The Quarrymen


The Quarry Bank school song contained the words "Quarrymen, strong before our birth", and this probably gave John Lennon and Pete Shotton the idea for their name. The Quarry Bank motto was "Out of this rock, you will find truth" - how appropriate is that? They told their truth with their Rock - and roll! Wasn't that what John ultimately wanted through his rock music?

You will often see their name split as QUARRYMEN - this is how it appeared on Colin's drum. However, I asked Rod Davis - from The Quarrymen - and he has always used it as one word. “It was only split to fit on the drum head and the tea-chest bass” he said.


So what was it that led to hundreds of new groups appearing almost overnight in Britain? It was skiffle, which is a musical style that came from America, played mainly by black musicians, and dating back to about the 1920s.

Lonnie Donegan was the man responsible when his record, “Rock Island Line” hit the UK top ten in 1956, and made it to number 1 in the US. Skiffle groups started springing up out of nowhere, because you didn't need much technology or expertise, musical or otherwise. The basic line-up for a group was: guitar, banjo, washboard, tea-chest bass and if you were really lucky, a drummer. The music was quite straightforward, and didn't need much musical tuition or know-how. Guitar sales increased amazingly, and something like 5,000 skiffle groups appeared.

The standard instruments were a guitar, banjo and washboard.This was supplemented by the tea chest bass. This has been described in various books, but rarely accurately. It was a square packing case that used to contain the tea being shipped over to this country, hence tea chest. It was upturned, painted, and then a brush handle was strung to the box, and as it was pulled tight, you would twang the string, making the sound reverberate in the sound box at the bottom.

The craze didn't last long, as "Rock Island Line" was knocked off the top of the US charts by Elvis, with "Heartbreak Hotel". Rock 'n' Roll was here to stay, and by the end of 1957, skiffle was already on its way out. And so, like many other teenagers, a group of friends in Woolton decided to form a skiffle group of their own, not realising where it would lead.

Quarrymen line-up

The Quarrymen were formed in the middle of 1956 - summertime most likely - though no precise date is available. Many books suggest it was in 1957, but not according to Len Garry, one time tea-chest bass player with the Quarrymen. Len remembers joining in about September 1956, and they were already formed by then, so it must have been before then.

Eric seems to remember it being a lad called George Lee at school who initially suggested forming the skiffle group, but what happened to him nobody knows!  To be formed at school, it had to before mid-July when the schools finished for the summer holidays. 

John was then the instigator, who formed them with his schoolmates from Quarry Bank School - Pete Shotton, Eric Griffiths and Rod Davis.

Initially there was John on guitar and vocals, with Pete Shotton on washboard - plus he helped John make the first tea-chest bass. They enlisted Bill Smith to play tea-chest bass, and practised in Pete Shotton's air raid shelter in the garden.

They sought out the only person they knew at school who had a guitar - Eric Griffiths. He couldn’t play either, so he and John learnt together - from John's mum. They had a couple of guitar lessons up in Hunts Cross, but they couldn't be bothered with all that theory rubbish!

Another Quarry Bank pupil they knew was their friend Rod Davies who had acquired a banjo, so he was in.

Pete's shelter was a good place to practice, as was John's mother Julia's house, Eric's house and sometimes at Rod’s house too.

At his house one afternoon, Eric suggested a friend and near neighbour of his called Colin Hanton - the only one anybody knew who had a set of drums. Drummers were like gold dust! He was duly invited to join them.

After toying with the name "Blackjacks" (see Dingle - Pavilion Theatre), they settled on The Quarrymen. Pete Shotton in his book “John Lennon, In My Life” says it fell to him to name the group. The main reason for choosing the name has been well documented, as they were at Quarry Bank School.

The school song became lampooned by them - look at some of the words:

"Quarrymen, strong before our birth

straining each muscle and sinew

Toiling together, Mother earth

conquered the rock that was in you"

Maybe some other lines were more prophetic:

"Quarry of manhood, Quarry Bank,

Rock of the lives before us"

Pete Shotton also says that a reason they chose that name is because of the massive stone Quarry in Woolton, situated off Quarry Street (see Woolton - Quarry Street).

Pete said, “Since our native Woolton was pocked with sandstone quarries, and most of us attended Quarry Bank School, The Quarrymen seemed as good a choice as any.”

So in that sense, living in the shadow of the quarry, they were also 'Quarrymen'.

Read about every Quarrymen member in the book

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