The Birth of Mersey Beat


The most popular line-up was a quartet with three guitarists - lead, rhythm and bass - plus a drummer. The three guitarists up front would engage in vocal harmony. The Beatles were particularly adept at this as Paul McCartney, being left-handed, could use the same microphone as John Lennon, when they sang together - also producing a visual effect that many of the other groups couldn't imitate.

The Swinging Bluejeans This basic line-up was the one generally referred to when people later talked of the 'Liverpool sound' or the 'Mersey sound', and it was most apparent with groups such as the Beatles, the Searchers, Faron's Flamingos and the Swinging Bluejeans. However, this image tends to make people forget just how extensive the range of the music scene in Liverpool was: there were duos, trios, quintets, and groups with pianos and saxophones in their line-ups.

Comedy outfits such as the Fourmost were parodying other artists long before Duke D'Mond & the Barron Knights became famous for numbers such as 'Call Up The Groups.'

The FourMost There were folk groups, country music bands, vocal groups, girl rock bands - even specialty bands such as the Mersey Monsters. I remember hearing that there was a Chinese rock 'n' roll group in Chinatown, but I was never able to track them down to interview them for Mersey Beat.

Liverpool had been called the 'Nashville of the North', because it had the largest Country music scene in Europe. There were approximately 40 C&W bands contemporary with the Beatles. They had their own clubs such as the Black Cat club and Wells Fargo, their own Country Music Federation and they ran their 'Grand Ole Opry' annually at the Philharmonic Hall. Their attempt to revolutionize country music, just as the rock groups in Liverpool revolutionized rock 'n' roll, has never been properly acknowledged.

There were basically two forms of country bands in Liverpool - the purists, who played in the traditional manner, parroting the American records, and wearing Stetsons and cowboy clothes, such as Hank Walters & the Dusty Road Ramblers - and the new wave such as the Hillsiders, young bands with a fresh approach to the music, who didn't dress in country style, but provided a new and exciting beat to country sounds.

Unfortunately, this movement tended to be overshadowed by the Beatles and the Mersey sound, and the new revolution in country music didn't occur until the late 1980s, with young Nashville artists who gave the music a fresh image - but it was happening on the banks of the Mersey in the late 1950s!

There were also several all-girl rock 'n' roll groups in Liverpool, the most noted being the Liverbirds. The girls became so popular in Hamburg that they remained in Germany for several years, missing out on the Mersey boom. But the fact remains that there were girl rock bands in Liverpool a decade before groups such as Fanny.

In the field of folk music, Liverpool gave rise to the Spinners, who remained Britain's premier folk outfit for 30 years, until their retirement.

There was also a black music scene on Merseyside. Apart from artists such as Derry Wilkie and Steve Aldo, there were several vocal outfits in the Liverpool 8 district such as the Chants, the Valentinos, the Sobells, the Challengers and the Poppies. Only the Chants were to have a limited degree of success. It seemed that when Britain eventually accepted black artists into the charts - with the Motown acts and soul music, the black hit artists were almost exclusively American. Few black British artists made it until the 1970s. Ironically enough, the group to make the breakthrough and hit the top of the charts was the Real Thing, formed by Eddie Amoo of the Chants - it had taken him 15 years to achieve the success. 

Coexisting with the rock, folk, country and black music scenes was the poetry scene. Local poets used to hold readings at clubs such as Streates. I also organized and promoted a poetry-to-jazz concert at the Crane Theatre - the first concert of its kind to be held in the north of England. Three of the Liverpool poets, Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten, established themselves as the leading British poets of the decade.

'Mersey Beat' also reported on 'Clubland', the thriving entertainment scene for an older generation. Over 300 clubs were affiliated to the Merseyside Clubs Association. There were social clubs for unions, stores and factories that provided entertainment for their members - in addition to drinks at prices far below the normal prices in public houses.

Bill Harry and Jimmy Tarbuck It was on the Clubland scene that many local comics, such as Ken Dodd and Jimmy Tarbuck, developed. Liverpool has always had a reputation for providing more than its fair share of comedians, including Ted Ray, Arthur Askey, Tommy Handley and Norman Vaughan.

Liverpool had already provided chart acts from this background in the 1950s, with artists such as Frankie Vaughan, Lita Roza and Michael Holliday.

Although Clubland was the training ground for comedians, specialty acts and country bands, there was also work for numerous rock groups in the various clubs. Early gigs for groups with Gerry Marsden and Ringo Starr took place at Pitt Street Labour Club, and a Quarry Men gig was on behalf of the Speke Bus Depot Social Club.

Imagine groups taking the stage at cinemas in intervals between the films; performing in coffee bars; strutting their acts at swimming baths; performing at ice rinks; learning their craft in almost every youth club, church hall, synagogue and village hall in the Merseyside area; blasting their music from the stages of town halls; lugging their gear into the bandrooms of the numerous ballrooms; performing before audiences of varying ages at social clubs' playing in the city centre cellar clubs and pulling in audiences by the thousand in the larger venues - no place in the world at that time had so many young groups performing virtually nightly in such a compact area.

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