 31 October 1956, after an operation to stop the cancer spreading. Mary was always thinking of her two children and wanted the best for them in life, even in her last moments. Her sister-in-law Dill Mohin who was with Mary when she died, said the last words she heard her say were: “I would love to have seen the boys growing up".

Paul wrote ‘I Lost My Little Girl’ just after Mary had died, and explained that it was a subconscious reference to his late mother. It was the first song he ever wrote at 14 years old. He later named his daughter Mary after his mother:

“That became a very big bond between John and me, because he lost his mum early on, too. We both had this emotional turmoil which we had to deal with and, being teenagers, we had to deal with it very quickly.”

Mary’s influence on Paul even today stems way beyond just musical inspiration. As well as his legendary musician status, Paul McCartney is well known for his activism in support of environmental health and animal rights which, according to Paul, was down to his mother’s influence. Mary would often take Paul for walks through the countryside. Paul attributes these frequent trips out of Liverpool to the countryside for inspiring his love of nature from an early age.

 

Louise Harrison

Unlike Julia Lennon and Mary McCartney, little is known about the mother of ‘the quiet Beatle’. Family and friends of the Harrison’s frequently describe Louise Harrison as being incredibly supportive of her son’s pursuit of music, buying him his first guitar and lessons, as well as being an enthusiastic music fan herself. When George Harrison first crossed paths with The Quarrymen in early 1958, John Lennon was reluctant to let the then only 14-year-old George join the band until he heard him play. The rest is history. If it wasn’t for the support and help of his mother, George may not have had such experience and technical skill beyond his years to have persuaded Lennon on the day of that fateful first meeting.

Louise Harrison was born 10th March 1911 in Liverpool. She met her husband-to-be Harold Harrison when she was a teenager working as a grocer's assistant. They married in 1930 and had four children with George being the youngest born in 1943.

Louise’s support of her son’s love of music was profound; when George first started playing guitar, Louise would sit up all night listening to him practice.

"All she wanted for her children is that they should be happy, and she recognised that nothing made George quite as happy as making music." – Pattie Boyd

It's been said by many people that out of any Beatles parents or family members, The Harrison's were the least private. They were known to invite fans into their home and loved chatting to fans about their son’s success.

Like George, Louise was an enthusiastic music fan from an early age, being known amongst friends for her loud singing voice. When Louise was pregnant with George, she often listened to the weekly broadcast Radio India. Harrison's biographer Joshua Greene wrote, "Every Sunday she tuned in to mystical sounds evoked by Sitars and Tablas, hoping that the exotic music would bring peace and calm to the baby in the womb”. Little did she know, this was the music that would inspire her son’s embracement of Indian culture and Hindu-aligned spirituality in later life.

Sadly, she died on July 7th 1970 aged only 59. Although she never got to see how much George would go on to accomplish post-Beatles, she lived long enough to see her son change popular music and the world forever.

 

Elsie Starkey

Ringo Starr spent a large portion of his childhood and youth in hospital suffering from serious illnesses; his mother, Elsie Starkey, was told that he may die on at least three occasions. Throughout this, Elsie was very protective of Ringo, visiting every day for sometimes months on end and ensuring she was doing everything for her son that she possibly could. Being the only child of Elsie’s, Ringo was very close to his mother. With her love and care, she helped her son grow into the strong, talented musician that would go to be the most successful drummer that ever lived.

Elsie was born in Liverpool on 19 October 1914. She married Dick Starkey, in 1936 and had one child with him, Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey) in 1940. Her and Dick later divorced in 1943 and she remarried ten years later to painter, Harry Graves.

 

 

Raising Ringo alone, Elsie reportedly took several jobs to make ends meet. She mostly worked as a barmaid and would take shifts in the evening after visiting her son at the hospital throughout the day.

“We were poor but never in rags. I was lucky. I was her only child. She could spend more time with me.” - Ringo Starr

Elsie was very proud of her son. During The Beatle’s days, she would cut out several magazine and newspaper articles and save them in metal tins; something which her son would go on to discover after her passing:

"Later, even when I was in The Beatles, she must have emptied my bag or my pockets when I came home and put random things away. I'd never have saved that stuff. There were notes and memos from Brian (the band's manager Brian Epstein) - 'Make sure you look smart tonight, lads, it's a big show'.
“That woman loved every second of my life and remembered every second of it."

Surviving the other Beatles’ mothers, Elsie Starkey passed away 1st January 1987, aged 72. To her, Julia, Mary and Louise - we thank you.

Emma Davies

Emma is a Music student at Liverpool University and Sales and Marketing Intern at The Beatles Story.

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