I am writing this article, not really because I have new information to share- but because this is a story that has always fascinated me. A story that I truly feel has more to it than meets the eye, and could possibly be a precursor to future events in the Beatles historical record. I am hoping that by sharing what I understand to be true, perhaps a reader may make a connection or two in another direction that I missed. I am actually surprised at how few really know about this era in the Beatles lore with much clarity, even some of the most seasoned Beatle-friends I associate with are not completely familiar with it- so because of that fact alone, I believe this qualifies as a “Beatles Mystery” and worthy of discussion here.
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were formed in 1957 by Rory Storm (real name Alan Caldwell) in Liverpool, and are probably best known for their drummer- Ringo Starr who later would accept a position as drummer for the Beatles. But what else do you know about this band? What do you know about Rory Storm (aka Alan Caldwell)? Where are they now? Are they bitter that their friends the Beatles rose to the toppermost of the poppermost while they hardly get a mention- even though it is recorded by many historians and eye witnesses alike that Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were the #1 band in Liverpool in 1960 and beyond?
From allmusic.com bio by Richie Unterberger:
Liverpool band Rory Storm & the Hurricanes are most famous as Ringo Starr’s group before he joined the Beatles. In fact, to most rock fans, that’s about all they’re known for. They were, however, an extremely popular Merseyside group in the early ’60s that did their part to get the Liverpool scene going, and were, in fact, more popular than the Beatles themselves in 1960.
Gasp!! Did they just say more popular than the Beatles?? Where is the torch and pitchfork mob? At least they didn’t say they were more popular than Jesus- THAT probably would not have come across so well. (haha)
Kidding aside, I just want to note here that I watched the new Ron Howard Beatles documentary Eight Days A Week- The Touring Years today. –Absolutely amazing film! I highly recommend checking it out.– One interesting tidbit I took from it that applies here was a little blurb from Ringo about the Hamburg days. He mentioned something to the extent of “A man was taking all the bands from Liverpool, and making us play gigs in Germany.” [paraphrasing] And while that seems to be true, it makes you wonder (at least it made me wonder) why were all of these young male musicians being shipped off to Germany to play in certain swanky, dirty, red-light district Hamburg clubs? Could the payoff really be that much greater than playing locally in Liverpool? There are expenses associated with traveling, shipping all those instruments and stage gear, room and board etc. etc. These expenses would be needed for all of those boys from several different Merseyside/Liverpool bands that were sent there that would not be present in their already steady growing fan base at home in Liverpool’s hot spots. A curiosity of its own merit.
Anyhow, as the story goes, it is in Hamburg (1960-1962) when Rory Storm and his Hurricanes and the Beatles (then called The Silver Beatles) started to chum around and become good friends. But as you will see the bonding between these two groups actually happened years earlier.
Alan Caldwell/Rory Storm
Rory Storm encouraged Ringo Starr to change his name from Richard Starkey as he had changed his name from Alan Caldwell to Rory Storm by this time (1959ish). He also lived with his mother, father and sister in Broadgreen Liverpool, and changed the name of the house as well to “Stormsville“. Stormsville was used as an after-party type hangout by quite a few bands of the era including the Beatles. It has been claimed by Iris Caldwell (Rory’s little sister) that her mother Vi, would often host kissing games with Iris’s pre-teen girl friends, and the young male musicians that frequented the home. The game would involve asking each of the boys what kind of fruit they preferred, depending on their answer, Vi Caldwell would choose a girl best suited for their particular “taste”. Somehow, as Iris recalls, she would always end up with George Harrison who was 14 at the time, as she was 12. Ok- Hopefully that is all just innocent fun, and I am going to give the Caldwell’s the benefit of the doubt here. Clearly, that bears need for more understanding- but I am leaving that one be. (Full transcript of Iris Caldwell’s revelations here.) The Beatles were very fond of Mrs. Vi (Violet) Caldwell, they called her “violent Vi” for an unknown reason- but kept in contact with her by post while residing in Hamburg. To the right is one such letter, sent from George Harrison to Vi postmarked 11-11-62.
Moving on, we have already a direct and early (before Ringo even) link to George Harrison and Rory Storm. It is said that Iris and George “dated” for two years. This would be around 1957- George did not join the Beatles until several months later in 1958. George actually wanted to be in Rory’s skiffle group, but was turned down due to his young age. In March 1958, Harrison auditioned for the Quarrymen at Rory Storm’s Morgue Skiffle Club, but Lennon, like Storm felt that Harrison, having just turned 15, was too young to join the band. During a second meeting, arranged by McCartney, he performed the lead guitar part for the instrumental “Raunchy” on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus- the rest (at least as far as Harrison is concerned) they say is history…
Did you catch that? Rory Storm had an establishment in 1958 called The Morgue Skiffle Club. Rory was 20 years old at the time. Short lived, but nonetheless owned and operated by Rory himself. How did he get money for this? Set in a quite large old Victorian house, The Morgue played an important part in Beatles History, but no one seems to ask how this young man had the cash to own such a place.
