This feature appeared in the US magazine Goldmine, 11 November 2005. There could be many other examples – just sing “Stewball” to the tune of “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)”. Send any comments to Spencer Leigh.
When I met the maverick record producer Kim Fowley for Goldmine 618 (April 2, 2004), I thought that one of his passing remarks about meeting John Lennon at the Toronto Rock’n’Roll Festival in 1969 was highly significant. Fowley told me, “I asked John Lennon what his secret was. He said, ‘The Beatles were based on one idea – to improve our record collection. We would take our favourite records and then we would make better versions of them. We stopped being a group when we stopped trying to improve on the records that we liked.’” That quote did not appear in the feature because I was writing about Fowley himself and also because it merited further investigation. It appeared to me that John Lennon had made an insightful, very revealing comment about his songwriting.
Around the same time as my interview, a 2CD set, John Lennon’s Jukebox was scheduled for release with an edition of the TV arts programme, The South Bank Show, devoted to it. The portable jukebox weighed 10 pounds and was apparently used on tour by Lennon around 1965. My immediate reaction was to call Tony Barrow, the Beatles’ press officer, and ask him if he was the muggins who carried it around. “I don’t remember it at all,” he said, “so I certainly didn’t transport it. Surely he had some singles in his bag and a record player in his hotel rooms. It doesn’t really make sense.” Making sense or not, there is a list of contents in John Lennon’s handwriting on the jukebox and they throw some light on his tastes: vintage rock’n’roll, soul music and early folk-rock.
Here are some Beatle songs that were directly influenced by earlier records.
When the Beatles were in Hamburg in 1961, John and George Harrison wrote an instrumental, “Cry For A Shadow”, and as the title implies, it was a homage to the Shadows – or was it? See if you can get your hands on John Barry Seven’s 1958 single, “Rodeo” and speed it up.
It was start as you mean to go on. Paul McCartney based “Like Dreamers Do” on one of his stage favourites, “Besame Mucho”.
The genesis of the Beatles’ first Parlophone single, “Love Me Do”, was probably the melody for the verses of “Don’t Be Cruel”, and the arrangement followed the voice and harmonica combination of Bruce Channel’s 1962 hit, “Hey! Baby”.
Lennon and McCartney constantly used Chuck Berry’s rhythms – Lennon’s “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” and McCartney’s “Get Back” being good examples. Lennon went a little too far with “Come Together’ and had to settle with Chuck Berry’s publisher. In July 1990, when asked about the bass line in “I Saw Her Standing There” by Guitar Player magazine, McCartney said, “I’m not going to tell you I wrote the bloody thing when Chuck Berry’s bass player did.” Lennon and McCartney’s candour in making such remarks is very refreshing.
Did the Beatles’ transform Elvis Presley’s “Oh yeah yeah” in “All Shook Up” into the “yeah yeah yeah” of “She Loves You”? Even if that wasn’t the inspiration, the high-pitched scream, the “whooo”, is lifted from the Isley Brothers’ version of “Shout” and “Twist And Shout”.
Spencer Leigh remembers VICTOR SPINETTI, who remembers the Beatles
Victor Spinetti, who died on 19 June 2012 at the age of 82, was a versatile character actor but he will be chiefly remembered for his supporting roles in the Beatles’ films, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). Like many Welshmen, he was a wonderful raconteur, both in one-man shows and on appearances at Beatle Conventions. His stories were all true but viewed from his perspective and embellished with frequent retelling.
There’s no doubt that Victor Spinetti loved the Beatles. “I fucking hate these songs that are full of hate – kill the fag, kill the Jew – and there is none of that in the Beatles’ music,” he told an audience at the Liverpool Convention in 2008, “It is an avalanche of poetry and melody and it is all about love. I once asked John what was his best lyric and he said, ‘That’s easy, Vic, ‘All You Need Is Love’.’ Bear that in mind, my darlings. If you love the Beatles, if you love their music, you have to live up to that. It is a great burden to carry but it is a joyous burden.”
Vittorio Spinetti was born in Wales on 2 September 1929 to a Welsh mother and an Italian father. His father owned a fish’n’chip shop but was interned in the Isle of Man during the Second World War. In the 1950s Spinetti became a leading actor in Joan Littlewood’s radical theatre company, which had a mainstream success with Oh What A Lovely War, both in the West End and on Broadway. “People ask me did I mind being in A Hard Day’s Night when the Beatles weren’t professional actors,” he once told me, “but it didn’t bother me at all. Sometimes Joan would say to someone, ‘You play Victor’s part tonight and he can play yours.’ Nothing bothered me after that.”
Another of Spinetti’s West End runs was in Expresso Bongo, later made into a film with Cliff Richard. “That was a musical about how pop stars were made, which was all fakery, and that’s how the business was back then. Then the Beatles came along with their Colgate Ring of Truth. It has come back to fakery now with those boy bands and TV talent shows.”
According to Spinetti, George Harrison told him that he would have to appear in their films because “my mum fancies you”. This may be an accurate quote but it is hard to see how Mrs Harrison knew about him. He had only played minor roles on TV and was more associated with the West End.
(1) THIS IS MERSEY BEAT (1963, two volumes, Oriole PS 40047/8) In July 1963 John Schroeder brought a mobile recording unit to Liverpool and, using the Rialto Ballroom, recorded one local band after another. The albums feature ten bands and are as close as you can get to the atmosphere in the Cavern and other local beat clubs. The bands include Earl Preston and the TTs, Sonny Webb and the Cascades, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the Merseybeats, the Nomads and the Del Renas. An EP, “Take Six” (Oriole EP 7080), was extracted from the albums. In 1982, Edsel released a 16-track compilation, mostly from these albums, and called “Let’s Stomp! Liverpool Beat 1963” (Edsel ED 103). It included a four-page fold-out history of the bands. The 28-track “This Is Mersey Beat” (1989, Edsel DED 270 (LP) and EDCD 270 (CD)) duplicates the original artwork but omits Mark Peters and the Silhouettes and adds Oriole singles from Faron’s Flamingos and Ian and the Zodiacs. As an example of the rough and ready nature of the recordings, listen to Derry Wilkie and the Seniors performing Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So”: Derry sings, “In the evening when the sun comes up.” What was this man on?
(2) LIVE AT THE CAVERN (1964, Decca LK 4597) Only four Liverpool bands were featured on this LP – the Big Three, Lee Curtis and the All Stars, the Dennisons and Beryl Marsden. The other acts were Dave Berry, Bern Elliott, the Fortunes, Heinz and the Marauders. The CD reissue (See For Miles SEECD 385) is especially good as it adds the great EP, “The Big Three At The Cavern”. Worth hearing for compere Bob Wooler alone – he describes the Big Three as “the boys with the Benzedrine beat”, which is pretty daring for 1964. The best live album from the club, “Alexis Korner At The Cavern” (Oriole PS 40054), has never been reissued, yet it is far better than the acclaimed “R&B At The Marquee”. Quite possibly, the tapes no longer exist: the original tapes of Oriole’s “This Is Mersey Beat” were wiped clean and re-used, so the reissues have been taken from vinyl records.
(3) MERSEY BEAT, 1962-1964 (1974, United Artists USD 305/6) Andrew Lauder compiled this groundbreaking double-album for United Artists. It was a comprehensive selection of Merseybeat material given that EMI tracks (Beatles, Gerry, Cilla, Billy) and the Searchers’ hits were not available. The 34-track album only contains one Top 10 record (the Mojo’s “Everything’s Alright”) but it’s a well-chosen compilation with standout tracks from Kingsize Taylor (“Stupidity”), the Big Three (“Some Other Guy”), Beryl Marsden (“I Know”) and the Undertakers (“Mashed Potatoes”). If you see this on offer, make sure it also contains Bill Harry’s special edition of “Mersey Beat”. The caramel-coloured outer sleeve is ideal for autographs so if you happen to be at a Merseybeat function, take one with you. I should know as I’ve over 100 signatures on mine. Several Liverpool bands are also featured on the companion double-album, “The Beat Merchants” (1976, United Artists UDM 101/2).
(4) MERSEY SURVIVORS (1978, Raw RWLP 104) Some Merseybeat compilations feature spoken introductions from Bob Wooler or Bill Harry, and I love Bob Wooler’s introduction here. He refers to musicians being ripped off in the 60s, presumably thinking that Raw Records is about to do the same. The 15 tracks by seven acts include Merseybeat stalwarts Faron’s Flamingos, the Dimensions and Karl Terry and the Cruisers. The songs are 60s beat favourites – “I Can Tell”, “Some Other Guy”, “Hippy Hippy Shake”. This album was not marketed outside Merseyside and I hope the performers got their money.
(5) MERSEY SOUNDS (1980, Decca DPA 3081/2) Decca may have turned down the Beatles but they had a fine roster of Merseybeat performers including Pete Best, Lee Curtis, Beryl Marsden, the Big Three, the Dennisons and the Mojos. This 36-track double-album from Decca’s archives looks promising, but several tracks are by outsiders (Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, the Checkmates) and you wonder who put it together. Certainly not sleeve writer Bill Harry who distances himself from the intruders. The album includes some previously unissued material by Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes (“I’m Late”, “I’ve Been Watching You”). Also included are some tracks produced by Joe Meek for the Cryin’ Shames and Freddie Starr and the Midnighters. Freddie Starr’s “Who Told You” is the worst-ever Merseybeat record and Freddie would agree: “I sound like a choirboy being sick,” he says.
One of the reasons I love the Beatles story is that it is filled with great, larger than life characters, one of the greatest being Paddy Delaney, the doorman at the Cavern. He counted them in and he counted them out, as it were. He knew everyone – and everyone knew him: indeed, every 60s band member has an amusing story about him. He was the perfect doorman and unlike today’s variety, avoided violence as much as possible.
