Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gerry Marsden's Book

I'm waist deep in a used book find, "I'll Never Walk Alone" by Gerry Marsden.  His band, Gerry and the Pacemakers, were among the best competition the Beatles had 50 years ago.  Ten years ago, Gerry wrote a book and as you might imagine, it has lots of stories about growing up in Liverpool and the 1960s music scene there.

"Twist and Shout" was one of the Beatles wildest numbers and would always bring the house down.  They'd often save it for last because after screaming it, John Lennon would usually not be able to sing any more until he had some time to recover his voice.  The song was a cover version of an original by the Isley Brothers.  This is the song from which the Beatles picked up their woooo's, a device that, along with "Yeah, yeah, yeah", became a trademark.  (Really goes to show how deeply they were influenced by American soul music.)

At first they were afraid that singing the woooo's made them sound a bit "light in the loafers", but every time they did it, it would elicit waves of screaming from the girl fans, so they left it in. After all, the customer is always right.

Anyhow, Gerry tells how at this time there was something of a gentleman's agreement among the bands to avoid having too much overlap in the set lists, so bands could share an event without it becoming a parade of the same songs in different cover versions.  Naturally, bands became pretty protective of the songs they had "discovered" and added to their show.  Gerry writes, "When the Beatles released the record 'Twist and Shout', which went on to become one of their favorites, a lot of Scousers were angry.  They reckoned John and Paul had nicked it from King Size Taylor, who had found it from the original Isley Brothers version."  Oh, well.  All's fair in love and show biz, I guess.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wrapping Up February

February 22-28, 1961

Wow!  Just looking over my last few posts, I realized I'm getting pretty wordy.  I guess that's just because this particular period in music history is so endlessly fascinating to me.  A few friends having a great time and unwittingly getting educated for very big things to come, without really knowing where they would end up.  Just trusting that this is where they should be. ("Don't worry.  Something will happen."  - Note to Nowhere Girl.  I'm guessing it was George.  Sounds like something he would say.)

And there always seems to be a few more bits and pieces of Beatle lore to be discovered.  It's like an old gold mine that has been worked over for decades but still gives up some precious nuggets from time to time, just to keep the old prospectors coming back for more.  I came across an interesting site made by an obviously over-the-top fan that shows pics he took on his pilgrimages to many of the places mentioned in this blog.  Harvey Stevens is his name and his web page is here.  It makes for a rewarding few minutes for any early Beatle fan.  Thanks, Harv!

The Beatles finish out the month at all the usual places:  22nd at the Aintree and Hambleton Hall.  24th at Grosvenor Ballroom.  25th at Aintree and Lathom Hall.  26th at the basement Casbah.  28th back at the Cavern for lunch and the Cassanova and Litherland later in the evening.  Don't those boys ever get tired of playing!
Hmmm, Pauly Mac and Rory Storm's cousin? Ya don't say!

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Did They "Turn" the Cavern?

February 21, 1961

The Beatles play three venues today, and all three are certainly among the most important.  They play their lunchtime at the Cavern followed by evening appearances at the Cassanova Club and Litherland Town Hall.  If you are into fantasy, this would be a great day to travel back in time, follow them around, and see all three shows.
Stage of the Cavern in 1961
London Road, site of the Cassanova Club today (left side of street)

Tomorrow, the Beatles play at the Aintree Institute and run the teddy boy gauntlet at Hambleton Hall.

Gerry and the Pacemakers were another band playing these same places and would in future years achieve some measure of success as members of Brian Epstein's "stable of artists".  They took a Beatles reject song, "How Do You Do It" and made it into a hit early in  the British Merseybeat craze of 1963.  Front man Gerry Marsden gives the impression of being a very nice person and the Pacemakers fine musicians, but you can tell from the video they just don't generate the same electricity in person as the Beatles.  A band like the Beatles comes around only once in a hundred years.

About the Cavern, in his book "I'll Never Walk Alone", Gerry remembers, "Paul McCartney and I often approached the club manager Ray McFall on behalf of our bands asking for dates there - it would be prestigious to play right in the centre of town.  But he refused us for what seemed like months."  Economics and the fading fortunes of traditional jazz in Liverpool have finally begun to change his mind.  For the Beatles, it was one more step up the ladder.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mona Best Again

February 17, 1961

What an powerful and enigmatic personality Mona Best is in the story of the Beatles.  She is Pete Best's mother, born and raised in India and brought to Liverpool after she marries a Liverpudlian there.  She sees to it that her son has access to a musical instrument that very few mothers would even allow in their homes, a full set of drums.  She sets up a coffee club in her own basement with help from the local kids.  It is Mona who deals with the German authorities to repatriate her son's drum kit after the deportation from Hamburg and now she is flogging her sons rock band to all of the local clubs (including the Cavern).

