Pete Best Original Beatle Talks In- depth to ZANI

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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Pete Best (24th November 1941 Madras, India) is a name that has always been associated with The Beatles, and how his life drastically changed forever on 16th August 1962, when their manager, Brian Epstein, reluctantly fired Best as The Beatles’ drummer. 

The band had just recently passed an audition for Parlophone in the summer of that year, under the watchful eye of George Martin and, as they say, the rest is history. The reasons for Best’s dismal remain a mystery, ranging from jealousy from the other Beatles, to Best not being one of the lads, and so much time has passed since that fateful day that we will probably never know.  But one fact is true, for three lads (Ringo wasn’t a Beatle yet) who were no nonsense tough guys from Liverpool, to get Epstein to do the dirty work, was nasty and spineless.  And as a huge fan of The Beatles it does leave the only black mark against them for me.

All of us in life like to know the reason why a certain action has occurred, especially if it is a negative one like losing your job or lover, as you can learn from your mistake and prevent it happening again. Even when The Rolling Stones sacked founder member Brian Jones, due to his drug abuse (must have been bad for Keith to get annoyed)  on 8th June, at least Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts visited Jones, and told him to his face. In addition they gave him compensation and even tried to get him another band.  However, Best faced a stony silence, and never spoke to any Beatle ever again. Their paths did cross on the live circuit in Liverpool a handful of times after 16th Aug 1962, but no words were ever exchanged.  The sadness is further heightened, as it was Pete’s mother, Mona Best, who turned a detached house in Liverpool to a place for the kids to meet, hear and make music in the late fifties, The Casbah Coffee Bar, based on London’s 21's Coffee Bar Shop, and John, Paul, George and Pete were members. Before the famous Cavern.

Pete Best The Beatles Sedazzari ZANI 5.jPete Best stayed in the music business for another six years, when he finally put his drum sticks down in late 1968, which wouldn’t see the light of day for another twenty years.  In those six years, he joined Lee Curtis and the All-Stars, which became Pete Best and The All Stars, with some success but nowhere near the scale of The Beatles.  Best left the music industry to work for the civil service, mainly in the employment department, helping people to get back to work, and to be honest who better than someone who has been sacked by The Beatles, to help you get on the job ladder again. He acted as a consultant for the American funded film, The Birth of The Beatles in 1979, released a book in 1985 about his life in The Beatles.   But far from trying to seek attention from the media, Best refused to comment or do any interviews after the murder of John Lennon on 8th December 1980, which was a noble gesture.  

Best’s unexpected sacking, well unexpected by him, could have easily remained in pop music history as one of the most unfortunate events to happen to a man, and he could easily be remembered as the ‘nearly man’ and the media in the sixties wasted no time in rubbing salt into the wounds of Best. There is no denying that what Best experienced mentally and financially during Beatlemania and beyond, must have been painful.  Best even attempted suicide and was rescued by his mother Mona and his brother.  It is hard to comprehend the level of the suffering, as most of us have not been a member in the world’s most successful and iconic band. Furthermore, on reading that final sentence back, it is in fact a positive.  Only six people in the world can ever say or said (three of them have sadly passed away) they were a Beatle,   John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Stuart Sutcliffe and of course Pete Best. That is an amazing achievement, and something to be proud of, an accomplishment that you should be telling the world, and that is what Pete Best is doing, along with his younger brothers Rory and Roag Best.  For Pete is playing with The Pete Best band again, has released a critically acclaimed album in 2008 entitled Haymans Green, even had a cameo in a film, The Rocker, where he played himself.  He has written several books on The Beatles with Roag and The Casbah Bar is back in business.

In addition, when I sent an email to Roag Best with a link to ZANI’s interview with Billy J Kramer, I was delighted to get a reply, asking if I wanted to interview Pete.  My reply was instant with two words, yes please.  So one afternoon, Pete Best took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about The Beatles, in particular Lennon, The Casbah Bar, current projects, the city of Liverpool, his mother Mona and much more.

ZANI - You seem to have embraced the new media, as you have a new website, a FaceBook, Twitter; it seems you like new technology which gives you a chance to communicate with your fans?

