“’While you’re up there,’ he instructed, ‘Pick out your favorite girl in class and sing directly to her, looking right into her eyes.’ This, mind you, from a ten-year-old. Today he works in advertising.”
In 1965, I was in Grade five at Prince Charles Elementary in Windsor, Ontario. On the last Friday of every month we put away the books and for the final hour had a meeting of the Red Cross Club. There would be a Treasurer’s report, a collection of dimes for ‘dues’ and Miss Heimer would read a press release about all the good work “we” were doing in the Third World. After that, it was Talent Showcase and then snacks – Rice Krispie squares made by Miss Heimer.
Usually there wasn’t a talent show slotted on the agenda because the only one who had any was a pudgy accordion player named Clark Johnson. And frankly, he was more interested in getting to those Rice Krispie squares. But in 1965, Beatlemania was a vibrant force with kids in North America. The Fab Four had invaded our hearts only a year earlier courtesy of Ed Sullivan. On the after-school cartoon shows on CKLW-TV, the Windsor station, hosts like ‘Poopdeck Paul’ and ‘Captain Jolly’ set aside air-time for any quartet of kids willing to come on and lip-synch to any of the Beatles’ early singles.
Geez, anyone could do that. Even me and me mates. But we thought we’d do it one better and do our own singing and guitar work as well. And we would debut our act at the next Red Cross meeting before moving onto the bright studio lights of CKLW.
In the post-war years, every home had a ukulele somewhere in the rec-room so finding guitars wasn’t a problem. Nor was the fact that neither Darryl (‘John’) Sabo, Rene (‘Paul’) Labreque, nor I (‘George’) could play them. Clark Johnson was the only kid in class whose family owned a set of bongos, so he became our ‘Ringo.’
We practiced every day after school for two weeks in Darryl’s basement. Even though I was ‘George’, I was elected to be lead singer by virtue of the fact that I was the only one who knew all the words to She Loves You – all 12 of them.
In addition to being ‘Paul’ (by virtue of his good looks – long before Beatlemania, all the girls in class considered him ‘the cute one’) Rene was also our ‘George Martin’ and ‘Brian Epstein’. He oversaw the arrangements for the “Yeah, yeah, yeahs.” He showed us how to comb our hair forward into bangs. He instructed us on how to dress. We would all wear black turtlenecks to the gig – except for Clark who didn’t own one and had to resort to a white dickie beneath his black cardigan.
By the Friday of ‘the big shew’, we were all pumped – until disaster hit. Clark’s dad made him get a haircut the night before. Our Ringo was now again sporting his familiar brush-cut. As well, Rene had insisted that the black-out drapes normally used for when we were shown hygiene or nature films be drawn and that we be lit only by the blackboard lights. But Miss Heimer wouldn’t go for it. On top of that, Clark had forgotten his bongos so he had to run home and get them at recess which meant no last run-through dress rehearsal.
Well, you can imagine what that does to a bloke right before show-time. But Rene calmed us all down with a last-minute bit of inspiration. “While you’re up there,” he instructed. “Pick out your favorite girl in class and sing directly to her, looking right into her eyes.” This, mind you, from a ten-year-old. Today he works in advertising.
And then it was two minutes and twelve seconds of pure fame and glory. We rocked. And how could we not? Four prepubescent male voices, three un-tuned ukuleles and a pair of bongos played with drumsticks.
But afterwards, as Rene, Darryl and I stood around the punch-bowl (alone) we watched Clark over at the snack-table. A Rice Krispie square in each hand and a bird on each arm.
That was my last experience in a rock band. But I still think of those days every time I hear the fab ones. And I will definitely be reliving the experience when I take in some of London’s first Beatles Festival when it comes to our downtown on the weekend of September 23, 24 and 25. Free entertainment on an outdoor stage on Dundas Street in the form of Beatles tribute acts. Local performers doing Beatles-related sets in selected bars. And ticketed concerts at the Wolf Performance Hall of the Central library. Of the tribute acts at the Wolf, I can highly recommend The Caverners. I’ve seen them twice before, they’re that good and local lad Yuri Pool’s ‘The McCartney Years.’ I’ve seen him twice before, he’s that good.
Also at the Wolf is a free screening on the Saturday morning of Hard Days Night. If you can’t wait that long, don’t forget that Ron Howard’s long-awaited feature documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years opens in motion-picture theatres the week before on September 16th.
See the festival’s official website at thelondonbeatlesfestival.com for the complete schedule and details. All the acts are acknowledged for their painstaking note-by-note musical performances, authentic wardrobe, instruments and hair-pieces and getting the mannerisms of the individuals down pat. From experience I can tell you that both the Caverners and Yuri Pool do an admirable job of capturing the essence of being Fab – even though it’s doubtful that any of them ever headlined a meeting of a grade school Red Cross Club before.
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