Dixie Dean was part of the Mersey scene from the early days and recounts his personal memories:
I was 11 years old when I first began to be interested in music. This happened when I was staying at my Grandma's and my auntie and uncle had all the George Formby records and also lots of Country Music records. I used to rub my fingers against the front cover of the radiogram, singing along to the records - that must have been my first washboard!
When I was 14 I had a pal in my class who played guitar, Roy Hurst (who sadly died in his 20's). There was also Matty Summers, who went to school with Gerry Marsden and Brian O' Hara and we all played in Brian's parlour in Wellington Road. Another pal of Brian's was Joey Bowers. We joined together and they went on to form the Red Mountain Rock & Skiffle (and later went on to become the Four Tunes and then the Fourmost), while I joined Gerry Marsden in his skiffle group. I made my debut with him at Wilson Hall, Garston during a skiffle contest, which was won by the Bluegenes. Ray Ennis also sang with a big group that night, apart from the Bluegenes.
We played a lot for charity and for pensioners in those days and loved every minute of it. We sang mostly Lonnie Donegan songs and ones by Elvis, Bill Haley, the Everly Brothers and the Crickets.
Gerry started me singing and I would leave the washboard and join him at the mic. Gerry chose the numbers we would do and we'd practice at either his house or mine - we were never away from each other's houses, especially during the summer holidays. Mr Marsden (God bless him, sadly he died in 1996) did all our bookings. We must have played nearly every night - local clubs like Peel Hall, the Home Guard, the Florry Club; and we played in Wales at the Rhyl Social Club.
The best booking I enjoyed was a week at the Pavilion in Lodge Lane on a show called 'Dublin To Dingle.' I can still remember the opening of the show when all the cast came down the aisles singing 'Maggie May' and 'Rip It Up.'
We then changed our name to Gerry & the Mars Bars. At one point we entered a contest at Woolton Labour Club in Childwall Valley Road and after several heats we finally won, beating the Quarry Men. That was the first time I met John Lennon. Also present during the competition was Bob Wooler, who was managing a group in the contest called the Kingstrums.
Then I became interested in football and cricket and lost interest in music. Gerry was always encouraging me to learn to play guitar but my mind was set on sport, so I left Gerry, although we parted the best of friends and are still friends more than 40 years later.
After a couple of years my interest in music returned and I began singing in the Oriental Club in Park Road, Dingle. I sang with the Secrets, the Nomads and Gus Travis & the Midnighters. They all told me I should join a group. One night a group called the Crusaders was playing at the club and they asked me to join them, which I did. Soon after I joined, bass guitarist Frank McTigue left to rejoin the Easy Beats. It was a straight swap; the Easy Beats bassist Eddy Hill then joined us. We also got a new guitarist Billy Roberts from the City Beats and he brought his drummer Danny Bell with him. We kept the rhythm guitarist with us for a while. He was a nice lad, but he didn't fit in, so we sacked him and changed our name to the Kruzads.
We played at small clubs in the Dingle area and then got a break and played at the Victoriana in the city centre, supporting the Escorts. The Escorts stayed friends of mine (and with my wife we later went to Mike Gregory's wedding). We also appeared at the Tower Ballroom on a bill with Manfred Mann, the Pretty Things and the Koobas, in Colwyn Bay with the Mersey Beats and the Birkdale Hotel with Rory Storm & the Hurricanes.
I became a good friend of Rory and Johnny Guitar. Johnny used to throw apples over the garden wall at Rory, his sisters Iris and her mates who were trying to get a suntan! Rory and his mum and dad were such lovely people; it was a tragedy when they died. I helped to carry Rory to his final resting place.
We played so many places in Liverpool including the Cavern, the Belvedere Club, Maureen Galton's, Belle Vale Beat Club and the Iron, Door. The Plaza Ballroom in St Helens, La Scala in Runcorn and St. Columbus in Widnes were my favourites on the outskirts. We also did lots of tours out of town: Durham, Hartlepools, Darlington, South Wales - all for an agency called Mersey Sounds.
I used to look forward to the Blue Angel after bookings, drinking with fellow group members, Dave Preston, Denny Alexander of the Kinsleys, Peter Taylor of the Richmond Group and Vinny Ishmael of the Handful. My favourite groups were the Kirkbys, the Escorts, the Mersey Beats, the Kinsleys and the Thoughts. My favourite vocalists were Colin Areety and Beryl Marsden.
I met the Beatles when they played the Pavilion and I went backstage to see them at the Grafton and had a drink with them. I went downstairs and sat with Paul to watch Sonny Webb & the Cascades. The next time I saw them Ringo was with them and 'Please Please Me' had been released. I saw Paul for a second just as he was going on stage and he shouted to me 'see you later.' I haven't seen him since, only on telly!
When I appeared on 'This Is your Life' I saw in the script that Paul was to appear, only to be too busy in the recording studio and he only send a video message. It would have been nice to see him. Once, when I was outside the Cavern and was interviewed on BBC Nationwide News and told them that the Beatles would become very big. I wasn't far wrong, was I?
Some of the booking agents at the time had a bad name, but I found some of them to be really nice people, such as Bob Wooler, booking at the Cavern and the Silver Blades; Jim and George Blott booking at the Peppermint Lounge and Wally Hill and his wife booking at the Belle Vale Beat Club.
Among the numbers the Kruzads performed on stage were 'Tell Me', 'Better Move On', 'Slow Down', 'Boys', 'Not Fade Away', 'If You Need Me,' 'I Wanna Be Your Man', 'Boys', 'Poison Ivy', 'Beautiful Delilah' and 'Stand By Me.'
I have wonderful memories and give thanks to Bill and his wonderful Mersey Beat and all lost friends: Rory, Ty, Johnny Guitar, Johnny Banks, Stu Sutcliffe, John Lennon, Eddie Parry, Johnny Sandon, Joey Kneen, Bruce McGaskill, Colin Manley, Derry Wilkie, God Bless You All!
Editor's note: Dixie sent me an interesting clipping from the Liverpool Echo, undated, but at the end of the 1950s. It was in George Harrison's (not the Beatle) column 'Over The Mersey Wall' and a photo caption read: 'This gay bunch of kids - three 14-year-olds, and one 16 - are Gerry Marsden and his skiffle group from Liverpool's Dingle district.' The item read: "You may recall my mentioning last week a little skiffle band I'd heard at a charity show in Liverpool. A bunch of 14-year-old schoolboys, plus one 16-years-old, going under the name Gerry Marsden and his skiffle group.
"I'll give you their names: Gerry Marsden, guitar; Freddie Marsden, drums; Jimmy Tobin, bass; Ken (Dixie) Dean, washboard - all from the Dingle area of Liverpool 8.
"They impressed me tremendously when I heard them performing. Your Gerry does the approved-style act of the skiffle leader by doubling up as guitarist and singer, and he is quite a showman.
"Little Jimmy with his tea-chest bass, Dixie rattling away at the washboard with his fingers in thimbles, and the 'veteran' of the group, Freddie Marsden, at the drum-set, support Gerry magnificently to form a quartet that is as lively and effective as they come.
"I'm not promising that anything will come from it, but I am sending a few words of recommendation about the boys to our old pal Hughie Green the TV and radio star. He likes to hear of talent like this is unexpected places."