Pete Best - That’s right, we have given the new website a facelift so it is full of information about the Casbah Bar, the band and myself. Basically it’s keeping everybody who is interested updated.   After speaking to Roag for many hours, we said the only way to move forward is we have got to do FaceBook, Twitter, ( so the more the merrier. Even though we can’t get out to all the fans like we want to and see them in person, it gives us a chance to correspond with them  online.

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ZANI – That is the beauty of the internet. You have a new Podcast coming, what is going to be on the Podcast?

Pete Best -  It’s going to be a mixture of everything.  It’s going to involve myself, other people from Merseyside, other celebrities, so it is a mixed bag. We will let people know about the Podcast when we get nearer to the launch date.

ZANI - Another thing you have is the Casbah Coffee club, which seems to be a coffee shop, a museum, CDS and also a recording studio ?

Pete Best  -  We have done all of that.  The studio is undergoing renovation again,    on to new technology, changing mixing desks over, getting more channels on the desks. That will be completed soon, and the Casbah Bar itself is very much a museum and a centre piece of tourism. It plays a big part on my website, because you can book the tours through that by appointment only.

ZANI - It has now become documented as the birthplace of The Beatles who, as The Quarrymen, played there and your earlier band, The Blackjacks, and I understand Lennon helped you decorate it, but he did a botched job?

Pete Best – (Loud laugh) Yes when my mother turned round and said she was going to open up the club for bands like The Quarrymen to play, who of course were John, George, Paul and of course my dear friend Ken Brown, God rest his soul, as he is no longer with us.

The Quarrymen came over, had a look around the club, and decided some decorating needed to be done.   They said let’s roll our sleeves up and help out, we want to turn this into our club.  My mother had an idea for one of the rooms, which we now call The Aztec, and said “John, the idea for this room is to have Aztec paintings on the ceiling.  Indian South American Aztec, you are from Art School, get on with the job.” So John said “OK Mo, leave it up to me”.   The first thing he did was he started to draw Pot Belly figures, which was John’s trademark, my mum said that wasn’t want she wanted. Then the next step was he painted it in a totally different finish and colour from what my mum wanted. When she came down and saw him painting he was half way through the ceiling, she said “John my love, what are you doing?”, and she carried on giving him a bit of a sharp talking to, very playfully like and John managed, after around the third time of asking, to do it so that my mother got the room the way she wanted it, and today we have kept it that way after old Johnny boy eventually got the job right.

ZANI - Your mother Mona was founder of the coffee club, and was inspired by The 21's Coffee Bar, and in a way Lester Piggott can be involved in the loop for the birth of Rock and Roll, and The Beatles, as he won a race that your mother had placed a bet on, and which gave her enough money for the place, the horse was called Never Say Die, is that true?

/Pete Best  Lester Piggott The Beatles Sedazzari ZANI 8.Pete Best  - Yes it is.  An incredible story, we didn’t know anything about it, we knew Rory had come back from school and said there is a house on Haymans Green up for sale. My mother turned round to my father and said, “It’s a bigger house, detached,  it has its own ground, a little bit derelict, but imagine what we could do with it”, and father turned and said “Mo, it’s a big white elephant, we are not going to touch it”. She fell in love with the house, and unbeknown to us she was that determined on this property she went and pawned all her jewellery. It was the 1954 Epsom Derby, Lester Piggott an unknown jockey riding an outside favourite horse called Never Say Die and it won.  The odds were 33 to 1; it was that much of an outsider.

As we listened to the Epsom Derby on the radio, we saw our mother getting more and more excited as Never Say Die closed up and took the lead, and when it crossed the finishing line, she jumped up. We knew she was an excitable person but we had never seen her as ecstatic as this before.  She turned round, and said “I’ve just won my dream house”.  We asked her what she was talking about, and she told us that she had pawned all her jewellery and put every penny she had on Never Say Die.  And our family motto from then on has been Never Say Die. That’s the battle cry of the Best family.

ZANI - Were you a Teddy Boy back in the late fifties?

Pete Best - I think we were just on the cusp of the Teddy Boy era, yea we had our drain pipe trousers, and going round with our string ties and crepe soles. But we were still into bomber jackets, tight pants, winkle pickers, so I think we were into the Rocker’s look more than the Teddy Boy look.