Patrick Delaney was born in Liverpool on 5 October 1931 and was married with four daughters and two sons. He was a regular at Beatle Conventions and he told me on several occasions that he wanted to publish his memoirs. After his wife died, I didn’t see him and thought he had moved from the area. However, he was still living in the Liverpool suburb of Netherley and he was brought into BBC Radio Merseyside in October 2007 with his neighbour, the country music songwriter Danny Guy. I recorded a long interview with him, about half of which was broadcast. This is the full text of that interview. The Cavern’s management effectively centred on three men: Ray McFall, the owner who replaced Alan Sytner in 1959, Bob Wooler, the disc jockey who booked the bands, and Paddy Delaney on the door.
Following an accident at home where he fell onto a gas fire, Paddy Delaney died in Whiston Hospital on Saturday 7 February 2009. The best memorial to him is in Mathew Street: the Cavern’s original entrance is marked with a lifesize photograph of Paddy standing in the doorway.
SPENCER LEIGH: Was the first time you saw the Beatles when they first played the Cavern early in 1961.
PADDY DELANEY: I saw George Harrison coming down Mathew Street with long hair. He came into the doorway and he said he was with the Beatles. I thought, ‘Oh god, are they all like them?’ Then John and Paul came along, they wore leather jackets and jeans and their hair was no better. I let them in. About 15 minutes later, a taxi pulled up and out got Pete Best, but you couldn’t see for drums and speakers and wires. They had chipboard for the speakers and one was partly painted midnight blue and the rest were bare. They left him to cart the stuff down and Nell, the road manager, came in a car shortly afterwards. They bought the van that day and it had a wobbly wheel – they must have bought it very cheaply – and Pete was up and down the steps with the equipment.
After the show, I was having a drink in the Grapes and they came in, all four of them – they didn’t have Stu with them and I never met him. They had two girls with them and then Paul McCartney was counting his coppers. Mrs Hobson said, ‘Well, gentlemen, have you made up your minds yet? There were people at the bar wanting drinks.’ Paul asked for two pints of bitter and they were all taking sips out of them. Mrs Hobson said to me, ‘Who are they, Pat?’ I said, ‘They are the Beatles.’ She said, ‘Oooh, they certainly look it.’ I said to Paul, ‘I’ve been going in the Grapes for a year and I am very friendly with the management and you have undone all that in ten minutes.’ Mrs Hudson thought it was my fault. He said, ‘I’m sorry about that,’ and I said, ‘You will be next time, pal.’ I resolved to hate them and I deliberately went out of my way to find fault with their music.
It’s surprising but I soon noticed their progress and improvement. John Lennon told me that they were only doing it for fun and he couldn’t care less if they packed in tomorrow. This was at a lunchtime session when he came up for some fresh air between their sets. I said, ‘Get a manager, John.’ He said, ‘We’ve already had a manager and he left us stranded in the Hook of Holland.’ He added, ‘It’s over. I can always go back to art school.’
SPENCER LEIGH: And you’ll remember Brian Epstein coming to the Cavern for the first time.
PADDY DELANEY: Yes, a lunchtime session in November 1961. The usual crowd was in, and there was this chap at the back, getting up on his toes to see them and with a briefcase under his arm. When all the kids had gone, he was left there standing. I said, ‘Can I help you?’ and that was the start of it.
On another day Gerry and the Pacemakers were down there and I thought they were rehearsing but it was Brian Epstein with a tape recorder.
I went into the Cavern one afternoon to see Mrs Judge and have a cup of tea. Cilla was still there and she should have been back at work as it was 3pm. Mrs Judge said that she was waiting for Brian Epstein and I said, ‘Good ’cause she’s a great singer.’ She had a voice and he signed her up.
Brian Epstein knew about having some discipline and order on stage. Before Brian, Bob Wooler would introduce the Beatles and they would start talking rather than go on stage. Ray McFall would come into the band room and say, ‘Bob, either they start now or they go’. If they still hesitated, Ray would switch the light off on the stage. I remember them starting once with ‘Spanish Harlem’ after a long gap. In the end, they became exceedingly professional. Brian Epstein was a brilliant manager and yet the least likely person to manage them.
SPENCER LEIGH: You were older than the performers so did you enjoy the music?
PADDY DELANEY: Oh yes, in the end, and especially the Beatles and it was great to see four ordinary lads rise to that status. The reason that the Beatles came to the Cavern in the first place was because Trad Jazz was on the wane and people were going to the Mardi Gras instead of the Cavern. Bob Wooler suggested to Ray McFall that he got some groups, and Ray was a jazz fan. Bob said that some groups had regular followings of 40 or 50, fans, so you would be guaranteed to have them anyway. At the start of 1961, the Beatles had 60 people who would religiously follow them. They were ardent fans and that was a good start.
SPENCER LEIGH: How tough was it to be a bouncer at the Cavern?
PADDY DELANEY: Well, I never called myself a bouncer, but it was tough at first. I went down there as a favour to my brother-in-law, Chris Kelly, who was 18 and one of the jazz fans. He was on the desk with some other young boys. He said, ‘We’re getting these bouncers on Friday, but can you come on Wednesday?’ I had been working in the Locarno as floor manager and I had a mohair dinner suit with buttons and studs – you had to dress properly at the Mecca ballrooms. Chris told me to please myself as to what I wore. I dolled myself up and put on my silk scarf with a navy blue mac over it. I made my way downtown and I couldn’t find Mathew Street until it was pointed out to me. I was expecting a wide street and a club with soft lights and carpets. I walked down Mathew Street and saw this dark narrow doorway. I heard this sound from underground. A young student was in the doorway and I said, ‘Is this the Cavern?’ and he said, ‘Yes, we’ve been expecting you.’ He took me downstairs. They were swinging their arms and dancing and I decided to keep my mac on as I looked like the archbishop paying a visit without it. I went back upstairs. I had another evening suit that I’d had when I was at the Grafton and I wore that from then onwards. But to answer your questions, it was tough. In 1959, I saw bicycle chains and they often kept the stuff in their caps.
This is a longer version of the review which appeared in Record Collector November 2006
For 20 years, I have been watching the Beatles Convention grow in Liverpool over the August bank holiday weekend. 350,000 attended this year’s festivities which incorporated the full-blooded Mathew Street Festival with five open air stages including a large one at the Pier Head.
On Friday night I had to choose between The Bootleg Beatles at the Empire and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at the Pier Head. Having seen the Boots many times, I picked the Phil with its new conductor, Vasily Petrenko from St Petersburg. Never in his wildest dreams could he have predicted that his first gig would be accompanying Pete Wylie. Wylie commented, “I didn’t think there was a stage big enough for 75 musicians and my ego.” He sang Heart As Big As Liverpool with more light and shade than usual, and Garry Christian of the Christians excelled with Father. The concert ended with a fabulous Pictures At An Exhibition complete with fireworks, but why do the locals bring their dogs to open air concerts? The poor mutts can’t see anything and, of course, go berserk once the fireworks start.
Jennifer John and Thomas Lang sang You’ll Never Walk Alone with the Phil but it was too intricate for the crowd to join in. The following morning Gerry and the Pacemakers did the same song, but Gerry performs the ballad like a pub singalong. Gerry knows how to work an audience and they loved everything he did, which included The Way You Look Tonight and Ferry Cross The Mersey, sung with the ferries in view.
The Proclaimers were too serious for me – bit like inviting Gordon Brown to your party – although they performed Letter From America and Cap In Hand very well. Everybody was waiting for Craig and Charlie to thump out the beat for 500 Miles, and that certainly didn’t disappoint. I didn’t expect much from Doctor and the Medics but they had a well-paced and entertaining act inviting us to do the Time Warp again and shout out Hi Ho Silver Lining. Their Liverpool-born lead singer, Clive Jackson, said that they would sing a medley of their hits and just performed Spirit In The Sky with one of the group disguised as the Grim Reaper. With equal zaniness, I enjoyed Lyons and Tigers on the new music stage. With their lead vocalist Curtis Tigers, they aped around on I’m A Monkey and OAP Love (“Honey you don’t look your age, 76 and you look good in beige”).
During the day, there was the Beatles auction at Paul McCartney’s LIPA, which provides good entertainment even if you aren’t buying anything. A bookcase Paul made when he was 14 fetched £1,900 and the fact that it is still standing after 50 years shows he could have sung If I Were A Carpenter with conviction. Silence greeted the bidding for a signed photograph of Heather Mills McCartney, but when the bids started, it fetched £13. George Harrison’s memorabilia is now on a par with McCarney’s if not Lennon’s, but Ringo’s is trailing behind.
Early American teen idols and the Beatles
This is the final chapter from “Baby, That Is Rock And Roll – American Pop, 1954-1963” (Finbarr International, 2001), which can be ordered through the Books page. I’ve reprinted the chapter as it is. I don’t know anyone else who does it, but I like the idea of numbering the direct quotes and then writing about the speakers at the back of the book, but I realise that the chapter might be a little confusing out of context. In other words, buy the book! (Spencer Leigh)
Rock’n’roll is American music and in the early 60s, the UK acts could only make an impression in the home market. Cover versions of US hits often did better than the American originals because the Billy Furys and Marty Wildes were available for TV performances and very little footage of the Americans was screened here. Indeed, as the TV companies never showed Ricky Nelson’s family series, and as he never appeared in a rock’n’roll film and didn’t visit the UK, I never saw Ricky Nelson sing any of his hits until the 1970s.
The UK acts made very little impression in America. Even when singing original songs, Cliff Richard only made the US Top 40 once, while the Shadows lost out to the Danish Jorgen Ingmann on “Apache”. The Tornadoes had a freak US No.l with “Telstar”, although, admittedly, it was a fine record. Ridiculously, the Tornadoes didn’t tour the US because they were backing Billy Fury and his manager, Larry Parnes, refused to allow the Tornadoes to go to America without him. It could have been more embarrassing for Billy if they had gone together. There was no logic to the occasional British record that made the US charts – Frankie Vaughan’s “Judy” or Cyril Stapleton’s “Nick Nack Paddy Wack”.
