I just learned that Ken Brown died last June. Ken was briefly a member of the Quarrymen with George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Ken and I corresponded a lot back in the 90s. He had written a very rough manuscript; it was the story of his time with the group that would become The Beatles.
Photo © David James
In October 1997 Ken posted a message on the Usenet discussion group rec.music.beatles; in it he announced a web page he had created to promote his manuscript-in-progress, then titled “My Life.” I took a look at the page; it had been created in Microsoft Front Page Express (a bit like using a screwdriver handle to hammer in a nail) and had a number of display errors. I sent him an email with instructions on how he could fix the problems. Thus began an on-and-off dialogue that would extend across eleven years.
After the introductory bit of technical troubleshooting, I suggested a couple of ideas he might consider regarding the shopping of his manuscript. On October 27 he replied, “I’ve tried the conventional method, i.e. sending introductory letters and synosis [sic], however, it takes each publisher around 2 months or so to reply. Could take a lifetime!”
In successive emails, we discussed any number of things, and I tried to fill in some gaps in my own knowldge. I queried him, “Also, I have to ask…Philip Norman, in his book Shout! spells your name ‘Browne;’ did he interview you, and how come he got it wrong?” He told me that no, Norman had never interviewed him. Nor, at that stage, had anyone else; at least not since 1964.
Ken mentioned a George Tremlett:
“That’s the guy who done an interview with me back in ’64 I think it was. This was for Rave magazine. I still have a copy and it’s mentioned in my book. Annoyed with this guy, I was told I would be paid a fee for the article, and receive a kind of royalty linked to sales. I got the fee…not a penny in royalties though! I have since learned that the article appeared in an American teeny magazine around the same time, this was virtually the same, but with a few subtle changes. Never got a penny for that either. think the mag was called 16 or something like that!”
In an early message to me Ken tossed in this throwaway line: “Yes I was featured playing with John, Paul and George in the Beatles Anthology.” When I replied that I knew of no recordings featuring him (I’m a fairly serious student of unreleased Beatles material) he clarified he had meant only that there was a photo of him with the group.
Artwork from Ken Brown’s web site circa 1998. © Estate of Ken Brown
I offered a suggestion. “Are you wedded to the title My Life or might you consider something a bit snappier and descriptive? Just a thought.” He replied that it was only a working title and that he was open to suggestions. He admitted that his other ideas — Them, Me and Us; Yesterday; and Those Were The Days My Friend — were “all pretty naff.” I suggested Some Other Guy for its multiple Beatles-related meanings. The group had recorded the song; a version was included on the Live at the BBC set, and it was a staple of their Cavern-era set. And of course with all the publicity surrounding the Beatles in the 90s, Ken really was “some other guy.” He liked the idea. The other title I suggested — merely in jest — was I Was a Teenage Quarryman.
At this stage I hadn’t seen the manuscript, but I was curious how long it was. Ken told me that “the word count is around 37,700.” He claimed some experience as a writer, having “produc[ed] a local community based magazine. I did this as a freebee, advertising was used to cover costs.” That went bust after a few years, but the experience helped him learn to type, he told me.
In his own amateurish way, Ken would shop the manuscript around a bit, but he got no bites. This was around the time of the Anthology sets, and whatever interest there might have been was at its peak. But it went nowhere.
In successive emails — there would be literally hundreds — Ken told me a few things about himself and his life. He had owned a number of synthesizers and other musical instruments, but lost those when the newsletter venture went bust. He lived in Essex, on the English coast east of London. There he had no television, and, in his words, “I haven’t got a record collection, to be precise, I have just five CD’s: three of Pete Best’s band, one Oldies R’n’R and the Abbey Road album.” He had been married and divorced three times and in 1997 (age 57) lived with his dog and an Amazon Blue Fronted parrot. His work in those days was limited to working behind the bar at an amusement arcade/bingo hall type establishment. He had three children: two living in Barbados, the other’s whereabouts unknown to him. He also had two grown stepchildren with whom he got along fine, in his words.
Beginning quite early in our correspondence, a troubling (in retrospect) pattern emerged. If I didn’t reply promptly to an email from Ken, I’d get a followup saying “Don’t know if you’ve received my last e-mail yet or not?” It was clear to me that Ken was lonely and had a lot of time on his hands. When I’d reply that I was indeed quite busy with work, he’d come back with “Didn’t mean to be a pest!” but the cycle repeated itself literally dozens of times. Sometimes he’d reply to one of my notes with this sort of thing: “You didn’t say how your day was going?”
After a good bit of back and forth related to getting Ken’s web site updated, I asked him if he had considered including an excerpt from the manuscript on the site. He was quite wary of doing so:
“Have thought about this– but don’t want some smart **** ripping me off–if you know what I mean. Already had some pointed questions coming in by e-mail. Job to know what to put without giving anything away.”
Around this time I offered to do some editing work on the (as yet unseen) manuscript. As I would eventually learn, Ken’s manuscript as it existed was unpublishable. While Ken was a sweet guy, he was no sort of a writer. His initial response was quite guarded:
More artwork from Ken Brown’s web site circa 1998. © Estate of Ken Brown
“As regards involvement in the book– let me try and explain: The only persons other than myself– to have read the full transcript is: firstly– my life long mate *Pete Best* and one major publisher *Transworld Publishers Ltd* — they have since returned the manuscript to me (with a NO sorry letter). Obviously, anyone at Transworld could if they wish ‘lift’ all or part of the book– not that I think they would, their reputation is at stake after all. Like the music industry– you never know what might happen! The question doesn’t even arrise [sic] as far as Pete is concerned!!
