A Beatle from Madras, almost


Think Chennai and Carnatic is, perhaps, the only variety of music that comes to mind. But Chennai is also the birthplace of two personalities from the world of pop music — one very famous and the other almost so.

Arnold George Dorsey was born on May 2, 1936, in Madras, to Mervyn Dorsey, a non-commissioned officer of the British Army and his Indian wife, Olive. The family migrated to England when he was ten. He learnt the saxophone and by his late teens, was playing in nightclubs in London. His career did not take off and on the advice of friends, he changed his name to Engelbert Humperdinck, after a 19 century German composer. Quite inexplicably, that appeared to do the trick, for dramatic success followed.

The recording of three songs and among them, Strangers in the Night in particular, got him noticed. It must be remembered that this was the same year in which Frank Sinatra recorded the song, his version remaining on top of the charts for 15 weeks. A vast fan following, which included Princess Anne, referred to itself as the Humperdinckers. He has remained a busy performer and recording artiste, and as late as the year 2000, his Engelbert at his very best topped the British charts.

The other personality was part of The Beatles. Now before you run wild imagining it could be John Lennon or George Harrison or Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr, the answer is none of the above. Long before they became The Beatles, three of them, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison were part of a group called The Quarry Men which performed, among other locations, at the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool.

The band in residence was however The Blackjacks for their drummer Pete Best was the son of the club’s owner Mona Best. Pete, christened Randolph Peter, was born in Madras on November 24, 1941, to Mona and marine engineer Donald Peter Scanland. The father was killed in World War II and Mona married again, migrating eventually with her son, to England.

Best joined The Beatles as a drummer in 1960 at the invitation of Paul McCartney. A visit to Germany followed, and on their return, it was found that Best’s powerful drumming had changed the group’s music forever. But alas! There was friction over his being considered the best looker and somehow the other three never considered him to be one of the inner circle.

Best was dismissed from The Beatles in 1962, for reasons unexplained, and Ringo Starr eventually took his place. It was a shock that took Best quite a while to recover. A strong-willed mother and a steady marriage helped. He joined government service and rose in the ranks. In 1988, he formed The Pete Best Band and has since received some recognition and success. But what if he had stayed on with The Beatles?

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2017 4:48:16 PM |