From a Merseybeat to
By Dave Elias
I was born in 1946 and raised in West Derby, Liverpool 6 and went to the Liverpool Collegiate School in Shaw Street (Pete Best's old school by the way).
I first got interested in the guitar after seeing Tommy Steele in a film where he comes back from sea, buys a cheap guitar from a pawn shop for a few pounds and he ends up in a hospital bed, singing 'Butterfingers' to a pretty nurse. She falls in love with him and everything was happy ever after. (I was eleven at the time). That was it! I was going to learn the guitar and get all the lovely nurses to fall in love with me too. The only problem was that I didn't have a guitar. "Right" I said, "a paper round it is, until I saved a few pounds". I duly got my paper round and saved my few pounds. I had been nagging my parents for ages and when I'd saved my 'funds', I dragged my poor dad round town looking at all the second-hand shops.
Well, I was gob smacked! Liverpool was far dearer than London as the cheapest guitar I saw in any shops that day was a few pounds more than my few pounds saved. Well, it would be back to the paper round for another saving bout, I thought. Then, as we were walking home we passed an auction room in Moss Street and I yanked my dad inside. Sure enough, two guitars came up for sale - one went for about £1.19.6 and the other for about £2.2.6. While the bidding was going on, my few pounds were burning a hole in my hand as I kept pleading with my dad to bid. He just stood motionless and when the auction finished, we left.
All the way home I hated him! Didn't he know I needed this guitar to get the nurses to fall in love with me? Well, for the next few months I hardly spoke to him. If only eleven year olds could see even just a little into the future. Little did I know that as my twelfth birthday was approaching, my mum and dad had already bought me a guitar from Hessy's for the princely sum of 16 guineas (a fortune in those days) and what a beautiful Spanish guitar it was. How guilty I felt on my birthday for all the hatred I had thrown at my poor old dad for not getting that manky old auction room piece of ships timber a few months earlier.
Well, here I was with this lovely guitar and 10 jumbo pork sausages as fingers. Where did I go from here? I bought Bert Weedon's guitar tutorial and learnt some basic stuff and was told that two lads in nearby streets also had guitars. None of us were very good at the time but we all knew something that the other two didn't, so consequently we learned from each other. After a while I could play quite a lot of chords and most of the Shadows' lead bits - wow!
I used to watch the 'Six Five special' on TV (Don Lang, etc) and study any guitarist that came on and try to learn something extra. Watch out nurses, here I come!
I remember while at school and just thereafter we used to go to the Cavern lunchtime sessions and queue outside. You could only hear the 'beat', not the vocals or full sound, from outside - and we used to argue which group was on stage while we were queuing. However, to my own ears, you could always tell when it was the Beatles as they had a unique basic sound from all the other groups. This may have been due to the extensive use of the deep Tom-Tom drums Pete Best used to play, but you could tell they had something special.
Liverpool was something special too. I was at the magic age of having just missed the Teddy Boy era by a whisker, and there was a sense of joy and excitement all around. We were innocent kids who got up to no harm, but we were beginning to enjoy the freedom that our parents allowed us, as they had been brought up at the end of the strict Victorian ways. We all had our own favourite groups to follow (mine being the Beatles and the Big Three - and Derry Wilkie, of course). Our regular meeting places were the old Kardomah Cafe's (in Stanley Street and Church Street) - whatever happened to them? And I remember Paul McCartney being presented with a cake at the Cavern on his eighteenth birthday.
Also, around the mid-Sixties, both our football teams were achieving major successes and I believe Liverpool was one of the first cities to get the new 'Atlantean' buses (i.e. doors at the front that actually closed automatically). Certainly there were many calls for Liverpool to become the Capital of England, we were that swinging.
Now For My Music Career
When I was thirteen or fourteen I started playing with a friend called Mike Masterson (whose dad ran the Merseyside Artists Club in Sheil Road). I now bought my first electric guitar (well, my parents did), which was a Hofner President for about £50, and a Harmony Amplifier (all from Frank Hessy's, of course). We formed a small group and played at places like the Sandon Pub and the Shop Inn, etc. Mike later became a well-known professional musician a.k.a Mike Masters/Mike Cordello/Mr Music Man (I think?). I learnt a lot from him.
