As a Mancunian I worked for many years behind enemy lines so to speak in Liverpool. My colleagues were quick witted and sharp as tacks but their sometimes barbed comments always had underlying warmth, especially if you gave as good as you got. As a proud Manc I stood up for my roots, but alas when the subject came to music I was stumped. I listened wide eyed to their experiences as teenagers in the early sixties. How could I better their heady tales of the Beatles lunchtime sessions at the Cavern where Cilla Black was the hat check girl. Or their breathless accounts of listening to Gerry Marsden on the original ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’ the Royal Iris. All this chronicled by Bill Harry ( former schoolmate of a real live Beatle John Lennon ) in his Merseybeat Magazine. Liverpool was a hotbed alright while I could only riposte with Manchester’s finest – The Hollies and Freddy Garrity!
This well curated compilation gathers together a sprinkling of hit singles alongside long forgotten near misses and previously unreleased treasures. Turbo charged by the arrival of The Beatles in 1962 it’s hard to believe that this heyday all happened within a two year period heralding a seismic shift in popular music and spearheading the British Invasion of the USA. The first 2 CDs of this 3 disc set concentrate fairly and squarely on the emerging beat groups from the Liverpool suburbs and it’s amazing that so many acts were riding on the coat tails of the Fab Four. Scouring the clubs and pubs from Croxteth to Kirby the major record companies were falling over themselves to sign the next Beatles. If you had a scouse accent and a modicum of talent then the chequebook was out – most notably proffered by Decca who had missed out bigtime by turning down the Beatles!!
So, sporting their new mop top hairstyles came Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Searchers, The Swinging Blue Jeans and Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas who all hit the Top 10 in 1963 and are all featured here alongside less familiar though nonetheless worthy acts. People like the mighty Big Three, the Jackie Lomax led R’n’b of The Undertakers and the original Merseyside rocker Kingsize Taylor whose fabulous treatment of ‘Somebody’s Always Trying’ features a certain Jimmy Page on guitar.
Disc 3 covers the mid to late sixties a period that saw the demise of Merseybeat but didn’t mean that the wellspring of talent had dried up – far from it. The grinning happy go lucky sound was gone but was replaced by a more altogether diverse palette. There are some real gems to be found here. An early version of The Merseys ‘Sorrow’ sounds so much better on this take – sans the orchestration. Mind you it helps when the band is augmented by Jimmy Page and Jack Bruce! The Thoughts with Nicky Hopkins on piano and produced by the legendary Shel Talmy (Who, Kinks etc) cover Ray Davies to great effect on the jangling ‘All Night Stand’, while Wimple Witch contribute with the ultra rare ‘Rumble On Mersey Square’ ( a mint copy would set you back around £300 ) – a proto prog psych classic and predating Pink Floyd they deserved so much more than they achieved with that piece of English whimsy.
This 91 track box set is a fitting tribute to the bands who transformed the music scene in the 1960’s and many tracks refreshingly deviate from the usual. Before Merseybeat, groups were officially announced as dead by many. It’s thanks to these guys and gals that the days of bland, insipid pop was booted off the charts. God bless every one of them!