Mona  even goes so far as to organize larger shows on her own as she does today, a Friday.  She manages a show at a hall called St John's Hall in Tuebrook, not far from the Best residence.  The Beatles are paid the handsome sum of 20 pounds for their appearance.

Mona, wherever you are, Beatle fans everywhere owe you a huge vote of thanks for all of your contributions to them in their formative years.

The Beatles finish out the week at the Aintree institute on Saturday and the Casbah on Sunday.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Happy Valentine's Day

February 14, 1961

After their day off, the Beatles get back into the swing, playing two shows today.  Sam Leach's Cassanova Club and a Bekay production at Litherland Town Hall.

The Litherland event is a Valentine's Day celebration and has a special tie in.  Litherland is the venue where the hysteria that came to be called Beatlemania was first witnessed only a few weeks ago.  One of the regular songs in the Beatles set is a cover of an Elvis Presley movie song called "Wooden Heart".  (Coincidentally, the song has a verse in German.  Must have brought Hamburg and Astrid to their minds.)

Paul is to sing the song wearing a heart pinned to his lapel, embroidered with the first names of the Beatles, which is then to be raffled off.  The lucky winner gets to keep the heart as a souvenir and receive a kiss from Paul.  A mad rush to the stage ensues and the Beatles are escorted off stage until some semblance of order can be restored.

There are shows scheduled over the next two days for the Aintree Institute, Hambleton Hall, the Cassanova and again at Litherland.  All places that the Beatles are becoming very familiar with.  Thank goodness for Neil and that van!
Bekay puts rock and roll into Litherland Town Hall on on Tuesdays

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pranking Promoters

February 12, 1961

Today, a Sunday, the Beatles, for loyalty's sake or lack of other work, play the Casbah Coffee Club.  They have continued to play their usual round of places, the 10th at Aintree and Lathom Hall.  Yesterday, three gigs in one day.  Sets at Lathom Hall and Barlow's New Ballroom bracketing an appearance at another important venue in the story, the Cassanova Club. (Tomorrow, a rarity for them, a day off!)

The Cassanova Club is run by a local promoter and "frenemy" of Allan Williams named Sam Leach.  His book is entitled "Birth of the Beatles" and is overflowing with well-told tales of the Liverpool scene in the early '60s.  You can almost hear the music of that northern accent when reading his book. There is (as is too often the case) no professional co-author mentioned on his book, which leads me to believe it is all the work of his own hand.  So much the better for us readers!  (The book is currently out of print, but you can find used copies online.)

From around this time he tells the story of some friendly shenanigans that took place between himself and Allen Williams.

Sam was promoting a show that was to star a black ballad singer named Emile Ford, supported by his band, the Checkmates.  (Shout out to Alison on that preceding link.)  Emile was the kind of singer that even a mother could love, so Sam's mom agreed to come and see the show.  That was before the Liverpool Empire Theater (the biggest, most important venue in town) decided to enforce a contract clause that prevented Emile from appearing anywhere withing 25 miles of Liverpool.  So the Checkmates had to go on unaccompanied by their star performer.  Sam's mum was in the audience anyway.

Before the show, Sam was lubricating the machinery with a quick drink in the VIP when his mom walked up and asked "Why did you replace Emile with a bunch of strippers?"  Sam ran to the stage in time to see the Checkmates flanked by a couple of young girls dancing on the stage and wearing nothing but what the law required to keep them out of jail.  At the same time he beheld members of the local constabulary looking unamused and making their way to that very stage.  After a confab with the upholders of community morals, Sam convinced them that he was the victim of a practical joke.  He later discovered that the perpetrator was none other than rival Allen Williams, who had arranged for the girls and then phoned the local papers and the police with anonymous tips about the goings on.

Boys will be boys, I guess.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Red Letter Day

February 9, 1961

The events in the history of the Beatles do not get any bigger than this.  Today, the Beatles play their first lunchtime date at the Cavern Club in central Liverpool.  (Please feel free to pass this posting on to your friends who are Beatle fans.  They'll thank you for it.)

