Beatles’ ‘Good Ol’ Freda’ Kelly set for fan fest here
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI August 8, 2012 6:30PM
Freda Kelly posed with Paul McCartney back in the early 1960s when she was the secretary of the officia Beatles’ fan club. | Photo courtesy of Freda Kelly
Updated: September 11, 2012 6:07AM
It was 1963, and Freda Kelly was a little bit worried. The Beatles had recorded a special 45 rpm record to be sent to members of their official fan club, and she’d gotten a word from Cilla Black, a Liverpool singer from Cavern days who became a huge star in the United Kingdom.
“I was in work at the time, and Cilla came in, and she said, ‘Have you heard the fan club record?’ ” recalls Kelly, who this weekend at the Fest for Beatles Fans will be sharing her experiences as the original secretary of the official Beatles Fan Club. “She said ‘Oh, they mentioned you in it.’ And I said ‘Oh, no you’re joking.’
And I went sick because I knew they’d probably say something funny, and they might say, ‘Oh, we don’t like Freda,’ or some in joke. I was on edge waiting to see what they said. Cilla wouldn’t tell. But then when I heard, I thought it was very nice they acknowledged me.”
On the record, George Harrison gives thanks to “Freda Kelly in Liverpool,” then John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr shout back, “Good ol’ Freda!”
Now “Good Ol’ Freda” is the name of a film documentary, to be released next year, that joins Kelly on her 1960s journey.
At the Fest, she’s one of the headliners, along with Beatle friend Spencer Davis, whose string of hits in the 1960s included “I’m a Man” and “Gimme Some Lovin’,” Tom Scott, who played horns on Paul McCartney’s No. 1 hit “That’s What the Man Said,” worked on albums by George Harrison and Starr, and toured with Harrison in 1974; and former Beatles recording engineer Ken Scott.
WXRT radio personality Terri Hemmert will emcee, as she has since 1978. More than a dozen other guests, panel discussions, concerts by house band Liverpool, soundalike contests, a Beatles museum, trivia contest and a giant flea market make it an active weekend for Fab Four fanatics.
Kelly, who is making her first trip to Chicago, was a regular at Liverpool’s Cavern, the underground club where the Beatles played often in the early 1960s, and met the boys in the band in early 1962. “I lived and died in the Cavern in those days,” she remembered. “I liked the lunchtime sessions more than anything. It was a lot more intimate and it wasn’t just a show, they talked to the audience, and you could shout up to them what numbers you wanted them to play. They’d fire back at you, ‘We’ve already done that!’ And we’d say, ‘Oh, come on, do it again!’
“We all had our own little spot in the Cavern as well. You’d sit in a certain seat or lean against a certain wall. I was always on the left hand side — well, I tried to.”
Beatles manager Brian Epstein got to know Kelly through the band, and asked her to work for his NEMS Enterprises as a secretary. The fan club was part of her duty, and she also worked with Liverpool favorites including Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer, the Fourmost and Tommy Quickly.
“I hadn’t experienced kids writing in saying. ‘Can I have their pillowcase?’ or ‘Can I have a bit of his shirt?’ I was very close to the parents, because I’d go to the homes and help out with the fan mail. So in the end I’d ask, ‘Can I have the shirts they don’t wear anymore? or ‘Can I have the pillowcases?’
“Fans would ask, ‘If Paul is coming in on Wednesday, can I come in and have a cup of tea with him?’ I’d think, if he has a Wednesday, he’s going to spend the time with his dad and his brother.”
Freda Kelly will be on hand throughout the weekend’s festivities including events scheduled for: 6:45 p.m. Aug. 10; 3:20 p.m. Aug. 11; 1:30 p.m. Aug. 12.
John Grochowski is a local free-lance writer and diehard Beatles fan.