Rory seemed to be in a different class set than his friends the Beatles. He was known for his extravagant attire and the fancy cars he drove. However, in every biography and even Wikipedia lists Rory’s father as a window washer by trade. Nothing against window washers personally, and I don’t want to offend anyone who may take up this occupation for a living, however I just don’t associate that career path with getting rich, or even well off- especially in post-war Liverpool which was still struggling to overcome the ruin and ravage of war on their town. No career is listed for Vi Caldwell, I have to assume (as was common in 1950s) she was a homemaker. Rory is said to work as a cotton salesman (which coincidentally – or perhaps not- was Jim McCartney’s -Paul McCartney’s father- trade as well) while working nights and weekends performing.
It seems as though Rory storm had some money. Considering that his band was the most popular in Liverpool at the time, was booked for weeks out and even played for sold out crowds at a time when the Beatles would only attract a few dozen. When the Hurricanes joined the Beatles in Hamburg, it is said that Rory was appalled by the living conditions and felt the Beatles should not put up with such treatment. It is possible Rory made a good deal of money during this time, most reports I have found claim he entertained contracts of $25/week (£20) that was split between the members of the band. Although curious, the money issue is just the beginning of this looming storm.
Iris Caldwell was Rory storm’s kid sister. As mentioned previously, iris dated George Harrison when she was just 12 years old. Skip forward a few years, and you can find Iris as a can-can boudoir dancer in the tower ballroom in Liverpool at 16. It was at this time that a certain Paul McCartney took notice of the lovely Iris Caldwell (I’m sure the fishnet stockings and garter belt helped a bit!) and the two began to date on and off for a couple of years. It is said that “I Saw Her Standing There” was written for Iris. The local musicians were still using “Stormsville” as a late night hang out after shows. As Paul McCartney recalls;
“We used to go back to Vi Caldwell’s. I went out for a short time with Rory’s sister Iris, a dancer. Their house was the only one open at that time of night. Vi was a night owl. It was our late-night hang-out, really, just cups of tea and card games and chatting. I remember playing a Ouija board with Cilla and her friend Pat.” Source
In January 1962, Brian Epstein became the Beatles manager. He was very strict as we know, with the Beatles “clean” image and how they were presented to the public eye. He was very disapproving of Caldwell and McCartney’s relationship, as he was with every Beatle relationship for years to come.
“Epstein was not very pleased that I was going out with Paul and I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere with the group in case any of their fans saw me. But every night after they’d appeared at The Cavern, Paul would come round to our house – and when they went away to Hamburg he used to write me the most fantastic letters.” -Iris Caldwell
By the time McCartney met Jane Asher in 1963, their relationship had come to a close. Iris began dating Bernard William Jewry. Who? You might ask… well this is where the story gets a bit odd. Bernard William Jewry took over the identities of not one but two different personas, one of which due to an unfortunate series of events was that of a deceased young man.
Bernard William Jewry/Shane Fenton/Alvin Stardust
Jewry had a similar “showbiz” upbringing as the Caldwell’s except that he grew up in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire rather than Liverpool. His mother ran a boarding house frequented by musicians and entertainers appearing locally In the early 1960s, similar to the Caldwell household so it seems. Around this same time, Jewry took up a job as a roadie for a small skiffle-type band known at the time as Shane Fenton and the Fentones. The band was granted a highly coveted audition with the BBC Light Programme, however the band’s frontman, Johnny Theakston (aka Shane Fenton) fell ill and died 2 days later- mere days before the audition was set. Theakston was 17. Somehow the band decided to keep the audition appointment without their founder and frontman, and declared their new roadie- Jewry as their new frontman, and lead singer/songwriter. Jewry took on the role and identity of “Shane Fenton” from that time on. They passed the audition “with flying colors” as they say, with the BBC and they were given a slot on the two-hour “Saturday Club”, a show which was transmitted nationally. The gig went so well they became regular guests on the series and the program’s musical director, Tommy Sanderson became their manager. In 1961 Sanderson got them a long-term recording contract with EMI’s Parlophone label, in which George Martin was Producer. This was more than a year earlier than the Beatles contract with EMI. The newly anointed Shane Fenton was compared by critics to Elvis, receiving the nickname “The English Elvis” in the early 60s timeframe. Shane Fenton and the Fentones recorded several top 40 hits at Abbey Road Studios which were mostly written by Fenton and all published by Dick James Music (whom also published the Beatles catalogue later). On 18th April 1963 Shane Fenton and the Fentones along with the Beatles appeared in a live concert at the Royal Albert Hall, the second half of which was broadcast live on BBC radio. After the show, it is alleged Fenton drove John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and young actress Jane Asher over to journalist friend Brian Hutchins’ flat in Chelsea and Paul started famously dating Asher soon after, and soon after that- Fenton began dating McCartney’s ex girlfriend, Iris. In 1964, Fenton and Caldwell married in Liverpool. Pretty good for a roadie hmm?