ZANI – Gene Vincent and such like. Your place of birth was India, and you spent a bit of your childhood there.  Have you been back to India?

Pete Best - I have great memories of Bombay and of course Madras, where I was born.   Bombay is where we sailed from; my family was on one of the last troop ships to leave India, under General Slim and the Indian Army. We landed in England Christmas 1945.  I used to listen to stories from my mother about India, and for many years I used to say I would love to go back, and at some stage I will. But it never transpired until two or three years ago, when we had the offer to go to Delhi, which is the birth place of my mother Mona, and the band were actually performing there. We were playing to the High Commission and we did a public performance as well. It gave the opportunity for me, with my younger brother Roag, to go and explore India.  We saw the house where my mother was born, and to see the Taj Mahal it was an incredible journey.  And touch wood, looks like we will be going to India again next year, and this time it will be Madras.

ZANI – Sounds like you found your heritage, and your heritage to pop music is drumming,  What made you take up the drums, what was your kit back in the day and what kit do you use now ?

Pete Best - As with most of the kids at that time in Liverpool, I was in a skiffle group, playing the guitar, never felt comfortable on it, I can still manage about two or three chords today.  Very basic stuff, just what you needed for rock ‘n’ roll then, but as I said, I wasn’t comfortable.  I was sitting at home watching TV and I saw the legendary jazz drummer Gene Krupa. And I fell in love with Gene, loved his drumming style, his tom tom work, which was way ahead of his time, and I said if I get the opportunity I want to be a drummer, and of course with the advent of The Casbah Club at the start of 1959, The Quarrymen getting on the way, and Ken Brown was leaving them, he said to me “Pete, let’s form a band, you’re going to be the drummer”. The gauntlet was thrown down, but there was one problem, I didn’t have a drum kit, only had a snare drum and a cymbal. Ken and I explained our predicament to Mona my mother, she helped out. So I went down to the biggest music store in town, explained to a dear old man I needed something solid.  He was like a drum mentor, he pointed to a sky blue Pearl Premier Classic, and that was the kit I started on, the sound was absolutely fantastic.  Since then I have been through Premier, Ludwig, Tama and now I am endorsed by Slingerland, so I am playing Slingerland.

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ZANI – OK.  We know that you joined The Beatles when Paul asked you join them in Hamburg, and you went three times.  It seems that you went there as boys and came back as men, not only that, better musicians.  Do you think the Beatles needed to face this hardship to build a bond and develop their creativity?

Pete Best - I think it played a large part of it, because what happened in Hamburg would have taken them a lot longer in Liverpool. The fact that we were in Hamburg, playing six or seven nights a week for about six to seven hours a night. That welded us into this fantastic  rock ‘n’ roll band, this  savage sound which we developed because of what the audience required, and whilst we were doing that, of course, our musicianship got better, our showmanship got better, the repro we had with the crowd.  Everything got better: the choice of material we were doing, the charisma we had on stage. So yes the first trip was so essential, and when we went back again, it was to captivate an audience who was waiting for us. They wanted to see The Beatles, we had left them four months ago, and they were still hungry for us. That was an amazing feeling.

ZANI - Love the photos from that era, and I understand you are still friends with the photographer Astrid Kirchherr

Pete Best - Yes very much so, she was a lovely woman then, a beautiful girl, you can tell by the photographs, stunning, and she is still lovely today.  She has aged gracefully, we swop Christmas Cards.  If she is in Liverpool she makes a point of seeing me and likewise if I am in Hamburg.  I hope our friendship continues.

ZANI – I am sure it will, and it does sound beautiful. The Beatles first manager was Allan Williams, I understand he was a character, please tell us more about him  

Pete Best - (Chuckles) Let’s just say he was what The Beatles needed at the early stage.

ZANI - There was another character called Ted Knibbs (Jack O' Clubs,)

Pete Best The Beatles Brian Epstien ZANI 1.jpgPete Best - There were a lot of managers in Liverpool, who were responsible for bookings or putting a few gigs their way. And all have this claim to fame, because they had some involvement with The Beatles.  I suppose the most responsible in this event, is Allan Williams, then Sam Leach and Ted Knibbs. Of course mother Mona, who helped the early Beatles as much as she could with Casbah, until Brian Epstein came along and took over the role.

