Sadly, I have reached a time when fate intervenes to prevent me detailing the histories of so many of the musicians I knew. For years I have puzzled as to how I could contact Mark Peters, who’d led groups such as the Silhouettes and the Cyclones. I’d been told he was abroad, at one time living in Malta, but no one could give me any details. Then, in recent years, I was told he died in France around an August period, although someone else said he’d passed away in the Newcastle area. I often wondered what kind of life he’d led after leaving the Mersey scene.
I was in direct contact with Brendan McCormack a brilliant Mersey guitarist who said he would provide me with his story, but before I did the interview, I received news that he’d passed away. It’s just unfortunate that time is against me.
I’m currently working on no less than 60 stories of musicians, but others I intend to write about succumb to disease, cancer or heart attacks, and they include others from the Mersey scene like Yankiel Feather. Yankiel was a good friend and ran the Basement Club in Mount Pleasant. Once, when John Lennon began banging away on an old piano, Yankiel told him to get out. John left, on his way scraping along one of Yankiel’s paintings with a coin. It was just a scrape, but many years later Yankiel was offered £20,000 for it, but refused to sell. He became a notable painter with David Bowie and Cilla Black among the celebrities who bought his works. Virginia and I had four of his paintings which he created in Liverpool in the early Sixties. Yankiel and his partner Terry visited us at our home and took us out to dinner a few years ago. What I didn’t know was that he contracted cancer and passed away. I was honoured to be able to give a talk about him at a posthumous exhibition of his works which Terry organised. Yankiel had sent me part of a book of his life which he’d been working on. Terry tells me the book was completed and he intends to publish it to coincide with a future Jankiel anniversary.
Other behind-the-scenes people include Ted Knibbs, former manager of Billy Kramer & the Coasters. He came into the Mersey Beat office one day and said he’d decided to offer me part-management of Billy and actually handed me a contract which he’d prepared. I put it in the top drawer of my desk and told him I was too
busy with Mersey Beat to manage groups, but arranged for him to see Brian Epstein. They met; Brian took over Billy’s management – although Ted told me that Brian never paid him the £50 he’d promised. As the Coasters refused to turn professional, Brian eventually arranged for Manchester’s Dakotas to back him and Ted found another singer for the Coasters – Chick Graham. On a trip to Liverpool I asked about Ted and was told that he’d got run over by a bus. Whatever happened to Chick? I was told he now lives in the Channel Isles.
Ralph Webster managed the Orrell Park Ballroom, and also managed a handful of groups, including the Undertakers. When I was up in Liverpool at Radio Merseyside for an interview with Spencer Leigh, Ralph had heard and turned up to see me. Sadly, it was for the last time. On my next trip I heard he’d passed away.
All of these people weren’t just ones I interviewed or obtained news from, they were friends. There was a community feel between Mersey Beat and the musicians, promoters, fans, managers, road managers and anyone who really loved the music at the time. In particular Cavern disc jockey Bob Wooler, who apart from a mellifluous voice, had a meticulous style of handwriting, providing me with wonderful columns for the paper. He loved puns and was quite a wordsmith – with some of his Woolerisms existing today. Brian Epstein loved the Woolerism ‘the Nemperor’ so much, he used it himself – and who could forget Faron being referred to as ‘the Panda Footed Prince of Prance.’ Bob even referred to me as ‘the Boswell of Beat.’ He’d often drop into our flat in Mount Street for a late night chat. When we were in the Jacaranda, which wasn’t licensed for drinks, he’d slip into the toilet and drink whiskey from his hip flask. One night when Virginia and I were in the Cavern they said there was a call from Bob. We’d left him in the Mersey Beat office earlier while he was writing his column. He told us that the wine merchants had locked the front entrance and he couldn’t get out. We went back to the office, but didn’t have a key to the front entrance, so I went to a nearby garage and they lent me a ladder. We put it up against the front of the shop and it reached our first floor window and Bob was able to climb down!
So many of the promoters have also passed on – Albert Kinder, the premier local jazz promoter, who brought acts such as Chris Barber and Lonnie Donegan to the Empire. He sold me his camera for £25. I asked my mate Les Chadwick (not the Pacemaker), who took my photos for Mersey Beat under the name Peter Kaye, to advise me on taking shots without a flash. I took most of the photos in the Blue Angel – literally hundreds of them and took some groups around the city for location shots – the Kinsleys, the Nocturnes, the Kirkbys and the Four Pennies.
There was Jim Ireland of the Mardi Gras. He and his business partner won the pools and opened their club, as well as the Downbeat club near to the original Liverpool Echo building. The Mardi was a great city centre venue in Mount Pleasant, one of the few that served alcohol, so no one under 18 was allowed in. Jim also managed artists such as the Swinging Bluejeans and the Escorts. I was interviewing the Bluejeans in the club one afternoon, seated on a low settee. When I tried to get up by back gave away and an ambulance was called and I was carted out on a stretcher and taken to hospital.
Jim was an astute businessman who became quite comfortable financially, so much so that he moved to California. However, he contracted cancer and returned to Liverpool to meet his end in familiar surroundings.
Other promoters who have since passed away include Charlie McBain, Les Dodd, Jim McIver and Alan Sytner, who founded the Cavern. Charlie booked the Quarrymen on their early bookings in 1957 at Wilson Hall and the New Clubmoor Hall, so could he be referred to as the Beatles first promoter (albeit in their Quarrymen incarnation), or does that honour go to Mona Best? Not only did she give them their first residency, but also booked them for 40 appearances at the Casbah and gigs at venues such as Knotty Ash Village Hall.
