Part 1 – 1958
If I go into a bookshop or a library, I am drawn to diaries. A good diary written in the eye of a storm by a perceptive writer takes some beating, but there are problems. I am particularly suspicious of political diaries as they are often written with a view to later publication.
To my mind, the publication of Bill Haley’s diaries in ‘Now Dig This’ has been one of this magazine’s major achievements, a potent mix of the heady excitement of the early days of rock’n’roll and the mundane, best illustrated by Bill receiving an ecstatic reception but being worried about his haemorrhoids. That reminded me of ‘Diary Of A Nobody’ written by George Grossmith, written in 1892 and still among the funniest books ever written.
In 1974 Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople published his now infamous journals as ‘Diary Of A Rock’n’Roll Star’ and it honestly captured rock’n’roll excess as it was happening. Generally speaking though, musicians are unlikely to be enjoying their sex and drugs and rock’n’roll and then returning to their rooms to write it up with candour and clarity.
As far as is known, none of the Beatles kept diaries and John Lennon’s diaries (if they exist) would be a publishing sensation. Certainly to read about the early years of the Merseybeat scene as they were evolving would be fascinating. The famed ‘Mersey Beat’ newspaper itself did not start until 1961 and, unfortunately, it did not, as a rule, review gigs.
But now we can go behind the scenes. From 1960 to 1963, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes was a key group on Merseyside and Alan Caldwell (that is Rory Storm) was the showman up front, accompanied by the guitarists John Byrne (renamed Johnny Guitar) and Chas O’Brien (Ty Brian), Wally Egmond (Lu Walters) on bass and Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) on drums, who left for unknown reasons in 1962. Note the references to American westerns in those stage names, and ‘Johnny Guitar’ is a 1954 western starring Joan Crawford and Stirling Hayden.
I knew Johnny Guitar fairly well and I enjoyed looking through his memorabilia and hearing his stories. One day he lent me his diaries and allowed me to make notes. They showed how the band developed and offered insights into growing up in Liverpool – his hormones were certainly raging! Johnny Guitar died in 1999 and when I wrote his obituary for ‘The Independent’, I included a couple of entries from the diaries. I received a letter from that compulsive diarist, the MP Tony Benn, to congratulate me on drawing attention to them.
A recent discovery has been the audio of a full set from March 1960 by Rory Storm and the Hurricanes at the Jive Hive, which was based at St Luke’s Church Hall in Crosby, some seven miles north of Liverpool. The 15 songs were recorded professionally and they reveal just how exciting this band could be. I wasn’t there but I could have been as I only lived two roads away. Up until this release, I was certain I had seen Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in my youth but now I am sure I didn’t – I would have remembered a band as colourful as this.
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes will always be name-checked in Beatle books as Ringo Starr was their drummer but not much can be said about their music because so little is available. Three tracks on Oriole’s ‘This Is Mersey Beat’ and a single on Parlophone is a meagre output, certainly when this performance shows how good they were.
To celebrate the release of this CD on Rockstar, we are publishing extracts from Johnny Guitar’s diaries with my annotations in italics. All the comments from other musicians come from my own interviews. My thanks to everyone who has spoken to me and especial thanks to Margaret Byrne, Johnny’s second wife and widow and the owner of the diaries. She has also supplied several of the photographs for this feature. Thanks also to Rory’s sister, Iris Caldwell, later Iris Fenton, and it is Iris who found the tape from March 1960 amongst Rory’s possessions.
John Byrne was born in Liverpool on 4 December 1939 and when the diaries start, he has just turned 18. He has left school, has a routine job and works with his girlfriend Pat Hesketh, and is playing with Alan Caldwell in the Texans, sometimes the Ravin’ Texans, skiffle group.
Dave Jamieson, later a road manager with the Hurricanes, remembers, “In February 1957 I was a drummer in the army cadets and we were training for a Royal tournament.. Alan and his friend Johnny were starting a skiffle group and they had cheap guitars from the Daily Mirror, made out of matchbox wood. They wanted me to be the drummer, but I was too heavily into the cadets. I would go round on a Sunday after rehearsals, and I would be in the garden with his sister Iris and would be banging on the drum.”
