Aunt Mimi ran a very strict household. John very quickly became bored at school, preferring drawing and writing about his classmates and teachers rather than his studies. Rebellious at an early age, he had a very rough school history, sagging off from school (going AWOL from classes) and petty stealing. His future looked bleak until Mimi got the headmaster of the Quarrybank school to write a letter of recommendation for John to the Liverpool Art College, because of his drawings.
It was at Liverpool Art College, in 1956, a friend played him Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel, and John's musical interest was piqued. Then he heard Lonnie Donegan's Rock Island Line on Radio Luxembourg, and became part of the new Skiffle craze by begging his Aunt Mimi until she broke down and bought him a guitar, although she forever told him he would never get anywhere with it. He had already learned to play the harmonica during his childhood, and he taught himself the guitar by applying banjo chords that his mother had taught him.
In 1955 he started his own band, the Quarrymen, with his long time pal and fellow troublemaker Pete Shotton, singing all the popular songs, sometimes making up the words when he couldn't get them all off the radio. Also in the Quarrymen were Nigel Walley and Ivan Vaughan, the rest of John's gang. It was Ivan Vaughan who introduced John to his friend, Paul McCartney, in 1957.
John married his girlfriend of four years, Cynthia Powell, in 1962. She was pregnant with their son Julian at the time, who was born in April, 1963.
About his time in art school, John said:
"My whole school life was a case of 'I couldn't care less'. It was just a joke as far as I was concerned. Art was the only thing I could do, and my headmaster told me that if I didn't go to art school I might as well give up life. I wasn't really keen. I thought it would be a crowd of old men, but I should make the effort and make something of myself. I stayed for five years doing commercial art. Frankly, I found it all as bad as maths and science. And I loathed those. The funny thing was I didn't even pass art in the GCE. I spent the exam time doing daft cartoons. I got into art school by doing some decent stuff and taking it along to show them."
On musical differences:
"From our earliest days in Liverpool, George and I on the one hand and Paul on the other had different musical tastes. Paul preferred 'pop type' music and we preferred what is now called 'underground'. This may have led to arguments, particularly between Paul and George, but the contrast in tastes, I'm sure, did more good than harm, musically speaking, and contributed to our success."