Gerry & The Pacemakers : Anthems from Liverpool

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‘People they rush everywhere

Each with their own secret care’

(Gerry Marsden – Ferry Cross The Mersey)

Liverpool in the 1950s was a city filled with youthful dreamers.

Of course, the quartet of dreamers who would go on to launch millions of dreams across the entire globe were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – The Beatles.

But, dreaming alongside them and in their wake were thousands of other young men from the port city.

Dreamers who had, like The Beatles, been electrified by the records brought home to Liverpool by sailors returning from America (for a more detailed introduction on this topic and the City of Liverpool see the opening paragraphs of : The Swinging Blue Jeans : Merseybeat Kings – The Hippy Hippy Shake, You’re No Good)

Prominent among these dreamers were two brothers from Dingle in Liverpool; Freddie (born 23 October 1940) and Gerry (born 24 September 1942).

Their father, also Fred, played the Ukulele and encouraged his sons to take up music.

Fred chose the drums (initially playing percussion on a chocolate box tin!).

Gerry took up the guitar and encouraged by family reactions to his spirited rendition of, ‘Ragtime Cowboy Joe’ elected himself lead singer.

Skiffle sessions at local halls led to performances at larger venues. Les Chadwick joined on bass and later another Les, Les Maguire, joined on keyboards to complete the classic line up of Gerry and the Pacemakers.

From 1960 onwards they built up a devoted following in their home town with many shows at The Cavern – often alternating with The Beatles.

They had the great good fortune to be added at the last minute to a Liverpool show by the great Gene Vincent.

Like The Beatles they honed their playing chops and their stamina by playing extended sets at Hamburg’s Top Ten Club. They became a tight Beat Group able to hold a crowd as they lashed into R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll classics.

Gerry was a natural front man with boundless energy and bonhomie.

He was the epitome of what is known in Britain as a, ‘Cheeky Chappie’ – the kind of man who always sees the glass half-full not half-empty and who anticipates the rainbow following the rain.

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These qualities and the unity of the group was spotted by Brian Epstein.

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He signed them to a management deal (his second after The Beatles) and persuaded Producer George Martin to bring them on to EMI’s Columbia label.

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This proved to be a very astute move for all parties.

For, incredibly, the first three Gerry and the Pacemakers singles all went to Number One in the UK Charts!

They began in March and May 1963 with two (to my mind cheesy) Mitch Miller songs ‘How Do You Do It’ and ‘I Like It’.

Then in October 1963 they issued a record which has become a part of the very fabric of life in Liverpool, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

The group had been performing the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein Show Tune for several years and it had always proved a Show Stopper.

George Martin, drawing on his classical training, provided a melting string arrangement to frame Gerry’s fervent vocal.

Listening to Gerry sing here it becomes apparent that while his appearance and manner exuded sunny optimism his greatest gift as a singer was to embody shadow and melancholy.

Indeed, taking the three records featured on The Jukebox today into account I have no hesitation in crowning Gerry as the Monarch of Mersey Melancholy!

Gerry has the musical and emotional intelligence to trust in the craft of the melody and lyric and present them powerfully but not hysterically.

So he is walking on – not running.

There is a mature determination to outface the dark in this performance. Though he may have to button his coat and turn up his collar against a biting wind he has faith that every dark night gives way to the dawn.

Gerry’s vocal makes you believe in the sweet silver song of the lark and the promise of the golden sky.

‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ almost immediately on issue became the anthem of Liverpool Football Club. The players run out to the song and to hear it sung by the massed ranks of The Kop is one of the greatest sports experiences.

It has taken on added depth and poignancy for Liverpool fans following the appalling tragedy at Hillsborough Stadium in April 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.

Every rendition of the song is in a sense a memorial to the 96.

Gerry and the Pacemakers had become big stars in the UK and in April 1964 they issued the record which, aided by appearances on Ed Sullivan and the overwhelming impact of The Beatles, would become their breakthrough in the American market, ‘Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying’ which made the top 5 in Billboard.

This is my favourite of all their records and a gold plated 60s classic.

Again George Martin was a key figure with a lovely arrangement expertly balancing strings, woodwinds and vocals to hugely winning effect.

Gerry’s regal melancholy is in full flow here on a song credited to all four members of the group.

Listening I imagine a shattered heart which has spent a long night without the balm of sleep. Yet, sometimes those white sleepless nights lead to moments of sudden, undeniable, clarity.

