From a Merseybeat to
By Dave Elias
After a while Frank Sloane and the ex-Sorralls members (Keith Draper and Dave Foley), together with singer Dave Wilcox, asked me to join them, as one of them had a Hohner electric piano that no one else in the group coule play except me (my mum being a music teacher of course). I was asked to forego the guitar and play this piano, which I duly did. We decided to call ourselves the Nocturns.
We played around all the regular Liverpool venues and Allan Williams signed us up. We were his resident group at the Blue Angel and also did many other gigs. One of these was a frequent weekend trip to Cardigan, New Quay and Aberystwyth and we would stay at the Black Lion in Cardigan for three nights. I think a guy called Frank Aspinall used to own the Black Lion and he regularly used to visit the Blue Angel.
A group called the Four Pennies recorded a song called 'Juliet' and they had their press conference at the Blue Angel and Frank Aspinall's daughter stripped to her underwear for photos with the Four Pennies.
Anyway, it was during one of these Cardigan bookings that Alun Owen (the Liverpool playwright) saw us and asked us to audition at London's Talk Of The Town for the musical 'Maggie May', which he wrote in conjunction with Lionel Bart. I believe they already had in mind a Liverpool group called the Masterminds, but we duly got the part and thought this was our pathway to stardom. With our celebrity status as the first 'group' to appear in a West End musical, which included an appearance on the very first Eamonn Andrews Show (with an unknown Sandie Shaw at the time), and a couple more TV appearances, a recording contract with Decca and rubbing shoulders with the elite of the London entertainment scene, we thought we were made.
Unfortunately, the record contract stipulated that we record and release the song we performed in the show which was called 'Carrying On' (which was not a pop song, to say the least). This failed miserably in the charts and Decca withdrew the contract. We were also contracted with Bernard Delfont to do this musical six nights a week (including two matinee's) and we were unable to
fulfill any of the numerous bookings and offers that flooded in on the back of all our publicity. Eventually the offers dwindled away and we were cocooned in this musical show. We managed to do a few Saturday morning radio shows but that was about it. By the way, Matt Monro was on one of the radio shows with us, or should I say, vice versa, and he was one of the nicest guys I ever met in show business.
At this time Dave Wilcox, the singer with the group, together with myself and Keith, wrote a lot of songs. We met up with Billy Fury who agreed to record some of them. His manager Larry Parnes bought the songs for a small fee with a royalty clause built in for us, as and when each song was recorded and released by Billy Fury. This got as far as one 'B' side called 'Away From You' being released before we had a disagreement with his manager, Larry Parnes. I won't go into the reasons why, but you may guess. He promptly stopped Billy recording our other songs, one of which we had agreed would be his next 'A' side. Larry Parnes had also promised us promotion and work when the musical finished. This went out the window, too. Billy Fury wasn't too happy with our treatment, but his hands were tied.
By the time the show had finished we'd got to the stage where we were all becoming disillusioned with show business in London and had different ideas as to which way to go from there - so we decided to split up.
Keith Draper (guitarist) and myself initially joined what was previously an 'all-girl' group called the Beat Chicks made up of ex-Ivy Benson band members. This didn't last too long either as the girl drummer had eyes for both myself and the lead female singer (nudge nudge, wink wink) and the singer wasn't too happy at all, so Keith and I returned to Liverpool.
We played the social club scene for many years in various ordinary groups, ending up as a duo called the Jade Brothers. This ended in about 1984 when Keith emigrated to Australia (we still keep in touch) and I moved to Kent with my job. I returned to Liverpool in 1999 and plan to stay here.
During my time in London in the Sixties, many of the old groups used to pop round to our flat and party (the Merseybeats, Swinging Bluejeans, Fourmost, Steve Aldo) as did quite a few of the Blue Angel regular fan members (who would come and stay for the weekend or longer). The Beatles came to the Adelphi Theatre to watch us and we met Paul and Jane Asher on a few occasions.
We also had Freddie Starr and his wife stay with us for about three months, after his group the Midnighters had split up while in Germany. Similarly, Geoff Hughes, the actor who was in our show, stayed with us for a long time. I also used to have an odd coffee in London sometimes with Gibson Kemp (ex Paddy, Klaus & Gibson) but he had packed up playing by them.
By the way, I never did get any lovely nurses to fall in love with me - so much for Tommy Steele films!