Geographically, the US dwarfs the UK and it contains four times as many people, four times as many record-buyers. However, with a population of 50 million English-speaking people, it was only a matter of time before a major international act would emerge from the UK. The way it happened could never have been predicted. Marvin Rainwater (738): “I was headlining a show in Liverpool and I found out later that the Beatles were on the same bill. It sure shocked me. I was stupid for not bringing them into my dressing-room and talking to them.”
On the strength of “Hey! Baby”, Bruce Channel (739) did club dates in the UK with his harmonica player, Delbert McClinton. They played the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton on 21 June 1962 with the Beatles in support. “I remember getting off the plane and my luggage was lost so I wore what I had on the plane that night in Maidstone. The tour is a blur after that, but I remember playing a big hall in Liverpool that reminded me of a castle. There were lots of kids there, a whole sea of people, and I said to Delbert, ‘They can’t all have come to see us’, and we soon found out that the Beatles were very popular there. Delbert was in the dressing-room with John Lennon who was very interested in his harp. Delbert played something for him and evidently John kept the idea and used it for the sound on ‘Love Me Do’. We had heard the harmonica on blues records by Jimmy Reed and people like that, and that influenced ‘Hey! Baby’. It’s a great thrill to know that our record influenced the Beatles, that our music was appreciated by someone of that stature.”
“Love Me Do” made the UK Top 20 at the end of 1962, and the following year belonged to the Beatles as they topped the charts with “Please Please Me”, “From Me To You”, “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. The Beatles didn’t make an impact in America until 1964 and so the visiting American stars coming to the UK in 1963 were witnessing a phenomenon that they knew nothing about.
Bobby Vee (740): “I was on tour with my producer Snuff Garrett in the North-West when someone played me ‘Love Me Do’. We loved it and thought it sounded like a Crickets’ record. Snuffy got very excited and wanted to buy the rights for America, but EMI wanted $25,000 for the rights which at the time was too much money. It seemed outrageous – RCA only paid $35,000 for Elvis and this was a new group. We could tell that they were going to be popular and I started to learn their tunes. I also wrote six or seven tunes such as ‘She’s Sorry’ in that fashion. It was done with the kindest of intentions, a proclamation that there was this new sound in England. It never entered my mind that I was ripping them off, although it may look like that now.”
Troy Shondell (741): “I had my own group and I wanted them to be named on the label. When I asked Liberty, they said, ‘No, groups don’t sell, we want you to remain a single artist. Don’t you worry about anything, son, we’ll take care of you.’ Famous last words.”
Brian Hyland (742): “I played in Liverpool when the Beatles had ‘Please Please Me’ out and I thought it sounded great. It was clear from listening to it that they sang and played their own instruments and were involved with the whole process of making the record. This contrasted with a lot of American performers who made records with session guys they didn’t know. I did an American tour with Bobby Vee in 1963 and I remember us sitting in the dressing-room on the opening night singing ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’ together. The others on the tour were amazed. They’d never heard the songs before and they thought they were great.”
The Beatles’ first national tour was with Helen Shapiro and Danny Williams in February 1963. The following month they did two weeks with Tommy Roe and Chris Montez. Chris Montez (743): “I was touring England with Tommy Roe and an unknown group called the Beatles. They were booked to get the show going and they had such energy and power. They played me their album, ‘Please Please Me’, before it was released and I was knocked out. I couldn’t stop singing ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. It was such a great song. I was top of the charts and topping the bill, but when we got to Liverpool, I said, ‘This is your town, you close the show, I’m not the headliner here.’ They were amazed that I should say that.”
Tommy Roe (744): “I am very proud to be a part of the history of the Beatles and my memories of our tour are all great. They were getting hot in England and it was tough following them. In fact, we turned the whole thing around and they ended up closing the show. I was so impressed that I started doing their songs and tried to get them a record deal in the States. My record company turned them down and I think now that they should have seen them. Their records weren’t too impressive in the beginning – they were doing 50s music – and you really had to see the image alongside the music. Once the Beatles started getting publicity in America, it was bound to happen. I was so influenced by what I heard in this country that I wrote ‘Everybody’ on the way home. I tried to get that same sound. We recorded in Muscle Shoals and it was a big record.”
Chris Montez (745) changed the Ritchie Valens song, ‘In A Turkish Town’ to ‘In An English Town’. “Yes, I had such a wonderful time when I came over here that I thought I would sing about an English town and an English girl. I had a coat with a round collar and a belt that was made in England but bought in America. People wanted to buy the jacket from me, which used to amaze me. The Beatles took me to their tailor and he made a couple of suits for me. On the last day of the tour, they said, ‘We hope you don’t mind, but we’re having jackets made like yours.’ No problem, I was impressed.”
Pat Boone (746): “I was gathering songs from all around the world that I might record and I brought an English song home – (Sings) ‘If there’s anything that you want, If there’s anything I can do.’ I tried my best to get Randy Wood to let me record the song, but he said, ‘No, that’ll never be a hit’.”
Del Shannon (747) did record “From Me To You”, thus becoming the first person to take a Lennon and McCartney song into the US Top 100. Del was with the Beatles as part of “Swinging Sound 63” at the Royal Albert Hall in April. “‘From Me To You’ was a big hit here and I told John Lennon that I was going to do it. He said, ‘That’ll be all right’, but then, just as he was going on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, he turned to me and said, ‘Don’t do that.’ Brian Epstein had told him that he didn’t want any Americans covering their songs. The Beatles were going to invade America by themselves.” (I thought that Del’s 1965 hit, ‘Keep Searchin’’ owed something to the Mersey sound, but he disagreed: “That song is the same as ‘Runaway’ and that was before Merseybeat. I strum hard, double.”)
Three days later the Beatles were at the NME Pollwinners Concert at the Empire Pool, Wembley. John Stewart (748): “I was playing the London Palladium and the opening of the London Hilton with the Kingston Trio. We were big fans of the Springfields and we went to see them get an award at some big concert. The Most Promising New Band was the Beatles and they did ‘Twist And Shout’ and some of their own songs. Nick Reynolds and I both said, ‘That’s it. When this hits America, it’s over for us.’ Within a few months, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ had come out, they had done the Ed Sullivan show and we never had another Top 40 record.”
In May, the Beatles were touring with Roy Orbison. Duane Eddy (749): “I was supposed to tour with the Beatles in 1963 but my manager messed that up somehow and Roy Orbison went instead. That was one of the greatest things that ever happened to Roy. It rejuvenated his whole career and he had several more hit records. He always said that he was very thankful to me for not going on that tour.”
Roy Orbison (750) had no sooner arrived than he was confronted by Brian Epstein and John Lennon. “Brian said, ‘Who should close the show?’, and John said, ‘You’re getting all the money, so why don’t we close it?’ I don’t know whether that was true or not, whether I was getting that much more than they were. I certainly wasn’t getting that much – and the tour had sold out in one afternoon.”
This feature from Record Collector in July 1997 has been overtaken by events and it prompted Liverpool’s Viper Records to release three volumes of Unearthed Merseybeat. They are all excellent, both historically and in many cases, musically too. They contain full notes about the tracks too – commercial over!
When Mark Lewisohn published his definitive book on the Beatles’ recording sessions in 1988, I was green with envy. Here was someone writing at length about tracks we would never hear. He wrote so well that I was itching to hear them. Then the Beatles changed their minds, perhaps, if I am cynical, because not even Paul McCartney could generate much interest for his new releases. The three double-CD sets which comprise the Beatle Anthologies have demonstrated the huge, worldwide market for previously unissued tracks and alternative takes from the 60s. Despite their denials, we are bound to see more anthologies in the future.
You only have to look at Record Collector’s index pages to see the vast coverage that has been given to the Beatles outtakes. Rather than repeat this material, I want to look at the material from other Merseybeat bands which was not released in the UK at the time. This to me is the dream Merseybeat Anthology set, Of The Caverns, and it shouldn’t be beyond some enterprising record company to put it together. Not only is this material known to exist, but I have a copy of everything listed and none of the tracks is in such poor condition as the Beatles’ home recordings in 1960 released on “Anthology 1”. Because Billy Fury came from Liverpool and recorded songs by Jimmy Campbell of the Kirkbys, I have included him on the CDs.
I’ve only included tracks that I have heard and among the other unreleased tracks are “I’ve Been Lovin’ You Too Long” (Clayton Squares), “One And One Is Two” (Billy J.Kramer), “Spoonful” (Mojos), “For What It’s Worth” (Searchers), “Ubangi Stomp” (Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, produced by Brian Epstein) and “I Still Love You” (Cilla Black, 1972 session produced by George Harrison). Johnny B. Great (Johnny Goodison) wrote a whole album for Billy J.Kramer that was never released, but Peter Skellern, who chanced upon the session, later wrote that it was the worst recording he’d ever heard! Quite apart from the famed Decca EP, there’s a tape of the Big Three at the Cavern but the balance is wrong as it sounds like a long drum solo from Johnny Hutch. OUT OF THE CAVERNS
(1) BUTTERFLY (Anthony September) – PAUL MURPHY AND JOHNNY GUITAR (1.24) It’s 22nd June 1957 at Percy Phillips’ recording studio in Kensington, Liverpool and the first known recording by any Merseybeat musician is being made by a key player, Johnny Guitar of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Paul Murphy had a pleasant voice and did make a few singles, but he was happier with artist management and record production.
(2) SHE’S GOT IT (Little Richard, John Marascalco) – PAUL MURPHY AND JOHNNY GUITAR (1.31) Just vocal and acoustic guitar but an energetic workout of the Little Richard B-side.