Impresario Jim Turner gives an idea of their early days: “I started off at 17 playing a tea-chest bass for Rory Storm in his skiffle group. There were no vans in those days and we had to take the bus to gigs. The Blue Jeans would get on board at Twig Lane and another band at Page Moss and the conductor would end up shouting, ‘No more instruments – there’s no room for the paying public.’”
Bob Wooler, the Cavern’s DJ, used to say that Rory Storm and Johnny Guitar lived in a make believe world, as suggested by their stage names. Like Billy Liar, Johnny Guitar was uninterested in daily work and, in his case, wanted to make music at every opportunity, but I don’t think that there’s much make believe about those girlfriends!
John Byrne lived at 37 OakhillPark, Broadgreen, Liverpool, a few miles from the city centre and close to Alan’s house. John’s family didn’t have a telephone but he gave out next door’s number and the neighbours would fetch him. This is one up on the drummer, Ritchie Starkey of 10 Admiral Grove, Dingle: Johnny has put by his address that you phone Jones, the newsagent.
Rory/Alan didn’t have a telephone either and here you rang Winnie Mac, who was Vi Caldwell’s best friend. She ran a dance school on Broad Green Road and taught Alan and his sister, Iris to dance.
In the entries below, ‘Paul’ is Paul Murphy, who had recorded ‘Butterfly’ and ‘She’s Got It’ with Johnny Guitar at Percy Phillips’ studio in Kensington, Liverpool on 22 June 1957, the earliest known recordings by anyone associated with Merseybeat. Paul Murphy recorded for HMV as Paul Rogers in 1961; produced beat groups in Hamburg for Polydor; spent the mid-70s hawking around the 1962 tape of the Beatles at the Star-Club; and married Gordon Mills’ widow. I spent a couple of hours at his home in CamdenTown in 1998 and felt uneasy: the shiftiest-looking character I have met.
While I have been working on this series, it has undergone several title changes including ‘Eye Of The Storm’, ‘Storm Warning’ and ‘Rider Of The Storm’. I decided on ‘The Perfect Storm’, largely because of that extraordinary photograph of Rory Storm taken in Hamburg by Astrid Kirchherr in which he looks like a Greek god. I hope no one reading this series thinks it is a storm in a teacup.
Wednesday 1 January 1958
Day off work. Raining hard. Went to collect amplifier.
Johnny and Rory were in the Ravin’ Texans Skiffle Group, but the purchase of an amplifier meant rock’n’roll was coming.
Thursday 2 January 1958
Back to work. Practised in cellar for Cavern.
This was the cellar of a nursing home at ‘Balgownie’, 25 Oakhill Park, a few doors away from Johnny’s semi, though this was a big old house. Its owner, Mrs Thompson, was to be persuaded to open it for public performances but this is to come. “It looked like a haunted house as it had a decrepit look about it. You wouldn’t have wanted to place even your worst relative in that place,” says Johnny’s brother, Pat.
Friday 3 January 1958
Playing at Cavern. Didn’t do too well. Saw Helen and had chat.
Supporting Clinton Ford with the Merseysippi Jazz Band.
Tuesday 7 January 1958
Practised in cellar for Cavern. Alan’s birthday.
According to rock history, Rory Storm was born on 7 July 1940, but that is wrong. Rory was born Alan Caldwell on 7 January 1938. He took a couple of years off his age to appear younger than he was and, unusually, switched the month of his birth so he could celebrate his so-called birthdays when he was playing residencies at holiday camps.
Monday 13 January 1958
Saw ‘Not Of This Earth’. No good.
Roger Corman quickie getting a general release. Alien with sunglasses comes to California to seek blood for his dying race. The leading actor, Paul Birch walked off the set and Corman finished the film with a stand-in as if anybody noticed. On a double bill with ‘Attack Of The Crab Monsters’.
Sunday 2 February 1958
First date with Pat. Went to Carlton. Snowing heavily.
Hang on tight, Pat. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Saturday 8 February 1958
In work. Went with Jill to pictures.
Sunday 9 February 1958
Went to Jean’s house and had a good time.
A weekend that reveals the problems (or the pleasure) of being Johnny Guitar.
