By Anthony Hogan
Reviewed by Joe Coventry
The author has produced a volume that sets out to give credit to the burgeoning explosion of beat music bands and singers in the fledgling days of rock and roll in the city of Liverpool. In the late 1950’s and 1960’s to the present day, with comprehensive attention to detail, he achieves his goal bringing that magical period back to life.
The headliners who made it to the top will always have their place in the sun but so vibrant was the local scene in that period that over 350 bands were formed and interchanged personnel, in a frenetic miasma of music making styles. Even the Beatles had something to learn from the players and the venues supporting the acts. None the least being the influence of the ethnic communities of Toxteth, Dingle and abroad in Hamburg where the likes of the Star-Club or Kaiserkeller, provided an international outlet for the groups, enabling them to rub shoulders with the world’s musical elite.
Step up to the plate then ‘Kingsize’ Taylor and the Dominoes, The Shakers or the first girl rock band, the Liver Birds, nicknamed the ‘Weiblichen Beatles’ in Germany. They famously played on the same bill as Chuck Berry in Berlin and defied everyone by singing his songs in their set. Or Johnnie (Guitar) Byrne and the Hurricanes with his fabled Astoria guitar.,Geoff Nugent and the Undertakers, Derry Wilkie, Sugar Deen, Joey Ankrah, Farron Ruffley. The list goes on.
Vinnie (of the Volcanoes) Ishmael famously taught Lennon and McCartney the ‘Chuck Berry’ chords as skiffle moved to rock. ‘Lord Woodbine’ (aka Harold Phillips) was another influential player in the learning game as the talented merged, jammed and formed lasting friendships with lesser lights.
The pages drip with fascinating detail, not always pleasant, like the racial abuse suffered by Sugar Deen when The Valentinos showed up and more than upset a white officer on an American airbase.
Tours to venues, like the above, provided work and hard cash for the bands. Such behaviour could also manifest itself nearer home, but in the main most groups got by on the circuit.
The poignant loss of The Hideaways John Snell in Vietnamese action in 1968 provides another memory. He is the only person in the world to have his name on the Cavern Wall of Fame and the Washington Memorial. ‘A Poor Boy from Liverpool’, written by Frankie Connor and Alan Crowley, commemorates their old band mate.
As for venues Allan Williams owned the Jacaranda and famously lost out to Brian Epstein; Pete Best’s mum Mona had the Casbah (he lost out to Ringo Starr); The Iron Door, later the Pyramid club, thrived on enthusiastic followers of the music scene, as did the Whitehouse pub which had stay behinds on Sundays for anyone to listen or join in on the session. It was later to have a Bansky Cat painted on it’s frontage.The Blue Angel and of course the Daddy of them all, the Cavern, was foremost in the van. Then there was Eric’s.
The book does not live in the past though. There are 100 photographs of the live gigs and historic memorabilia including wonderful colour plates. Captured are more recent re-unions of former players and singers on stage and in famous haunts, like Val, Mary and Sylvia of the Liver Birds in Gretel and Alfon’s cafe in Hamburg.
Lives inevitably evolved and domesticity or other careers became de rigueur. Sadly, some of singers and players have passed away, others are still on the scene playing gigs for charity fundraisers, or just for the sheer hell of it.
All is captured in what has been a labour of love for Anthony Hogan. Every page is steeped in information, every record release recorded, every combination of talent, the new beginnings and fallings out explored and annotated.
For those who can remember those heady days it will bring memories rushing back.
For younger generations this is the bible to turn to as the Merseybeat sound continues to roll out.