My Favourite Merseybeat Bands

I was only a kid when Merseybeat started up in 1962/3. Most of the stuff on record was highly sanitised Pop stuff but occasional stuff sneaked through showing what a good, hard rocking club scene it was based on early R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The highlights for me were (apart from the Beatles) the Big Three EP, the Merseybeats EP, the two volumes of This Is Merseybeat on Oriole and occasional singles – like the Mojos Everything’s Alright.

My top bands would be:

Beatles (obviously)

Big Three

Searchers,

Faron’s Flamingos

Rory Storm & the Hurricanes

Mojos

Gerry & the Pacemakers (surprisingly very powerful live)

Merseybeats (that EP)

Earl Preston and the TTs

Sony Webb and the Cascades

Gerry & the Pacemakers and RandB

The trouble with Merseybeat was that all the rawness was lost in the production. The bands were smartened up and given pop songs to play. The raw live acts were really R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll, not pop.

Gerry and the pacemakers gave an inkling of that R&B on their first album. It’s a shame they didn’t stick with it.

The reason why Merseybeat died out so quickly was because it was too pop and twee. It was blown away by a less poppy raw R&B sound.

Slow Down – Gerry & The Pacemakers 1963 – YouTube

Gerry and the Pacemakers A shot of rhythm and blues – YouTube

Gerry And The Pacemakers – Maybellene (Chuck Berry Cover) – YouTube

Goodbye Gerry Marsden!!

When I was thirteen Merseybeat burst on to the scene. I was a kid. It was exciting. For the first time it felt that we had music of our own. The Big Three, Mojos, Beatles, Searchers, Merseybeats, Billy J and Gerry.

It was all very light and poppy but it sparked a revolution.

In a year it was blown away by the heavier bluesier sounds of the Stones, Yardbirds, Who, Downliners Sect, Animals, Them, Kinks and Pretty Things. But without Merseybeat the rest would not have happened, would it?

The Beatles moved on and developed their music. Gerry, like most of the other Merseybeat bands, didn’t.

A while back I went in to the New Theatre in Hull to see Gerry and the Pacemakers doing their story. I wasn’t expecting too much and was knocked out at how powerful they were. They were actually a great R&B band. It’s a shame that all they’ll be remembered for are their pop songs.

Cheers Gerry!!

Opher and Mike’s Radio Show on Merseybeat.

Opher & Mike’s Radio Show on Merseybeat.

Audio Player

If you like Rock Music then you might like this Radio Show we put together on the subject of Merseybeat. We recorded it in a studio after having worked on it for about a year. We’ve got about 75 of these hour long shows scripted out.

Mike used to be the Roadie with Free, Bad Company and Robin Trower (among others) and is a bit of a Rock nut just like me!!

We really enjoyed doing this programme and organising the tracks. Lots of people have said how much they enjoyed it.

Next week we’re going to record ‘Psychedelia’.

We looked around for a radio station that might be interested in taking the format further but have not come up with a hit yet.

If you have any suggestions or comments we’d love to hear from you!

The Greatest Merseybeat Bands in the Universe.

Merseybeat became passé very quickly – just one year in the UK. It lasted longer in the USA where it got caught up with the heavier emerging UK Beat groups.

It’s short period of dominance was mainly due to the sanitised way in which it was produced. What came out was a lightweight Pop. It rarely captured the excitement and rawness of the club scene in Liverpool.

Merseybeat was mainly focussed on Liverpool though there were the odd acts that got in on the scene – such as Freddie and the Dreamers.

There is a tendency to think of Merseybeat as being merely the Beatles. They certainly started the whole interest in Liverpool, and were the only band who kicked on to greater things, but they were far from the only band at that time. Neither were they the best. The best band was probably The Big Three.

So who were the major players? Well I’ll ignore the pop success of bands such as Freddie and the Dreamers, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and Gerry and the Pacemakers and follow my appreciation of good exciting live music.

The best of Mersey:

The Beatles obviously top the list. Their first album and singles changed history and sent every A&R man heading for Liverpool. They produced their repertoire of R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll along with their own songs. That song writing gave them the ability to kick on to other dimensions – something that none of their Mersey compatriots managed.