Friday 14 February 1958
Lathom Hall Dance. Los Toros were also playing.
Valentine’s Day but unfortunately the diary does not reveal if Johnny took Pat, Jill, Jean or indeed anybody else to the dance. We can, however, confidently assume that Los Toros were not from Mexico or even Spain.
The earliest publicised gig for the Beatles was at Lathom Hall on 21 May 1960: however, they never played it as they had buggered off to Scotland to back Johnny Gentle. They did play there in 1961 and their bass player Stu Sutcliffe got roughed up after one gig, which may have been a contributory factor to his death a year later.
Monday 17 February 1958
Went to Carlton with Pat to see ‘Night Of The Demon’. Corny.
Satanic cults with Dana Andrews. Dr Karswell arrives to get the 8.45am to Southampton when the station clock says 9.45, an indication that British Railways was unreliable even then.
Tuesday 18 February 1958
Wrote to Stanley Dale’s Skiffle Contest
Today’s talent shows are nothing new and the impresario Stanley Dale held auditions at various UK theatres with appearances on BBC-TV’s ‘6.5 Special’ for the winners. The Liverpool Empire had been booked for a week’s variety which would include performances from Jim Dale (no relation, but managed by Stanley) and the Vipers and rounds of the skiffle contest each night.
Sunday 2 March 1958
Went to Empire to get instructions. Jim Dale was there.
Tuesday 4 March 1958
Went to Curzon with Pat to see ‘The Giant Claw’. Corny.
The lad can’t keep away from sci-fi. This time a UFO turns out to be a giant bird from another planet intent on killing everything in its path. Part of the appeal of horror movies was that the girl got so scared that she would fall into the boy’s arms.
Wednesday 5 March 1958
Heat. We’re on at 7.45. Got through to semi-finals.
According to press reports, 800 groups took part nationwide. The Guardian, reviewing a Manchester show, called the skiffle groups monotonous and snootily added, “They are advised to stay in and listen to Beethoven.” Sorry, mate, we want him to roll over.
Mind you, Stanley Dale himself was none too impressed. He told the NME, “Some were excellent, some fair, and one or two downright awful. But the packed audiences loved the lot. One little group were so bad that the audience laughed their heads off and nearly made them the winners by the terrific ovation they gave them.” That’s a tendency we see today in ‘The X Factor’.
Thursday 6 March 1958
Empire. Semi-finals. We got through again.
Friday 7 March 1958
Empire. Finals. Darktown won the contest.
No shame in losing and what an experience. The Texans had played three consecutive nights at the biggest theatre in the area (capacity: 2,400). Winning the Liverpool heat was the Darktown Skiffle Group, who reached the televised semi-final and so won £90. They had an excellent singer, Jill Martin, later to join the Merseysippis. Ringo Starr played with them occasionally though not this time.
Monday 10 March 1958
Went with Regent with Pat to see ‘Invasion Of The Hell Creatures’. Good laugh.
A teenage couple going to the woods for a bit of rumpy-pumpy runs over an alien. Teenagers were regarded as a lower form of life in the 1950s but this film had the tag, “Teenagers save the world” as indeed, they do. Frank Gorshin, later The Riddler, starred in this sci-fi nonsense.
Tuesday 11 March 1958
Snowed. Went round to cellar. Ken and Paul Murphy put up strip light. Cost £3.
Wednesday 12 March 1958
Clearing up cellar for opening tomorrow night.
Some art students were helping Alan and Johnny. They created rudimentary ultra-violet effects. In the dark you could see white skeletons on the wall. Johnny’s love of sci-fi horror is shown both in the effects and the name for the club – The Morgue.
Thursday 13 March 1958
Morgue Skiffle Cellar opens. Good night.
This is a considerable achievement for Alan and Johnny but there was little money to be made. They had no licence and couldn’t charge for entry but everyone who came had to buy a Coke or a fizzy orange. The Quarrymen, who became the Beatles, and the Texans played on the opening night. Club nights were Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Saturday 15 March 1958
Art school dance. Not too bad. Took Pat.
Sunday 16 March 1958
Went to cellar in Wallasey called La Boheme. Pat was ill.
Johnny was checking the place out as he was to play there on 22 March.
