In late 1959 the Delacardoes entered the Carroll Levis Discoveries contest at the Empire Theatre, Liverpool. The Empire was then the largest provincial theatre in Britain (a 2,000 plus seater) with an enormous stage.
The families and friends of the performers were in the audience and I had brought my mother and sister as support. The Delacardoes, sadly, were lost on the huge stage and all but inaudible with their ludicrously tiny amplifier.
Shortly afterwards, the compere announced another group: Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Even before the curtains opened they had started playing and a powerful, throbbing sound filled the theatre. My mother turned to me with a look of annoyance on her face. “They’re loud, aren’t they?” she complained.
They were. Each member had his own Selmer amplifier and they were bent back over them, playing with furious abandon. Visually, as well as instrumentally, they were stunning. Each one was a showman and at the back was a showman drummer: Ringo Starr! At the front, writhing ecstatically like a golden snake was the greatest showman ever to step onto a Liverpool stage – Rory Storm!
Whenever people bleat about the early Beatles, I tell them about this show. Although it is 40 years since I saw the group I have never forgotten their devastating stage-act. To create such an impact with the somewhat primitive equipment of the time was a
marvelous feat. They were the first truly professional rock’n’roll group I ever saw on Merseyside.
They didn’t win, of course. The winner was a repulsively precocious little girl who stood on a chair and recited a music hall monologue called “Thank ‘eavens Mrs Evans” in a piercing voice.
The whole thing was a farce.
In the summer of 1960 the Delacardoes were playing at a basement club in Rodney Street, called the Green Dolphin. One night I was watching them play when out of the gloom appeared a small, slightly-built, pale-faced boy, dressed completely in black and wearing sunglasses. He was accompanied by a girl, also dressed in black, who was a foot taller than him. They made a weird couple.
To my surprise, the boy greeted me by name and peering through the disguise I recognized Stuart Sutcliffe, who had been in my class at Prescot Grammar School. He was a very talented artist whose work was often hanging on the wall of the Art class.
However, he had never shown any interest in or aptitude for music so I was surprised when he told me was in a group. He made this announcement in a strange, mysterious, pretentious manner.
“We’ve just come back from Hamburg,” he said, trying to impress me. I was baffled now. Why, I asked myself, do they have to go to Hamburg? Can’t they get bookings in Liverpool?
But his manner was so intriguing that I had to ask the name of the group and he replied in the same self-important manner: “The Beetles” (He did not explain it was spelled “Beatles”).
I was so utterly astonished that I forgot to laugh. Most groups then strove to choose tough-sounding, masculine names like Paul Power and the Piledrivers and Vic Vortex and the Volcanoes but “Beetles”!
After he’d gone I went over to our group and told them the story. We all laughed and agreed that we had never heard such a ridiculous name. “They’ll never get anywhere with a name like that”, I said.
Shortly after, the lease of the Green Dolphin expired and the Manager opened a new club called the Cherokee in Bold Street. There was a downstairs coffee bar and a cloakroom but the room where we played was just an attic. Crude paintings on American Indian themes adorned the walls (painted by a local art student) and there were ultra violet lights (the sort that made your teeth glow in the dark and that showed up the girls’ white underwear) to create some sort of atmosphere.
However, there was no stage and even though we did our best to improvise a barricade of amplifiers, drums and mike stands, people regularly fell into the band on crowded Saturday nights. When we complained to the Manager, he nailed a plank upright in front of our gear – which ensured that even more people fell into the band.
Conditions were primitive throughout – just one toilet/wash basin for up to 80 people and it was a potential fire hazard – the only way of escape would have been through the window, which was 20 feet from the ground.
There was a lot of violence on the door as the bouncers repelled drunks who had been refused admission; we came in once and the banisters had been ripped off in a struggle!
The Manager, Eddie Collins, looked like a bouncer himself and used to regale us with stories of how he fought the Japs in World War II (useful experience for any Liverpool club-owner, especially if you still retain your tommy gun and bayonet!).
For a time, he allowed the club to be run by some unsavoury acquaintances, little more than gangsters, who, we suspected, were robbing the till and the jukebox. One night, the ringleader, a tin pot creep we called “Bigga Tony”, because he fancied himself as a Mafia-type, refused us admission when we called in late one night for a
coffee. (The “Cherokee” stayed open far later than city centre coffee bars).
The excuse? “We weren’t members”! John and Rodney, both big lads, contemptuously brushed “Bigga Tony” aside like a midge, whereupon he shouted up the stairs melodramatically, “Bring down the knives!” I laughed at this and was tempted to shout, “Yeah, and bring down the forks as well – there’s two big lads here who’ll make a meal of you!”
I had now joined the group on tenor sax. (And I had the world’s best saxophone – the beautiful Selmer Mark VI. More about that later). Very few groups then had a sax and it was a thrill taking the glittering instrument out of its plush-lined case and hanging it around my
neck (maybe I couldn’t play it very well but I could always claim that I had the biggest and most expensive tiepin on Merseyside!)
One night as I took the saxophone out of its case and the light flashed on it like Excalibur, I noticed a teddy-girl type (peroxide blonde, big knockers, tight skirt and earrings like hand-grenades) gazing in open-mouthed astonishment at the unfamiliar instrument.
She suddenly yelled out in the thickest Scouse accent I’ve ever heard, “Oo-er! ’Eez gorra bugle! ‘Eez gorra bugle!”
Later that night as we were returning from the coffee bar on the corner, she was hanging out of the window, yelling, “It’s the bugler!”