About the age of fifteen I met Billy Kinsley (Merseybeats founder member) as he also lived off West Derby Road. He introduced me to Tony Crane and Frank Sloane and we formed the Pacifics. We used to play in the Rankin Boys' Club in Sheil Road and St Mary's Social Club somewhere around Kent Street. We then changed our name to the Mavericks and after liaison with your good self, became the Merseybeats.
We now all bought 'Burns' guitars and I bought my first beautiful Vox AC30 Amplifier, a long way away from when we first started with two guitars and a bass guitar and two mics - all going through one Watkins Dominator Amp and my Harmony. Those were the days!
I remember we had a booking in Crewe and actually took all our gear (drums included) on the train. There were a lot of other Liverpool groups on the same venue that night and one of them kindly agreed to bring our kit home in their van for us. If I'm not confused, I think that was the night that Faron of the Flamingos was electrocuted when he touched the mic (but I may be getting mixed up with something else).
We played all the local venues such as the Cavern, Iron Door (all night sessions), Blair Hall, Litherland Town Hall, Orrell Park Ballroom, Aintree Institute, the Tower Ballroom, Majestic, Birkenhead and many, many others. Often there would be as many as six or seven groups on per evening and all the old favourite names used to play at these venues. We had a regular Monday night gig at St John's Hall, Bootle, called the 'Merseybeats Guest Night' and this is my claim to fame: the Beatles were actually OUR guests one night. The St John's Hall night was done though Dave Forshaw, a Liverpool promoter at the time and a really nice guy. He used to ride a motorbike and broke his leg.
I remember playing on the all-night sessions at the Iron Door (long before the Cavern had all-night sessions) although I know the Liverpool Jazz Society started all night sessions in about 1971 - and played alongside groups such as Derry Wilkie's (who I thought was one of the best groups around at the time). We also did a tour with Mike Berry.
Who could forget Bob Wooler with his Aintree Institute Friday Nights and Cavern gigs and many other venues? I don't have vivid memories as far as promoters are concerned - being one of the quieter members of the group I didn't have much to do with them. I remember obvious ones to myself such as Bob Wooler, Dave Forshaw and Allan Williams and recall such names as Brian Kelly and Ray McFall.
Billy Butler (who we knew as he lived off West Derby Road) appeared in the 'Spin-A'Disc' spot on the television show 'Thank Your Lucky Stars.' There was a girl on the Spin-A-Disc panel called Janice Nichols who became famous for her catchphrase 'Oi'll give it foive' in her Brummie accent. Billy Butler wanted to do a few Liverpool gigs with her (while they were in the TV limelight) and he asked the Merseybeats to back them. We did so for about two weeks where they both sang typical non-singing type songs such as 'Come Outside' and 'Will I What' (in which Janice
emphasized her accent in the punch lines). After this, Billy Butler stayed with us for a short while only before we parted company and he formed the Tuxedos.
It was also during this time that the Merseybeats used to practice in each other's houses and we had a piano in our house, as my mum was a piano teacher. And if memory serves me right, the Cavern Club doorman was a big amiable guy named Pat (I think) and he came to watch us practice in our house and amazed us all by giving us perfect renditions of 'What'd I Say' and a couple of Floyd Kramer songs on the piano - hidden talents indeed.
I was now sixteen and, as with most groups at the time, major rows were going on in the Merseybeats. I remember our drummer Frank Sloane leaving for a few weeks and being replaced by a bare-footed drummer from a group called the Strangers - but he too walked out after a few weeks because of the rows. Frank was duly asked back but it wasn't long before the inevitable split came.
Tony and Billy stayed and Frank and I left. Frank joined a new group that was made up from a couple of ex-Albie & the Sorralls members. I messed about with some lads from Tuebrook in a group called the Four Musketeers - and we actually did dress up in Musketeer outfits, how embarrassing!