Editors Note: It's interesting to note that Tommy Steele inspired at least one Mersey musician. Steele was Britain's biggest rock star of the Fifties. Word got out that there was an exciting young musician appearing at the 2 I's coffee bar in Old Compton Street, London. George Martin went to see him perform and decided he didn't want to sign him up. Dick Rowe from Decca visited the 2 I's and immediately signed Tommy. It was a sensible move by Rowe as Tommy notched up 145 weeks in the charts between October 1956 and August 1961 with 20 hits, including the chart topper 'Singing The Blues.' He was also the star of several films, including 'The Tommy Steele Story', which is the one Dave remembers.
Billy Kinsley and Tony Crane had been a duo, but after seeing the Beatles perform at the Cavern they decided to form a group. Tony played lead, Billy was on bass and the other members were Dave Elias on rhythm, Frank Sloane on drums and Billy Butler on vocals. They called themselves the Pacifics and then changed it to the Mavericks. Bob Wooler brought Billy and Tony up to the Mersey Beat office and asked if they could adopt the name of the paper. At the time a Limited Company could register a name and no one could use the name Mersey Beat without my permission. i gave it and they became the Mersey Beats in February 1962.
Dave and Sloane later decided to team up with former members of Alby & the Sorrals and became the Nocturns in May 1963. Their initial singer was Barry Elmsley, Steve Aldo replaced him in January 1964 and when Aldo joined the Griff Parry Five David Wilcox replaced him.
'Thank Your Lucky Stars' ran from 1961 to 1966 and included a panel of teenagers discussing the latest releases in a spot called Spin-A-Disc. A 19-year-old girl Janice Nichols began to appear on Spin-A-Disc regularly and occasional guests were Liverpool comperes Billy Butler and Bob Wooler.
The Cavern doorman was Pat 'Paddy' Delaney, a former member of the Liverpool Parks Police who'd been a doorman at the Locarno and Grafton Ballrooms in West Derby Road. Ray McFall originally hired him to become doorman at the Cavern club in 1959 at £1 per night. Paddy remained at the club until it closed.
The Black Lion, Cardigan is worth an article itself. Frank Aspinall later became Lord Mayor of Cardigan. I arranged the Four Pennies photo at the Blue Angel with one of Frank's daughters. The idea was just a gimmick to use pennies to hold stocking tops to suspenders, so she had to whip her skirt off for the photo, which was for John Bull magazine, a colour weekly that folded later in the decade.
As far as the Beat Chicks are concerned, there had been all-girl rock groups in Liverpool well before their time - and the Liver Birds in particular come to mind.
I continually promoted the Mersey Beats (they later truncated the name to Merseybeats) in Mersey Beat and here is a piece I wrote in issue No. 24 dated June 14 1962:
"The name Billy Butler may not be familiar to you, but the face is instantly recognizable
as that of the fringed, hair-combing twenty-years-old Liverpudlian who appears on the Spin-A-Disc panel of 'Thank Your Lucky Stars.'
"Billy, of 52 Grey Rock Street, West Derby, captivates and intrigues not only the viewing audience but also visiting performers on the show, such as Dusty Springfield and Jimmy Saville. His Liverpool accent, sense of humour and personality linger in one's mind long after the show has ended, and readers may be interested to know that he has now become a part of the Merseyside entertainment scene.
"He is now a feature of the Mersey Beats, the dynamic harmony group named after this paper. The group have already made an impression on promoters and audiences alike, with the addition of Billy they have that something extra which could well lead them to success.
"Billy has already tried his hand at writing some original numbers and collaborated with bass guitarist Billy Kinsley to produce 'Buddy's Tune', which is composed of titles from Buddy Holly numbers. Both Billy and the Mersey Beats wish to present performances which will make the audiences stop and take notice and we believe they are well on their way to achieving these ends.
"On Monday evenings the Mersey Beats have their Guest Night at St John's Hall, Bootle. We were rather surprised to find that the beautiful and shapely striped-bathing-costumed figure who lit up one of the pages of our last issue, belongs to the female singer who appears with the group each Monday evening - Irene Hughes.
"Whilst Billy was in Birmingham rehearsing for a 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' programme, he happened to get together with the Fentones to sing a song. Pye A&R man Alan Freeman heard him and commented favourably. Alan, who has a soft spot for Liverpool after his trip here to record Kenny Ball's latest LP, mentioned that he would like Billy to send in a demo disc with the possibility of recording for Pye in view. Billy will be preparing some numbers with the Mersey Beats, and we wish them every success.
"Personality, with a dash of humour, a harmony group imbued with talent, a beautiful song thrush - how can this combination fail?"
The Merseybeats are still touring - and Billy Kinsley also leads a revived Liverpool Express. Billy Butler remains one of the leading lights of the BBC Radio Merseyside radio station.