Alan Sytner was the man who conceived the Cavern in Mathew Street, after visiting a French jazz club called Le Caveau Francais. He was strictly a jazz man and wouldn’t allow rock and roll to be played at the club. He booked skiffle groups to support the jazz band bill toppers. The Quarrymen were aware they weren’t allowed to play rock music, but when they appeared there on 7 August 1957, John Lennon couldn’t resist and burst into the Elvis numbers ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, Alan sent a message up to the stage ‘Cut the bloody rock!’
The man who booked the Beatles on Merseyside more than anyone else, with the exception of Ray McFall at the Cavern was the late Brian Kelly. He was responsible for the spectacular appearance at Litherland Town Hall on 27 December following their Hamburg debut season. (They’d appeared at the Casbah on 14 December and the Grosvenor on 24 December). Brian had been promoting local rock bands for years at venues such as Alexandra Hall and Lathom Hall. He gave an unpaid audition to our favourite group when they used the name the Silver Beats. They passed the audition and he booked them, billed above Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes but they didn’t turn up as they left for Scotland with Johnny Gentle. Their gigs for Kelly’s Litherland Town Hall and Aintree Institute were legendary. Eventually, when Brian Epstein became their manager, he stopped the Beatles appearing at Kelly’s venues because he felt insulted when Brian paid their fee to him in coins!
Les Dodd of course ran the Grosvenor Ballroom gigs in Liscard. Allan Williams got him to book Gerry & the Pacemakers and the Beatles for some gigs but when the Beatles were due to appear on 6 August 1960 the venue had been closed by the council due to some violent fights there, so the group dropped in at the Casbah, spotted Pete Best with his band the Blackjacks and Paul then phoned him up asking him to audition as the Beatles drummer.
I was used to the early deaths of a few Mersey musicians who died very young, – they included Stuart Sutcliffe, Lance Railton, Frank Bowen, Mike Millward, John Banks and Ty Brien – but it still moves me when I clearly remember them and picture them in my mind.
Particular favourites of mine were Rory Storm and Johnny Guitar. Rory, who was avid for publicity in Mersey Beat, woke us up in the early hours of one morning. Other residents in the building looked out of their windows to see who was banging on the front door and a police car had stopped to see what the noise was all about. It was Rory, who had brought me a photo of himself he wanted published in Mersey Beat!
Virginia and I were very close to Johnny Guitar (real name Johnny Byrne) and would always make a point of visiting him when we were in Liverpool. He married a delightful woman, Margaret and moved to Stuart Road in Crosby where we also visited him on a regular basis. He had the biggest collection of Mersey music memorabilia, stacked away in cases – every poster, leaflet, photo pertaining to the Hurricanes. I often wonder what happened to that collection. I think that Margaret has probably sold the lot by now.
Rory Storm & the Hurricanes originally had more votes than the Beatles in the Mersey Beat poll, but I cancelled 40 of them and made the Beatles No.1.
On my www.mersey-beat site I was able to present a fitting tribute to Stu Leathwood of the Koobas, who was a cartoonist for me on Mersey Beat. I hope to do some more tributes to other former friends such as Derry Wilkie.
We used to go to a club called the Cromwellian in Cromwell Road. Derry was with us one night, but got drunk and decided to make his own way home. He stole a bike and began teetering along the road and then crashed into a police car which had stopped at the traffic lights.
Rather than take a morbid tack, I pay tribute to the many other members of the Mersey scene who have passed away and hope to feature them in photos and stories, which I believe will bring some comfort to their friends and loved ones.
Sadly, two of the deaths were suicides by hanging. Virginia and I were with John McNally at his home in Blundellsands when the news came that Johnny Sandon (real name Bill Beck), had just hung himself. Apparently, his daughter had come up from London to surprise him with a visit and found her father hanging in his house. John, of course, was a dedicated friend to him because the group at one time had been Johnny Sandon & the Searchers. Brian O Hara of the Fourmost also hung himself, possibly because of depression caused by financial troubles. Ironically, his death came one week after Screaming Lord Sutch had hung himself.
Among the many other original Mersey musicians who have passed away are Paddy Chambers (I did manager to compose a brief biography for the Mersey Beat site); Bob Evans; Joe Butler; Ritchie Galvin; Colin Areety; Tommy McGurk; Rita Hughes; Vinny Ismael; Lally Stott; Steve Day; Chris Curtis; Colin Manley; Don Alcyd; Eddie Parry; Tony Ashton; Ray Scragg; Clive Hornby; Tony Jackson; Steve McClaren; Les Braid; Eric Griffiths; Jimmy Campbell; Freddie Marsden; Ian Edwards; Cliff Hall; Charlie Crane; Vic Grace; Albie Wycherley; Keef Hartle; Bobby Scott; Dave Cooper; Tommy McGurk; Dale Roberts; Les Braid; Jimmy Campbell. Ollie Halsall and many others.
The personal histories of Mersey musicians which I am currently writing, grows virtually by the week and now encompasses not only the members of the outfits during the days of the Mersey sound, but of the numerous groups and artists who have performed and recorded from every decade to the present day.
And of course, there were two particular deaths which had an impact internationally, far outside their Merseyside birthplace – those of John Lennon and George Harrison.