LOADS of Beatles fans trundle along Penny Lane and get a wave from the man who played drums with John, Paul and George.
They wave back – blissfully unaware the Liverpool pensioner they have just encountered could have been a really big Starr.
This isn’t Ringo, the fourth member of the legendary band. It’s Colin… Colin Hanton – the man who turned his back on the group after a bust-up at a gig.
He is 79, lives just a few long and winding roads from Penny Lane and says of greeting the daytrippers: “To them I’m just a grey-haired old bloke on his way to get the morning paper – but they’ll give me a wave back.”
Colin left the Beatles – then called the Quarrymen – after a fallout with George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Three years later they struck gold with Love Me Do, and Ringo was on the drums.
But there’s no bitterness from Colin, who says: “I was at a different stage of my life from the others. At 18, I was the oldest.
“I had an apprenticeship as an upholsterer and that meant something in post-war Liverpool. I also had a steady girlfriend who went on to become my wife.
“To be honest, I don’t understand why everyone makes such a big fuss of me being part of it all. We were just young lads having fun and I went along with the ride.”
And when the band stopped being fun Colin ripped up his ticket to ride – literally.
It was January 1959 and he stomped off a bus after he and his bandmates fluffed a gig in front of a talent spotter.
He goes on: “I don’t think I could have coped with all the fame. Paul McCartney was in Liverpool the other week and he couldn’t go anywhere without being spotted.
“It was ‘Paul is doing this, Paul is doing that. Paul has stopped off for the toilet’. I couldn’t have coped with that level of attention.”
But Colin has enjoyed fame on a quieter level as a member of the original Quarrymen, the band Lennon formed in 1956 and which morphed into the Beatles.
Until recently Colin and fellow former Quarrymen Rod Davis, 77, and Len Garry, 76, were still playing gigs around the world. Colin was first asked to join in 1956 “because I was one of the few people around with a drum kit”.
He borrowed £34 to buy it and was still paying it off when McCartney joined in October 1957 and Harrison came on board in early 1958.
Britain was enjoying skiffle, a kind of folk music with blues or jazz influences. But the landscape was changing with the arrival of Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock and Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog. And Colin was keen to get in on the act. In vain, his parents warned him to “stay away from that Lennon lad” – considered to be a difficult pupil who “fancied himself as a bit of a teddy boy”.
Life as an early Quarrymen was far removed from the grandeur and adulation that the Beatles would enjoy.
Colin recalls: “We’d get the bus everywhere. I’d stick my drum kit downstairs and we’d all go upstairs for a smoke. I was the oldest and the only one who could drink.
“There was no chance of the other lads getting hold of alcohol either because the only pint you could get was in a pub or at an off-licence attached to it.” And he laughs: “The only drugs that were around the scene were aspirin!”
He tells how the band “entered every talent contest around”. They were spotted by promoter Charlie McBain, who fixed up gigs around Liverpool throughout most of 1957.
Colin says: “We got 10 shillings – 50 pence – for each gig so it wasn’t big money and I was the only one in the band earning anything at that time as an apprentice upholsterer.
“But we were having fun and lots of it. We didn’t take ourselves that seriously.
“Paul changed us, smartened us up. Before Paul, we just wore what we wanted. But before long he and John were wearing white jackets, white shirts and black ties. John went with the flow but I knew Paul was going somewhere. He was diplomatic, more cautious. Paul was a big influence and everything he did was carefully thought out. Without him, the Beatles might not have made it.”
As older members of the Quarrymen drifted away to “get on with their daily lives”, Colin played drums on the first single that John, Paul and George ever recorded – their version of Buddy Holly’s That’ll Be The Day.
But in 1959, Colin quit over a boozy gig. He explains: “The owner of the Pavilion Theatre in Liverpool had come to check us out but nobody had told me he was coming.
“The first half went brilliantly. But during the break we had a pint and one pint led to two…
“I was dancing on the tables. Me, Paul and John staggered back on stage as three drunks. Only George was sober – he was too young to drink. Things didn’t go well. I’d no idea we were being scouted and I saw it as a lost opportunity. It erupted into a row in the club which carried on when we got the bus home. And that was that. The end of me and the Quarrymen.”
Colin went on to marry his teenage sweetheart Joan and they had two daughters. He also ran his own business as an upholsterer. He adds: “Dad was keen on me finishing my apprenticeship. That was everything. I had no regrets when I left the Quarrymen.”
The Quarrymen reunited in 1997 – initially to raise cash to restore St Peter’s Church in Woolton, where Lennon first met McCartney while playing at a garden fete.
And while McCartney is now worth an estimated £904million, his former bandmate is philosophical about the hand he’s been dealt.
“I have lived a lovely life with Joan and we had two fantastic daughters. Life couldn’t have been better. I don’t mind if those tourists coming to Penny Lane don’t know who I am.”
But he adds wistfully: “Of course I wouldn’t have left the band if I knew what was to come…”
Colin’s book Pre:Fab! – written with author Colin Hall – is on sale now, priced £10. Go to bookguild.co.uk and search for Pre: