Friday, July 29, 2011

Mr Brian Epstein is here

July 29-August 4, 1961

The Beatles play two gigs at Blair Hall this weekend, four times at the Cavern (M,W,F lunch and W evening) with Litherland, Aintree and St John's Hall dates thrown in for good measure.

This week is the first hint that a Liverpool businessman named Brian Epstein is taking a serious interest in the local rock music scene.  On Thursday, August 3rd, Mersey Beat Magazine publishes his first record review column called "Stop the World - And Listen to Everything In It".

Brian Epstein had been born into an upper class entrepreneurial Jewish family  who had made their fortunes operating a furniture store.  Brian grew up a sensitive young man, always on the lookout for something new and interesting to occupy his  time (and keep the black dog from the door).  He had taken a special interest in the music department of the family business, which sold both musical instruments and records.  By now, he is managing his own branch  store on Whitechapel Street, called North End Music Stores, NEMS for short.  It is located a stones throw from the Cavern Club where, unbeknownst to him, the Beatles are building a loyal following of fans.  His inventory and demand tracking system (precomputer, of course) is legendary and if you want a record, he prides himself on either having it or being able to get it for you, regardless of how obscure the title.

Brian had, while sowing the wild oats of his  youth, attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a prestigious acting school in London, where he had learned a little something about stagecraft and live performance.

He is a bit older and more widely experienced than the Beatles, almost 27 years old, (seems very young to me now!) and he is casting about for some way to leverage his talents and aptitudes to keep life interesting.  Perhaps writing a column for a local music newsletter would  lead to something.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jumping Forward 50 Years...

July 24, ????

50 years ago yesterday, Paul McCartney and the rest of the Beatles played once again at Litherland Town Hall, arguably, the birthplace of Beatlemania.  Last night, he played with his own band and filled a baseball stadium in Detroit with 30,000 plus ecstatic fans.  I was one of 'em, and let me tell you (as if you didn't know), he's still got it!

A special  thing he did last night was to pull out "Hitchhike", a Marvin Gaye song written just about 50 years ago. He and his band did a smokin' version of it in tribute to Motown, which was a major influence on the developing Beatles 50 years ago.  It was a bit of a time warp to listen to him do that song last night (and it was obviously done with a lot of  love.)  Really jerked me back to the 10 year old kid in me, who at that time was just discovering the power of music that would be tapped so irresistably by the band from Liverpool.  50 years ago their audiences were just sampling the first fruits of that memorable season.  Last night we tasted of some of the last.  Delicious!  Thank you, Paul.

Even McCartney has sound system problems, sometimes - but  stick with it, they do get through the song... eventually    :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Band Solidifies

July 22-28, 1861

The Beatles are now very nearly the band we will discover in the early '60s.  Stuart Sutcliffe isn't playing with them anymore, having stayed behind in Hamburg.  John has his Rickenbacker, Paul his Hofner "Beatle Bass" and George his Gretsch Duo Jet.  Of course, Pete Best still sits on the throne behind the drum kit and provides the "atom beat" that the Beatles are locally famous for, that heavy four-to-the-bar bass drum.  Again and again, one reads of reminiscences of early fans of the Beatles which mention how the sound would just go through you.  It is said that you felt it as much as heard it.  The excitement generated is irresistible.

How lucky those kids are to be there to experience it while the rest of the world sleeps (and quietly dreams of the Four Freshmen!)

The Beatles play three gigs at jive halls this weekend, the Aintree Institute on Friday, Holyoake Hall on Saturday and Blair Hall (with the sloping stage) on Sunday. Monday they are at Litherland Town Hall.  They play four mid-week sessions, both lunchtime and evening, at the Cavern, where they are quickly becoming the house band.  Then Thursday at St John's Hall and Friday back at the Aintree.  Obviously, the Liverpool promoters know a good thing when they see (and hear) it.  Sam Leach is beginning to get some "big" ideas that will come to fruition in November under the appellation of "Operation Big Beat", perhaps the high water mark of the inundation called the Mersey Beat sound.
P.S. Just found out, I'm going to see McCartney at Comerica Park in Detroit this Sunday.  Last time I saw him was 35 years ago, Wings Over America.  Thanks for asking, Chris.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Gretsch Story

July 15-21, 1961

The Beatles are back in the swing, appearing this weekend at Hoylake Hall (near Penny Lane) on Saturday the 15th and Blair Hall on Sunday.  Next week, they are doing their lunchtime sessions (M,W,F this week) at the Cavern.  During these, they will smoke, eat and drink tea, and kibitz with the customers from the stage.  Also, they will appear at Litherland Town Hall on Monday night, the Cavern on Wednesday night, St John's Hall on Thursday night and the Aintree Institute on Friday night.  Whew!

A modern reproduction of George's Duo Jet <<< Follow this link and watch the video (under Gallery)
But the big news is that George has found a new guitar, a guitar that would do as much to develop the Beatles sound as any. A semi-solid body Gretsch Duo Jet.  Beautiful, huh? He got is second hand from a seaman, named Ivan Hayward, who bought it in America, where it was made.  George had heard about the available guitar through the Merseyside grapevine, saw his chance and took it.  There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.  Wm Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

OK, Beatles, Back to Work

July 13, 1961

I'm sure the four Beatles have enjoyed their two weeks of summer indolence after their long hard stint at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg.  (Stuart has stayed behind in Hamburg to continue both his studies at the Hamburg College of Art and his relationship with fiancee Astrid Kirchherr.  The Beatles will continue a long distance relationship with him via the Post Office.)  But it's time for the Beatles to get back up on stage in their hometown.

Their first show after the layoff is, predictably, organized by Mona Best, again at St John's Hall near her home in  Hayman's Green, where the Casbah is located.  A more devoted mother, the world has never seen.

And on the 14th, they are back on stage at the Cavern for two shows, a lunch session and in the evening.

No doubt the Beatles have to knock the rust off to get back into their usual tight formation.  It's also likely that it didn't take long before they were relying, almost by instinct, on where the others would be going on each number.  After spending so many countless hours playing together, the band has become like a single multi-person organism.  That is the biggest secret of their later phenomenal success.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Merci, Mersey

July, 1961

To understand Liverpool, one must first understand the Mersey River.  Without the Mersey, Liverpool would not exist.  The original documents establishing Liverpool were drawn up in the time of the medieval King John in 1207.  For its first few centuries, Liverpool's main industries were fishing and farming.

In the 17th centrury, England was rapidly becoming the global maritime power. Liverpool began to develop as a major seaport.  Trade in commodities - cloth and coal for sugar and tobacco - exploded.  All thanks to the wide and deep harbor at the mouth of the Mersey River.  In the 19th, cotton produced abroad was needed to supply the fabric mills in northern England.  (Indeed, even in the middle of the 20th century, cotton still gave employment to Liverpudlians, like Jim McCartney, father of Paul, who was a cotton buyer.)  During this time the population grew rapidly as Irish families, looking for sustenance, came to Liverpool.  They were driven from their beloved homes by terrible famines resulting from a disease of the potato crop in Ireland.  Among the emigrants were the McCartneys and the McLennons.  If you have Irish ancestry and live abroad, the chances are pretty good that your people moved to your part of the world for the same desperate reason.  Ireland lost one million people to starvation and another million to emigration.

In the early part of the 20th century, Liverpool became a great center of ship building, which is why the stern of the Titanic has LIVERPOOL painted on its stern in large letters.
Click on the Titanic and look carefully at the stern
And that explains why the sound that originated in Liverpool became known as the Mersey sound, and why a local tabloid publication was called Mersey Beat Magazine.  Bill Harry is personally hawking copies of the first issue around to record stores, dance halls, and music stores.  (He lets his official distributor handle the newsstands.)

One of the record stores he visits happened to be North End Music Stores (NEMS) managed by Mr. Brian Epstein, who took a dozen copies of issue number one which sold out very quickly.  Next day, Epstein is on the phone to Harry, asking for 12 dozen more copies.  Maybe there is a business opportunity here that he should be paying more attention to.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mersey Beat Magazine

July 6, 1961

Today, the first issue of Mersey Beat magazine is published by Bill Harry.

Bill Harry is a small time writer and wanna-be magazine publisher from Liverpool.  (Harry is a friend of John Lennon from his Liverpool Art College days.)  He has some prior publishing and printing experience and sees a golden opportunity to  launch a magazine specially devoted to the burgeoning Liverpool rock scene.  He borrows 50 English pounds, enlists the help of his girl friend (later wife) Virginia and rents office space.  The magazine is a smashing success and immediately sells out the 5000 copies of the first run.  (Check out the front page add for Frank Hessy's music shop below, frequented by all the Beatles for their equipment needs.  It is a few yards down Matthew Street from the Cavern.)

Among the articles in this issue is one entitled ‘Being A Short Diversion on the Dubious Origins of Beatles, Translated From the John Lennon.'  Yeah, THAT John Lennon and it is a masterpiece of the silly humor that he would soon be famous for.
Once upon a time there were three little boys called John, George and Paul, by name christened. They decided to get together because they were the getting together type. When they were together they wondered what for after all, what for? So all of a sudden they all grew guitars and fashioned a noise. Funnily enough, no-one was interested, least of all the three little men. So-o-o on discovering a fourth little even littler man called Stuart Sutcliffe running about them they said, quote 'Sonny get a bass guitar and you will be alright' and he did.  Many people ask what are the Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision - a man appeared on a Flaming Pie and said unto them 'From this day on you are Beatles with an A'. 'Thank you, Mister Man,' they said, thanking him.

Bill Harry would get Lennon to write a regular column for Mersey Beat called Beatcomber.   The rocker pictured on the front page is Gene Vincent with a couple of local fans.

Issue Number 1 of Liverpool's Mersey Beat Magazine

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Trains, Boats and Automobiles

July 2-3, 1961

The Beatles are finished playing their second stint in Hamburg and use these two days to travel back home to Liverpool.  Before they could afford air travel, which is still for more wealthy travelers, it would usually take about 24 hours to complete the journey.

They have really stepped up their game and audiences back home will be more delighted than ever at the wonderful shows they will put on.  In fact, many people who are in a position to know, including John Lennon and George Harrison, have gone on record as saying that this is when they reached their musical peak.  By this time they had really gelled as a musical unit.  They were, after all, practicing their craft something like 6 hours EVERY DAY.

Paul McCartney's take is that, each time they arrived home from Hamburg or some other high pressure tour, they would take some time off and their first shows after the layoff the shows would be a bit raggedy. 

Photographs from this time show that they are becoming much less concerned with piled high hair-dos.  No doubt this is the influence of seeing the German students who would hang out at their shows and nearly all had hair in the French style, brushed forward and ungreasy.  (The wet head is dead.)  I think this is really interesting.  New styles are not usually adopted in a "big bang" way, but slowly the old styles seem to have less appeal and the new ones more until one day, almost without conscious effort, the change has taken place.

Astrid Kircherr says that shortly before they left, George had come to her and asked her to style his hair like Stewart's, whose hair she had already been doing for some time.  So, of John, Paul, George and Ringo, little unassuming George was the first to see the potential in what would come to be known as "The Beatle Haircut".