BACK in 2004, Rob Fennah of Pulse Records Limited, Alternative Radio and Buster talked about his then new project of turning Helen Forrester’s Twopence To Cross The Mersey into the acclaimed musical it went on to become.
Later, Rob mentioned he was working on another project involving John Lennon’s mum, Julia, teaching The Beatles legend how to play rock’n’roll on her banjo; an instrument now lost but highly sought after by Beatles buffs the world over.
A ‘Holy Grail’ of rock memorabilia if ever there was one.
Now following the publication of a novel both Rob and Helen A. Jones wrote in 2013 called Julia’s Banjo, the book’s stage adaptation Lennon’s Banjo is set to open – somewhat ironically, at The Epstein Theatre – on April 24, featuring a stellar cast of familiar Liverpool faces and (for some performances) a real-life Beatle!
“It’s a relief to get it on stage, yes, but if we take it all the way back, the original idea was for it to be a screenplay for either film or television,” the former Buster rhythm guitarist explained.”There were a lot of filmy people interested too, but then came the big recession of 2009 and all the cash dried up.”That’s when Helen and I decided to write the novel, as a sort of stop gap.”The book got some really good reviews and kept the idea of a film adaptation of Julia’s Banjo very much alive.”The tale tells of how a Beatles tour guide finds a clue to the possible whereabouts of the said banjo … and its estimated monetary worth: £5,000,000.”However, a Texan dealer has got wind of this information and is hell bent on grabbing the instrument by the fretboard and making a dash for the cash.”Over the years since its publication lots of people were asking: ‘whatever happened to that film idea?’
“So a couple of years ago, I decided to adapt the novel myself into a stage play, another stepping stone if you like towards the making of a feature film.”I changed the name to Lennon’s Banjo to appeal to a wider audience, but otherwise kept the structure of the story the same. “In this stage production, we have eight actors playing twenty odd parts, so it’s a pretty big deal.”And with it also being a brand new play, myself and co-producer, Bill Elms, have put our heads on the block in order to get it on.”But because the story is such a fascinating one and weaved around real historical events, we feel it’s a risk well worth taking.”We’re confident people are going to leave the theatre intrigued by the very real possibility that somewhere out there, probably in Liverpool, perhaps in their own attic, is a banjo worth five million quid!”
So, it may have been a long and winding road to get there, something of a mystery tour in its own right, but perseverance very often pays off and there’s a huge cast joining the bus too.
“We’ve got a lot of familiar faces like Mark Moraghan, Eric Potts and Jake Abraham.
“Then there’s Lynn Francis, Stephanie Dooley, Danny O’Brien, Roy Carruthers and Alan Stocks.
“And the icing on the cake has been to get Pete Best involved.
“How that happened was by virtue of the fact he really liked the book.
“When the idea for the play came about, I took it upon myself to ask him whether he could do something and he said yes, wow!
“What Pete particularly liked was the accuracy of the historical facts within the novel.”We didn’t stint on the research for the book and it paid off, now having a real-life Beatle giving it the thumbs up.”Set in present day Liverpool, Pete Best will be playing himself; but for only three performances due to other commitments.”Alan Stocks will be playing the part on other occasions.”I have to say though, the rest of the cast are getting a real kick out of being on stage with an original Beatle! “Pete’s such an integral part of the group’s history, with thirteen of the songs he played on, such as Love Me Do and PS: I Love You, all featuring on the Beatles Anthology.
“He’s very much a part of the band’s story and it’s a real pleasure to have Pete involved.
“I’m sure audiences will be very excited about it too.”