It’s Over. Over.

Looking out a window, almost too tired for tears, you can only wait for the Moon to cede to the Sun in the heavens and believe in the latter’s restorative warmth.

‘But don’t forget that love’s a game,

And it can always come again,

Oh don’t let the sun catch you cryin’,

Don’t let the sun catch you cryin’, oh no, 

Oh, oh, oh …. ‘

The last record I’m featuring here today is from late 1964/early 1965. It’s another record deeply redolent of life in the group’s native Liverpool, ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’.

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There’s something about the tidal sway of a Ferry trip that encourages reverie and contemplation.

This is beautifully captured in this Gerry Marsden song.

The record begins with the quiet assurance of a Ferry slipping away from the shore. Gerry’s plangent tones take us on a journey reminding us all of the consolations of the familiar:

‘We don’t care what your name is boy – we’ll never turn you away’.

We all need such a place for life does go on day after day and beating hearts can’t help but be torn in so many ways.

Gerry and the Pacemakers broke up a group in late 1966 but the above trio of records will surely always earn them a secure place in the affections of those who need a reminder to not be afraid of the dark and to hold their head up high.

Dedicated to the memory of Freddie Marsden (died December 9 2006)

Wishing Gerry Marsden a speedy recovery from his recent ill health.

Make sure you check out the three other Posts in the ‘Some Other Guys’ series featuring The Merseybeats, The Swinging Blue Jeans & Billy Fury.

The Swinging Blue Jeans : Merseybeat Kings – The Hippy Hippy Shake, You’re No Good

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As the 1960s dawned winds of change were blowing not just across the colonies of the British Empire but also whistling through the great provincial cities of England.

A generation of young working class men, now that military conscription had been banished to history, no longer had to shudderingly look forward to years of endless spud peeling, square bashing and boot polishing.

Now, if they had the imagination, the will and the courage they could march to the beat of their own drum. And, if along with the drum they added two guitars and a bass they had a beat group!

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If you’re looking for the great provincial city where the new call to arms was most resoundingly answered you have to sail down the River Mersey to Liverpool.

Liverpool was a great port city. And through the port along with the everyday trade goods came more exciting and exotic products that might well have been described as contraband by the colonels of musical good taste at the Palais de Dance and the BBC.

Liverpool sailors on the 1950s transatlantic liners left a Britain still painfully recovering from the financial and physical trauma of World War 2. They left a land where there was still rationing and where the landscape was scarred with bomb-sites.

Arriving in New York their eyes must have been dazzled by the cornucopia of delights advertised in shocking neon colours. Consumer goods that were the subject of near fetishistic lust back home could be picked up off the shelves and carried triumphantly home.

Cameras, sharp clothes and above all records. Records vibrating with power on gleaming vinyl with exotic labels from exotic cities like Memphis, New Orleans and Cincinnati.

Records that nobody else would have. Records that showed you were ahead of the pack. In the know. Records you would let your little brothers listen to but woe betide them if they dared to try and play them when you were out!

Of course these younger brothers, cousins, the kid next door, listened and marvelled and thought to themselves – maybe, just maybe we can form a group and make magic like that encoded in the discs spinning at 45rpm.

And, maybe, just maybe, the girls now studiously ignoring them would find them suddenly very attractive indeed!

So its perhaps not so surprising that by mid 1961 several hundred beat groups in Liverpool, with greater or lesser degrees of skill, were channelling Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and The Everly Brothers.

Sweat ran down the walls of The Cavern, The Mardi Gras and Downbeat clubs as groups and audiences buoyant with youthful energy created a, ‘Happening Scene’ which would outdo their wildest dreams and change the world when it transpired that one of these groups, The Beatles, happened to have the mixture of genius, talent and character that changes not just the cultural weather but the climate.

In February 1961 The Beatles were back from their transformative boot camp experience in Hamburg. They now proceeded to hone those hard earned musical chops on home turf.

Though they had played The Cavern in their days as the skiffle group The Quarrymen their first appearance as The Beatles there was as unannounced guests of a long established Merseyside group, The Swinging Blue Jeans, whose own series of early 60s hits have a charm and power of their own which we celebrate here today on The Jukebox.

We will kick off with their signature hit, ‘The Hippy Hippy Shake’ which must be a near perfect distillation of the Merseybeat sound.