Like that wasn’t enough, there’s even more to this story. In 1974, Shane Fenton killed off his identity and was ceremonially reborn as Alvin Stardust- or as I like to think of him- David Bowie’s alter-ego Ziggy Stardust’s even-more-glamorous-leather-clad-dark-twin. C’mon seriously- look at the man, he even looks like David Bowie… is it just me?? Forget the “English Elvis”- Fenton’s chiseled features very much resemble Bowie in my humble opinion. From Alvin Stardust’s Obituary posted on the Telegraph website:
Stardust went on to have four Top 10 hits in quick succession in the early 1970s. The most famous were My Coo Ca Choo and Jealous Mind, although Red Dress and You You You were not far behind. Yet his career breakthrough, on Top of the Pops in November 1973, came about after a chapter of accidents in which he twice found fame by inheriting a name never intended for him.One month before his TOTP appearance, an entirely different Alvin Stardust had made his television debut. To promote his new record label, Magnet Records, the songwriter and producer Peter Shelley had invented “Alvin Stardust” and composed, sung and recorded a one-off single, My Coo Ca Choo. When, to his alarm, the song won the imaginary Alvin a slot on a television pop show, he felt he had no option but to bluff it out. “I dressed the part — a glitter-suited recluse who had been living in Spain — and to my surprise it went on the charts the next week,” Shelley recalled.But he had no wish to repeat the performance, so he began to look around for someone else to assume the character in time for a fast-approaching booking on Top of the Pops. After Marty Wilde turned him down, he approached a less well-known pop star called Shane Fenton (real name Bernard Jewry), who had enjoyed modest fame in the early 1960s as the frontman of Shane Fenton and the Fentones.
The calming of the Storm
Hopefully you are keeping up with all the various name-changes and alter-egos surrounding this strange yet intriguing tale of Liverpudlian successes. I wonder if Rory Storm ever felt left out of the attention that so many of his peers and fellow musicians were receiving all around him. Why was he left out of the fold?
It must have been maddening to go from the top-billed band in Liverpool to a guitar-less (Hurricane guitarist Ty O’Brian collapsed on stage during a show in 1967 and died soon after) and drum-less (Ringo Starr of course left the Hurricanes to join the Beatles) Liverpool band that never quite made it. –Oddly enough (or maybe not so much) Gibson Kemp replaced Ringo on the drums for the Hurricanes. He would go on to marry Astrid Kirtcherr in 1967, and later join up in a band with Klaus Voorman in Paddy, Klaus and Gibson.– Rory went to Amsterdam to DJ at a local radio station there (an odd job choice because Rory had a very pronounced stutter) but returned back to Stormsville upon his father’s death in 1972. In September of that year, both Rory Storm and his mother Vi were found dead inside of the Stormville home. It is reported that:
Storm developed a chest infection and could not sleep properly, so he took sleeping pills. The next day Storm and his mother were both found dead. A post mortem determined that Storm had not taken enough pills to kill himself, but it was suspected that, after finding her son’s body, his mother had.
So how did Storm die? If not from the pills- then what? It was suspected that his mother had committed suicide, but not determined? Why not?? How could this have happened? Surely I am not the first to ask such questions.This sounds like a story right out of Shakespeare- a romantic tragedy with major Romeo and Juliet themes throughout.
Oddly enough, in 1973 the first of two films was made based on the Liverpudlian bands of the era and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes was not left out. Titled “That’ll Be the Day” in which Ringo Starr co-starred. Billy Fury took on the role of “Stormy Tempest” the character based on Rory Storm. The sequel of “That’ll Be the Day” curiously is titled “Stardust” released in 1974- the same year Alvin Stardust debuted his latest persona.
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes lived up to their name, with hilarious stage-antics and flashy costumes they were a Liverpudlian sensation that met with tragic endings. There are so many suspicious and mysterious deaths surrounding the Beatles historical record that for me, have just not been explained well enough for my own personal satisfaction. This is only one of them. I am the first to admit however, that I have a conspiratorial mindset. I tend to see conspiracy and doubt of “official narratives” in many things. I acknowledge that not everything is a conspiracy though- and perhaps this romantic yet tragic story is all just happenstance and innocent coincidence. It really could be just that. Whatever the case may be- the interwoven connections between these two groups and their future in-laws that came about is quite curious and very interesting. Perhaps nothing significant, or perhaps quite significant- could these love triangles and major successes and not-so-successes have evolved into future quarrels among parties involved? You would think they would…
Notice anything I missed? Have anything to add to this intriguing Shakespearean-like tragedy? I would love your thoughts on Rory and his Hurricanes- the Caldwell’s, the Beatles- anything that comes to mind in the comments below. Thank you for reading. More to come soon.