ZANI – Everyone knows about the Cavern Club, was it as good as we are lead to believe and was Cilla Black really a cloakroom attendant there?

Pete Best  - It was as good as you have read, there were two different atmospheres in two different clubs. The Casbah had its own different atmosphere and The Cavern had its own atmosphere. The Casbah was dark and very atmospheric, in The Cavern you stank of disinfectant and were covered in what we used to call The Cavern’s dandruff, which was the paint flakes falling off the ceiling. Cilla Black or what she was called then, Priscilla White, was a cloakroom attendant there.

ZANI – Oh right, I thought for years it was an urban myth about Cilla.  Let’s talk about your current band, The Pete Best band. If I was to buy tickets for one of your shows, what could I expect to come and see?

Pete Best – It depends on which show you come and see to be honest. The show that captivates audiences all over the world, simply because it is what they want us to do, is music I played in the fifties and sixties in Hamburg, the Decca sessions, Polydor, and Liverpool, with some Beatle classics.  As I am an ex or former Beatle so they expect me to play some Beatle numbers.  

If we are doing original material, we brought the Haymans Green album out in 2008, which is a totally original album, it is my musical anthology album if you can put it that way.  We play original songs, to promote the album, so if you go to the Casbah Bar, because of the audiences we have at the Casbah, it more than likely is going to be a rip roaring rock ‘n’ roll night. It’s going to be savage, pounding, let’s get sweaty, let’s get sticky, but we are going to have a good time while we are doing it.  We have got a lot of crowd participation in the numbers whether it be in the original set or the rock ‘n’ roll set. We love to get the crowd involved, the more we get them involved, screaming, shouting, joining in with us.  It’s a two way thing, they are having fun and we are having fun.  

ZANI – Sounds a good night, By the way, I am not going to discuss the meeting you had with Brian Epstein in August 1962, because everyone talks about that and it would be the most obvious question to ask.

Pete Best - (Laughing a lot)

ZANI - I will talk about a positive relationship you had with The Beatles after that date.  I understand that Lennon wore your Granddad’s war medals on the photo shoot of Sgt. Pepper’s.

Pete Best - That’s correct.  Going back to The Casbah Bar and The Quarrymen days, we would drink coke, listen to records before we had to do a lunchtime session, and my mother would tell us tales about India. My Grandfather was in the Raj, Bengal Lancers, at one time.  One particular night she came down and said would you like to see my father’s medals, all the lads were there, we had a look at them, and they were lovely medals.

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When Sgt Pepper’s was taking its format, John phoned my mum and said, “Mona, have you still got those medals?” She said “yes”, he said “Is there any chance I could use them for Sgt Pepper’s?” She thought it over and replied “John, you can have them with my blessing, but please be careful; they are very precious to me”. John guaranteed he would get them back to her, and he did with a nice little present. It was a lovely gesture from both people.

ZANI – I found that a nice story.  One thing I noticed a lot, is how you speak fondly of the two sides of John, the aggressive side was a defence mechanism and his sensitive side.

Pete Best - Very much so.  I think I was fortunate enough to see that at a really early age. As I have always turned round and said, the aggression and the sardonic sense of humour was a defence mechanism which he used against the public, if you got too close or too near his private life, bang that would happen.  He was portrayed as this hard guy image, OK; he was a tough guy at the best of times.

But when I was in Hamburg, John and I would prop the bars up, we were the night owls.  We used to talk about home, family life, girlfriends and John used to take a great deal of care, love and affection talking about those things. And I suddenly realised there is more to this guy, he is not just a great musician he is a loving and tender guy, a family man and I was fortunate enough at the stage to see it early on. I have always said take those two entities and put them together, you see the complete John, which I saw early on and the world did, many years afterwards.

ZANI - Sadly, the world was robbed of Lennon on 8th December 1980, and from the books I have read, he seemed to have a yearning to return to Liverpool, even just for a holiday… we will never know, thanks to that bastard Chapman, but he may have got in contact.

Pete Best  John Lennon The Beatles Sedazzari ZANI 3.jpgPete Best -  I like to think so.  I like to think he would have come back to Liverpool and gone round the old haunts. Plus the fact so much happened in Liverpool, at an early age. Yes there were tragedies there but Liverpool was also the springboard that led to so much in his own life and his musical career, so I would like to think he would have come back.

