The Birth of Mersey Beat
Having received no reaction to my appeals to the press to cover what was happening, I decided to do something about it myself. Instead of a jazz magazine, I'd write about the local rock 'n' roll scene.
Although I'd received my National Diploma in design, I was still at the art college, having become the first student of the new Graphic Design course and later winner of the Senior City Art Scholarship. John Lennon had hoped to enter the Graphic Art department with me, but the lecturer, Roy Sharpe, wouldn't accept him.
Money was still a problem, but Dick Matthews, a friend from the Jacaranda, introduced me to Jim Anderson, who offered to lend Virginia and me the £50 we needed to launch the project. By this time I'd decided on a fortnightly newspaper, completely devoted to the music of Merseyside, which would also be a 'what's on' of every musical event during the fortnight.
Virginia's support is what really kept me going and ensured that the visions in my head became a reality. She gave up her job to work full-time on the project and Jim found us an office above a wine merchant's shop in Renshaw Street. Jim, Dick, Virginia and I entered the tiny attic office room carrying a typewriter, a desk and a couple of chairs, which Jim had provided us with. Dick also took out his camera and promised to cover the local music scene for the new paper.
Sitting in the Jacaranda with John and Stu, I'd tell them of our progress. By that time they'd left the college and were about to go to Germany. I asked John if he could write a biography of the Beatles for the new paper, which I could run in the first issue. When the Beatles returned from Germany, John gave me the biography, written in his own inimitable style, which I entitled
On The Dubious Origins Of Beatles, Translated From the John Lennon.
By this time of course, I was friendly with all members of the group. As well as knowing Paul and George from college days and attending their early gigs, I also got to know Pete Best, who joined them at the Jacaranda. They were the group I was closest to and were the ones I was obviously going to promote the most.
Sitting alone in the office at about two in the morning, I was attempting to think of a name for the new paper. Having decided that I'd cover the entire Merseyside region - Liverpool, the Wirral, Southport, Crosby, St. Helens, Widnes, Warrington and so on - I suddenly visualised it as a policeman's beat. The image of a copper walking around a map of the surrounding area came into my head, along with the name 'Mersey Beat.'
The reaction to 'Mersey Beat' was literally phenomenal locally and all 5,000 copies of the first issue sold out. The three main wholesalers, W.H.Smith, Blackburn's and Conlan's, took copies; I delivered copies personally to another two dozen newsagents, in addition to the main local venues and musical instruments and record stores.
At North End Music Stores (NEMS), when I asked to see the manager, Brian Epstein came down from his office. I showed him the publication and he agreed to take a dozen copies. He phoned me soon after to tell me how surprised he was that they sold out almost immediately. He ordered more - and more - and more. For the second issue he placed an advance order for twelve dozen copies, an incredible amount of copies for a single publication in one outlet.
That issue, published on 20 July 1961, devoted the entire front cover to the Beatles recent recordings in Hamburg under the headline 'Beatles Sign Recording Contract!' There was also a photograph of the Beatles by Astrid Kirchherr, which Paul had brought back from Germany, together with Astrid's permission for me to use any of the Beatles pictures she'd taken as publicity for the group.
Brian Epstein invited me to his office for a sherry and wanted to discuss the groups he'd read about in 'Mersey Beat'. He was incredulous that such a thriving music scene existed all around him, which he'd been unaware of. He was also amazed at the number of young people who came into his store just to buy copies of the paper.
Brian asked me to describe the local scene and was particularly interested in the Beatles cover story and the fact that a local group had made a record. He immediately booked advertising space and asked if he could review records. I appointed him record reviewer, beginning with issue No. 3 and his column was headed 'Stop the world - and listen to everything in it. Brian Epstein of Nems.'
His advertisements and reviews shared the same pages as the articles and photographs about the Beatles and he was particularly impressed by Bob Wooler's article about the group in the 31 August issue. Over the months he liked to discuss the stories in 'Mersey Beat' with me and then asked if I could arrange for him to visit the Cavern to see the Beatles. I did this and he visited the club, less than 100 yards from his store, during a lunchtime session on Thursday 9 November.
When he published his autobiography, 'A Cellarful of Noise', in 1964, he claimed that he first heard of the Beatles when a young man called Raymond Jones came into his store on 28 October 1961 and ordered a copy of the Beatles single (the one which was the subject of the front cover in July). The story is so neat that writers who haven't really examined the facts chronologically love to cite it. It's the old story of having to choose between the truth and the legend and opting to go for the legend. I'm well aware that 'Mersey Beat' readers went to NEMS to ask for copies of the Beatles single, but this was only after 'Mersey Beat' printed the cover story in July.
Whether Raymond Jones went into NEMS to ask for the record or not is beside the point. I had been discussing the group with Epstein for months and he had read all about them in 'Mersey Beat' as they were the group I plugged most in the paper.
At least Paul McCartney recognizes the truth and in his official biography 'Many Years From Now', wrote: "Brian knew perfectly well who the Beatles were - they were on the front page of the second issue of 'Mersey Beat', the local music paper. Brian sold twelve dozen copies of this issue, so many that he invited the editor, Bill Harry, into his office for a drink to discuss why it was selling so well and to ask if he could write a record review column for it. He is unlikely to have missed the 'Beatles sign recording contract' banner headline, reporting their session with Tony Sheridan for Bert Kaempfert."
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