Thursday 20 March 1958
Playing at the Morgue. Pat went. Good night.
Wednesday 26 March 1958
Went to Temple to see if there was chance of dates. Told to write to Manchester by manager.
City centre venue which featured jazz but skiffle was acceptable to the jazzers as it stemmed from Leadbelly, Josh White and others they liked. In the Morgue, they could play what they liked, but not here in a jazz club.
Thursday 27 March 1958
Played at cellar. Took Pat. Got a big crowd. Bluegenes were playing.
Bluegenes was a jazz/skiffle outfit who became, in 1963, the Swinging Blue Jeans. Ray Ennis remembers: “The Morgue was just round the corner from Rory’s house. There was a mother and her daughter and she had persuaded her mother to let Rory and Johnny have a club there. They couldn’t charge for entry but they did pass a teapot round and collected donations in it. I doubt if there were more than 30 there when we played.”
Tuesday 1 April 1958
Playing at Cavern. Took part. Police trouble.
Thursday 3 April 1958
Bought fan for cellar, £9. Alan removed boards. Leaves more room.
Rory Storm’s sister, Iris Caldwell: “They had the Beatles on there for 30 bob (£1.50), but George Harrison wasn’t with them then. George was my boyfriend: we were kids but we were seeing each other. I was 13 and desperately wanted to go and Rory did let me go one night. I was not well developed and so I got a lot of cotton wool and shoved it down my bra and thought I looked older and off I went. Just as big brothers do, Rory announced that Iris was at the back and had cotton wool down her bra, and that broke my heart. I ran out of there sobbing and George chased me right round Oakhill Park and gave me my very first kiss when he caught me. The only thing between us was cotton wool.”
Sunday 6 April 1958
Went to Cavern with Pat to see Beryl Bryden. Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mick Mulligan also turned up.
The previous night Beryl Bryden had been at Le Caveau in Paris for ‘6.5 Special’ and here she was with the Merseysippi Jazz Band at both the Cavern and the New Shakespeare night club. Alan Sytner, the owner of the Cavern, had banned snogging at the Cavern and even employed an anti-smooch girl (though it wasn’t serious). Hope Johnny and Pat found a dark corner.
Tuesday 8 April 1958
Back to work. Easy day. Played at Morgue in evening. Took Pat. Got 100 in.
100! That is staggeringly good, but what did the neighbours think?
Thursday 10 April 1958
Played at Cavern. Took Pat. Alan goes to London tomorrow.
Probably for an athletics meeting. Alan Caldwell was a champion sprinter, running for Pembroke Harriers and one stage, running with the Olympic athlete Derek Ibbotson.
Friday 11 April 1958
Alan brought guitar and washboard down to basement. Had session. Went to Regent with Pat to see ‘The Stooge’.
Well, that makes a change – Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Thursday 17 April 1958
Played at cellar. Took Pat. Mrs T said we would have to close for five weeks.
Saturday 19 April 1958
Had row with Pat. Stayed in. Got a haircut.
Sunday 20 April 1958
Rang Pat up in afternoon. Stayed in and watched the snow.
Tuesday 22 April 1958
Played at cellar, took Pat. Cellar closing till 19 June.
Wednesday 23 April 1958
Mr Brown and Co came round to Mrs Thompson’s to say that the cellar must end.
What did I tell you? The 1958 version of a neighbourhood watch: Douglas Brown lived next door at No. 23 and the neighbours objected to Coke bottles being thrown into their gardens. The Morgue had only lasted six weeks but it changed music history. On one of the evenings, 15-year-old George Harrison auditioned for the Quarrymen by playing ‘Raunchy’.
Wednesday 30 April 1958
Had row with Pat. Called in at Swan and left card.
This is an intriguing entry for what it leaves out. The Ravin’ Texans has recorded a session for ‘Amateur Skiffle Club’ on Radio Luxembourg, which was broadcast on 30 April.
Saturday 3 May 1958
Went on Riverboat Shuffle with Pat. Wrote after two jobs.
It was snowing less than a fortnight ago but here are Cy Laurie and the Merseysippis jazzing it up on the Mersey plus a ‘Miss Cavern’ competition.