ZANI – I agree.  He had just turned 40, I never met Lennon, but from what I have read and have seen before his murder, he seemed upbeat and enjoying life. And his quote about The Beatles pays a nice homage to you “The Beatles were at their best playing dance halls & clubs in Liverpool and Germany and The World Never Saw It”, and you were there.

Pete Best - I was very flattered when I read that, that shut up a lot of media hypocritical journalists if you like. I suppose, in a way, it was John turning to the media and saying the best time for The Beatles, was my era, Hamburg, The Cavern.

ZANI - As we know, you didn’t sit on your arse, as you quickly joined Lee Curtis and The All Stars, who supported The Beatles three times, but they never spoke to you – and you moved over the Atlantic, with The Pete Best All Stars. Whereabouts in the US did you reside, and you were signed to Savage records in 1968?

Pete Best  - I was in the US for about six months, recorded for Savage Records which went out on Mister Maestro, Inc. We recorded most of the tracks in New York on 42Nd Street, in a studio owned by a guy called Mike Angelo. Mike got us gigs in Canada, Up State New York, and then unfortunately we got involved in what was going on at that time a musicians union struggle, over what and where musicians can play. I was told it was OK for me to stay, but I would have to sack the band, as they were English and I had to use American musicians.  I said you must be joking, I have got my own band, earning a crust, I am not going to leave the boys behind, and I can’t do that. I have known them for God knows how long.  We were taking a chance going back to Liverpool, because we had been away for six months, go back home and see if we could pick up from where we left off. That’s we did.

ZANI - Didn’t the band feature Tony Waddington and Wayne Bickerton who went on to form The Rubettes?

Pete Best – Yea, Tony and Wayne, great pair of songwriters. The original songs that we had on the album I was involved in those, but they took the limelight. They were my Lennon and McCartney, if you like. And as the world knows now, they went on to become great songwriters in their own right, with The Rubettes.

ZANI – They wrote some catchy pop numbers.  Then after that, in 1968, you put down the drum sticks and took a twenty years break. You became a baker because no one would give you a job.  

Pete Best  -  Yes, no one wanted to employ a rock ‘n’ roller. I had the qualifications to get to the interviews, when they asked me what I had done, they would say I was good for the job, but worried that someone in the music industry would come along with a contract and I would be gone.  So basically I had to start with labouring jobs, that’s when I hitched with the bakery, did the bread round, loaded the van, did everything I could to  prove I wanted to change roles.  Then I was given a lifeline with the civil service, which had promotion prospects and where I stayed until I retired.

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ZANI – And in 1995, thanks to the Anthology, you received a nice pay out, which must have felt good after all those years.

Pete Best - It was totally unexpected. People were saying to me, you must have known what was going on, but there were so many other projects beforehand, like the BBC tapes, rumours that I was being involved but it never happened. But of course I knew the Anthology was coming out. I was like, fine, interested to see in which way they were going to take it. Then I got a phone call from Apple Records, and they said “you know we are interested in putting out six tracks which you played on, and we will pay you for it”,  And what was even better, I ended up being on ten tracks and the royalties were even nicer.

ZANI – I remember when I read about that back in the 90’s and I was, like so many others, pleased for you.  In the sixties, Liverpool was seen as the centre of the musical universe but for my generation, we saw Liverpool in a different light due to the works of Alan Bleasdale and Boys from the Blackstuff.  I understand you were involved in getting people back into work in the 80’s, what was it really like?

Pete Best - It was bleak, and Boys from the Blackstuff personified it a little bit more because it was a series based around characters.  Yes, the days of swopping your job two or three times in a year, because you wanted a change, were gone. Unemployment had risen in the eighties, if my memory serves me correctly; it was in the millions and job satisfaction had become really a thing of the past, hence Norman Tebbit saying “Get on your bike”. Liverpool in the eighties was going through a dire time. A lot of courage has been shown, a lot of people were being re-trained, changing their livelihoods so they could find employment. Industrial jobs had gone, so people had to re-learn or fall by the wayside.

ZANI - Sounded like and, from what I saw, tough times, but Liverpool seems to be on the up.