The Big Three were amazing. Unfortunately most of their studio stuff suffered from the same sanitised production. But we do have that fabulous EP – Live at the Cavern – that shows what a Fab band they were. To think that the whole of that set was recorded but the tape was wiped!

The Merseybeats are renowned for their sentimental love songs but again, one EP – On Stage – captured their more exciting sound.

The Searchers were consistent in providing that high energy R&B sound and also pioneered that jangly Folk Rock sound that was developed by the Byrds. It is a shame they did not write their own songs. I think it held them back in developing further.

Gerry and the Pacemakers suffered from that same Pop production that lost a lot of the rawness but still managed to capture a lot of it. I actually saw them live about ten years ago and they was brilliant – very powerful.

The Mojos were one of the few who managed to capture that excitement on disc. They and the Swinging Blue Jeans produced some great singles.

The Undertakers – what a great cover of Roscoe Gordon!

The excitement of Mersey was captured on the two albums released by Oriole called This Is Merseybeat. They highlighted a number of the best Merseybeat acts and though the performances were not outstanding they did manage to capture the excitement of that club scene and also the great variation in style. These bands were all based on the R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll brought in from the States by those merchant sailors. There was little in the way of originality though. But what a great scene to be part of? You can feel the sweat and thrill in the performances of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Faron’s Flamingos, and Earl Preston and the TTs.

5 Great Merseybeat Tracks

Now most of Merseybeat was not recorded well. It was too commercial and lost the raw energy of the various acts. They were tarted up in suits and sanitised in the studios. But some slipped through.

  1. The Big Three – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcu9XHcNxjE
  2. The Mojos – Everything’s Alright – https://www.google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=youtube+mojos+everything’s+alright&spf=1498042263828
  3. Merseybeats – You Can’t Judge a Book – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zof-i2FKdi4
  4. Beatles – I saw her standing there – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZMQU4c1pEg
  5. Gerry and the Pacemakers – Slow Down – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd-mdEZazvE

Enjoy the Music!

In the UK:https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/card?preview=inline&linkCode=kpd&ref_=k4w_oembed_iElmdLlS8tkXQL&asin=B00TQ1E9ZG&tag=kpembed-20

In the USA: https://www.amazon.com/Search-Captain-Beefheart-Opher-Goodwin-ebook/dp/B00O4CLKYU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497866057&sr=1-1&keywords=opher+goodwin+in+search+of

 

Opher and Mike’s radio show on Merseybeat.

51knkyElf4L__AA160_IMG_212251GXVbm-F7L__AA160_51GKc+4W1pL__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_IMG_2115

Opher & Mike’s Radio Show on Merseybeat.

If you like Rock Music then you might like this Radio Show we put together on the subject of Merseybeat. We recorded it in a studio after having worked on it for about a year. We’ve got about 75 of these hour long shows scripted out.

Mike used to be the Roadie with Free, Bad Company and Robin Trower (among others) and is a bit of a Rock nut just like me!!

We really enjoyed doing this programme and organising the tracks. Lots of people have said how much they enjoyed it.

Next week we’re going to record ‘Psychedelia’.

We looked around for a radio station that might be interested in taking the format further but have not come up with a hit yet.

If you have any suggestions or comments we’d love to hear from you!

Rock Music – Merseybeat – An extract from my book ‘Rock Routes’.

Rock Routes cover

Merseybeat

In the aftermath of the Rock ‘n’ Roll revolution stemming from the USA thousands of British kids, many already in Skiffle groups, got drawn into playing the exciting new

sounds. It suited the excitement of the little sweaty venues, like the Cavern Club in Liverpool, that had sprung up all over the country to cater for the Skiffle explosion in the wake of Lonnie Donegan’s success. For the poor, post-war working classes living in the council estates in war-torn Britain there were few distractions and pleasures to enable them to escape from the rationed drab reality of their existence. They had few ways out of poverty. Rock ‘n’ Roll like playing the football pools or boxing provided them with a dream. They could see a rosy vision of the future which was full of status, money and fun. They could become Rock Stars. Besides it attracted the girls. They upgraded their improvised Skiffle instruments and upgraded to become bona fide Rock groups.

