Eventually I was asked to join a country trio called the Drifters and started performing in small clubs. These clubs were invaluable to me because I was young and playing for the love of it and not just for the money. But having to attend school the next day with a large hangover proved to be something of a stumbling block when declining my Latin verbs.
During this time the Drifters passed an audition and did a talent show at the Pavilion Theatre in Lodge Lane called ‘The Carrol Levis Discoveries.’ Years later, in June 1959, another ambitious group called Johnny & the Moondogs actually failed their audition for the show – but it turned out alright because the leading lights in the band went on to form a group called the Beatles!
This talent show was very popular during the Fifties and was a big hit on the radio as well. The winner of the show that night was a group of kids called Gerry & the Mars Bars. The country got to know them later as Gerry & the Pacemakers. When fame came, we were all to be hailed as overnight successes….but it was an awfully long night.
Later on skiffle music arrived bringing with it the dreaded washboard and tea-chest bass. Most of the instruments were acoustic and electric guitars were quite a rarity as were establishments with more than one microphone. But the music was fun and you did not have to break the bank to play it. Eventually the group scene emerged with as many as three hundred and fifty bands in the city and surrounding area. The technology grew with it or maybe because of it and we all had to try and become semi-professional in order to pay for our instruments and equipment.
The groups put the city on the entertainment map and the advent of the Beatles gave the Mersey Sound world wide fame. That is when the music of Liverpool really took off. The city’s clubs and pubs were inundated with voracious agents seeking out their own slice of wealth cake from a place that they would have deemed very down market only a year before.
We were suddenly cool and our accent became trendy. The former ‘den of thieves’ had become a pot of gold and the only robbers were the ones who had come sniffing around from the sophisticated South to purloin the talent of the seemingly naïve Northerners in order to line their own gaping pockets. They were soon to find out that we had minds of our own and the pop music industry was about to undergo a vast upheaval. The Sixties were upon us and change was afoot.
Unfortunately, in the great explosion of talent, some very good bands were left behind in the frantic lunge for fame and fortune. This bitter disappointment caused great and extremely justifiable resentment among the members of the bands who had the talent to have made it. They were hopeful but simply unlucky. Those young men had every right to be upset, but there simply was not enough room for all of us to make it. To get to the top, you had to have the right three R’s. You needed to be in the Right place at the Right time and have the services of the Right manager. Like the Beatles, we too had Brian Epstein. RRR!
Before that fortunate partnership came about, each one of our group had to go through his musical apprenticeship. You had the first stage of learning to play your chosen instrument to such a standard as to tweak the interest of other musicians. I mean nobody wanted a lousy player in their band, did they?
Then three or four or maybe more lads got together and formed a tentative group. I was never consciously aware of any plan or scheme to select the young men who would become the members of a band. It was one of those mysteries of natural selection. They were either talented local lads or a friend of a friend or someone you’d just heard about. The combination of choices was truly endless.
Somehow, the selections were made and they were, in most cases, uncannily correct. Occasionally, once you started playing music together, anyone who wasn’t right stuck out like a sore thumb and changes had to be made.
The personnel of the first group that you ever played in were usually the right people because, at that age, you were all of the same basic musical ability and nobody felt as though they were being held back by the others. Conversely, if somebody felt they weren’t good enough for the band they would leave and find a new hobby more suitable to their talents.
As time marched on a member of the band might decide to wander off in a new musical direction so you lost him. Then you gained a new one in his place and so it went on until the right balance was struck. This was when the band started to play as a unit and not a set of individuals. I’ve always thought that the machinations that went into the formation of a group were a secret known only to the big rocker in the sky.
To test your youthful dedication, Big Rocker set certain tasks for you. Like having no van and talking all your gear to gigs on the bus and, even worse, missing the last bus home and having to spend all your hard-earned wages on a taxi. All of that work for zilch.
Spending hours learning a new number only to find that the group which had been on stage immediately before you had not only learned it but had played it much better than you so you have to bin the song. All of that work for zilch.
Fancying a young beauty in the audience, getting the come-on and playing yourself into the platform to impress her only to discover that she’s being picked up by her mam and dad at the end of the night. All of that work for zilch.
The endless waiting for the elusive ‘cheque in the post’. All of that trust!
If you were able to survive the ‘zilchiness’ of it all and rise above it, a new dimension came into your life that was so gratifyingly unique. The ability to make music in front on an audience and take the plaudits and rewards that come with it is not a gift, the basic talent may be, but all the rest is hard graft and every hand clap is earned. There is also no feeling in the world quite like it. That is why we do it!
The gift of being able to play some sort of musical instrument, even a simple tambourine, is within us all. The joy of singing, of
utilizing the most basic instrument of all, the human voice, is a pleasure that can be enjoyed by most of us. I feel utterly sad for the people who believe that they have no kind of musical ability whatsoever. We all have some talent for music but in varying degrees. It just means that you have to make your choice and put in the effort to enrich your life. The end result can be immeasurable.
The life-changing outcome of all our hard work was when Brian Epstein showed a keen interest in our group. It was in 1962 and we were called the Four Jays at the time, but that name was about to change.