Cilla Black (cont.)

A Mersey Beat photo of CillaYet even now, books continue to churn out the inaccurate press release handout that Brian’s P.R. concocted and issued late in 1963, obviously seeking to enhance Brian’s image and to make unwarranted claims on what other people had done. In fact, there was a lot of hyperbole in the press releases which issued from the Nems office. After all this time, a recent book ‘The A-Z of Names in Rock’ states, under Cilla’s entry: “Cilla White didn’t sound right, she hit back as Cilla Black. The change was suggested by inventive Beatles manager Brian Epstein.”

As the Mersey scene began to thrive locally, Cilla’s ambitions grew. She was still performing as a semi-pro and a guy called Terry McGrath was pressing her to make him her manager.

She often dropped into the Mersey Beat officer suggesting to me that I become her manager, but I was too occupied with producing the newspaper. During one of her visits I took her to the nearby coffee bar, the Coffee Pot, where she described the career she had in mind. Peggy Lee was her idol and she wanted to become a jazz singer. She asked me if I could fix up for her to have a jazz trio backing her.

This situation lasted for some time, until one evening at the Blue Angel Club. I noticed Brian Epstein huddled in conversation with Andrew Loog Oldham. Then I spotted Cilla at the bottom of the stairs with her mate Pat Davies. I took Cilla over to Epstein, introduced her and asked him if he would listen to her sing. Then I arranged for Cilla to join the group on stage and sing the number ‘Boys’. Then I brought her back to introduce her to Epstein and left her to it. She then told me that Epstein had arranged a meeting for her at his office the next day and she became the first female artist in his stable.

I was surprised when Cilla’s books and CDs came out with a story that she was singing ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ with a jazz group at the Blue Angel when Epstein spotted her. I have no idea why she made up this story, was it due to lack of memory? I’d have thought that the initial break with Epstein would have been fixed in her mind, one of the major turning points in her life. 

Virginia and I remembered the incident in detail and also remembered that the group on stage at the time were the Masterminds. I contacted a member of the group to see if he remembered the incident and he e-mailed me:

“Dear Bill,

”Nice to hear from you. Cilla was always pally with our group, since we were always knocking around with Ted Taylor and the Dominoes as well. As you know, we were resident at the Blue Angel on and off for two years and backed everybody, because the band were all good readers and did a wide range of material.

”I remember meeting Andrew Loog Oldham who asked me to drive the Stones around, which I did. We did back Cilla there doing 'Boys' and you are spot on.”

The other main witness, of course, was Andrew Loog Oldham. I e-mailed him in South America and he replied, confirming the fact that I approached Brian and arranged for Cilla to sing that night. Not only that, Andrew signed up the Masterminds and recorded them performing Bob Dylan’s ‘She Belongs To Me.’

Epstein realized that he could express his creative talents in the management of Cilla. He had no real grasp of the music of the Mersey scene but had displayed an interest in the theatre and he set about developing Cilla’s image, even designing dresses for her to wear. Managing a female artist enabled Epstein to express part of his own personality.

‘Love Of The Loved’ didn’t prove to be the right song for her and was only a minor hit, reaching No. 35 in the British charts following its release on 27 September 1963.

Initial 1963 publicity described her as ‘The Gal with the Bright Red Hair and the Jet Black Voice’ and she made her concert debut at the Odeon, Southport, in a show with the Beatles on 30 August. She then appeared with the Beatles on the all-Merseyside edition of the ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ TV show and was booked for the Beatles Christmas Show at the Finsbury Park Astoria in north London from 24 December.

Since the Cavern was a name gaining almost legendary status at the time, her press officer exaggerated her occasional jobs in the cloakroom there, intimating that she was ‘the Cavern hat check girl’ Hat check girl! I don’t think any of the Cavern kids ever wore a hat. Cilla spent more time serving coffee at the Zodiac club than she did ‘checking hats’ at the Cavern! This is how the myths are made by p.r. men.

Not unnaturally, Brian exploited the Beatles association in the building of Cilla and his other artists – and also placed her with the Beatles’ recording manager, George Martin.

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The 2nd British Invasion began with a Beat
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