(3) GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (Jack Hammer, Otis Blackwell) – THE DOMINOES (1.58) The Dominoes had ten tracks recorded professionally at their pianist’s house in Crosby. Arthur Baker takes the vocal but it’s Sam Hardiee’s pumping piano you remember on this cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ No.l record.
(4) BABY (Charlie Flynn) – THE DOMINOES (3.00) The Dominoes had ten tracks recorded professionally at their pianist’s house in Crosby. “Baby” is an original song, although to be honest, the lyric is little more than “Baby, you’re the one for me”. It is influenced by the US doo-wop groups and still has a lot of charm. Charlie Flynn left the Dominoes for another Crosby group, Ian and the Zodiacs.
(5) I’M LEFT YOU’RE RIGHT SHE’S GONE (Stan Kesler, William Taylor) / HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY THAT I LOVE YOU (Scott Wiseman) / YODELLING SONG (Billy Fury) – BILLY FURY (3.28) Only he wasn’t Billy Fury then. Young Ronnie Wycherley wandered into Percy Phillips’ studio around the same time as the Quarrymen to make a demo that his mother could send to rock’n’roll impresario, Larry Parnes. To his own guitar accompaniment, Billy sang four Presley songs (the two above plus “Playin’ For Keeps” and “Paralyzed”) and “Come Go With Me”. Nobody had worked on young Ronnie and yet he sounds just like Billy Fury. The yodelling song at the end is amusing, a variation of “Indian Love Call”. He never sang like that again.
(6) GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY (John Marascalco) – KINGSIZE TAYLOR AND THE DOMINOES (1.58) Teddy Taylor was a teenage delivery boy for the butcher, but the voice is unmistakably the Kingsize Taylor of the Merseybeat years. Sam Hardie gives his parents’ piano a treatment that never could have been anticipated.
(7) ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN (Chuck Berry) – KINGSIZE TAYLOR AND THE DOMINOES (2.54) The best of the songs to be recorded at 18 Cambridge Road and putting the drummer at the top of the stairs was a master touch by engineer Bernard Whitty. Kingsize Taylor sounds so confident here: note the way he almost speaks some lines.
(8) SAD AND BLUE (Sam Hardie) – KINGSIZE TAYLOR AND THE DOMINOES (2.20) Sam Hardie’s matches Jerry Lee’s glissandos on this cheerful song about someone contemplating suicide. Good vocal from Kingsize, but that goes without saying.
(9) YES SIR THAT’S MY BABY (Donaldson) – THE SWINGING BLUE JEANS (2.30) The Blue Genes came up in the trad boom but unlike the Merseysippi and Blue Magnolia jazz bands, they switched to rock’n’roll. In 1961, whilst still a jazz band, they went to Oriole for a recording test with John Schroeder. It’s a lively energetic performance featuring banjo and an amplified guitar solo. I fail to see why they didn’t get a contract.
(10) I’M SHY, MARY ELLEN, I’M SHY (unknown) – THE SWINGING BLUE JEANS (2.35) The other side of the Blue Jeans’ recording test, this time with a lead vocal from Ralph Ellis. Their sound was such a ragbag of influences that it was both unique and highly enjoyable.
(11) PLEASE LOVE ME (Hal Carter) – BILLY FURY (2.05) In 1961 Billy’s road manager, Scouser Hal Carter, wrote this song for him, very much in the vein of “Jealousy”. Because Hal fell out with his employer, Larry Parnes, it was never released. “It was a bit bitchy,” says Hal, “but that’s the way he was.”
(12) THE STRANGER (Norrie Paramor) – THE REMO FOUR (2.25) The Remo Four, recorded at the Iron Door in 1961, with a Shadows’ hit. Don Andrew remembers, “It was a rehearsal on recorded on a little Grundig tape recorder and we did four tracks. My favourite is ‘The Stranger’. Colin Manley used to play every note that Hank Marvin played, the way he played it, and if Hank Marvin made a mistake, Colin used to copy that. We used to repeat the mistakes night after night, even if they weren’t meant to be there.”
(13) TRAMBONE (Chet Atkins) – THE REMO FOUR (1.33) Wonderful country guitar picking from Colin Manley.
(14) BONAPARTE’S RETREAT (Traditional) – THE SWINGING BLUE JEANS (1.52) Recorded in the ladies’ cloakroom at the Mardi Gras, the Swinging Blue Jeans merge country and jazz for this cover of a US hit by Billy Grammer.
(15) THE ISLE OF CAPRI (unknown) – THE SWINGING BLUE JEANS (2.55) Ralph Ellis takes the lead vocal on a jazz arrangement, which, oddly enough, sounds like “It’s Not Unusual”.
(16) BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO (Jimmy Reed) – DENNY SEYTON AND THE SABRES (2.35) They were only young lads mucking about, so that’s why they tried to turn Jimmy Reed’s R&B classic into a comedy song. If you could get rid of the comic turn from the second vocalist, this wouldn’t be too bad.
(17) KAREN (Bob Pryde) – DENNY SEYTON AND THE SABRES (1.43) This teenage ballad was written by local songwriter, Bob Pryde, and it was recorded by Mark and John for Decca in 1964.
(18) DIZZY CHIMES (Les Braid) – THE SWINGING BLUE JEANS (2.00) Bass player Les Braid wrote this catchy instrumental for the Blue Jeans. They did record it for Joe Meek, but that version is probably in the famed tea-chest tapes. This version was recorded in the Mardi Gras around 1961.
(19) SEND ME SOME LOVIN’ (Little RIchard) – THE SWINGING BLUE JEANS (2.55) There is a full tape of the Swinging Blue Jeans on stage at the Cavern early in 1963. It is not their standard act as Ray Ennis can’t sing due to a sore throat. They were still a jazz band but there are rock’n’roll overtones including the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run” and an impassioned vocal from Ralph Ellis on “Send Me Some Lovin'”, which has some tough rock’n’roll guitar alongside a jazz banjo.
(20) TUTTI FRUTTI (Little Richard, Dorothy LaBostrie, Lubin) – THE DENNISONS (2.25) The Dennisons made a rehearsal tape in 1962. The drummer is Clive Hornby, who has been playing Jack Sugden in “Emmerdale” for the last 20 years.
(21) A PICTURE OF YOU (Peter Oakman, Johnny Beveridge) – THE DENNISONS (2.00) A cover of Joe Brown’s summer hit, also performed on stage by the Beatles.
(22) SO HOW COME (Boudleaux and Felice Bryant) – THE MERSEYBEATS (2.19) Considering this is just a home recording from December 1962 of a young, new inexperienced group, “So How Come” sounds surprisingly good. Unfortunately, some idiot had recorded over part of the take, but luckily there are couple of false starts and so a completed version can easily be put together. Clearly, the Merseybeats were influenced by “A Date With The Everly Brothers” (released October 1960) as that is their main source of material.
(1) LITTLE LATIN LUPE LU (Bill Medley) – DENNY SEYTON AND THE SABRES (2.32) Denny Seyton and the Sabres recorded in 1963 at, would you believe, Percy Phillips’.
(2) HELLO LITTLE GIRL (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) – GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS (1.40) Unlike many NEMS acts, Gerry and the Pacemakers were not given an original Lennon-McCartney song to record – or were they? Gerry and the Pacemakers’ version of “Hello Little Girl” emerged in 1992 on the UK release, “The Best Of The EMI Years”, although it sounds as routine as the Beatles’ version of “How Do You Do It”. Possibly they cut it as a demo for the Fourmost who were in Germany at the time, but Brian O’Hara of the Fourmost has a tape of John Lennon performing the song for him. At the start of the tape, John says that he is recording it in the toilet as it is only quiet place available.
(3) MISERY (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) – THE MERSEYBEATS (1.35) The television programme, “ABC At Large”, decided to have a battle of the bands, Liverpool v Manchester, with the Merseybeats and Deke Rivers. The Merseybeats did a song from the Beatles’ album and a recording exists.
(4) I’M IN LOVE (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) – BILLY J.KRAMER WITH THE DAKOTAS (2.25) The presence of John and Paul in the control may have put Billy off, but he had great difficulty in getting this Lennon-McCartney song down. The song was passed over to the Fourmost, but Take 32 is pretty good. Released in 1991 on the US collection, “The Best Of Billy J.Kramer And The Dakotas”.
This is a chapter from Twist And Shout – Merseybeat, The Cavern, The Star-Club and the Beatles (Nirvana Books, 2004), which can be ordered through the Books page. I’ve reprinted the chapter as it is. I don’t know anyone else who does it, but I like the idea of numbering the direct quotes and then writing about the speakers at the back of the book, but I realise that the chapter might be a little confusing out of context. In other words, buy the book!
4. Germany Calling
I. St. Pauli – Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll
II. Schlager You Than Me
III. The Indra and the Kaiserkeller
IV. 27 December 1960
“We forgave the Germans and then we were friends.”
(Bob Dylan, ‘With God On Our Side’, 1964)
I. St. Pauli – Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll
“I had expected Hamburg to be grimmer – a sort of German Liverpool,” writes Bill Bryson in his travel book, Neither Here Nor There (1991), but he is pleasantly surprised. I expected Hamburg to be a German Liverpool too when I went in 2001, but that would be a compliment in my eyes. I expected this because the Liverpool groups had fitted so snugly into the city, and many musicians spent several years there.
Situated on the Elbe River in northern Germany, Hamburg is Germany’s second city and largest port, now a container port but still with an enormous volume of trade. The director of the Museum of Hamburg History, Dr Ortwin Pelc (146) told me, “The people in Hamburg feel separate from Germany and also from Saxony or Bavaria. They won’t say, ‘We are German, we are Bavarians.’ The Hamburgers say, ‘We are from Hamburg.’ That is not just in the twentieth century. It has been that way for hundreds of years.” Sounds familiar? Already you sense the pride that links the people of Hamburg and Liverpool.
