Billy J. Kramer

By Bill Harry  

Billy Kramer & the CoastersTed Knibbs, a kindly, soft spoken pensioner who had been a persistent visitor to the Mersey Beat offices championing his protégés Billy Kramer & the Coasters, sprang a surprise on me one day by bringing in a contract. He felt that the Mersey scene was really taking off and was concerned that he might not be able to cope by himself, with his limited contacts. So the contract he showed me was one in which I would co-manage Billy and the group with him.

Oddly enough, Cilla Black had also approached me on several occasions suggesting that I become her manager. At the time I was so swamped with work producing Mersey Beat that I just couldn't contemplate additional work, so I introduced Cilla to Brian Epstein one night at the Blue Angel club and arranged for her to sing 'Boys' with the group on stage. She 'passed the audition' and Epstein signed her up.

When Ted presented me with the contract, I was in the same dilemma. I put the contract in my top drawer and suggested that Ted approach Brian. He did - and as Billy had been voted No. 3 to the Beatles and Gerry & the Pacemakers in our poll, Brian signed him up.

The incident cropped up in a conversation in 1983 when I met Billy to discuss a book he wanted me to co-write with him. He'd kept meticulous diaries of his life and career for seventeen years, but unfortunately left them behind on a bench at Euston Station a couple of years previously. As luck would have it, Billy has a good memory and was able to fill in many gaps in the Beatles story during those remarkable years of the early 1960s.

Ironically, he never regarded himself as a singer, preferring to fill the guitar spot in his first band.

"My first group was called the Phantoms," he said, "and the lead singer was called Bruce. We used to rehearse in the ODVA club, round the corner from where we lived, and were booked to appear there on Saturday nights.

"It was the same old story at first: ten people playing dominoes. Then we started bringing in the people until there were queues outside the club. Bruce finished his apprenticeship as a hairdresser and said he'd have to leave to start his own business.

"My cousin Arthur was arranging the bookings and when my guitar was stolen during an appearance at the Conservative Club in Green Lane, he talked me into singing with the band. We were doing a lot of 'auditions' at the time. These were gigs in Liverpool where the promoter didn't have to pay for an attraction. There were so many groups looking for work he'd insist that you play an 'audition' first, in front of an audience, before he'd give you any bookings. Fortunately, we went down well at the David Lewis and were given a dozen bookings there."

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