Virtually every major British city in the early Sixties had it’s nucleus of rock musicians dedicated to playing rougher and more rewarding music than the current Top Twenty. What made Liverpool different was the size of its beat group population and the richness and variety of their American musical influences.
As a port, Liverpool had strong connections with America, and local seamen would return from New York with cigarettes, comic books and the latest rhythm & blues and pop records.
Rory Storm & Hurricanes
Thus local groups were able to graft on to their rock’n’roll reportoire the music of early Motown, the Shirelles, the Isley Brothers and Ritchie Barrett, whose Ray Charles-styled ‘Some Other Guy’ became a Merseybeat standard. By 1960 local entrepreneurs like Alan Williams were booking Liverpool groups led by Kingsize Taylor and the Dominos into the clubs along Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn and. On Merseyside, folk and trad jazz clubs were switching to beat music. By 1962 the Cavern, opened four years earlier as a jazz cellar, was given over to the pounding rhythms of the Big Three, the Beatles, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Faron’s Flamingos and many more of the 350 groups which Liverpool’s own music paper, MerseyBeat, estimated were operating in the area, The same thing happened at the Iron Door, the Jacaranda, the Beachcomber, the David Lewis and LitherlandTown Hall.
The Beatles at the Cavern – 1963
All this activity made little impact outside Merseyside and Hamburg until local recordshop owner Brian Epstein got the Beatles their EMI recording contract. The success of ‘She Loves You’ in early 1963 sent recording managers scurrying from London to find their Liverpool group. Pye signed the Searchers, the Undertakers, black vocal group the Chants and Johnny Sandon and the Remo Four. Decca had the Big Three, the Clayton Squares, Lee Curtis and the All-Stars, Freddie Starr and the Midnighters and the Dennisons. Philips/Fontana grabbed the Merseybeats, Earl Preston and theTTs, Ian and the Zodiacs. EMI (Parlophone and Columbia) released the records of the Epstein stable.
Over 200 singles by Liverpool groups were released in Britain over the next few years. Most were sloppily produced and undistinguished and no groups outside the charmed circle of the Epstein stable and the Searchers and Swinging Blue Jeans established themselves on a national or international scale. When the first or second single failed, most Liverpool groups were dropped by the record companies as quickly as they had been snapped up.
The swinging Blue Jeans – New Musical Express Poll Winners concert -1964
Merseybeat was, in any case, essentially created in live performance. It was captured best on live recordings, notably those of the small Oriole label, which recorded a dozen or so groups in a short recording session at the Cavern under live conditions, some of the tracks have been available on a British United Artists album, “This Is Mersey Beat”. At its best it represented an exciting collision between the enormous enthusiasm of the musicians and their fairly rudimentary technique. Its essence was in the chugging rhythm section, with metallic guitar chords cutting across thumping bass lines and solid foursquare drumming. Few of the groups could reproduce the atmosphere and energy of a packed night at the Cavern in a London recording studio with an unsympathetic producer, and hardly any wrote their own songs.
The Searchers – New Musical Express Poll Winners concert -1964
By 1965, the Liverpool music scene was almost dead. Drained of its best musicians by the record companies, yesterday’s trend, it’s only consolation was that the graduates of Mersey beat had changed the face of pop music internationally. Today the city is full of ex-musicians and kids who know more about the local soccer team than the Beatles.
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