These bands toured their regional clubs, often village halls, coffee bars, pubs and small clubs like ‘The Cavern’ in Liverpool, building up their fervent fan base and hoping to get noticed by the likes of Larry Parnes. These bands built up such partisan followings that in places like Liverpool and Birmingham there was a local newspaper following the performances of the various bands and promoting the whole scene.

Liverpool, being a major port, was one of the major centres for this underground revolution and there were lots of clubs and a seething cauldron of live bands. This was no accident. The city had all the necessary ingredients. It was a poverty stricken port with drab neglected surrounds, a high unemployment rate and a deep seated working class ethic for hard work, ingenuity and humour. There was little hope for the future and nothing to look forward to unless you were prepared to do something about it yourself. That something was Rock ‘n’ Roll with alls its excitement and the lure of overnight fame and fortune as had happened to Billy Fury. If it happened for him it could happen for them.

Liverpool had a long established cosmopolitan atmosphere with trading links all over the world and particularly the USA. Merchant seamen roamed the city bringing with them an atmosphere of adventure. They also brought back all the latest sounds from across the Atlantic. The bands avidly soaked it up vying to get their hands on the most obscure R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll tracks before their competitors did. There was a whole world of US R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll that was not available in this country. The Beeb did not play it and record companies did not put it out. Seemingly they considered British ears were too sensitive for this raw American sound. It was a gold-mine. The Mersey bands interpreted it in their own way and created their own distinctive brand.

By looking at the type of music the Merseybeat bands were copying we can clearly identify the main areas of influence. These hundreds of Mersey bands were basing their developing sound on R&B (girl bands, male bands and solo artists – Shirelles, Chiffons, Miracles, Crystals, Contours, Isley Brothers, Donays, Coasters, Drifters, Arthur Alexander, Barrett Strong, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Cookies, Benny Spellman, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Marvelettes), black Rock ‘n’ Roll (Larry Williams, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Little Richard) to Country & Western (Hank Williams, Buck Owens) and Rockabilly (Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran and the Everly Brothers).

The same songs appear time and time again in a number of bands repertoires – ‘Do you love me?’, ‘Shake Sherry’, ‘Some other guy now’, ‘Money’, ‘Poison Ivy’, ‘Three cool cats’, ‘Twist and shout’. ‘Roll over Beethoven’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll music’, ‘Blue suede shoes,’ ‘Twenty flight rock’, ‘Sweets for my sweet’, ‘Love potion no. 9’, ‘Fortune teller’, ‘You can’t judge a book by looking at its cover’, ‘Shame Shame Shame’, ‘Anna, go with him’, ‘Mr Moonlight’, ‘Please Mr Postman’, ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Slow down’, ‘Bad boy’, ‘What’d I say’, ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzie’, ‘Right string baby but the wrong yo-yo’, ‘Roll over Beethoven’, ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’, ‘Maybelline’, ‘Blueberry Hill’, ‘Farmer John’, ‘Youngblood’, ‘Too much monkey business’, ‘Carol’, ‘glad all over’, ‘matchbox’, ‘Honey don’t’, ‘Words of love’, ‘Bye bye love’, ‘Kansas city’, ‘Lucille’, ‘Johnny B Goode’, ‘Matchbox’, ‘I got a woman’ and ‘Crying, wishing hoping’.

Some of these songs – such as ‘Some other guy’, ‘Do you love me?’ ‘Love potion No. 9’, ‘Money’ became Mersey standards. The different bands competed to produce the best versions. This resulted in an extremely lively scene in the sweaty clubs. The emphasis on the performance was speed and excitement. Bands played for small fees for pride and the status that went with it. Sometimes they would only charge a shilling (5p) entry fee, playing lunch-times and evenings most days of the week to large crowds who were packed in to the tiny venues. Loyal fans would follow their band around from venue to venue.

Because of the fervent support and tightly packed crowds the excitement levels were very high. The bands responded by driving themselves to the limits. It was all raw R&B to the accompaniment of the screaming girls. There has been very little to rival the energy and excitement generated at an evening in the Cavern when five or six of the cities top bands tried to blow each other off the stage. It was a real battle of the giants.

