Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together, all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go
The singer from Down Under had wowed the audience that evening at the Liverpool Empire, treating them to his string of UK hits. His finale was meant to be the Number 1 song that made his reputation, but when the applause died down he had a brief word with his backing band and announced there was another tune he wanted to croon. It was a Jim Reeves classic. As he reached the last line of the chorus, the singer stepped to the edge of the stage and pointed down into the front stalls to a young man, holding the hand of a lass who was slunk down into her seat as far as she could possibly go, as if she wished to disappear.
Well she was just seventeen
You know what I mean
And the way she looked
Was way beyond compare
So how could I dance with another,
Oh, when I saw her standing there
For a while George Harrison was unlucky in love. Most of us know the tale of how his wife, Patti Boyd, was stolen from him by another rock god, Eric Clapton. But a decade earlier George also lost out in love to a muso even closer to home.
Iris Caldwell was born in 1945 into a working class Liverpudlian family. The only advantage she had over thousands like her was attractiveness, vivacity and an elder brother who possessed some musical talent. Alan, her sibling, had taken the stage name Rory Storm and put together a back-up group, the Hurricanes. They had some success in the early sixties. Their drummer was a young fella by the name of Richard Starkey, although most called him Ringo. One evening another lad came calling to the Caldwell home, hoping to entice Rory to allow him to join the band due to his guitar skills. He failed in that aim, but gained the affection of his sister instead. In fact, George Harrison gave Iris her first romantic kiss. The relationship never advanced much more than that, but they were together for several years. George was to retain a soft spot for her for years to come.
Their lives came together again when she was seventeen – he a member of a band trying to make headway in the burgeoning Liverpool scene. By this time Iris was an established dancer and was booked to demonstrate a new sensation, the Twist, at a New Brighton dance hall. Providing the music for her, on this occasion, was a live band, the up and coming Beatles. George wasn’t quick enough off the mark this time around. In fact, it was his fellow band mate, Paul McCartney, who asked her out on a date – to see them perform at an upcoming engagement for a television show. Paul was already smitten even before that occurred and had quickly written a song stating so, commencing with her age.
In the end their relationship lasted a couple of years, George seething with jealousy. It was during this period that Paul produced tickets to the Empire to see the hottest singer in the land – but there was something Paul had no idea about when it came to his Iris.
Overnight radio often delivers up gems to further investigate during the waking hours. A Rod Quinn interview with 81 year old Frank Ifield was one such. He told the tale which set in motion the notion for this piece. And many of you of a certain age, no doubt, had already worked out that he was the Aussie vocalist up there up on stage that night at the Empire pointing the finger The thing was that he too was in a relationship with the comely Iris.
In Paul she had a young bloke who still hadn’t really made a name for himself – whereas she had in the world of dance. So when she met Ifield, both performing in pantomime, that great British tradition, in, of all places, Stockton on Tees (in ‘Dick Whittington’), she felt she was onto someone who was more her equal. He had a string of hits to his name – ‘I Remember You’, ‘She Taught Me To How to Yodel’, ‘The Wayward Wind’ and ‘Confessin’. He was soon to be the biggest name in the land, but it is ironic, in light of this story, it would not be long before his style of music would be submerged forever by the brash pop coming out of Liverpool with one PMcC to the fore. But that was in the future. Then Paul’s idea of a night out was a pint in the pub followed by fish‘n’chips. The Australian beau, on the other hand, had sophistication down pat. With him she could dress up in her best glad rags for he took her to all the flash places to down expensive tucker, accompanied by Mateus Rosé – the height of sophistication. She had a strong idea that Paul was playing around. That didn’t overly concern her as long as she could do the same. Paul, it seems, had different ideas, as did Frank.
When the truth came out that evening at the Liverpool music hall, Frank was obviously not impressed, so their liaison was terminated. One night Paul and Ringo, driving back from a show, ran over a dog. When Iris found out that the duo thought it was all a bit of a joke, she let rip and that was the almost end of Paul. At various stages George thought he might be in with a chance of getting together again with her, but Paul always wormed his way back into her good books and such was the case on this occasion. George was due to call on her, but she couldn’t resist the temptation to see her other love interest perform. Knowing Paul was tight with his money, they would be in the cheap seats in any case. Wrong. Paul lashed out and that was that. But she and the Beatle, whose popularity was growing, didn’t last long after that. Some time, later on from severing ties, Iris’ mum received a call from Paul saying that he had written a song for her daughter. Could she ensure that Iris watched its first performance on the tele? She duly passed on the message and Iris did as asked.
Why she had to go, I don’t know
She wouldn’t say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday
Paul could keep a grudge too. One day Frank noticed Paul, in a group of people, coming toward him at some music venue or other. When the Beatle spotted the hitster he yelled something to the fact he had intentions of terminating the Australian’s life. His mates restrained him, but what if? Rock’n’roll history could had been changed forever.
At one time, just as the Beatles were on the cusp of fame, they were booked to support Ifield. They were booed off stage – for being too loud! All that was about to change.
Frank had hits in the US too. On a trip there to support sales his label asked him to record an album. He didn’t have enough new material to support that. Capitol requested twelve songs, he only had eight. The project was shelved – or so he thought. After his return to the UK his manager informed him that he had had a new ‘copulation’ – he meant compilation – record released in the US, his eight tracks plus four from a new band about to make their mark – you guessed it. Beatles again. Frank thought his manager’s slip extremely funny considering his relationship with Iris. That release, if you can find a copy, is now worth a princely sum.
At the highest point of his career the Aussie songster was asked by the Palace to appear in a Royal Command Performance with the Queen Mum in attendance. As it was being televised, Frank was ordered not to yodel as it was thought too old-fashioned and his career would be ruined, despite having hits with his prowess at the art. Frank was in a quandary when her Royal Highness sent him a note saying yodelling was exactly what she expected from him during his time on stage. What was a poor man to do? He yodelled!
In 1969 Iris met another muso, also a lead singer in a band. He went by the name of Shane Fenton. They married and later on Shane changed his stage moniker – to Alvin Stardust.
And here’s a little touch of nostalgia just to finish it all off. During their time together, after a long day playing guitar and singing his lungs out trying to get his band established, Paul would often visit Iris’ home afterwards. He got on very well with her mother (later to meet a very sad end) and she helped him relax. What could be more soothing than rolling up your trouser legs and getting your girlfriend’s mother to gently brush your leg hairs? True. Would I lie to you?