Tuesday 6 May 1958
Went to Pete’s to see his guitar. Bob Thomas also brought his new one around. Had session in hut.
Sunday 11 May 1958
Went to see Dickie Bishop at Cavern.
Wednesday 14 May 1958
Went to auction. Alan got case and guitar.
Friday 16 May 1958
Decided to go to Butlin’s, 7 to 14 June.
Saturday 17 May 1958
Went with Pat to get drainies. Took Pat to university.
Johnny Guitar was incredibly thin and so those drainpipe trousers would rival John Cooper Clarke’s. They had been practicing for this gig at the university, almost certainly for their jazz club.
Wednesday 21 May 1958
Try to get washboard. Spud Ward played bass.
Surely any chandler would suffice.
Friday 23 May 1958.
Cavern. Played good. Had row with Rikki. Paid us £2.10s.
Ray Ennis of the Bluegenes: “We had been to the Cavern before we played there and we had watched the jazz bands. We knew Rikki Ashen, who was employed by Alan Sytner as the day-to-day manager. When the bands took a break, nothing much happened and Bruce McCaskill said that as we were a skiffle group, we could keep everything going. After a few weeks of humming and hawing, Rikki gave us a try. We would fill in for nearly all the jazz bands, just doing half an hour here and there.”
Friday 6 June 1958
Pack gear. Alan and I to take Crosville bus departing at midnight.
Not the midnight train to Georgia but the midnight bus to Pwllheli.
Sunday 8 June 1958
Went to theatre for auditions. Got big hand.
So that’s why they’re there…
Monday 9 June 1958
Found bass and washboard player. Took two girls to chalet in evening.
..and that’s another reason.
Tuesday 10 June 1958
Went horse riding. Saddle sore. Went to bar where Clinton Ford was on. Al and me did two songs.
From one of my interviews with Johnny Guitar: “We set off with the intention of entering The People’s National Talent Competition in Pwllheli. We took a washboard and a teachest with us and we had guitars and Texan shirts. We entered the competition and we found a guy from Manchester who learnt to play the one-string bass and someone else who played washboard. We did ‘Rock Island Line’ and ‘John Henry’.”
Thursday 12 June 1958
‘The People’ finals. Got through and win free holiday and £3. Played at Continental with Clinton Ford.
The Continental Lounge is part of Butlin’s set-up but nevertheless they are playing a theatre on a show hosted by a popular entertainer – and they win.
Friday 13 June 1958
Last day. Had a good laugh in evening, pulled beds onto lawns.
Sunday 29 June 1958
Watched World Cup on tele.
The final, screened lived from Stockholm: Brazil beat Sweden 5-2
Thursday 10 July 1958
Mother’s birthday. Gave her money. Pat sent card.
I love the starkness of this. A rare reference to his mother in 1958!
Thursday 17 July 1958
Liverpool Show. Los Toros and the Merseysippi also played. We didn’t play too bad.
Tuesday 22 July 1958
Practice for Cavern with Alan and Tony. New guitarist didn’t arrive.
Thursday 24 July 1958
Mr Davies got fired. Firm may pack up. Went to Employment Exchange.
What’s going on here?
Friday 25 July 1958
Cavern. Played good. Rikki cancelled dates. Spud thrown out. Went back to Pat’s and to Employment Exchange again.
A lunchtime session spelt trouble for the Texans Skiffle Group. Annoyed by the cancellations, Alan Caldwell sacked bass player, Spud Ward. Maybe this spurred Johnny Guitar to think about his own future as he went to the Employment Exchange.
Sunday 27 July 1958
Watched Alan running. Pat finished pullover.
Thursday 31 July 1958
Bought Pat bath salts for making pullover.
Sunday 3 August 1958
Pat and I went to Highfield Tenants Club. Pat sang, quite good. Bob had fight with Paul.
Tuesday 5 August 1958
Mr Judge on holiday. Enid and I have to do the work. Went to Pat’s in evening. Had row.
Looks like the firm had kept going.
Thursday 14 August 1958
Practised at Alan’s. Spud can’t play tomorrow night.
So Spud is back.
Friday 15 August 1958
Played at Winter Gardens, Garston. Through to finals. Took Pat.