There is a tendency for Scousers to claim that Liverpool people invented everything and in my short time in Hamburg, I noticed a similar tendency. Several people told me that the word ‘hamburger’ came from Hamburg, though why anyone should want to claim that beats me. It appears that the Americans saw the German immigrants frying steaks and discovered they were very tasty: hence, hamburgers were born. I’m not convinced. Frying meat involves no great thought and surely several communities were doing it at the same time. Maybe ‘big fries’ comes from the Grosse Freiheit.
Dr Ortwin Pelc (147) senses that Hamburgers are not like other Germans: “Maybe it is a different humour but there are a lot of parallels between England and northern Germany We have some people working here from Vienna and Austria: they don’t understand our humour and we say, ‘Well, there is a kind of English humour here.’ We have very close connections to London. We have a ferry from here to Harwich. We have an English theatre here and we have British clubs here.”
Hamburg espouses freedom, and all manner of behaviour is tolerated in its St. Pauli area. There are elegant department stores and beautiful town houses elsewhere, but St. Pauli is a working-class district down by the docks. The thoroughfare is Die Reeperbahn, which means ‘Rope-making Street’ and provides another link to the ships, and the Star-Club was in Die Grosse Freiheit, which means The Great Freedom. Some centuries ago, the Reeperbahn was divided from the rest of the city by a wall, and the prostitutes, gypsies and beggars would live there. On the whole, St. Pauli is a cosmopolitan area, created for the needs of sailors (and we all know what sailors want), and hence, there is nothing especially German about it.
Photographer Günter Zint (148): “The Grosse Freiheit goes back 400 years. Hamburg was Protestant and there you could be of any religious persuasion. You could attend a Catholic church, and we had six churches in St. Pauli in the seventeenth century. If you had a profession and you were not in a union, you could go to Grosse Freiheit and work as a shoemaker, for example. It was just outside Hamburg, so everything that was new or funny or anti-establishment was there.”
R&B musician, Henry Heggen (149): “The Reeperbahn is where they let it all hang out. They made the ropes for the ships and then they established the dives, so it became the place to get drunk and be with a woman. The equivalent would be Las Vegas where prostitution is legal, but it doesn’t have the tradition the Reeperbahn has. It is 100 yards to the harbour so over the centuries sailors have been going there for a good time.”
Dr Ortwin Pelc (150): “The history of the Reeperbahn has so much to do with sex because it is the second biggest harbour in Europe. When the sailors came here in the Fifties and Sixties, they stayed in St. Pauli with the music, the sex shops and the sex shows. The authorities in Hamburg would like St. Pauli to have a better image and you have got a theatre which is staging Cats at the moment. If you are in St. Pauli at night, you will meet people that you would prefer not to meet. The harbour isn’t so important for the sailors. The ships are only here for two or three hours and the sailors do not have time to go to the Reeperbahn. The clubs are more for tourists and the people in northern Germany. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a lot of people came from East Germany to look at the Reeperbahn.”
Oh yes, there is culture in St. Pauli. When I was walking round the Reeperbahn, I came across a museum – a museum devoted to erotica. The entrance looked supremely unerotic. What, I wondered, was in it? Inflatable dolls from the 30s, sex aids from the 19th century? If you didn’t get a hard-on, could you ask for your money back?
It was seven at night and 10 girls propositioned me within a hour – if I had said yes to them all, I would have been worn out. A blonde with pigtails put my hand on her breasts to assure me that they were real. I didn’t doubt it but I wondered about the rest of her as she wore a red miniskirt and fishnet stockings, which appears de rigueur for a Hamburg prossie, or indeed anywhere else for that matter. Still, I liked the idea of a free sample from a good-looking girl, but who would want to shag someone who had already been shagged six times that day? Not to mention the possibility of theft or Aids: the best time to steal your wallet must be when your trousers are round your ankles. Most of the prostitutes were good-looking: you’d have to be to compete for the business, I suppose, but a couple did look as though they had been around at the time of the Beatles. Perhaps I should have asked for an interview.
There appear to be no regulations regarding what sex shops can show in their windows and all manners of dildos and condoms are on open display. One shop’s centrepiece was a gigantic, erect penis. Who on earth buys the inflatable dolls, especially the ones with three orifices: would the purchaser ever admit it and wouldn’t you feel like Benny Hill as you cuddled it? I found the answer at the Tate Gallery at the Albert Dock in 2004. One artist had two sex dolls on display and I asked if he had made them himself or had simply purchased them. He bought them at a German airport, I was told, and it is an example of Found Art. I think I will become a Found Artist.
I should add that these dolls can have other uses. When Phil Spector was married to Ronnie from the Ronettes, he was concerned about her driving alone around Los Angeles, so he installed an inflatable doll in the front seat. This is taken as a sign of his madness but it might indicate his consideration. Of course, it would be far better to have darkened windows or to tell her to lock the doors, but there you are. Surely an inflatable doll in the front seat would only dissuade short-sighted muggers.
I walked past the sex shows, scores of them, some of them offering nude photographs of artists who would definitely not be appearing there – Demi Moore and Madonna, for example – but at least you might be intrigued as to what was inside. Others had such unappetizing pictures out front that you would have to be desperate to go in and even then, you might prefer to take a chance on Demi Moore. When the Liverpool groups appeared in St. Pauli, did they put photographs of Elvis Presley outside the clubs?
In Liverpool, such posters would have been riddled with comments, but there is surprisingly little graffiti in St. Pauli. I didn’t feel intimidated when I was walking around. I didn’t come across any beggars, nor anyone selling the German equivalent of The Big Issue. Walking round St. Pauli at night is less menacing than walking in the centre of Liverpool. You do have to be wary of cyclists in Hamburg though: cycles are everywhere and very often they are being ridden on the pavements.
200 years ago sailors would come to Liverpool and find the prostitutes on Lime Street (Maggie May means Maggie will) and the aptly-named Paradise Street. They are still there, though the prostitutes have moved to Liverpool 8. As well as being accosted by prostitutes on the Reeperbahn, there is a whole street of them about 100 yards away in the Herbertstrasse. Walls have been built at each end of the street to hide it from public view. You walk through the entrance and there are terraced houses on either side.
Gerry Marsden (151): “John was at the Kaiserkeller while we were at the Top Ten. They would finish at 2am like us, and we would have a drink together. John was my best pal as you know, and he said, ‘Let’s go down the Herbertstrasse.’ This was a street of terraced houses: the windows were like shop windows and sitting behind the windows were young ladies who couldn’t afford many clothes. John said, ‘Let’s go in.’ I said, ‘No.’ So we knocked three times on one of the doors and this German geezer said, ‘Ya vol, vot?’ I said, ‘Can we come in please?’, and he said, ‘80 Deutschemarks’ which was a lot of money. John had about 20 and so did I, and I said, ‘Is 40 any good?’ He shouted at me, something to do with sex and travel, and we offed. John said, ‘Let’s go in next week’, and so next week, same house, knock, knock, knock, same big man. I said, ‘Here’s the money’, and he said, ‘Danke schoen.’ He said, ‘Back in a moment’, and he came back three minutes later with the biggest woman I have ever seen. She looked like a brick shithouse. I looked at John and he looked at me, and we jumped up and ran out of the door. I said, ‘What a waste of money, John: 80 Deutschemarks and we got nothing for it.’ He said, ‘I did. I got the shock of me bloody life.’ God bless him. We were kids and we enjoyed it.”
Lee Curtis (152): “You didn’t have to be anybody special to go there, and the Herbertstrasse was available to anybody over 18. It had gates on the end, a little maze that you could walk through, and, because the wall was ten foot high, you couldn’t look in from outside. Otherwise, it could be a cobbled street in England. They were little terraced houses, about 14 on either side, and sitting in the windows were almost any woman of any style or design that you could ever want – young girls, old girls, thin girls, fat girls, the schoolteacher, the secretary, the office type, in leather, in lace, in underwear, in suzzies and some of the most beautiful women in the world – in every window was a different type of woman. If you were interested you would tap on the window and they would open it. When you had done a deal, the window closed, the curtain was pulled across, the door opened and in you go. When you went in, you always had to buy champagne, the extras came first. There would be the waitress to serve the drinks. It was fascinating to go round the back. There was a passageway as the houses were all attached and the madams were looking after the needs of the girls.”
Ian Edwards (153) from Ian and the Zodiacs: “The girls of the night in the Herbertstrasse would see us if we walked down there and say ‘Ah, die Beatles.’ It didn’t matter who it was, if you had long hair, you were a Beatle. You couldn’t take a lady down there. I walked down there with my wife, to show her what it was like, and she was insulted something terrible. All it said outside was ‘No servicemen and no under 18s.’ There was nothing about ladies.”
“I have sat in those houses,” says Lee Curtis (154): What, I say, offering yourself for sale? “No, I have been backstage in those houses. The girls became great friends of the bands, they loved the musicians and they would come into the Star-Club in their free time. They would invite us for drinks. The girls around the Star-Club would spoil you bloody rotten. They bought you everything – meals, drinks – if you didn’t have it, you got it. If you didn’t have a woman, they gave you one. They tried to make you happy.” Very happy, it would seem.
In the middle of an all-purpose store, Aladdin’s Cave, I came across a gangster’s paradise selling guns, knives and handcuffs, opposite the kiddie’s videos as it happens. I hung round for a few minutes looking at postcards but hoping I might witness some exciting purchase: just how did thugs choose their knives, but nothing happened. Isn’t there a danger that a customer may say, “Yes, I’ll take this gun. Don’t bother to wrap it and, by the way, hand over your takings as well.” The store was very close to the police station – the very police station in which Paul McCartney and Pete Best were charged with burning down the Bambo Kini. I should think the policemen are kept busy.
