Chas Newby, fill-in bassist who rejected a full-time gig with the Beatles, dies at 81
Chas Newby, an English rock bassist and brief member of the Beatles in the early 1960s, died this week at 81.
Friends and members of the Liverpool rock scene confirmed Newby’s death on Tuesday, with many remembering him as “the first left-handed bass guitarist in the Beatles.” Paul McCartney became the second when he eventually moved over to bass. Newby’s cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
“Both Pete and I and the whole Best family absolutely [devastated] to hear the very sad news with regards to one of the families closest friends Chas Newby passing last night,” wrote Roag Best, younger brother of former Beatles drummer Pete Best, on his Facebook account Tuesday morning.
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“Many of you will know him for playing bass guitar for both The Beatles and The Quarrymen, but to us he was laid back Chas with the big smile,” Best continued. “We’ll truly miss him. Forever in our thoughts. God bless you Chas x.”
The Cavern Club, a Liverpool venue that hosted some of the Beatles’ early shows, also mourned Newby’s death “with great sadness.”
When the Beatles called his name in 1960, Newby was in the middle of his second year at St. Helens College, where he was studying chemistry and chemical engineering. The band was touring in Germany and was in need of a bassist after George Harrison had been deported for performing at clubs while underage, according to a 2020 Rock & Roll Globe interview with Newby during which the rocker recalled his days with the Beatles. He said he turned them down, not wanting to give up his studies.
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However, when the Beatles returned to England later that year, Newby answered the call. Strapped with a right-handed bass upside down, the left-handed Newby would play four gigs with the Beatles during what many consider the beginning of “Beatlemania.”
With clubs such as the Casbah advertising them as “direct from Hamburg,” the Beatles drew large crowds, Newby recalled. During their infamous 1960 show at Litherland Town Hall, the Beatles, with Newby onstage, broke decorum at the venue, which typically required dress codes, such as ties for men.
“To suddenly hear this sound come from the stage which was very loud, but to see people in jeans, leather jackets and the confidence and performance they actually put on, everybody rushed to the front of stage,” Dave Forshaw, a promoter at the Liverpool club, recalled in an interview with Brightmoon Liverpool.
“They were not prepared for the power of the band, no doubt gained from long hours on stage in Germany,” Newby said, remembering those early Beatles gigs. “Everybody knew right away how much better they were.”
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A New Year’s show that year would be Newby’s last with the Beatles, as he would return to college. “On the 4 January 1961 I was back at my desk in college, and my career as a rocker was over,” Newby said.
Although Newby gained fame from his early performances, much of his life was spent working as an engineer until 1990, and later a math teacher until 1998.
“To me then it was just four gigs with a different band,” Newby told Birmingham Mail in 2012. “Music was never going to be a living for me.”
“All of us at that time were thinking what we were going to do with our lives, some doing teaching, or science, or whatever,” Newby continued. “I wanted to do chemistry. John, Paul and George, they just wanted to be musicians.”
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Even so, Newby would remain attached to music. He told Rock & Roll Globe that he had joined a men’s choir that sang at prestigious venues, such as the Royal Albert Hall and Symphony Hall in Birmingham. After retirement from teaching, Newby would also play gigs with his original band the Blackjacks, which had formed in the 1950s, as well as the Quarrymen, John Lennon’s band that had birthed the Beatles.
With the Quarrymen, Newby traveled throughout Europe and Mexico, performing old rock and doo-wop hits of the 1950s, “the music that influenced” the Beatles and that era of Liverpool rock.
As recently as 2019, Newby, in his late 70s, could be seen in Mexico City, rocking the bass line and humming backup to a cover of the Del-Vikings 1957 doo-wop song, “Come Go with Me.”
“I am constantly amazed that people attend Beatles festivals to see four old-age pensioners performing the music of our youth,” Newby told Rock & Roll Globe. “So far we have avoided banging into the microphone stands with our Zimmer frames.”
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