A book review by Bill Harry
It's interesting to come across a biography of someone you know, living through the same period of time you yourself experienced. It's also interesting to see how their recollections differ from your own and how the facts of even relatively recent history can be distorted.
Freddie Starr's 'Unwrapped' (Virgin Books) is an interesting read, particularly in his depictions of the tough Liverpool underworld of protection rackets and gangsters, a subject rarely touched upon. Throughout Freddie keeps on
emphasizing that he is built like an 'Arab stallion', repeating it so many times that you wonder what a psychiatrist may make of his fixation with his own private parts. Another obsession of his seems to be concerned with his voiding his Number 2's into other people's possessions, most notably a certain musician's guitar. Although he doesn't name the musician - it's Graham Nash.
The reason why so much of the early part of the book is inaccurate may be due to the fact that it was written by Alan Wightman, who was never present during the events and therefore either didn't have the insight or didn't know the right sources to check up on the facts.
Even in the simple task of people's names he gets it wrong, calling Horst Fascher Horst Vascher and George Blott George Block. Locations are also wrong. He says that Wilson Hall was in the Dingle, yet it was in Garston, several miles away. He says that Allan Williams managed Derry & the Seniors, but the group never had a manager at the time.
Omissions include the point that in Liverpool we were all impressed by the fact that Freddie appeared as a young tearaway in the movie 'Violent Playground', which starred Stanley Baker and David McCallum. It was a big thing to us in those days that the teenage Freddie had appeared in such a film, but it isn't even mentioned in the book. Nor does he mention the origin of his name. Born Freddie Fowell, when he began to join local groups he wanted to call himself, simply, Freddie. Then he discovered that there was a German singer using that name. When he joined the Midnighters the group's rhythm guitarist is said to have taken a leaf from Beatles drummer Ringo Starr and suggested that Freddie dub himself Freddie Starr - yet he never mentions the fact in the book.
He writes, "When we were working in Hamburg, Howie Casey & the Seniors would be playing at the Star Club and the Beatles would be down at the Top Ten Club." This is an impossibility since the Beatles' final appearance at the Top Ten Club took place on July 2 1961 and the Star Club didn't open until April 13 1962.
He relates how the members of the group took him to the Roxy Club in Hamburg and the Seniors fixed him up with a beautiful woman - who turned out to be a man. From what we knew of the time, all members of groups knew that the 'females' in the Roxy were transvestites or
transsexuals. The story went that Freddie actually fell in love with one of them.
His collaborator also has a penchant for repeating the usual myths without checking the facts - once again saying that Brian Epstein discovered the Beatles when people came into his store asking for their record. Epstein knew all about them months before this alleged event.
The other myth about 'Cunard Yanks' has also been disproved. Freddie claims "In 1961 the Beatles were just another group...then they started listening to R&B records that were brought in from America by friends and relatives in the Merchant Navy who went back and forth across the Atlantic."
Absolute rubbish. every number the Beatles performed could be found on records released through the normal British record stores. What the Beatles did was listen to 'B' sides and become selective in the choice of numbers they performed.
Another totally misconceived quote concerns a non-existent club. Freddie writes, "The Beatles used to play gigs at a club I used to go to called the Grapes...Gerry & the Pacemakers played there, as did Billy J. Kramer (before he teamed up with the Dakotas), the Fourmost, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes - all of them.
"Brian Epstein was always down the Grapes, not just to have a night out, but to suss out who the most popular groups were." There was no venue in Liverpool called the Grapes and the Beatles never appeared at a venue of that name. At the chronological time Freddie is referring to Billy Kramer did not have the 'J' appendage and the Fourmost were called the Four Jays.
Freddie is obviously confused with the pub in Mathew Street called the Grapes, where we all used to have a drink when visiting the Cavern. but it wasn't a venue, purely a public house.
It would be interesting for Freddie to have discussed his success as a singer and popular entertainer, despite fighting the impediment of a pronounced stammer, just like another Liverpool singer, Rory Storm.
In Mersey Beat I wrote regularly of Freddie's early career, but a lot of it seems to have been by-passed in the book, probably because he doesn't remember the details. He admits that he can't even remember the appearances he made on bills with the Beatles. These took place in 1963 on gigs such as the ABC Cinema, Great Yarmouth on July 28.
Freddie was a practical joker - and at least this comes across in the book. I remember when we spent the weekend with the Seniors at the Black Lion, Cardigan in Wales. Frank Aspinall ran the venue and provided the groups with
accommodation, hearty meals and entertainment such as horse riding and swimming in the local beaches. Freddie noticed Allan Williams kept drinking the groups' drinks, which they left at the side of the stage while they played, so he went into the toilet and pissed into a pint glass. Sure enough, a certain person drank it.
Aspinall got angry with Freddie when he found him in bed one morning with one of the inn's maids. When we all went horse-riding, Virginia and I had never ridden a horse before but when we mounted, Freddie slapped Virginia's horse and she fell off, he slapped mine and it raced hell for leather towards a big hedge and I leapt off!
The book provides an entertaining read, but once again I was amazed at how the facts of recent history could escape the minds of people who lived through it.