Boom! The Bluejeans had picked the song up from a 1959 single cut by 17 year old Chan Romero (finding obscure US 45s to cover was an essential part of the Merseybeat group armoury). Chan’s version was a winning sashay which benefited from the musical prowess of Earl Palmer, Barney Kessel and Rene Hall.

What the Bluejeans brilliantly did was to up the tempo, turn up the volume and defy anyone listening not to find out how ecstatically they could dance for the two minutes or so the song lasted!

Their stunning attack must owe something to their experience in Hamburg when they were booed off stage for daring to imagine an audience of drunken sailors, strippers and would be existentialists would go for a jazz/skiffle combo still sporting a banjo in the rhythm section! Wisely they heeded John Lennon’s advice to drop the banjo and rock out for all they were worth.

For Goodness Sake! You just can’t resist the relentless drive they bring to the song. The blood must have fair sung in their veins as they played this one live. It raced to Number 2 on the UK charts for Christmas 1963 and was later a top 30 hit in the USA.

The Swinging Blue Jeans locked themselves into my fondest memory because I loved, ‘The Hippy Hippy Shake’ from the first moment I heard it and because they appeared on the very first, ‘Top Of The Pops’ TV show which became an unmissable part of my childhood and adolescence.

The line up that recorded The Bluejeans greatest sides was Ray Ennis on Rhythm Guitar and vocals, Les Braid on bass and keyboards, Ralph Ellis on lead guitar and Norman Kuhlke on drums.

They would ollow up the classic Hippy Hippy Shake with a frantic cover of, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ which lodged just outside the UK top 10 and the US top 40.

Their next hit, featured below, was a cannily chosen cover of a song written by Clint Ballard Jnr and most beautifully sung by Betty Everett, ‘You’re No Good’ This one was top 5 in the UK and just grazed the US top 100. The video clip stars one of my favourite actresses from the 1960s era – Rita Tushinghmam who was also emblematic of the arrival of working class talent in the arts (10 points to all who can tell me which film the clip is taken from)

You want moody? Now that’s moody! Even the most hardened Gauloise puffing Existentialists must have dropped the blank stare for a few minutes as they tuned their bruised souls into this one!

And,for many the lyric of bitter experience telling of a misplayed hand in the game of love must have struck a deep chord.

The Bluejeans last hurrah, as far as the charts were concerned, was a lovely take on the Bacharach/David Dionne Warwick classic, ‘Don’t make Me Over’ which almost made the UK top 30 in January 1966. There’s a tough guys show their tender side feel about this one that always makes me swoon.

I’m sure that many couples swooned together as they slow danced under the mirror ball as Don’t Make Me Over resounded over the dance floor.

The Swinging Blue Jeans have never retired though they have had a revolving door cast of members since their 60s heydays.

They lacked the potency of image and songwriting skills necessary for an extended career at the top. They were thus unable to build on their excellence as a Merseybeat group.

But, a fine Merseybeat group, as the tracks above surely demonstrate, was most assuredly something to be!

Notes:

There are a plethora of Swinging Blue Jeans compilations. My own, which has served me well, is, ‘The Swinging Blue Jeans at Abbey Road 1963-1967’ on EMI.

There is a possibly apocryphal story which I enjoy telling that at that first Top Of The Pops show a fight broke out between the Bluejeans and a scruffy London R&B Band called The Rolling Stones about ownership of a pen used to sign autographs!

The Bluejeans being an iconic Merseybeat band also made an appearance in a breakthrough for realism TV show about the Liverpool Police called, ‘Z Cars’ which was another staple of my youth.

The Beatles & Bowie agree: The Merseybeats are Fab!

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The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show on February 9th 1964, viewed by some 73 million people (!) was an epochal moment in the history of popular music and indeed of global popular culture. The world would never be quite the same again. Additionally, their Sullivan show debut red letter marked a new, wholly unanticipated, chapter in the, ‘Special relationship’ between the peoples of Britain and The United States Of America.

Following in the wake of The Beatles overwhelming chart triumphs and virtual colonisation of the hearts and imaginations of an entire generation of American youth battalions of British Beat groups began packing their bags and stared dreamily at their atlases as they wondered what the fabled cities of New York City, Chicago and San Francisco were really like. Could it true that they were on their way there and that when they arrived they would be screamed at by hordes of gorgeous young women, celebrated for their ‘cute’ accents and garlanded as members of a wholly welcomed invasion?