The raw sounds of the Mersey bands, often off-key and certainly brash and unsophisticated, became much sought after on the continent even before it took off in Britain. In particular Germany formed very close connections with Liverpool and many of he top bands, such as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and the Beatles, spent long residencies playing the small Hamburg clubs like the Star Club. It was here, in front of these rowdy audiences, that they had to learn their trade. The sets were long, often up to eight hours at a time. It required stamina, provided by amphetamine pills, and a huge repertoire. The rewards were financially little but the experience was life changing. It was a time of great growing up. The red light district of Hamburg was awash with prostitutes, pimps, underworld hoods, knives, guns and drugs. There were also the adoring fans. It was tough but it was fun. It was in these clubs that the Beatles began experimenting with their music and even began writing songs. They got tight as a band and developed their abilities.

Despite the large followings that the top Liverpool bands were attracting and the liveliness of the scene it all remained hidden underground. From 1960 on, in Liverpool and other cities such as London, Newcastle, Birmingham and Manchester, the club scene flourished and the bands honed their skills.

Howie Casey and the Seniors have the distinction of being the first Mersey band to get to play Hamburg and also the first Mersey band to release a single. It was called ‘Double twist’ and apart from local sales it did very little. Howie Casy was the saxophone player in the band and the band had two lead singers in Derrie Wilkie and the infamous Freddie Starr.

The lack of interest in the group scene was due to the industry’s attitude. They, like their American counterparts, were promoting the good clean-cut Pop image. The Teen idols of the day, both home grown with Cliff, Billy, Adam and the like, and from the US with Bobby Vee, Johnny Tillotson, Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Fabian and the like, were doing very nicely. They saw no need to change the formula. It was working. They thought that the group guitar sound ad had its day and they were busy looking for more Teen Idols to challenge Cliff and the rest. The industry was extremely staid and conservative and certainly was not in business of searching for a new sound. They did not like change. Not only that but they saw the Mersey bands are too raw and unrefined. The sound they made was too primitive, over-amplified and not really suitable for recording.

At other times this might have resulted in a proliferation of small independent labels, as had happened with the Rockabilly and R&B explosion in the States, but this did not happen in England, probably because of the economic climate. The major record companies had a stranglehold over the industry and few people had the power or initiative to challenge them. Consequently it did not come to the general public’s attention until 1963.

When the Beatles got signed by Parlophone in 1962 and broke through into the charts there was a mad rush by all the companies to sign up the other talent.

No one can underestimate the impact of the Beatles on the world of music both sides of the Atlantic. They were a tidal wave that swept everything before it. I can still remember, as a thirteen year old boy, sitting in my friend Tony Humm’s bedroom as he played the ‘Please Please Me’ album to me on the day of its release. The first Beatles track I heard was ‘I saw her standing there’. It blew me away. I’d been into Little Richard but this was monumental. It sent chills through me. I’d never heard anything like it. Things were never the same.

The lack of independent labels was a great shame. It meant that the conservative majors controlled the production. They emasculated the sound and tried to pour the Mersey energy into the Teen Idol mould. The pressure on the bands was to tone everything down, to wear smart suits and project the jaunty boy next door image. It was as if they’d used a sieve to remove the dynamism. They got them to record numbers by their stable of writers like Mitch Murray’s ‘How do you do it?’. It proved very successful but it wasn’t what was going on in the clubs. You only have to listen to the Oriole live recordings on ‘This is Merseybeat’, the Big Three’s live EP at the Cavern or the Merseybeats EP to see the difference. There’s no comparison between the driving Rock and R&B of the live performances and the light saccharin performances of the recorded stuff.

Following the emergence of the Beatles, after Epstein’s brilliant promotion, the sound took off nationally.

The Beatles themselves started with a small hit and then a string of number ones swept them to the pinnacle of success on a wave of hysteria that has not been encountered since. Overnight the port of Liverpool was inundated with talent scouts trying to sign up anyone that breathed. Hundreds of bands were dragged off screaming, bundled in cars, driven down south and signed up. They were all promised instant fame and fortune. Surprisingly a number of the best bands got left behind in the rush. Of the ones that went some were elevated to the heights of stardom and many fell by the wayside. The difference between success and failure was arbitrary. It did not concern ability so much as luck. If you got the right management, a good catchy tune and the media interest you made it. No matter how good you were if you got an unsympathetic production and no media interest you were doomed.

