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.

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