Before There Were Beatles

updated 09/19/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/19/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

LIKE THE REST OF THE CROWD IN the noisy church hall in Woolton, England, on July 6, 1957, Bob Molyneux wasn't much impressed by the Quarry Men. The scruffy teenage skiffle band—which was at the bottom of an all-day bill featuring fox-trots by the George Edwards Band as well as Liverpool's Police Dogs Display—"was pretty run-of-the-mill," says Molyneux, then a 16-year-old amateur recording enthusiast. Little did he know that the tape he made that night would capture a bit of rock-and-roll history: the Quarry Men's leader was none other than 15-year-old John Lennon, and it was on that night he met future fellow Beatle Paul McCartney, there to hear the band.

Molyneux, now a 53-year-old retired policeman, knew Lennon because they both belonged to the St. Peter's Youth Club. Lennon, he recalls, "was getting on the bus all the time—in his leathers," and though a bit loud, was "good fun." After the Beatles became stars, Molyneux spotted Ringo Starr at a Liverpool club in 1963 and told him Lennon could have a copy of the tape if he wanted. "He never got in touch," says Molyneux, "and that was the end of it."

Molyneux had thought of selling the recording—the first ever of Lennon's music—on its 40th anniversary, in 1997, until Sotheby's of London learned of the tape and suggested he sell it at their Sept. 15 rock memorabilia auction. Molyneux, who lives near Southampton with wife Sarah and daughter Kate, 19, thought he might be onto a windfall (the tape could fetch $250,000) all these years. "I knew," he says, "that one day it would be worth quite a bit."

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