For some like the Rolling Stones and The Who, Field Marshalls of the Invasion, this was indeed the case and they would go on over the following half century to pursue storied careers now commemorated in DVDs, Box Sets and epic myth making tours. But while the Generals and Staff Officers of any army always grab the lion’s share of the glory and the headlines, others in the ranks – the regulars, the foot sore infantry, sometimes have their fleeting moment(s) in the sun too.

The, ‘Some Other Guys’ series will feature posts on the lesser lights of the British Beat era who nevertheless made some great records that endure as fine music as well as being emblematic of the times.

So, today I showcase The Merseybeats/Merseys – a group who played hundreds of times at Liverpool’s legendary Cavern club in the early 1960s, alternating as headliners with the Beatles. In many respects they were like younger brothers of The Beatles – sharing their enthusiasms if not the overwhelming charisma and depth of talent of the Fab Four (but then who did!).

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They did however produce a classic record in 1966, ‘Sorrow’. Both The Beatles and David Bowie were fond of the group and, ‘Sorrow’ in particular. The Beatles directly quoted from the song in their, ‘It’s All Too Much’ and former fan club member Bowie had a substantial hit with his sometimes camp, sometimes impassioned, wholly Bowiesque, version of the song which appeared on his early 70s covers album, ‘Pin Ups’.

The Merseys version, below, intimates that that the unreachable beauty, the longed for lover with the long blonde hair and the eyes of blue, may well turn out to be not an angel but the Devil’s daughter and the cause of long lasting sorrow as well as momentary joy. Or so it so often seems in the overheated imaginations of hormonally ravaged, emotionally immature, teenage boys! Later, spurned, the young man may come to realise that thinking about his fate might well be an illicit pleasure in its own right and cue up, ‘Sorrow’ time and again until the next love of his life appears.

The charmingly morose vocals are by the key duo of the Merseybeats/Merseys – Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley who also respectively played rhythm and lead guitar. The record label assures us that the track was produced by Kit Lambert (then manager of The Who) though I am inclined to hear more profoundly the influence of John Paul Jones (later of Led Zeppelin fame) who played the opening bowed bass figure and surely arranged the horns which feature so effectively.

The great Clemente Anselmo Arturo ‘Clem’ Cattini, the doyenne of UK session drummers, plays with the professional expertise he brought to over 40 British number 1 singles. ‘Sorrow’ will take up permanent residence in your musical memory. I’d like to feature two more songs to illustrate the worth of the Band. First, the Merseybeats 1964 million selling ballad, ‘I Think Of You’ which in addition to the aforementioned Crane and Kinsley has Aaron Williams on guitar and the late John Banks behind the drum kit.

This swooner with its attractive guitar figure was surely meant to play as the mirror ball scattered its indiscriminate temporary glamour over local dance floors. Perhaps many of the dancers as this song played thought of, ‘the one who got away’ even as they held close the one they were dancing with that night. The record is contained and contentedly wraps us up in satisfying angst. Finally a more dramatic and weighty performance from 1965, their version of Tony Colton and Ray Smith’s magnificent cri de couer, ‘I Stand Accused’ (later to be given a thrilling, amphetamine rush version by Elvis Costello). Tony Colton, as secret hero of the UK Music scene, will feature later in this series.

The above performance reveals an altogether grittier, sweatier, side to The Merseybeats. This, surely, is how they would have sounded in stygian gloom of The Cavern as the crowd, packed way beyond capacity, urged them on for chorus upon chorus before they all needed to groggily come up for air.

Few glossily illustrated, footnoted tomes will be written about the Merseybeats yet they surely left their mark on the 60s musical landscape and with, ‘Sorrow’ that mark is likely to prove indelible.

Notes: The original version of, ‘Sorrow’ was written and produced in 1965 in a hazy folk-rock style by the New York City wise guy team of Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer for The McCoys which featured guitar wunderkind Rick Derringer. Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer issued records under the name The Strangeloves including the garage rock staple, ‘I Want Candy’.

Richard Gottehrer is very likely to feature here on The Jukebox later as he went on to be an important figure in the New York New Wave scene (producing records for Richard Hell and Blondie) and co-found Sire Records.

‘Some Other Guy’ a raucous 1962 R&B by Richard Berry (written by Leiber & Stoller) has, as the the more astute among you will have already figured out, provided the inspiration for the, ‘Some Other Guys’ series. It was frequently played live by The Beatles in their Cavern days.