Wild Honey Pie
Join Date: Jun 12, 2002
Location: Waltham, MA
new book on Bob Wooler
Portrait captures the wit and wisdom of a Cavern legend
by Philip Key, Daily Post
BOB Wooler, the Cavern disc jockey who died earlier this year, had often talked of writing a book of his experiences.
The nearest he got to it was by talking to Merseyside rock historian and broadcaster Spencer Leigh.
Leigh had been working with Wooler on the book, mostly over drinks at Keith's Wine Bar in Lark Lane, but became frustrated with the exercise.
Wooler, it seems, tended to be a little secretive about his life and Leigh naturally wanted openness. In the end, Leigh abandoned it and wrote instead a book about the Merseysippi Jazz Band.
Wooler's death has now allowed him to use his tapes and paint a portrait of Wooler in a new book The Best of Fellas (Drivegreen Publications: £12.99).
Refreshingly, it is neither autobiography nor biography but, as Leigh admits, the story of ghosting Bob Wooler's autobiography.
The result is one of the funniest of Mersey Beat memoirs, not least because Wooler was a witty and funny man himself.
I first met him post-Cavern days when he had teamed up with Allan Williams, the Beatles' early manager.
As a new arrival in Liverpool some 30 years ago and writing a daily diary column for the Daily Post, they toured me around Liverpool's lunchtime bars in search of stories. They seemed to know everyone and I always returned to the office with a notebook full of tales and slightly merry.
It was not just the alcohol - although in those days they were knocking back the suicidal Special Brew - but the company which made me merry.
There was Williams, the down-to-earth chap with salty language and Bob, well-spoken and full of witticisms. The two were a great double act and Wooler's comments became known as Woolerisms: Leigh has a host of them in his book.
An early difficulty for Leigh was Wooler's age, "born in 1932" he insisted. The indefatigable Leigh managed to track down the birth certificate and confront Wooler with it. He had been born in 1926.
He admitted: "I was born in Liverpool, I don't know where precisely, on 19 January 1926." His father died when he was four, his mother when he was 15. He also had a brother Jack with whom he lost touch, although Leigh discovered he had predeceased Bob.
Bob was always the master of language, generally describing the Cavern as the best of cellars, a play on a Peter Sellers record album The Best of Sellers. Leigh's title The Best of Fellas seems highly suitable.
Typical of his immediate wit is Wooler's description of the Cavern. "The whole place was like a Turkish bath as we believed in BO, that's Box Office and Body Odour. It was the sweat smell of success. The ventilation was the State of the Ark..."
For some reason, for many the big story in Wooler's life was the attack on him by John Lennon at a party.
The story of the attack in 1963 was one of the first Beatles tales to make it to the news pages.
Leigh goes through the various accounts of the story including one in the notorious Albert Goldman Lennon book in which it was claimed "Lennon began to beat Wooler to death."
It seems likely Bob had made some comic but disparaging remark about Lennon's recent holiday with his manager Brian Epstein, suggesting a homosexual relationship.
Whatever the truth, it died with Wooler and, of course, Lennon and Epstein. Wooler declined to discuss it with Leigh. "Only John Lennon, Brian Epstein and myself know what happened," he said. "Nobody else was near us at the time."
The incident became a sticking point between Wooler and his ghost writer, admits Leigh.
He writes: "When I look over this book, I have most of what I need except the story of the fight, which is winning the war but losing an important battle. This is one fight that Bob won. As he said: 'I'm not discussing the KO, OK?'"
What he does have in the book, however, is a story of a complex man who one feels could have used his talents much better. He was a fan of the great songwriters and a chapter in the book has Wooler debating the skills of people like Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer.
In our conversations, he always loved talking about songs, pointing out intriguing matters like the fact that a classic such as Moonlight In Vermont was clever in that none of it rhymed, it was just a series of poetic images.
Old movies was another of his great loves and when he matched his knowledge with me or any movie buff, Wooler always came out top.
Happily, Leigh captures much of the Wooler conversational style, even down to his jolly spats with his old chum Allan Williams.
I particularly enjoyed the extract from a BBC Radio 2 show hosted by Judi Spiers live from Liverpool. Leigh had suggested she interview them separately. "I'm sure Judi can handle it," said the producer. "After all, what can go wrong in five minutes?"
It concluded with Bob talking about promoters. "I call it the Mercenary Beat. It was the promoters, I am not pointing at you, Allan..." "You are pointing at me, you old fart!" rejoined Williams.
Judi Spiers could only end with: "Please, please, please, for heaven's sake. Can I just say what a joy and pleasure it has been to meet you..."
* The Best of Fellas, the Story of Bob Wooler by Spencer Leigh. Published by Drivegreen Publications at £12.99.
I certainly plan on reading this whenever it becomes available!