Günter Zint (155): “My wife has grown up in St Pauli and it is more dangerous to walk in other parts of town at night because in St. Pauli, it is business and they do not want to scare away the customers. If somebody is talking shit to her, she says, ‘Okay, it costs 1,000 marks’ and he runs off. (Laughs) She feels safe here but the problem is the traffic. It is such a crowded place. We have 60,000 people living on four square kilometres. It is so expensive to live or work here. In the end, I was only making enough money to pay the rent and so we moved away. When we want to go to St. Pauli, we jump on the train and we are here in 15 minutes.”
Maybe the Hamburg authorities prefer the less salubrious night life being concentrated in one area. In 2002, legislation was passed that made prostitution a business like any other. Prostitutes pay taxes and are entitled to social benefits like any other worker. Presumably they can claim any surgical enhancements against tax. I was told that the unemployment rate was high in Hamburg, but I don’t know whether sex workers were included in the statistics. Music writer Bernd Matheja (156): “Today the Reeperbahn is just a place for tourists. There are more music clubs and restaurants than in the Sixties and not so many sex clubs. It is the only place in Germany that looks like that, even today. Neither Berlin nor Cologne has a red mile like the Reeperbahn. The authorities have raids from time to time, but they have never wanted to close it down because they make money out of it. Many people live in the smaller streets off the Reeperbahn, and school-children walk along there in the morning.”
II. Schlager You Than Me
In the mid-Thirties, bunkers were being added to the houses in Hamburg as if the authorities and the residents were expecting something to happen. Dr Ortwin Pelc (157): “The Nazis prepared for war from 1935 and that was exclusive to Hamburg. They had training for bombardments in the town because Hamburg is in northern Germany: it is not far from England and they expected some retaliation. They built battleships in Hamburg because of its big harbour. It should have been obvious to anyone that Germany was preparing for war.”
Sadly, it wasn’t obvious until it was too late. Hamburg was one of the last German cities to be convinced by Hitler’s rhetoric and it suffered badly in the bombing raids.
Intriguingly, there was a movement against Hitler, centred on music. Ulf Krüger (158), who is doing so much to promote the links between the Beatles and Hamburg: “Even in World War II, you had Die Swing Jugend, the Swing Youth, the young boys who loved swing music and mostly listened in private because it wasn’t allowed in public. Some of them were prepared to go the concentration camp for their love of it. Their idol was Glenn Miller.”
This seemed amazing. You could be put in a concentration mp for simply liking Glenn Miller. Could this possibly be true? TV presenter and music authority, Kuno Dreysse (159): “Don’t take this too far: it was simply that Glenn Miller was the music of the enemy. It was not allowed. Today you have the internet and you can’t stop any message getting through but in those days it was forbidden. You couldn’t sing German schlagers on the streets of Britain, so it’s the same thing.” One German bandleader, Hans Carstoe, took a chance as he took the American tune, ‘Joseph, Joseph, Won’t You Name The Day?’ and had a very successful record under a German title.
And everyone sang ‘Lili Marleen’. While I was in Hamburg, I bought a CD featuring 20 different versions of ‘Lili Marleen’ including Lale Anderson and Marlene Dietrich as expected, but also Eric Burdon and the New Vaudeville Band. Old-time music expert Clive Garner (160): “It was originally recorded in 1939 by Lale Andersen who was a Danish born artist. It didn’t become popular until 1941 when the Germans invaded Yugoslavia. Wherever the Germans went they set up a broadcasting station, specifically for broadcasting music to their troops. The radio station in Belgrade didn’t have a large stock of suitable songs. They got a lot of fairly recent, older records from a shop in Vienna, and en route to Belgrade, a lot of these 78rpm records were broken, thanks to the poor state of the roads. One of the ones which survived was ‘Lili Marleen’, and the station was forced to play it over and over again. It became popular with their troops. Our soldiers, also tuning in to music from the German stations, heard it and it became popular on both sides of the lines. One of the most popular versions was by Marlene Dietrich, but many Germans regarded her as a traitor because she had become an American citizen. Years later, a lot of Germans objected when she was used to publicise the German airline, Lufthansa.” In Berlin, I found a superb Film Museum with a special section devoted to her: nobody else was there. Nearby is Marlene-Dietrich-Platz.
Confused by all the books about the Beatles? Spencer Leigh has read them all.
Please Note – This feature has been added to the website on 7 December 2005. Any comments and opinions will be welcomed. Write to Spencer Leigh.
“A bad book is as much of a labour to write as a good one. It comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.”
(Aldous Huxley, 1928)
(Spencer Leigh, 2005)
In her 2005 biography of her former husband, Cynthia Lennon believes that John really loved her. Part of the evidence is that he wrote All My Loving for her. Only he didn’t. In separate interviews, both John and Paul have said that it was Paul’s song and, of course, it also sounds like a McCartney song. Was Cynthia deluded, a classic Freudian slip, or was it bad research by a ghost writer and even worse acceptance by Cynthia and her publishers? Is it none of the above and simply carelessness, a disregard for the reader, the Beatle fan?
That sounds an extreme example of inaccuracy but it is by no means alone. The literature about the Beatles increases in epidemic proportions: there are already 400 books with several more in the pipeline. How do we decide which are reliable and which tell us something new? In this feature and for the first time, we assess which books to read and which to ignore.
By and large, I am looking at first hand accounts – the autobiographies and authorised biographies – of those who were there. As we shall discover, being there does not necessarily mean accuracy, and there is self-deception and the cynical creation of anecdotes. Even if the facts are right, the author may be woefully wrong about human nature, and with personal scores to settle, the books can be battlegrounds as well as biographies. Most authors want to show themselves in the best light possible, and lionisation goes hand in hand with self-publication. All authors want to please their readers, which means leaving out the boring bits and providing an entertaining read.
All this has made me question the accuracy of the history I was taught at school. Unquestionably, the Beatles’s story is modern history and yet so much is being told wrongly. Many of the books can’t separate the trivial from the important and are ridden with errors: all too often authors pick up mistakes from other books and repeat them. A biographer may undertake commendable research but he can find himself identifying with his subject, which again distorts the view. In a curious exception, Albert Goldman came to hate his subject, John Lennon, which led to a totally biased biography. There is one major difference with the history I learnt at school. There the historical facts had come from the winners: this time the losers also get their say.
The Beatle books that tend to work best are the complete biographies and this is because the narrative drive is so strong. The film, Stoned, made me realise how much stronger the Beatles story is than the Rolling Stones’. With its many twists and turns, it is a fantastic soap opera. To quote the student in Alan Bennett’s play, The History Boys, “History is just one fucking thing after another”, and that is the Beatles’ story to a T.
In 1964 and at the height of Beatlemania, Brian Epstein wrote his autobiography, A Cellarful Of Noise, which was ghosted by the NEMS Organisation’s new personal assistant, Derek Taylor. A Cellarful Of Salt, more like. Taylor wasn’t around as it happened and as he had limited access to Epstein due to his commitments, he invented certain things for his approval including a girlfriend. Nothing earth-shatteringly wrong, but don’t rely on the book for accuracy. In the lightweight text, we learn little of Epstein’s motivations and nothing of his gambling or homosexuality. Nor could it be otherwise as homosexuality was illegal. The book was simply another device to sell the Beatles as lovable moptops. Even in 1964, the truth was somewhat different.
Derek Taylor made the best of a bad job and it is worth commenting on the role of ghost writers. Some of the books which are pilloried below are as much the fault of the ghost writer as the author. The general view is that ghost writers are seasoned hacks, able to extract the anecdotes from the subject, put them in order, sort out the inaccuracies and combine grammar with the glamour. Perhaps I am being sceptical but I am certain that some writers are also under orders from the publisher to egg the pudding as much as possible and certainly not to lose a good story by asking, “Did this really happen?”
An experienced journalist for The Sunday Times, Hunter Davies was given access to the Beatles and their inner circle to write The Beatles: The Authorised Biography, which was published in 1968. The book set the template for Beatle biographies and has several enthralling passages – Davies was fortuitously present when John and Paul are writing With A Little Help From My Friends, the only observed account of their writing together. Unfortunately, Davies had a cavalier attitude to his work: he did not spend enough time on interviews – where, for example, are the Quarry Men they left behind? – and there is a lack of candour.
In a foreword to Keith Badman’s book, The Beatles:Off The Record (2000), Davies, as good as admits he was lazy: “When I was doing my authorised biography of them, all those years ago, I had terrible trouble getting them to remember how many times, for example, they’d been to Hamburg and the names and order of the clubs they’d played in. They gave contradictory answers: John could hardly remember anything. Yet Hamburg was vital in their life and had happened relatively recently.” What’s wrong with doing some research? The dates in their passports would have been a good start.
Davies’ updates to his biography, which are simply additional chapters, are also sluggish although in one of them, a peeved McCartney said, for the first time, that the canonisation of his late songwriting partner had gone too far. Davies should have revisited his notes, sought out fresh material and reworked his text: more than anyone, he could have, should have, attempted the definitive book on the Beatles.
You would never know from reading Hunter Davies’ book that there were drug problems in the Beatles, but once the group had broken up, John Lennon told all. He was now studying Primal Therapy and rather like Elton John, he used the interview as therapy in extended conversations with Jann Wenner for Rolling Stone. Lennon had an enormous chip on his shoulder and had lost his sense of humour, but they make remarkable reading, the first time that any celebrity had been so frank. Lennon remarks, “If there is such a thing as a genius, then I am one.”
Although Lennon didn’t gloss over his faults, he stressed the weaknesses of others, being especially critical of the talents of Paul McCartney. .The full text of the interview has been reprinted in several editions, but unfortunately Lennon Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interviews (1971) is missing an index, which is a necessity as he rambles from subject to subject, often contradicting himself.
