Original Beatles Drummer Pete Best on His Acting Debut In 'Lennon's Banjo'
Pete Best, who was the Beatles' drummer for just over two years before he was replaced by Ringo Starr, is about to take on his first try at acting in a new play, Lennon's Banjo, that will open in April at Liverpool's Epstein Theatre, which is named for Brian Epstein, the band's manager.
The play, taken from the novel Julia's Banjo by Rob Fennah and Helen A. Jones, has its roots in Beatles history because a banjo was the first instrument Lennon learned to play. The book is set in present-day Liverpool and tells the fictional tale of a rediscovered lost letter written by John Lennon that is thought to give a clue to that instrument's whereabouts, which these days, of course, would make it a much desired piece of Beatles memorabilia.
Co-author Fennah told Billboard the inspiration to write the novel came after an interview he conducted with Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird. “She described beautifully how she witnessed their mother teaching John to play the banjo,” he said. “She said it went missing the week she died. I couldn't believe no one knew where it was.”
In the book, the search for the instrument takes the reader to many of the Beatles' old haunts. It's during that search that Best appears in the book. He told Billboard in a phone interview he took an interest in Julia's Banjo after being sent the manuscript by the authors. “They said have a read of it when you've got time just for enjoyment,” he said. “(And) I liked it. They brought (the story) up to modern times so it wasn't living in the past. It's a light read, a humorous read. Being an ex-Beatle, I could relate to a lot of the stuff (in the book), which was very factual. He'd done his homework.”
Fennah and Best later met up and the drummer told him, “If you ever come to do anything with it stage-wise, I'd be interested in doing a cameo for you.” He said Fennah at first didn't believe him. "And I said, 'No, I'm serious, Rob. If you progress it a little bit further, keep me in mind. I'm prepared to do something with it.'”
Best says Fennah later talked to his brother Roag and asked if Pete was really serious. “'Well if he said he was interested, he is,' Best says Roag told Fennah. “'Fine. I have a draft script. Let him have a look at it and if he's interested, we'll progress it from there.'” Best read through the draft script and told Roag he would do it. He says his role is more than just a walk-on. “It's not just a case of me nodding my head and saying, 'Good evening, folks,' or anything like that. It's a sizable chunk.”
The play will run from April 24 to May 5. Best will play himself in three performances, two on April 25 and the other on May 5, the show's closing night. He says he was able to do only the three dates because of prior commitments.
Best, who released a CD called Hayman's Green in 2008, says he's in discussion about a new project that could involve another album. “We'll know by March what shape or dimension it'll take,” he said. Dates in the U.S. are also a possibility, but there are no firm plans.
What will happen in 2018, though, will be the opening of a Beatles history museum and the refurbishing of Lennon's Bar, both owned by his brother Roag in Liverpool. And there's also Best Fest, an annual music show at the Best family's Casbah Club, which is timed to honor the original opening of the club on Aug. 29, 1959. Tickets are now on sale for this year's show to take place on Aug. 25 that will feature Best and his band, The Connections, the Undertakers, Liverpool Express with Billy Kinsley and Karl Terry and the Cruisers.
Pete is not the only actor in the Best family. Best's niece, Leanne, has appeared in films and on TV, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and recently the TV series Cold Feet. Asked if he'd take any tips from her, he joked, “If she says, 'Take your cue and look to the audience this way,' I'll follow suit because she's far more experienced that I am. In this capacity anyway.”
As is well-known, Best was the drummer with the Beatles until Aug. 16, 1962 when Brian Epstein told him he was to be replaced by Ringo Starr. For years, Beatles fans debated the reasons and Best himself told interviewers he didn't know why he'd been sacked. The publication of Mark Lewisohn's All These Years: Volume 1: Tune In brought more discussion and an upcoming book by David Bedford called Looking For the Fourth Beatle questions whether the firing was even legal. Asked to comment on the Lewisohn book, he said, “I've had a good life. I've been successful in what I've put my hand to, whether it be band-wise or whatever the productions were. So I'm happy with the family. I love being on the road. I love working (and) working on different projects, which I'm doing now. But it's always nice to come back home again.”
Would he consider doing other acting roles in the future? “It's something I've never thought about to be quite honest. (This is) a new experience for me. In 1988, I said I wasn't going back into show business after doing a one-night performance. But here I am nearly 30 bloody years afterward still slugging away. Let's take it day-by-day and see what transpires from it.”