Brian Epstein was a very powerful figure. He had gathered a whole stable of Mersey talent under his umbrella. Bands were falling over themselves to sign up with him. He signed up Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, Cilla Black and the Fourmost and used the Beatles success to promote them. Between them and a few other acts – Freddy & the Dreamers, Swinging Blue Jeans, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Searchers, Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes – they dominated the charts for a year. Strangely Brian did not sign all the best bands. The Big Three were probably the best band around. The Mojos, Undertakers, Merseybeats and Searchers weren’t far behind. They got neglected by Brian. Other good bands such as Faron’s Flamingos, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Earl Preston and the TTs and Derry Wilkies Pressmen, the Denisons, Beryl Marsden, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, Mark Peters and the Silhouettes, The Shakers, Earl Royce and the Olympics, Casey Jones and the Engineers, Lee Curtis Allstars, Ian and the Zodiacs, The Blackwells, and the Black Knights got passed by altogether or didn’t make the grade.

There were a lot of good bands from other towns and cities who had hits. These include Davey Jones and the Lower Third (David Bowie’s first band), the Honeycombs and Brian Poole and the Tremeloes from London; the Rockin’ Berries and Fortunes from Birmingham, Freddy & Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits, Hollies and Wayne Fontana from Manchester; the Four Pennies from Blackburn; Bern Elliott and the Fenmen (who produced a brilliant version of ‘New Orleans’) from Kent; the Applejacks from Solihull; the marauders from Stoke on Trent.

There was a range of styles and but they were all coming in under the Mersey umbrella prior to the Beat explosion.

Brian insisted that all the artists in his stable looked smart, wear suits, smile a lot and be ultra-friendly. It was to prove a double edged sword. It got them accepted by the record industry and public but quickly led to their demise. Only the Beatles, with their talent and individuality, survived in the long run.

1963 was the year of Merseybeat in Britain. America had to wait a year.

The importance of Merseybeat cannot be underestimated. It not only created a huge commercial success but paved the way for the breakthrough in the lucrative American market and gave impetus to the whole Beat boom that was to follow.

Fortunately the Beatles were strong enough, determined enough and talented enough to resist the drive to twee-ness that befell their Mersey compatriots. They took control of their material and got it how they wanted it. They also insisted on releasing their own material and started writing for other bands such as the Fourmost and then the Rolling Stones. This was a ploy of Brian’s to launch his own artists with Beatles compositions. It worked for Cilla Black, Billy J and the Fourmost. This song-writing ability gave them a second string to their bow.

When the British Beat groups started breaking through in 1964 the recording studios were better prepared, the public was more receptive and the bands were tough enough to stand up to the industry and retain their rawness and identity. There was a greater confidence in the whole scene and it pervaded everything. The industry was able to see that there was money in it.

In 1964 the Beatles with the rest of the Merseybeat and Beat bands in their wake took the United States by storm. Band after band toured to rapturous reception. America had succumbed to the might of Britain. The long hair, Cuban heeled boots and Beatle jackets were what every American boy wanted. There were new levels of hysteria. It was like discovering a dozen Elvis’s. The whole industry was turned on its head and given a shot in the arm. British bands dominated the world. The charts were full of them. The old music scene collapsed overnight. This was the second British invasion and the world was ours.

The impact was enormous. In Britain and the States a new wave of kids formed bands, grew their hair. They bought cheap Standell amps and instruments and began practising in their garages. They quickly mastered a few chords, enough to do primitive versions of Beatles numbers and launched themselves at the school hops. They along with the Folkies were to revolutionise the US Rock scene and pave the way for the British Underground and the US West and East Coast bands of the later sixties.

In Britain in 1964, even as the Mersey bands were scoring in the US, it was no longer cool to own a Billy J Kramer album or be seen with a Freddy and the Dreamers or Herman’s Hermits album. They might be the hottest thing on the planet in America, in Britain they were already middle of the road. They had been replaced by a harder R&B/Blues based Beat groups lead by the Rolling Stones. A few bands, such as the Hollies, Searchers and Cilla Black survived to have a career in the charts in the ensuing years.

Brian Epstein did not have to despair at the dropping off of his stable of stars. They were enormous in America and besides the Beatles were going from strength to strength and taking up most of his time and attention.

