Thursday, January 10, 2013

Travels With My Camera - Pete Best

Pete Best photo copyright 2004 Daniel Coston
In August of 2004, I drove all night from North Carolina to Randall's Island, on the edges of New York City for Little Steven's Underground Garage festival. The weekend was an adventure that deserves its own entry in this series. I don't remember much from that weekend, though that was due more to exhaustion than drink. Thankfully, I took a lot of photos, including when I met Pete Best.

Pete and his six-member band played midway through the day-long festival, which featured 45 (yes, 45) bands. As with most bands on the bill, Pete's band played only two songs, "What I'd Say" and "Twist And Shout". Pete's band aims for the scruffy early-rock sound that the Beatles had in Hamburg, and for the quick set that they had, they did all right. (Perhaps next time, though, they can get the band to all down Benzadrine and lots of alcohol, just like the lads did back in the day. Now there's something you'll never see advertised.)

The thing that struck me, though, was how inconsequential Pete was in his own band. With Pete's half-brother Roag Best (who is also the son of Beatle associate Neil Aspinall) playing on a larger drumkit on the side of the stage, and the rest of the band handling the vocals, many probably did not even notice the slightly gray-haired man tapping away in the back. Pete did not even step up to a microphone, and apart from waving to the crowd at the end of the set, it seemed like the famously shy and reticent Best was content to let others handle the lead roles. Despite the fact that Best has spent the last several years trying to reclaim his place in the Beatles' legacy. I know for a fact that Pete was, and still is uncomfortable singing, and he may have more to say in his full-length show, but after all the years of insinuating that Ringo wasn't any better a drummer than he in 1962, it would have been nice to see more of that famous drumming.

About 30 minutes, the photographers were all shown a note, written on a paper plate with a magic marker, "Pete Best in press tent in 10 minutes." Several minutes later, with his band still in tow, Pete ambled into the press area. After doing an interview with VH1, Pete then posed for photos for the media, most of whom dispersed after the photos were taken.

After signing a record for a photographer, I walked up and told him how much I enjoyed the book that he and Roag had recently put out about his time with the Beatles (a really thorough book, which I highly recommend). Pete's eyes widened a bit, and he said, "Thank you." I think it was the first time that anyone there had mentioned the book that day. I asked him how that book had come about, and he told me that it had come out of an original wish to document their family history for themselves, and their future relatives. The more that they cataloged everything, he said, and the more that the Casbah (Mona Best's coffee bar, where the Beatles played numerous times) was renovated, the more that he and Roag began discussing the possibility of a book.

Pete is an interesting mixture, in person. He does not talk much above a whisper, which sometimes made it hard for me to hear him over the noise of the festival. At the same time, he does answer questions very directly, and looks straight at you with the eyes that once made him labeled "mean, moody and magnificent." Still shy, but he seems much more comfortable in dealing with the public. Pete also hasn't seemed to age much in the past several years, and looks younger with his mid-60s age. Pete does also let Roag handle his business and music affairs, which seems to work well for both.

After getting him to sign my festival list of bands (I apologized for this, telling him that my records were several states away), and posing for a few more photos (including the photo enclosed), Pete walked off to his next destination, and I left to photograph Bo Diddley. In short, I came away with more respect for the man himself, although I'm still undecided about his band. I still believe that the Beatles without Ringo are not the Beatles we've come to know (imagine Abbey Road or Revolver without Ringo- enough said), but I'm glad that Pete has a place for himself in the public eye.
-Daniel Coston
August, 2004/January, 2013

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