Down At The Blue

   

Blue Angel ClubAllan Ginsberg put his hand on my knee and described his excitement at being in Liverpool. The combination of its energy and the personality of its people inspired him. It was near midnight, we were on the ground floor of Liverpool's Blue Angel club, which was swarming with members and visitors. Apart from Liverpool artists such as the Beatles and Gerry & the Pacemakers, there were representatives of the media, ranging from the Saturday Evening Post to Man About Town, a TV team, a German film crew and leading journalists such as Nancy Spain, George Melly and Derek Taylor. No wonder Ginsberg was to say: "Liverpool is at the present time the centre of the consciousness of the human universe."

The club, affectionately known as 'the Blue', was the after-hours watering hole of us all during the heyday of the Mersey scene. Situated next to an antiquarian bookshop at the top of Seel Street, near the city centre, it had previously been operating as the Wyvern Social Club. Allan Williams, who ran the nearby Jacaranda club in Slater Street, took over the premises in 1960.

I'd been spending a lot of time at the Jacaranda, along with John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best, who were playing some gigs in the coffee bar basement. it was during one of these gigs that I met my girlfriend Virginia - we started our newspaper Mersey Beat the following year.

Allan, a gregarious Liverpool-Welshman, who had a full beard and sported a top hat at the time, had co-presented a rock 'n' roll concert at the Liverpool Stadium with Larry Parnes. Gene Vincent topped the bill and several local acts had supported. Parnes was impressed with the groups and mentioned to Allan that he was looking for a backing band for Billy Fury.

Auditions, organized by Allan, were set up for the Wyvern on May 10 1960. The groups were Cass & the Cassanovas, Derry & the Seniors, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Cliff Roberts & the Rockers and the Silver Beetles (whose drummer at the time was Tommy Moore).

When it was time for the Silver Beetles to play, their drummer hadn't turned up, so Johnny Hutchinson sat in with them for the first few numbers. Moore than arrived and took over.

The Silver Beetles appealed to Fury, but Parnes told him the drummer wasn't suitable. Not only had he turned up late but he was dressed differently from the other group members and was at least ten years older than them. However, Parnes booked them on a short tour of Scotland backing Johnny Gentle.

He also booked Howie Casey & the Seniors to back another of his acts, but it was cancelled at the last minute. As Casey and his band had given up their day jobs to appear on the tour, Howie and singer Derry Wilkie turned up at the club to give Williams a serious talking to. But Allan was always able to talk himself out of a hole and persuaded them that he would drive the group down to the 2 1's club in London. They were able to perform at the 2 1's where they were spotted by German club owner Bruno Koshmider. as a result they became the first Liverpool band to be booked into Hamburg.

Allan Williams at the Blue Angel Williams' dream was to operate a sophisticated night club. He'd visited the Blue Angel club in London and decided to adopt the title, decorating the main stairway with a huge blow-up of Marlene Dietrich from 'The Blue Angel' film. The Blue opened on March 22 1961 with cabaret artist Alma Warren, backed by the Terry Francis Quartet. The club achieved a degree of media attention because Allan granted membership to his friends at the Press Club, in particular to Bill Marshall the local rep for the Daily Mirror newspaper. Press stories included the tale of the female snake charmer who lost her snake at the club - and the real bullfighting sessions which took place with a baby bull.

The Beatles and ourselves weren't initially granted membership as Allan didn't want elements of the local music scene around - he was trying to build an affluent and sophisticated clientele.

Virginia and I managed to get our membership by helping local sculptor Arthur Dooley arrange his exhibition there. Arthur, a 6ft 4ins, active member of the Communist Party, who had the habit of not wearing his dentures, was given space in the front first floor room to hold his exhibition. Once we'd set all the pieces up, Arthur discovered a gap in the corner of the room. He marshaled us out and the three of us wandered down Seel street while Arthur sought inspiration. We came to a debris and he had us pick up a huge wooden beam, which we carted back to the Blue. Arthur stuck it against the wall, whitewashed it and priced the 'sculpture' at £250!

The club didn't succeed as a cabaret venue and Allan dropped his veto on the Beatles and other groups. By that time Virginia and I had launched Mersey Beat and the local rock 'n' roll scene was now attracting attention. 

For the next few years the Blue became one of the most interesting clubs in the world. Initially the place was crowded with members of groups who'd arrive shortly before midnight after finishing gigs around the city. Other showbiz personalities such as Tommy Steele, the Bachelors and Bruce Forsyth dropped by when they were in Liverpool.

Playwright Alun Owen told us he regularly visited Liverpool from his home in Wales to recharge his batteries. He had an 'ear' for dialogue and used to carry a notebook to jot down the phrases he heard, examples of the famous Scouse wit.

Pat Davies (Ringo Starr's girlfriend) and Virginia Harry Virginia had heard Pat Davies, Ringo Starr's girlfriend and Cilla Black's mate, utter the words "Who knitted your face and dropped a stitch?" Virginia told Alun and he used it in his stage musical 'Maggie May.'

In fact, the Blue was the setting for the after-show party when 'Maggie May' made its debut in Manchester. We all drove back to Liverpool and poured into the Blue. On the ground floor there was a grand piano, with fruit machines on either side. I was playing one of the machines with Judy Garland and she told me she'd like to sing - could I find someone to play the piano. No problem, I thought, with a club full of musicians - but no one would volunteer (despite 'Over The Rainbow' being one of the songs in several Mersey group repertoires), so we missed the golden opportunity of a special performance from Judy. as the night progressed Allan had an argument with the legendary singer and told her to leave the club and never darken its doors again!

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