Pete Best The Beatles Sedazzari ZANI 12.jpgPete Best - Very much so.  I think once the council realised that Liverpool was a gold mine.  It was happening in Japan, America; everyone was making money out of The Beatles apart from Liverpool and where the hell did it all start, Liverpool. Plus there are two fantastic football teams with a great history, Liverpool and Everton, also Tranmere Rovers, beautiful architecture which is still there and a brilliant music scene that started in the late fifties and is still producing great musicians now. Once the council grabbed this with both hands, Liverpool saw an upswing and tourism became a new word. Ever since then, Liverpool has been on the up, and I hope it stays that way,

ZANI – Talking about Liverpool or Everton, which one are you?

Pete Best - I am a blue

ZANI – What about the other Beatles?

Pete Best - From what we can make out, even though a lot of football wasn’t talked about because we were rockers, I think they were Liverpool.

ZANI – Do you go to Goodison Park a lot?

Pete Best  - I used to, when time allowed but now with Sky, I watch them in the comfort of my own home, and if I miss a game, I can watch them on Skyplus.

ZANI – We did mention your 2008 album Haymans Green which was a success, got an album planned for 2013 ?

Pete Best - Got some stuff still in the can from Haymans Green. Been kicking around, been working on it, but at this moment in time, couldn’t say there was an album coming out at such and such a date. When it does come out, it will be announced on the website, FaceBook and Twitter.  

ZANI - You wrote a few books with your brother Roag, one being The Beatles: The True Beginnings, do you plan to do any more books ?

Pete Best  - Again, it’s one of those things.  We have had approaches and we are toying with the idea of doing something different, but there is also the sequel to the Casbah Bar.  We have talked about the true beginnings, the legacy that Mona has left us. Since then the Casbah Bar has become more and more of a tourist attraction, maybe there will be a sequel to it. There are a lot of things in the pipeline.

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ZANI - OK, I hear Rugby is a big passion of yours.

Pete Best  - Very much so.  Played it at school, when I left school and when I left show business.  I played Rugby right up until the age of fifty. Captain of the school team, I played the union code, not league, but as it is now, super league. But Rugby in any format is a big passion of mine, as is music.

ZANI – Finally, are you really the man that put the Beat in The Beatles?

Pete Best  - I like to think so, a lot of people give me that credit.  The style that I play which I introduced, powerhouse drumming four bar bass drum, a lot of tom toms, a lot of fills, very forceful but it was required because we had no sound system, no mixing desk. You crank that up on stage it was your own power, your own sound and it was what you projected on stage kept the band together with the bass. And I was nicknamed the man that put the Beat in The Beatles, and I like to think I played a big part in their early history.

Well Pete Best certainly did, he is now remembered and respected as the first drummer of The Beatles and is a big part of their history, and that is something truly remarkable.  OK, he was not on board for the whole journey, yet he has been on his own wonderful journey, which now seems to be one of personal fulfilment and contentment.

Pete Best The Beatles Sedazzari ZANI 18.In addition, with a nice royalty cheque from The Beatles Anthology One, Best at least got a little bit of The Beatles’ money pie and rightly so, he deserved it. And from speaking to Best, he has youthful forwarding looking enthusiasm, and had many achievements, not just with the Beatles, that have made him proud.  He has witnessed a lot and experienced a great deal, good and bad. Furthermore, Best is cheerful, intelligent, sharp as a razor and vibrant, the bitterness and resentment has gone.  Moreover you never know, he and McCartney might just speak again, because there are more chapters in Best’s life to be written, and this time around it is Pete Best, the man who put the Beat in The Beatles who is holding the pen.

© Matteo Sedazzari/ZANI Media

Pete Best Official Site

Casbah Coffee Club on FaceBook

Special Thanks to Roag Best and of course Pete.

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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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ZANI was conceived in late 2008 and the fan base gradually grew by word of mouth. Key contributors came from those of the music, film and fashion industry and the voice of ZANI grew louder. So, when in 2013 investor, contributor and fan of ZANI Alan McGee* offered his support to help restyle and relaunch the site it was inevitable that traffic would increase dramatically and continues to grow. *Alan McGee co-founder of Creation Records and new label 359 Music..


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