Q&A: A Cavern dweller remembers the cellar

By  Rush Evans

Sitting front row center at the Pete Best Band’s Austin, Texas, performance in June was a woman who’d seen the drummer up close before. Nearly half a world away and half a century ago, Erika Bale was a music-loving Liverpool teen who was able to witness history unfolding before her eyes at a local club called the Cavern.

ErikaBalePeteBest07[1].jpgShe was so transfixed by the exciting music and the young men who made it that she would see The Beatles in their own hometown some 200 times. A day after seeing Pete Best perform in her adopted hometown all these years later, Bale shared just a few of her many memories from those extraordinary Cavern shows.

Goldmine: Any favorite memories of Pete from the Cavern days?

Erika Bale:
When he used to play at the Cavern, he sang about three songs [during the Beatles’ set]. When he sang, this girl used to get up and dance with him [while] he was playing drums. Her name was Kathy, and we used to call her Kathy Kingtwister. I said to him last night, “There was a girl that used to get up and dance with you, and we used to call her Kathy Kingtwister. I know your wife’s name is Kathy, is that the same one?” He just smiled and said, “Yes, that’s my Kathy.” That’s how he met her!

GM: How did you come to see them so many times at the Cavern?

They used to do lunchtime sessions and evening sessions. I used to go to both. I was still at school. If it was a school holiday, I could go to both, but if I was in school, I could only go in the evening. And I wasn’t allowed to go there, because, supposedly, that was a den of iniquity, which it wasn’t. It was about as innocent as you could get! So, I used to sign a different name in the book every time I went.

GM: In what way was it innocent?

EB: You couldn’t even get alcohol. And if a couple looked like they were getting too heavy, the bouncer would come split them up. I mean it was really innocent! I used to come out of there, [then] go down the road to NEMS [Record Store], which was Brian Epstein’s shop. [The Beatles’] only record then was “My Bonnie,” so we used to go in every day and ask for “My Bonnie.” Brian had no clue who the Beatles were. We told him who they were and where they played. And I remember the first time he came there to see them. If you watch the “Compleat Beatles” [documentary], he says, “If it hadn’t been for their constant requests, I would never have gone to see them.”

The whole place only held 300, and of the actual regulars, there was probably not even 50. I went to the airport one time to see [the Beatles] off to Germany. There were four of us at the airport, and one of them was Paul’s dad. He said, “I know he wants to be successful, and I know he can do it, but it’s a bit thick when you can’t have your own son home for Christmas.”

I’d just started working, and I’d been to see them when they were going to Germany. They’d autographed my arm; I put bandages over the top of that. I went to work, and they all said to me, “What happened to your arm?” I said, “I’ve got autographs,” and they said, “Who?” I said, “The Beatles,” and they said, “Who?” I said, “One of these days, they are gonna be so famous.” They all laughed at me.

GM: Did the Beatles recognize you as a Cavern fan when you saw them off at the airport at Christmastime?

EB: Oh yeah. We were talking to them. At Christmas, some of the girls brought presents. Someone brought Ringo a present, and he’d only just joined them. He was touched. When Pete got chucked out of the Beatles and Ringo had just started with them, they were playing at a lunchtime session and some heavy in the audience said, “We want Pete back!” And George [Harrison] said, “Bugger off.” This guy went up to George and punched him in the eye. So he had a black eye. That afternoon they had a photographic session.

GM: That’s a famous George Harrison moment, before the Dezo Hoffman photo shoot. You were there for black eye fight?

EB: Yes! My sister used to wash George’s car for him. He gave her instructions how to wash it. He told her to keep all the dirty water in a bucket. When she finished cleaning the car, he said, “Proceed to 20 Forthlin Road, and tip the dirty water in the bucket over the car outside.” That was Paul’s house!

GM: Any other great stories from the Cavern shows?

EB: We used to throw requests on pieces of paper on to the stage as well as threw jelly babies, because George said he liked them. We called ourselves the “Cement Mixers.” Don’t ask me where we got that idea from. But I’m reading a book about the Cavern two years ago, and [in it], Paul says [that] the original Beatles fans were fantastic. They gave themselves names like the “Cement Mixers.” At the replica of the Cavern, in the Beatles museum, there’s a plaque on the wall that says the same thing: “The original Beatles fans gave themselves names like the ‘Cement Mixers!’”

So tell me about Pete being the heartthrob and how it felt to the “regulars” to see a new drummer on stage.

EB: He was the best-looking one out of all of them. The first time I saw Ringo officially playing as one of the Beatles was at the Cavern and the BBC were there filming, Pete was in the audience, and he was in tears, because he’d been with them all along. I couldn’t tell him that last night, but I remember that.

GM: That must be the now-famous clip of the Beatles playing “Some Other Guy” at the Cavern.

EB: I’m in that. I used to always be on one of the front two rows, always. Don’t ask me how I did it, but I did. I’m sitting there front row again last night [for Pete’s show], I thought, “I’ve been doing this for 40-odd years!”

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