[This Trinidadian –born concert promoter played a key role in the making of the Beatles. He was born in 1928 to a Grenadian mother and a Venezuelan-born father]

By Caldwell Taylor

Lord Woodbine, the Trinidad-born panman and concert promoter who played a crucial role in the making of the international pop phenomenon called the Beatles, died one year ago this month, in a house fire in England. He was 72.

Lord Woodbine was not inscribed in the British peerage. Truth be told, this native of Trinidad and Tobago “lorded” himself after the Woodbine cigarettes that he chained smoked.

Harold Phillips, the man who would become Lord Woodbine, was one of four hundred and ninety West Indians who arrived in England aboard the Empire Windrush on Tuesday, June 22, 1948; West Indians celebrate this date as the “birthday of the West Indian community in Britain.”

Young Harold Phillips stepped out of the Windrush with a plan in his pocket and soon thereafter, he took up residence in the city of Liverpool believing that that city held out the best prospects for his success in “the cold”. Liverpool has a Black community going all the way back to the eighteenth century when the city was “king of the British slave trade”.

In his book titled From Columbus to Castro Eric Williams (1911-1981) tells us: “In 1774 half of Liverpool’s sailors were engaged in the slave trade, which by 1783 was estimated to bring the town a clear annual profit of three hundred thousand pounds”. Williams also reminds us that Liverpool’s Customs House was “blazoned with Negro heads… eloquent testimony to the origins of Liverpool’s rise by 1783 to the position of one of the most famous- or infamous, depending on the point of view- towns in the world of commerce”.

In 1981,Toxteth, Liverpool’s Black community, was the scene of one of the fiercest race riots in British history.

Harold Phillips had scarcely established roots in Liverpool when he opened his own nightclub, the Colony Club. As a club owner Woodbine became widely known for his use of a well set cutlass to tame rowdy patrons; it is said that the flash of Woodbine’s “gilpin” was always enough to restore peace to the dancehall.

In Liverpool, too, Woodbine founded the Royal Caribbean Steel Orchestra, following pan pioneer Winston Spree Simon’s 1957 visit to England. The Royal Caribbean was the first steel orchestra formed in England.

Phillips’ pan side played all over Liverpool and wherever he played Phillips was shadowed by a posse of loyal fans, including John Lennon and Paul McCartney. John and Paul loved to listen to steelband music. In fact, John often took his guitar to the pan concerts so that he could jam along with the man they called “Woody.”

But the Lennon and McCartney association with Harold Phillips went beyond the steelband concerts. The two future pop greats and their band played Woody’s club on a regular basis. Woody liked the youngsters’ music and so when German cabaret owner Bruno Koshminder called to ask for a “good British band” Woody picked the Beatles and went on to drive the then five-man group (John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney, Pete Best, Stuart Sutcliffe and George Harrison) from the Netherlands to Germany in a “mash up” Volkswagen van.

This is how the Beatles historic Hamburg concert happened and Lord Woodbine (Harold Phillips) was at the centre of it all.

Paul McCartney paid tribute to Woodbine in a 1995 Anthology television series.

Harold Phillips (Lord Woodbine) was born at Lavantille, Trinidad, in 1928 to a Grenadian mother and a father who was born in Venezuela.

5 July 2000

5 July 2000
Sad news today from Liverpool:

A MAN who was a part of the early Beatles scene died in a house fire today. Harold Phillips - better known as Lord Woodbine - was found dead at his Toxteth home this morning. He was 72. His wife Helen, believed to be 60, also died in the blaze. He was one of the first promoters to book the Beatles - then still known as the Silver Beetles - and also toured with them in Hamburg. A spokesman for the Beatles said today: "All of the guys will be shocked to hear this tragic news about Lord Woodbine. It is a great loss." The couple were pronounced dead at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital today. Firefighters broke into the house in Carlingford Close after smoke alarms alerted neighbours. Mike Harris, of Merseyside Fire Brigade, said: "It appeared that they were trying to escape but did not make it because of the smoke." Mr Phillips was found in the bedroom, and his wife on the landing. It is thought the blaze started in the lounge of the terraced house. Mr Phillips was of Trinidadian origin, and was known by his nicknames of either Lord Woodbine or Woodie, which he was originally given because of his love of the cigarette of the same name. He was originally involved in the Royal Caribbean Steel Band, and went on to open the New Colony Club in Berkeley Street. He booked the Silver Beetles to appear there a couple of times in 1960 for afternoon sessions. He was involved in a number of ventures, some including the band's first manager Alan Williams. He opened a club with Williams in Upper Parliament Street, and had a stripshow in the cellar. According to legend, a stripper called Janice insisted on backing musicians and the Silver Beetles were called in, and paid ten shillings each for playing two twenty-minute slots a night. Woodie was also part of the team who first helped get the Beatles into Germany on their first trip to Hamburg. More recently, he was one of the subjects of a Radio Merseyside documentary about his return to Trinidad, and island he left on the merchant ship Windrush fifty years earlier. Following the trip, he rediscovered a sister, nieces and nephews he had lost touch with who had settled in the USA. He was a former RAF man, who married his wife Helen while in the forces, and later worked as a railway engineer. Police cordoned the Carlingford Close off and the cause of the fire is
being investigated today. Mavis Hamoud, who lives two doors away from the couple raised the alarm this morning. She said: "I got up about 5.30am and a man who was going to work knocked on my window and said there was a fire. I came out and looked and saw all the smoke so I phoned the fire brigade. "I looked through the letter box and started shouting but all I could hear was the smoke alarm. I tried to open the front door but that didn't do any good so I went round and started to smash the back kitchen window but that was all locked - then the fire brigade arrived and they evacuated us all. "I still can't believe what has happened - it's sickening. I've known the couple for about 19 years. They were very quiet people." Other neighbours described how Woodbine was a real local character who at one time ran a second hand shop on Granby Street. One neighbour, Eugene Lamb, said everyone knew Mr Phillips as Lord Woodbine. He said: "He toured with the Beatles and was known as Lord Woodbine. He went to Hamburg at the same time as them and was into the music scene. "He used to be on the skiffle scene and he was also an RAF pilot in the Second World War. "He was from the Caribbean but he came over here during the war. I used to see him nearly every day - he was a really fit old fellow and used to ride a bike. "I was really shocked when I heard what had happened." Another neighbour, Gary Whelan, said: "He was a real gentleman who was always smartly dressed. He used to ride a racing bike and was very fit for his age. "It is very sad to hear about the fire. He was such a nice man."
thanks to Wendy