The Beatles’ first contract with manager Brian Epstein – marking the start of their transformation into world-conquering pop band – is going under the hammer.
Epstein signed up Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Pete Best – the band’s first drummer – on January 24 1962, just two months after he first heard them play. The paperwork, from “before any of the music that we know and love”, could fetch £300,000 at Sotheby’s. Later dubbed the “fifth Beatle”, Epstein had no experience of band management and was running a record shop when he took up the Liverpool band. Sotheby’s Books And Manuscripts specialist Gabriel Heaton described the contract as “an important piece of our cultural history” and a “transformative document”.
Epstein was determined to represent The Beatles after hearing them at The Cavern Club in Liverpool and became “hugely important” in their transformation, shaping the band. “He was just blown away by the passion, the energy, the charisma, the raw sexuality on stage,” Mr Heaton told the Press Association. “They had the stage energy but he instilled a sense of professionalism in them. “He stopped them eating on stage. He made sure they played the songs properly and coherently, and he got them bowing at the end of a set. He ensured that they actually made it to gigs.” The document gave Epstein responsibility for finding the band work, managing their schedule, publicity and “all matters concerning clothes, make-up and the presentation and construction of the artists’ acts and also on all music to be performed”. But Epstein did not sign the contract, saying “even though I knew I would keep the contract in every clause, I had not 100% faith in myself to help The Beatles adequately … I wanted to free The Beatles of their obligations if I felt they would be better off”.
A previous manager, Allan Williams, had advised Epstein “they’ll let you down” and “don’t touch them with a f*****g bargepole”. Epstein entered the band’s lives when they were in danger of losing momentum and they were “getting a bad reputation for turning up late, for generally being brash and loud”.
The contract states Epstein’s fee would be 10% rising to 15% if their earnings should exceed £120 a week, with McCartney negotiating the upper percentage down from 20%. Before getting the group signed up, Epstein did not know what a contract should look like.“He asked a record company contact to send a sample because he’d never managed a band before,” Mr Heaton said. “He said he was shocked by the terms, said that the sample contract had been drawn up by people ‘who knew more about a fast buck than does a slow doe’. He made sure this was a much fairer contract.”
The document, said to have been signed in Best mother’s front room, is one of two contracts drawn up between Epstein and The Beatles. Following Best’s departure from the band, a new contract was signed on October 1 1962 with Ringo Starr as drummer – and Epstein’s cut is higher. “It’s Brian Epstein who is asked by the others to do the deed on Pete and tell him he’s out,” Mr Heaton said.
The contract, from the collection of Epstein’s publisher Ernest Hecht, is being auctioned for the first time, in Sotheby’s English Literature Online sale which runs from July 1-9.