If he is to be believed, Allan Williams was the Beatles first manager and the person who arranged their initial residency in Hamburg, although both statements could be challenged. Williams wrote his first autobiography with the assistance of Bob Azurdia, a Merseyside journalist from the Catholic Pictorial. Although this unpublished text still exists, it has not been seen publicly. Because I knew Azurdia, I feel that this would provide a truthful account of the Beatles’ coffee bar and Hamburg days.
In 1975, Williams retold his life story to another local journalist, Bill Marshall, but the publishers wanted something more salacious. As Williams had run out of anecdotes, Marshall concocted some amusing tales and offered them for Williams’ approval. With great delight, Williams added them to his repertoire and now, well and truly in his anecdotage, he suffers from reverse Alzheimer’s where he remembers events which never happened. Nobody minds as he is a Grade A raconteur.
Allan Williams’ biography, The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away, is great fun but Paul McCartney in a superlative put-down said, “Some parts of this book are partially true.” Providing an author has the cash, Williams is a must-see for anyone writing a Beatles book and he has written a further book, this time with journalist Lew Baxter, The Fool On The Hill (2003). The books are similar but a mellowing has taken place. As Williams tells everyone, “I am not rich but I am a millionaire, a millionaire of memories.” And if you believe that…
As it happens, I have an example from personal experience as to how the tales have been spun. In 2002, I spoke at the memorial service for the Cavern DJ, Bob Wooler. According to Allan Williams’ account in The Fool On The Hill, I criticised him during my address and he retaliated “in a strident voice that echoed round the stone walls” and his ripe language “stunned the vicar”. This never happened, although I wish it had, and if I told anyone about the service, I would be tempted to add it.
Although you shouldn’t read Allan Williams’ books for historical accuracy, they do convey what it was like to be a young Beatle and they reveal the argumentative relationships between Williams and the group. Williams doesn’t mind showing himself in a bad light, something which would never occur with another impresario, Sam Leach. Leach, who promoted the Beatles at the Iron Door and the enormous Tower Ballroom in New Brighton, thought he had been omitted from Beatle history and called himself “The Man Whom Merseybeat Forgot”. After some self-publishing adventures, he told his story in The Rocking City; The Explosive Birth Of The Beatles (1999) and he did it to set the record straight as he saw it.
Sam Leach goes way too far in the other direction: he puts himself in the centre of all their development on Merseyside, does not admit to mistakes (for example, did he always pay his artists?) and given a few more pages, might have invented the wheel. Who, I wonder, is Sam wanting to impress? Maybe himself more than anyone else. At the end, he lists his promotions, but, if you look at the original posters, many of them were not his doing at all. For all his bluster, it is self-evident that Sam Leach lacked the vision to become an Epstein. In 2005 he promoted a benefit for New Orleans at a Liverpool club. He secured the services of P.J. Proby and 27 Liverpool acts, which made the bill unwieldy, and because of poor publicity, only 250 attended.
In 2000, Professor Mike Brocken of the Institute of Popular Music at Liverpool University wrote a very stimulating if contentious academic paper on the over-simplifications in Beatle literature for the book, The Beatles, Popular Music And Society. Brocken himself had ghosted an unpublished book for the Merseybeat promoter, Joe Flannery. As “Flannery handled the entire Pete Best affair for Brian Epstein”, the book sounds absorbing, but “entire”? Wasn’t Best personally sacked by Epstein? Do Flannery and Brocken have the reasons that have eluded everyone else for years? It’s worth waiting for but in the past, I have suspected that Flannery was not as close to Epstein as he claimed.
He maintains, for example, that he and Epstein had regular meetings about the promotion of their artists but Flannery’s artists (Lee Curtis, Beryl Marsden) never made the charts leading to the Liverpool expression, “Flannery’ll get you nowhere.” Considering that Brocken has been so critical of the standards of Beatle biographies, I will be intrigued to read the Flannery tome and see how it measures up to his theories on the limitations of history.
The idea of publishing two (or in Pete Best’s case, three and a DVD) autobiographies is widespread in the Beatle world. In 1978, John’s first wife, Cynthia, wrote, by her own admission, the “lightweight” A Twist Of Lennon, but, despite all the hurt and the fact that she was married to another man (John Twist), it was full of admiration for John and aside from her illustrations, it offered little that was new and certainly nothing sensational. Although John and Yoko disapproved of the book, it was kinder than they could have expected.
Cynthia Lennon’s 2005 version, John, is more critical and a passing comment to John’s “unreasonable rages” is now a full-scale beating. Cynthia displays her contempt for John’s Aunt Mimi, who throws a chicken at him and she reveals an affair between Ringo’s wife, Maureen, and George Harrison. However, in the light of that All My Loving comment, can the book be trusted? Cynthia also writes about events to which she was not party, and it would have been helpful to know the sources. Did the information come from John or from other books?
Cynthia closes her second book by saying that “If I’d known as a teenager what falling for John Lennon would lead to, I would have turned round right then and walked away”, but she has been backing down from this outlook in interviews. This alone suggests that the book needed more insight: have two of Cynthia’s subsequent marriages failed because of the problems of measuring up to Lennon or did Cynthia just have an unfortunate choice in men? Perhaps it’s telling that she calls herself Cynthia Lennon rather than Cynthia Charles.
This lengthy feature was written for publication in the rock’n’roll magazine, Now Dig This, in 2010 and the intention was to publish it over three months. Before it was printed, I thought it would be a good idea to send it to the subject – something I would not normally do – simply because I had found out a lot more about him than I expected and I thought he might embellish some of the stories. Instead, he went mental, threatening to beat me up when he came over for the Beatles Convention in August.
He claimed that he had never gone to jail and that he had not said many of the quotes attributed to him. Well, he had been in jail and he had said all of those quotes to me as I had them on tape from previous appearances at Beatles Conventions and on BBC Radio Merseyside. He also loathed the fact that lesser lights (in his opinion) were passing judgment on him.
Anyway, knowing that he could beat me to a pulp if he chose to, I decided to drop the feature. He still said that he was coming for me though and I wisely kept away from Liverpool that weekend, the first convention I have missed in years. Frankie Connor who hosted one of the events in my place said to me, “What have you done to Tony? He wants to beat you up. I told him you were okay but he said you were scum.”
Why am I publishing it now that Tony has gone? Well, no book on him has ever appeared and I think the public should know and hopefully enjoy his story. I am hoping that the aborted books by Alan Mann (a writer from his home town of Norwich) and Joe Sunseri (his former manager) will now appear. He is a crucial part of the stories of British rock’n’roll and the Beatles and his personality has a lot to do with how the Beatles determined their own career.
More than that, Tony Sheridan was a great musician, a superlative rock’n’roller and he was still very good, if infuriating, almost to the end. There is, I think, no definitive way of looking at Tony Sheridan and rather like Van Morrison, Chuck Berry and Lonnie Donegan, his actions may be viewed differently by different people. Looking at my feature today, I can see that I was gently mocking him, that I was finding his on-stage tantrums amusing, and maybe this is what upset him. I met Tony Sheridan about ten times and I don’t think I can recall him laughing, certainly not at his own expense. He might have been behaving ridiculously on stage from time to time, but that was not how he saw it.
This feature has had a few updates since I wrote it and I would welcome any further information. His lovelife is excessively complicated but hey, this is rock and roll.
Spencer Leigh, February 2013
1. MR SPONTANEITY
“I’m still waiting for my break, man.”
(Tony Sheridan, 2010)
In August 1989 Tony Sheridan came to Liverpool for some appearances in and around the annual Beatles Convention. I’d not met him before but I knew about his wild reputation in the clubs in Hamburg and elsewhere. No one ever doubted his talent but it was untamed. Some said that he was his own worst enemy but I suspected that there were other claimants to this title.
We met for the first time just before a live radio show on BBC Radio Merseyside. Tony hadn’t brought his guitar but he announced on air that he would play live if we could get a guitar. Someone ran round to the guitar shop, Frank Hessy’s, and, amazingly, they lent us a guitar just like that – remarkable, really! – although the shop did go bankrupt a few years later.
The radio show was going well until we talked about the recordings he made in Hamburg. Even though Tony might have been speaking the truth, he clearly libelled someone and I said, “But you don’t mean that?”, thereby giving him the chance to retract. Not a bit of it. “I bloody well do,” he responded, and the following week we had to broadcast an apology or face legal action. Some years later, he signed a CD, “Thanks for forgiving me, Tony Sheridan.” I’m not all that sure that I did.
The previous night Tony had appeared with a pick-up band and I’d heard reports that their performance was rambling and shambolic but his talent shone through. “Last night we had a problem,” admitted Tony. “Everybody’s minds were screwed up because nobody knew what was happening, but that is normal when you’re playing with me. The only way to be is spontaneous. I’ve no time for these guys who plan their shows – that’s all rubbish. Music is all about spontaneity.” That, as I’ve discovered, is a candid and accurate statement of the Sheridan philosophy.
On the Bank Holiday Monday, Tony Sheridan was appearing at the Floral Hall in Southport and I went along. His band from two nights ago had backed off, and this time he was to be accompanied by some twenty-somethings who played rock’n’roll. “That’s okay,” he told them, “There’s no need to rehearse. I’m only doing rock’n’roll standards.”
About 200 people came to the show. Tony Sheridan came on stage in workshirt, jeans and one of his numerous baseball caps. The band wondered what would be first – ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘C’mon Everybody’, ‘What’d I Say’? Not a bit of it. Tony Sheridan walked up to the microphone with his guitar, plugged in and started singing,
“They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within.”
An intriguing opening. Was he relating Leonard Cohen’s song to his own life? More importantly, had the band ever heard the song before?
“I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them,
First we take Manhattan,
Then we take Berlin.”
The band was watching in disbelief: this didn’t sound like Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley to them. They made a half-hearted attempt to back him but they didn’t know where the song (or Sheridan) was going.