Despite the commercial, over-produced Pop sound of Merseybeat there was still a lot of stuff that was worth listening to:

The Oriole live albums ‘This is Merseybeat’ give an idea of what the live scene was like.

The Big Three ‘Live at the Cavern’ EP was brilliant. It is hard to believe that the rest of this performance was wiped off the tape. Some moron has a lot to answer for.

The Merseybeat EP was brilliant.

There were a number of quality singles that escaped the ravages of twee production. These include: ‘Just a little bit’ and ‘Mashed Potatoes’ by the Undertakers, ‘Everything’s alright’ by the Mojos, and the Searchers produced a number of good singles and album tracks – ‘Sweets for my sweet’, ‘Sugar and Spice’, ‘Farmer John’, ‘Love potion no. 9’, ‘Needles and pins’, ‘When you walk in the room’ and ‘What have the done to the rain’ to name a few. They were very influential for bands like the Byrds with their folksy guitar sound.

The Mersey sound had stormed in like a rampaging lion, stomped over everything, flared brightly throughout the world and sputtered out. So brief – so bright – and so crucial.

Rock Music Genres – Merseybeat

Beatlesrr

Merseybeat

Back in 1962 it was dire in the Pop charts. Rock Music had been effectively shut down by the payola scandal. The US government considered it a bad effect on youth and had pulled the plug. Radio and TV were unable to play Rock ‘n’ Roll. All we had was insipid Poprock – a very pale shadow of the real thing. Gone was the long hair greased back into ducktails, the sideburns and cat clothes. It was all suits and big smiles. It was all Bobby’s and Italian cut suits.

I liked it well enough. But I was only thirteen. I didn’t know there were more exciting things going on. I was not out and about round the clubs. I lived in the suburbs of London. There was nothing happening that I knew of.

As far as the record companies were concerned guitar music and the Rock sound had had its day. They’d seen it as a passing trend. They were focussing on a more ‘family orientated’ sound. The stars of the day – Cliff Richard, Billy Fury and Tommy Steele – were encouraged to be all round entertainers. The charts were full of songs for your parents.

It was all going to change.

In the port of Liverpool in the late fifties and early sixties the merchant seamen coming back from the USA were bringing obscure Rock ‘n’ Roll records and Black R&B that had not been played on the staid old BBC. In fact they weren’t being played in America either. The R&B was put out for a black audience and the radio stations were not playing R&B or Rock ‘n’ Roll. They were playing the Philadelphia sound with its clean-cut image. This meant that there was a treasure trove of great material for the Mersey bands to delve into.

The Liverpool club scene was really vibrant. There were hundreds of bands and lots of clubs with enthusiastic audiences of young kids. This was after the war and they wanted fun. They even had their own Music paper entitled Merseybeat.

The bands had started out as Skiffle bands but had progressed. They’d learnt to play an extra chord or two and got themselves better instruments and sound systems. The girls screamed for their favourites and every boy wanted to be in a band. It was rockin’.

Similar things were happening elsewhere around the country, almost unnoticed. London, Hull, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle all had thriving Rock scenes. But it was happening below the radar. The Mersey bands had set up a connection to clubs in Hamburg Germany where there was a thirst for exciting Rock Music. It gave the Mersey bands an added boost and great experience. Many of them, including the Beatles, developed their acts with lengthy sets in the clubs in the Red Light district of Hamburg. It put them in good stead.

Brian Epstein managed a record shop in Liverpool and he had been alerted to this group – The Silver Beatles – via a single they’d released in Germany – ‘Ain’t She Sweet’. It was causing a local commotion in his shop. He went along to see them. What he saw was a wild, leather clad, greasy long-haired band of rockers who were creating a riot at the main club in Liverpool – the Cavern. He was intrigued and saw the potential.

Brian took them on, cleaned them up, sorted out distinctive collarless suits, Sorted the mop-tops and created a distinctive new look. He made them adopt a more professional stage act and proceeded to sell – ‘The Beatles’ – as they now were to the record companies. It was hard work. Decca turned them down. But Columbia eventually bit.

I was fourteen in 1963. I remember sitting in my friend Tony Hum’s room and he played me ‘I Saw her Standing There’. He’d bought the Please Please Me album on the day of release. It was the first Beatle track I can remember hearing. My jaw dropped open. A new life opened up for me. Rock Music had just hit a new level.