The Winter Gardens, Heald Street, Garston encouraged rock’n’roll, although some of the nights were blood baths. In September 1958 Jimmy Tarbuck won Charlie Mack’s talent contest as a “rock’n’roll comedian”. When Ronnie Wycherley returned for a short break after being renamed Billy Fury, he entered a contest in November 1958 under his original name, sang ‘Maybe Tomorrow’, and won.
Sunday 17 August 1958
Went to Harrison Drive to play golf with Al.
How alternative can a rock’n’roller get? One of several incongruous references to playing golf. It’s about as likely as Johnny Ramone being a Republican: oh wait, Johnny Ramone was a Republican.
Tuesday 26 August 1958
Went with Pat to see John Downes about opening club.
Thursday 28 August 1958
Went to Regent to see ‘6.5 Special’. No good.
The film of the TV show; abysmal plot and dire performances but it has its merits, notably Lonnie Donegan.
Saturday 6 September 1958
Butlin’s. Lousy train journey. Spud and I picked two girls up.
Friday 12 September 1958
Went with Christine at night. She was crying so I promised to write to her. She gave me her bracelet.
Saturday 13 September 1958
Lousy journey back to Liverpool. Went to Pat’s in evening. Took presents.
Saturday 4 October 1958
Got measured for suit at Chetwyn’s. Cost 15 guineas. Al, Paul and I played at Jesse’s 21st. Had good time.
Thursday 9 October 1958
Paul and I went to see Lonnie Donegan at Empire. Quite good.
Saturday 11 October 1958
Took two girls to see Lonnie Donegan again.
Liverpool was one of Lonnie’s strongholds and he appeared regularly, filling out weeks of variety at the Empire.
Sunday 12 October 1958
Supposed to meet two girls but Paul and I never turned up.
Tuesday 14 October 1958
Got fired for telling caretaker’s wife to mind her own business.
Wednesday 15 October 1958
Pat and I went to see caretaker’s wife but she ran away.
Thursday 16 October 1958
Went to see about new job in town. No good, but might take it. Got haircut.
Monday 20 October 1958
Paul and I went to town to see ‘The Fly’, good. Then went to Mardi Gras coffee bar.
The Mardi Gras opened on 30 October 1958. Muddy Waters played there, but unlike Newcastle and London, this appearance didn’t inspire the local beat musicians – they weren’t there but why not?
Monday 27 October 1958
Went to Employment Exchange in town. Also to ArtSchool and Mardi Gras to try and get bookings. Saw Helen in evening.
Sunday 16 November 1958
Decided to look for new cellar.
Fantastic! See the enthusiasm. He and Al want their own rock’n’roll club, something less precarious than the Morgue.
Monday 17 November 1958
Went round Derby Green, here and Prescot Road but no luck. Went to estate agent in town but no luck.
Sign of desperation to seek out estate agent, methinks.
Tuesday 18 November 1958
Put postcard in various shop windows.
Friday 21 November 1958
Went to St Paul’s about cellar. Good chance we’ll get it.
Friday 28 November 1958
St Paul’s won’t let cellar.
Tuesday 2 December 1958
Al and I played at Clubmoor Hall. Not bad. Took girl home. Thick fog.
The Quarrymen played at Clubmoor Hall, Norris Green too.
Wednesday 3 December 1958
Date at Abbey with Norma to see ‘King Creole’. Okay.
The girl or the movie?
Thursday 4 December 1958
My birthday. Went to Martin’s. Took girl home. Collected Pat from Clubmoor.
Martin’s is Billy Martin’s Dancing Schoool at 27 Derby Lane, Liverpool 13. Martin had been on the Liverpool scene since the 1930s. Both Rory and Johnny had had regular dancing lessons and the school was open every evening until 11pm.
Saturday 6 December 1958
Went to town and bought suede shoes.
Friday 19 December 1958
Started at post office
Thursday 25 December 1958
Got a few drinks at work
Mail deliveries on Christmas Day – those were the days!
Friday 26 December 1958
Went to Margaret’s party. She was annoyed as I was with Sheila.
Wednesday 31 December 1958
Went to Martin’s. Good night. Took Barbara home.
Thursday 1 January 1959
Never phoned Barbara.