“The book itself although split into chapters– is not so much in chapters as events or happenings– if you get my drift. It’s not a book full of facts and figures– there have been many of them published in the past. My book differs in as much as it is– a series of personal events and recollection as they happened– an insite [sic] into what took place over a particular period–all those years ago. It’s probably not particularly grammatically correct—I just sat down and started typing my memories– what came out– came out–warts and all. As I wrote– the memories came flooding back– in such detail sometimes– that I could even remember conversations that took place. I am amazed that I ever completed it– I just found that once I started I couldn’t stop. It is NOT a writers work of art– but as Pete said– it was a nice easy read– which captured the events, moods, and excitement– just as it happened. He should know– he was there as well.”
If, he offered, we could find a way for him to get the manuscript to me by “secure means” he would indeed consider letting me see it. I told him that email was reasonably secure, and after thinking about it a bit he replied in the affirmative. But he added this (emphasis original):
“WE MUST BOTH ENSURE that– anyone AND everyone– understands that I own *COPYRIGHT– WORLDWIDE* !!!! Under NO circumstances do I do EXCLUSIVES– and any interviews whatsoever will be CONSIDERED– but not necessarily given. ANY infringement of the above conditions would render the offender liable to a LAW SUITE [sic]. Furthermore– NO PART OR WHOLE OF THE BOOK– MAY BE COPIED IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER!! Failure to comply– will render the offender liable!”
Ken Brown’s original cover art for the unpublished book. © Estate of Ken Brown
Ken viewed the book as his “ticket” and was very protective of it. A thread from the rec.music.beatles Usenet group illustrates this well. A woman named Susan asked, “How long were you a Quarryman? How did you join the group? How did you leave the group?” Ken’s reply: “Love to– but if I do this the book will never be published!” I tried to get him to loosen up a bit, writing, “We don’t want you to appear unaccommodating; remember that many Beatles fans feel a sort of ‘ownership’ of their heroes, and might (subconsciously) feel you are ‘unfairly’ holding out on them. I trust you understand what I mean here. This is a fine line you’ll have to walk.”
I also asked him about the existence of photos, perhaps of the Casbah, the club run by Pete’s mother Mona Best. It seemed that the late Mrs. Best had shared the same attitude as would Ken. Brown wrote this to me: “In my book I make mention that– I saw a video taken at the Casbah– in that video were shots of dear Mo Best whom you can hear saying the words ‘Peter–Peter– that chap has a camera– no photos please– we don’t allow photos.’ That position has never changed Bill. The whole reasoning behind this is to protect the material– should they ever want to do anything themselves.”
Indeed, the Casbah would reopen in the 21st century as a tourist attraction; Ken did say that Pete had agreed to allow a photo of the front of the house(!) to be included in Ken’s planned book.
Over the next couple of years I did odd bits of work for him; I crafted a handful of press releases, edited the manuscript as best I could, and designed a new version of his web site. After our correspondence ended in December 2001 — I could only take so many “Did you get my last email? I’m concerned something might be wrong over there” emails — Ken got another friend to redesign the site. He eventually relented to the point of including a few hundred words of the manuscript on the site, accompanied by a stern copyright warning.
That site remains online now, more than a year after his death. (NOTE: As of mid-2012 it’s no longer online.)
In the early part of the 21st century Ken appeared briefly in a documentary film Best of the Beatles about his lifelong friend Pete Best. Other than that, he kept a low, near-nonexistent profile.
The book never did get published. After I started this blog, I decided to reach out to Ken in hopes I could get an update, do an interview and maybe goose some interest in the book project again. Our last correspondence was actually July 2008. In reply to my request for an interview, he wrote:
“I’m afraid I have to decline your offer as work on the book has come to a halt for the foreseeable future. I appreciate your comments regarding this and I do work on it from time to time, but not with any intensity or urgency. Please don’t take my decision personally Bill, as I have also refused other approaches to be interviewed.”
Less than two years after that email, according to a brief story on the June 16 2010 Liverpool Post, Ken Brown died after a long illness. From the news item: “Former Quarrymen guitarist Ken Brown was discovered at his home in Essex on Monday after a concerned relative had raised the alarm. Police smashed down his front door and found the 70-year-old, who suffered from emphysema, lying on the living room floor. It is thought Mr. Brown may have died five days earlier.”
Any hopes of the Some Other Guy manuscript ever seeing the light of day died with him. That’s a shame; while the book would likely not have been the literary success for which Ken had hoped, and while Ken’s insights were in fact few, a handful of anecdotes in the manuscript have never appeared in print anywhere else.
Postscript: in my research for this piece, I found a recording Ken and I made. It’s a brief thank-you from him; site visitors who completed a survey got to hear this “personal message” from Ken. When the site was redone circa 2001 or so, the audio wasn’t kept. This is my copy.
( Play a short MP3 of Ken Brown's greeting )
Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter
and get notified when new features, reviews and essays are published.