That year of 1963 was the Year of Merseybeat. Not only did the Beatles storm the charts but they were joined by a host of other Mersey bands, mainly in the Epstein camp. There was Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer, The Searchers, The Merseybeats, Big Three, Cilla Black and the Mojos. They were also joined by a few that sneaked in from outside Liverpool like Freddy & the Dreamers, the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and the Dave Clark Five. The Beatles were the pathfinders and had opened the floodgates.

Beatlemania had been born.

Every record company in the land was hunting out bands. It was madness. We kids were in our element. We suddenly had our own music. It was loud and it was ours.

Strangely the most popular bands in Liverpool like Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Faron’s Flamingos and even the Big Three, failed to make much of an impression. It was Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and Freddy & the Dreamers who scored with the biggest hits.

Unfortunately the record companies did not know how to handle it. The Merseybeat sound the British Studios created was processed and sanitised. They did not manage to capture the raw sound of the club scene. We are fortunate to have two albums recorded virtually live and released on the Oriole label entitled This is Merseybeat vol 1 and vol 2 featuring Rory Storm, Faron’s Flamingos and a number of others, plus the EP by the Big Three recorded at the cavern (the whole set was recorded but the tape was wiped!) and a few other tracks that captured the excitement (A Merseybeats EP, Mojos and Undertakers singles) and that was it.

The quality of the Beatles and Searchers shone through and carried them. The Beatles had insisted on doing their own thing and were fortunate to get a great innovative producer in George Martin who was open to new ideas and gave them their head. That first album was virtually recorded live in the studio.

The Beatles had another major attribute; they wrote their own material. Not only that but it was as good as the best of the Rock and R&B they were covering.

On top of all that they had bubbly personalities, quick wit and a line in humour that broke through all the barriers.

In 1963 Merseybeat was a phenomenon. It was a game-changer. Over night the old guard had been swept aside. Adam Faith and Cliff tried a rearguard action by adopting a Mersey type style that was quite successful. Adam Faith’s new Backing band – the Roulettes – were particularly good. But in general the new Mersey sound had created an overnight transformation of the music scene. The fashion, guitar based sound, more informal performance and exuberant interaction had changed everything and paved the way for what was to come.

Britain had been turned upside down.

By 1964 it was over. Merseybeat was dead in the water. Only the Beatles and Searchers really survived. They were supplanted by a more exciting wave of bands playing blues, R&B and their own material. 1964 was the year of the British Beat groups.

The United States caught on a little later. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Beatles broke big. Then it went even more mental. They had 24 hour Beatles music on the radio, broke the record on the Ed Sullivan show and had seven out of the top ten singles, including the whole top five. It was unprecedented. This was Beatlemania USA style. They had albums and EPs in the singles charts and took America by storm. They could not get enough of the four lads from Liverpool. They were bigger than Elvis. The girls screamed and fainted and the crew-cutted American boys were desperately trying to grow their hair.

In the States the Mersey bands got a second bite of the cherry. They might have been finished in Britain but they were the bee’s knees in the States. All the bands swept in to New York along with the new wave of Beat bands. It was the British invasion. Gerry, Billy J, Freddy and Herman’s Hermits rode on the Beatle’s Beatle-jacket tails and took the continent by storm.

In the summer of 1964, at the age of fifteen, clutching my copy of the Rolling Stones new album, I hitch-hiked round France with my mate Foss. Everywhere we went the French youth shouted ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ at us. The Beatles were universal and with our long-hair we were kings. We were cool.

For a year or two Britain ruled the world!

 

 

Opher & Mike’s Radio Show on Merseybeat.

If you like Rock Music then you might like this Radio Show we put together on the subject of Merseybeat. We recorded it in a studio after having worked on it for about a year. We’ve got about 75 of these hour long shows scripted out.

Mike used to be the Roadie with Free, Bad Company and Robin Trower (among others) and is a bit of a Rock nut just like me!!

We really enjoyed doing this programme and organising the tracks. Lots of people have said how much they enjoyed it.

Next week we’re going to record ‘Psychedelia’.

We looked around for a radio station that might be interested in taking the format further but have not come up with a hit yet.

If you have any suggestions or comments we’d love to hear from you!