The Birth of Mersey Beat


On the group's return from Germany, Paul gave me a copy of the single in question. The only other spare copy he gave to Bob Wooler, who began playing it at the local venues. I still have the record, personally signed by them all (probably the first record the Beatles signed personally), but there is no indication that they are on it.

The Escorts at the Mardi Gras There is a photograph of Tony Sheridan on the cover and the only words are: 'Tony Sheridan. My Bonnie. The Saints (When The Saints Go Marching In)'

There is no mention whatsoever about the Beatles and it would have been impossible for Epstein to trace the record, as he said he did, on this information alone. Even if he had the catalogue number, he would have been told this related to a single by Sheridan only.

'Mersey Beat' became a catalyst for the scene and groups, managers and anyone connected with the music took to visiting the office. Initially the Beatles were the most frequent visitors, helping Virginia out on the typewriter or phone; even Ringo used to drop in when he was visiting the nearby dole office in Renshaw Street.

Soon, groups began calling themselves Beat groups instead of rock 'n' roll bands and venues which had been advertising 'Twist sessions' and 'jive sessions' began calling them 'Beat sessions', while the 'jive hives' were now being called Beat clubs. Once the Beatles had achieved their initial success on record and the papers were looking for a tag to identify the movement they first began to call it the 'Mersey Sound' and 'The Liverpool Sound'. Some years later they adopted the name of the paper and 'Mersey Beat' became part of the English language.

As the world's first alternative music paper, the first 'What's On', 'Mersey Beat' introduced many innovations which were later adopted by the national music press. It also created a wonderful range of early photographs of the Beatles for posterity. No other group achieving their initial success would have had such a large photographic record of their early career.

Initially Dick Matthews took all those wonderful shots of the Beatles at the Cavern for us. I made arrangements with various professional photographers and paid them with advertisements, publicity and recommendations in exchange for exclusive photographs for 'Mersey Beat'. I did those deals with the professional studios of Peter Kaye, Harry Watmough and Graham Spencer.

As the policy of 'Mersey Beat' was to introduce innovation, the photographers were encouraged to do what the London showbiz photographers didn't do - leave the studio and take shots on location or during performances on stage.

The Beatles had originally been portrayed brilliantly in Germany by Astrid and Jurgen Vollmer, and 'Mersey Beat' created a whole range of unique photographs of them performing in Liverpool.

There was an undoubted editorial bias in their favour and this cause Bob Wooler to come to the office one day to complain on behalf of the other groups. He said that 'Mersey Beat' was plugging the Beatles to such an extent that we should rename the paper 'Mersey Beatle', and in fact I later introduced a special section called just that.

When we decided to run a poll to establish the No. 1 group in Liverpool, we received a huge response. Virginia and I spent many hours sorting out the votes. When we'd finished, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes had more votes than anyone else. However, we noticed that a large bundle of their votes had been written in the same handwriting in green ink and posted from the same area at the same time, so we disqualified the green ink batch, which made the Beatles No. 1 and Rory Storm & the Hurricanes No. 4.

Our famous cover of issue No. 13 with the headline 'Beatles Top Poll' established them once and for all as the top group in the north of England - a fact that Brian Epstein was quick to capitalize on. The paper's circulation kept increasing issue by issue and began to stretch throughout the country, covering groups in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Newcastle. We were also to champion the Rolling Stones.

 What gave 'Mersey Beat' the edge was 'the bulge', which Americans refer to as the 'baby boom'. There were more babies born in the few years towards the end and immediately following the Second World War than at any time in history. Those babies became teenagers in the 1950s.

In previous decades, there was no real awareness of 'teenagers' (a term which only emerged in the 1950s). In Liverpool, for instance, youngsters were mini-replicas of their parents. Fathers would look on with pleasure when their sons reached a certain age and started to accompany them to the local pubs. Sons would also follow fathers into the business or union they belonged to, and youngsters would dress exactly like their parents.

Suddenly, there was an awareness of being young, and young people wanted their own styles and their own music, just at the time they were beginning to earn money, which gave them spending power. On Merseyside, 'Mersey Beat' was their voice. It was a paper for them, crammed with photos and information about their own groups, which is why it also began to appeal to youngsters throughout Britain as its coverage extended to other areas.

The newspapers, television, theatres and radio were all run by people of a different generation who had no idea what youngsters wanted. For decades they had manipulated and controlled them (see the scene with George Harrison and Kenneth Haig in 'A Hard Day's Night'), but now the youngsters wanted to create their own fashions.

What existed on the banks of the Mersey between 1958 and 1964 was exciting, energetic and unique, a magical time when an entire city danced to the music of youth.

©2002 Bill Harry. All Rights Reserved.

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