How a Norwich boy taught The Beatles how to rock and roll
PUBLISHED: 10:17 20 May 2018 | UPDATED: 10:17 20 May 2018
It was 55 years ago this week when four young lads headed into Norwich to make music... and they had been “taught” how to play rock ‘n’ roll in Germany by a city-born rebel rouser.
When they played the Grosvenor Ballroom, Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, on May 17, 1963, I doubt if anyone realised their links with one Norwich man.
Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity, known as Tony Sheridan, never got the credit he deserved. When it came to playing the guitar he was the one they all looked up to.
The boys who called him “The Teacher” were The Beatles who went on to become the biggest pop group the world has ever seen.
Mention his name to many of the top names from the music scene in the late 50s/early 60s and they will say: “Tony Sheridan. The guitarist. What a character. I never know he came from Norwich.”
Tony was no quiet man in the corner. He was a rock ‘n’ roll wild cat who always did his own thing and went his own way. They said sharing a stage with him would either make or break a musician.
It made The Beatles.
When John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best went to Hamburg they met up with Tony, backing him on stage, making their first records with him. They would watch him singing and playing... learning all the time.
And Tony also lost his drummer. A chap by the name of Ringo who joined The Beatles. It turned out to be a wise move.
The Beatles had been booked to play in Norwich by Peter “Pip” Holmes, Ray Aldous and Geoff Walker. It cost them £250 but they turned down the offer of two more gigs from manager Brian Epstein because it was a financial risk.
“At the time, they were just starting out on their career and when we signed the deal, £250 was a lot of money, so we didn’t take up the offer. That’s life,” Ray told me years ago.
Sharing the bill with them at the Grosvenor – another fine building we have lost – were Norfolk favourites Ricky Lee & The Hucklebucks and Ricky recalled: “There was no big-headedness about them. They were just some of the lads. During our set they were standing near the stage door watching and I remember seeing John strumming along with us.”
The Liverpool lads brought the house down. “As soon as they started playing we realised there was something very special about them,” added Ricky.
They had fish and chips at Valori’s, took in a film at the ABC, brought the house down and disappeared into the night to become the most famous band in the whole wide world.
Tony Sheridan did come back to Norwich from his home in Germany, for reunions at his old school, CNS, and to play at the Evening News Golden Years charity gigs.
He was born at his home, 38 Glenmore Gardens in Norwich in May of 1940 during the Second World War. After moving around the family returned to the city in 1945 and lived at York Street off Unthank Road and then Hansell Road in Thorpe St Andrew.
A pupil at Bignold Infants School (known as Crooks Place) he moved on to the City of Norwich School where he proved himself to be a highly gifted young man. He had a leading role in the school production of The Mikado in 1951 and played the violin in the orchestra.
But the boy Tony got in a spot of bother when: -
“It was a clarinet in the music room at school which caught my eye. As far as I could see nobody ever seemed to play it so one day I decided to take it. I took it to a pawn shop in Norwich where I got my first old battered guitar.
“The next day I was hauled into the headmaster’s study (after the police had been in touch with the school) and I had a LOT of explaining to do. Look, I was being trained in classical music. Nothing else was allowed – it was very restrictive.”
Away from the classroom he was playing with the Saints skiffle group at Thorpe with Andy Kinley, John Taylor, Kenny Packwood – who went on to play lead guitar with Marty Wilde – and a great Norwich singer Mireille Gray.
They picked up £15 for winning a skiffle show at The Industrial Club (The Talk) and then Tony heard Lonnie Donegan sing Rock Island Line.” I was hooked on becoming a professional musician.”
He added: “I was an the art school in Norwich pretending to study art but I never wanted to anything else other than write, record, all that. It was in my blood.
“It seemed at the time everyone was against our music. Being a skiffle or rock ‘n’ roll man in Norwich of the late 50s was akin to being one of the Kray twins. I had to leave – I had to get my freedom. I thought Norwich was destined to be a Fine Conservative City for ever.
“Skiffle had turned me on so I got rid of my pimples, got my guitar and headed off down the All to the bright lights,” he said.
Tony went to the 2i’s coffee bar in Soho where his playing took off. There was talk of him joining The Drifters who became The Shadows.
He had the honour of being the first man to play live electric guitar on TV’s Oh Boy show. He appeared with Kenny Packwood, also forgotten in Norwich.
He toured with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, played on dozens of hit records, and then headed off to Germany where he was the biggest name on the notorious Hamburg strip. He topped the bill at the famous Top Ten. How they loved their own king of rock ‘n’ roll.
Tony lived an extraordinary life. He travelled the world with his guitar on his back and described himself as a “wandering minstrel”. No-one told him what to do or where to go. His private life was always, well, private.
His story is told by his school friend Alan Mann in a book called: The Teacher: The Tony Sheridan Story. It was published some time ago but is available on Amazon.
Tony died in 2013 and there have been calls for him to be remembered and honoured in his home city but nothing has happened... so far.