Not many people can say that they were an early influence onThe Beatles but that is what musician Harold Phillips was, havingtaken Liverpool by storm with his very own calypso band
When Harold Phillips aka ‘Lord Woodbine’ joined the Royal Air Force he faked his age as 17, hoping that no one would guess that he was three years younger and had never been near a shaving brush. His boldness paid off and he was soon waving goodbye to Trinidad as his ship set sail for the UK.
He trained at RAF Burtonwood in Lancashire, where aircraft were stored and maintained. After the war Harold was demobbed and returned to Trinidad but, ever the adventurer, managed to book his passage back to Blighty on the MV Empire Windrush.
An up and coming calypsonian and pan player, Harold was at the time on tour in Jamaica with calypso stars Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner, who accompanied him on board. After discovering that calypso was all the rage in Britain, he decided to form his own band – Lord Woodbine and his Trinidadians.
In 1958 he fronted the All-Steel Caribbean Band, which had a regular residency at Liverpool’s Jacaranda club, owned by Allan Williams, The Beatles’ first manager.
But it was Harold who became The Beatles’ early promoter and mentor after they began attending his gigs. For John Lennon and Paul McCartney, he was the first singer-songwriter that the young musicians had met, and such was their interest, that they were for a while referred to as “Woodbine’s Boys”. The young lads occasionally played at the Jacaranda on Mondays, the night on which Harold did not perform.
With the Trinidadian ‘pannist’ Gerald Gobin, Harold helped oversee the Mersysiders’ breakthrough trip to Hamburg. Then a four-piece guitar group, The Beatles believed that strings alone were enough to provide the rhythm section. As a percussionist Harold disagreed and urged them to recruit a drummer, which led to the arrival of Pete Best in August 1960. Allan Williams and Harold booked The Beatles to perform in Germany, with Harold driving the van taking the band to Hamburg.
Despite this and McCartney’s own reference to “his old friend Woodbine”, Harold barely figures in The Beatles’ story. Were it not for journalist Tony Henry, who accompanied him on a trip to Trinidad in 1998 to make a radio documentary about him, most of us would never have heard of Harold’s extraordinary life. When Harold perished in a house fire in Liverpool