The Cavern was opened by a local jazz impresario named Alan Synter in January of 1957.  It was modeled after a ground breaking club in Paris called "Le Caveau" which featured jazz in a cool cabaret setting.  The Liverpool version was established in the basement of a warehouse near the docks.  The rooms, featuring three parallel barrel vaults made of brick, had no outside ventilation to speak of, and had been used as a bomb shelter during the war.

In the late 50's, there was a surge in the popularity of American traditional jazz, invented in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Cavern was strictly a jazz club and uncouth rock and roll was very much frowned on.  There were lots of local practitioners, such as the Merseysippi Jazz Band (still going strong today) who needed a place to play.  Skiffle, the music practiced by the 17 year old John Lennon's earlier band the Quarrymen, was seen as an offshoot of this style of jazz and the Q-men actually played the Cavern in '57.  Of course, when they strayed into more rock influenced territory they were quickly and severely reprimanded.  (Want more evidence of the huge influence that skiffle had on British rock? Check out this amazing video of a very young Jimmy Page, guitarist of the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, playing it.  Do not miss this!)

Fast forward to 1961.  The club has changed hands and now is managed by Ray McFall.  The burgeoning local rock scene has finally convinced him to allow rock music to get its foot in the door of the Cavern.  But only for the lunch crowd.  The office and shop girls of downtown Liverpool bring in a few bob at each lunchtime session and the jazz aficionados can listen to "real" music in the evenings.

The Beatles are paid 5 Pounds for providing the music for today's lunchtime crowd.  (Oh! For a real working time machine!)

Me at the "reconstructed" Cavern.  Sadly, the original site is the parking lot to the right.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Arriving in Style

February 8, 1961

The Beatles keep on truckin', playing the 7th at a new venue, Merseyside Civil Service Club.  Then two gigs today, a Wednesday, the Aintree Institute and Hambleton Hall.

Neil Aspinall is an old friend of the Beatles and remembers grabbing smokes between classes with George out behind the sheds on the playground of the school they both attended.  He also rented a room the Pete Best's house in Hayman's Green above the Casbah, so he really can't avoid the Beatles, even if he wants to.  The Beatles are getting weary of individually dragging equipment around to various dance halls, so they make an offer to Neil.  Become our part time "road manager" and we'll pay you 5 shillings per gig.  Neil buys a well used Commer van and starts ferrying the boys and their stuff to the gigs.  What an improvement in life style that must have been for them!

Pretty soon, the van becomes a moving bulletin board for the band, posters pasted on and fan messages scrawled onto the brushed on two-tone paint job.

As the years pass, Neil will stick with the Beatles and share many of their adventures from behind the scenes.  He will die of lung cancer in March of 2008.  RIP, Neil.

The Beatles and Neil's Commer van

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Some Wondrous Memories

February 5, 1961

The Beatles play their first gig at Blair Hall for a new promoter, Peak Promotions Ltd.  Then, continuing the string they play their third appearance in a week at Lathom Hall, the scene of Stuart's recent trouble.  Imagine how difficult it must be to return to the scene of that crime and pretend that all is well.

Well, the Spencer Leigh book, Twist and Shout, is proving to be a veritable gold mine of interesting insights about the early Beatles.  So let's visit with a few of the other Liverpudlians who were there at the time.

Dave Forshaw was a promoter of shows who remembers the Beatles wearing leather jackets and jeans on stage.  This was very much out of the ordinary at the time when everybody else was dressing in dinner jackets and ties, trying to look like Bill Haley and the Comets.

Tony Sanders played drums for an outfit called Billy Kramer and the Coasters.  He remembers the leather jackets and cowboy boots, with which they would stomp on the stage floor (a technique they learned in Hamburg).  He remembers how rough and ready the Beatles presentation was, with them smoking and joking with each other on stage.  "Lennon had a leather jacket and McCartney had a jacket that looked as if he'd been sleeping in it for months, but when they kicked off, it was unbelievable."

Harry Prytherch was the drummer for one of the local leading acts, the Remo Four.  He remembers how the stage at Blair Hall sloped down toward the front rows of the audience (as some raised stages do to afford a better view to the seats at the front).  He made it a practice to tie a lanyard from his bass drum to his "throne" to keep the drum from creeping down toward the front.  Once, during a show, he noticed that Pete Best was drumming with one hand and hanging on to his bass drum with the other and came forward to lend Pete his piece of string.  lol

Even with all of the Beatles recent improvements, Don Andrew, also of the Remo Four, was not exactly overwhelmed.  His impression, at the time, is they were dirty and "made a horrible deafening row".  No accounting for taste!

Three Cool Cats
George, Paul and John with ciggies, boots, and TV aerials