The audience was equally mystified. After all, they had been expecting an evening of rock’n’roll and they certainly didn’t want the collected works of Leonard Cohen.
Tony Sheridan continued with the song and finished it on his own, adding an insulting comment about Southport along the way. A few people applauded but mostly everyone was wondering what would happen next; whether indeed there was going to be any show at all.
“This band can’t play,” said Sheridan, “but there must be some guys here who can. Is there anyone who used to know me in Hamburg?” This could have been his intention all along, that he wanted to be backed by old friends.
Fortunately, a couple of Kingsize Taylor’s Dominoes (Sam Hardie and John Frankland) and some other Merseybeat musicians joined him and over the next five minutes, a scratch band was formed and the young lads were sent packing. Tony Sheridan blamed them, Tony Sheridan blamed the organiser, and Tony Sheridan was mad that he had been placed in this position, but he didn’t apologise to the audience who had paid good money to witness this fracas.
Then, comfortable within himself, Tony Sheridan started playing ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘C’mon Everybody’ and ‘What’d I Say’. The only deviation from his rock’n’roll set was Free’s ‘All Right Now’ and even that was okay as it’s like a killer Eddie Cochran riff. He was excellent, spurring on the band to play better. “Come on, John, pull your finger out” and “Don’t vary the tempo, man.” At one point he said, “Time for the saxophone break” but there wasn’t a saxophonist in sight. “Typical,” he said, “They’re lazy bastards. They don’t turn up.”
The evening had been revealing. When you saw and heard Tony Sheridan at his best, you wondered why he had never made it. When you saw him at his worst, you knew precisely why. What was the point of humiliating a young band on stage? After the show, when I confronted Tony Sheridan about his behaviour, he said, “You have to shock musicians out of their lethargy. That is why I started with ‘First We Take Manhattan’. They’ve got to wake up. It makes me nervous to play when someone says, ‘Where’s the set list?’ There is never a set list with me. I will think of a song and we will do it at any given time – and it may be a short version or a long version.”
Surely the audience – not to mention the musicians – deserve some rehearsals. It seemed to me that Tony Sheridan possessed a mean streak that he didn’t hide or correct, but it’s also true that he could be just as critical of himself.
Lee Curtis recalls, “I remember Tony Sheridan being cruel to Billy J Kramer when he went back to Hamburg about ten years ago. Billy got changed into his sequinned blue suit and he looked superb. Tony went, ‘Ummm, nice, but you know something, that ain’t gonna help you out there. You have to do a show and you don’t do it by painting yourself up. They’ll appreciate that you’ve made the effort, but then they’ll think, ‘Can you sing?’’” Billy should have ignored such taunts, but being a nervous guy, it went to his head and he gave a poor performance.
The closest comparison to Sheridan would be with P J Proby, a musician with enormous talent who possesses a similar self-destruct button. P J Proby did have his moment in the sun but he messed it up. I had a feeling that even if Tony Sheridan had had the hits, he would have done the same as Proby and ruined his career.
2. ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS
Some Beatle biographies assume that Tony Sheridan had a privileged upbringing. This is partly because he is well spoken and partly because his full name is Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity. However, his birth certificate reveals that he was born at 38 Glenmore Gardens, Norwich. It is a three bedroom, semi-detached town house and its current value is £130,000: comfortable enough, but not excessive.
Tony Sheridan was born on 21 May 1940. His father, Alphonsus, was an Irishman who had been born in West Derby, Liverpool, close to the Casbah Club in Hayman’s Green where the Beatles started. Alphonsus worked for the Ministry of Labour and his mother, Audrey, was a nurse.
When Tony was only one year old, his father left the family home. “I’m not quite sure what happened next,” says Tony, “but the first few months of my conscious life were in a home for children. When I got to know the first rock’n’rollers in Britain, I found that most of them had been screwed up in some way. That, maybe, is why we all found rock’n’roll so fascinating. I don’t know. It’s a question for a psychiatrist.”
After the war, Tony was reunited with his mother, Audrey, and around 1950, they moved to the village of Thorpe St Andrew, a couple of miles outside Norwich. The upheaval didn’t affect his studies. He was a bright boy, a good swimmer and a cross country runner. He attended the City of Norwich School, played violin in its orchestra and sang in both school and church choirs.
His mother was a good singer and Tony joined her in Gilbert and Sullivan productions. “It was a very good training to be in The Mikado when you’re 11. I was singing a female role and singing madrigals as well. I got so frustrated doing all this shit for six or seven years that as soon as I heard Lonnie Donegan, I wanted a guitar – and freedom!”
When he was 16, Tony Sheridan passed several O-levels and obtained the top grade in Art. He studied commercial art at college, but not for long. In February 1957 Tony Sheridan saw Lonnie Donegan at the Theatre Royal, Norwich and decided to perform skiffle and rock’n’roll. As he puts it, “I wanted to get into the sexual side of music.”
Tony and his friends formed the Saints skiffle group and they performed in a pub by the art college and also at the Red Lion in Thorpe St Andrew. After they won £15, they decided that they might be good enough to make it in London.
As rock’n’roll performers were regularly being discovered at the Two Is coffee-bar in Old Compton Street, Soho, they headed there and impressed Tom Littlewood who managed the place. They found themselves performing alongside Roy Young and the Worried Men. “The others couldn’t take it,” says Tony of his band, the Saints, “They returned home after a week. I was getting 12 bob (60p) a night for playing which kept me in cigarettes and one meal for the next day.” Another member of the Saints, Kenny Packwood, stayed and was to join Marty Wilde’s Wildcats and then Lord Rockingham’s XI.
By day, Tony Sheridan worked in a brewery, shifting beer crates, and he played coffee-bars at night. He bought a Futurama Grazioso guitar. It was a red solid bodied instrument with several knobs and pick-ups and was marketed at the time as “the world’s most advanced electric guitar”. He learnt guitar solos by copying rock’n’roll records.
His first steady musical job came when Vince Eager asked him to join his band, the Vagabonds and he joined Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking on bass and Jimmy Nicol on drums. They went on tour for the promoter, Larry Parnes.
When they weren’t doing anything else, Tony, Licorice and Brian Bennett would play in the Two Is. Licorice Locking remembers, “Tony was a big Buddy Holly fan and we did a very good ‘Rave On’ with Tony on guitar, me on double bass and Brian on drums. We were on when Vince Taylor walked in with his American manager. They were looking for a group to back him and they chose Tony, Brian and me. We added Tony Harvey on rhythm guitar and we became Vince Taylor’s Playboys.”
Vince Taylor also worked for the impresario Larry Parnes. Tony Sheridan: “I was in the Playboys reluctantly, very reluctantly. Larry Parnes controlled the whole business in Britain and if you didn’t work for him, you starved and so I had to be one of the Playboys with Vince Taylor for a while.”
Vince Taylor was an American from Hounslow who wanted to emulate Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent, but he never looked right. There seemed something bogus about him, coupled with the fact that he couldn’t sing. Still, he had an excellent band, who accompanied him on his 1958 Parlophone single, ‘Right Behind You Baby’ and ‘I Like Love’. Licorice Locking: “We did ‘Right Behind You Baby’ on the first take. I was expecting just one 12-bar solo from Tony Sheridan but he took two and the second one was awe-inspiring. It lifted the track off the ground.”
Tony Sheridan: “Everything’s all right on ‘Right Behind You Baby’ except the singer. He had a manager, a nice Jewish gentleman from California who decided Vince Taylor would be the answer to Elvis in Britain because Elvis hadn’t come to Britain. He had nice teeth and looked the part but he couldn’t sing.”
Jack Good was the only British TV producer with a feel for the new music and his ITV series, Oh Boy!, is still revered. At the end of 1958, he had a lapse of taste by employing Vince Taylor, but, for all his shortcomings, Vince was a fine showman. However, it was the Playboys who impressed Jack Good. He signed Sheridan for solo spots and as a guitarist for other singers. Cherry Wainer was a regular on Oh Boy! and Tony played guitar on her cover of ‘The Happy Organ’.
On Oh Boy!, he appeared as Tony Sheridan and the Wreckers. The musical director of Oh Boy!, Harry Robinson recalled, “Tony told them all to dye their hair the same colour. They filled the sink with dye and put their heads in it. The dye went right down over their eyes and when they went on the show, they looked like ghouls from a Hammer film.”
At the same time, Tony Sheridan was the first British artist to be signed by the new Top Rank label. . According to Record Mirror in January 1959. “He’s tall, fluffy-haired and works rather on a Buddy Holly kick.” The same feature talks of his own song with a cha-cha beat, ‘Why (Can’t You Love Me Again)’, being considered for the first single. It had been written with another British rock’n’roll performer, Bill Crompton, who had recorded ‘A Hoot And A Holler’ in 1958.
All this was pointing in the right direction, but there were negative features. Nothing came of the Top Rank contract as Tom Littlewood, who was acting on Tony’s behalf, was demanding too large an advance.
More to the point, Tony was enjoying a bohemian lifestyle with attractive girls everywhere. He moved in with Hazel Byng, a dancer at the Windmill. In the mornings, he preferred to stay in bed and he missed rehearsals for Oh Boy! They married in May 1959 after Hazel had become pregnant. Tony had no regular work, but he joined Marty Wilde for a summer season at the Blackpool Palace. Tony and Hazel’s son, Anthony Sean Sheridan McGinnity Jr, was born on 23 October 1959 and Brian Bennett and Licorice Locking were godfathers.
Not this brought any responsibility. As Sheridan wrote in ‘Sinkin’’ in 2002:
“I knew a honey, gave me all her money
Wanted me to be her man,
But I thought better, got my shit together
Left before it hit the fan.”
A mea culpa song on the same album, Won’t Do It Again, is almost an apology to Hazel:
“Baby won’t you take me back, let me in,
I did a lotta livin’ in sin,
But I’ll never hurt your lovin’ heart again.”