To countless music fans around the world, John, Paul, George and Ringo are The Beatles or the Fab Four, but for Freda Kelly, they will always simply be the lads.For a decade, from 1962 to 1972, Kelly was the president of the official Beatles fan club and secretary to the British rock band’s manager, Brian Epstein. She worked alongside the band as it rose from a local Liverpool act to worldwide fame, and its dissolution.She’ll share some of those backstage memories and stories on July 31 at Studio Bell in an interview session with Calgary music and theatre producer Jeff Parry, who created two touring Beatles tribute shows, Rain and Let it Be.Contacted at her home in Liverpool where she still works three days a week as a legal secretary, Kelly is amused that almost 50 years after the Beatles disbanded people still want to hear her stories.She was 17 and working in a secretarial pool when a couple of men from one of the offices invited her to join them for lunch and to listen to a local band playing at the Cavern Club.
Freda Kelly left, the Beatles official fan club manager, with John Lennon.
“I was hooked immediately and I defied anyone who caught them at one of their lunchtime shows to say they didn’t like what they heard. If someone said they didn’t like their music, I told them they were lying or they had no ear for music.“The lads were something different and something special and those of us who returned afternoon after afternoon or night after night to the Cavern Club knew they were going to be big one day. We just didn’t know how big. No one could have known,” says Kelly, who estimates she saw close to 200 of the band’s 294 appearances at the Cavern Club.Kelly says those Cavern performances were informal. The Beatles would chat with fans who crowded against the stage and that fans could even visit them in the band room, which she did increasingly as time went on.When Epstein decided to manage the band, he asked Kelly to be his secretary because the Beatles themselves had suggested she run their fan club. Kelly’s father objected.“My father wasn’t stern. He was overprotective. He was 45 years old when I was born and my mother died when I was a baby. He was only looking out for me. He wanted me to get a civil servant job where I would have a pension,” says Kelly. “At 17, a pension was the last thing on my mind. I made a deal with him that I would work for Brian and the band until I was 18 and then go in search of a secure job. That year turned into 10.”
Freda Kelly and Paul McCartney. Courtesy, Freda Kelly
Even after all these years, Kelly says she still remembers Paul McCartney as the goody-goody Beatle.‘He was a real diplomat. You knew you could count on Paul to say the right thing in any situation. He was a real good negotiator.”Kelly has read all the stories about how surly John Lennon could be. She says “with John, what you saw was what you got and it depended largely on his mood that day. You knew instantly that he had gotten out of the wrong side of the bed.“John always told things as they were. He never sugar-coated anything and I always respected him for that.”Kelly disagrees that George Harrison was the quiet Beatle, explaining “he was soft-spoken and, unless he got excited, he spoke slowly but he was so funny with his quick one-liners. He could always make me laugh.“I had a special cupboard behind my desk where I kept things fans sent to be autographed. I would wait until I knew John or Paul were in a good mood before asking them to sign things but George would just come in and ask if there was anything I wanted him to autograph. That’s the kind of guy he was.”Kelly says Ritchie, as she called Ringo, “was always the happy Beatle and he was a great dancer.”Secretary to the Beatles: Freda Kelly in Conversation is July 31 at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 and $20 for National Music Centre members.