The Birth Of British Beat Boom
Received wisdom would have us believe that The 60s began in Liverpool in 1963, commensurate with the arrival of The Beatles and the ensuing British Beat Boom. Well, that’s certainly the romantic view, but the seeds of the Beat Boom had been sewn a few years earlier – and in an altogether different grimy, down-at-heel European port, viz: Hamburg. Moreover, whilst Liverpool undoubtedly had its own vibrant beat group scene, so did cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield – but none more so than London and its suburbs, which is effectively where the Blues/R&B movement first took root. And whilst The Beatles would, of course, subsequently go on to grab the credit and glory (and ultimately, deification), a great many other groups and singers had been paying their not inconsiderable dues in the years immediately preceding 1963. This compilation presents 65 tracks which either anticipated or helped shape the Beat Boom, featuring groups who would go on to achieve huge mid-60s successes alongside a number of other equally-deserving and/or influential acts, who were destined merely to enjoy cult status, as well as a handful of sides by some of the ‘old guard’ which, with the clear benefit of hindsight, indicate that at least a few of the established artists were still in touch with evolving musical trends at the grass roots level.
There can be no real doubt that the catalyst which inspired the Beat Boom was the city of Hamburg, with its seedy clubs – most notably the Kaiserkeller, the Indra, the Top Ten and the Star-Club – and their demanding schedules, where groups would be expected to play for hours and days on end. The first British group to play in Hamburg (specifically, the Kaiserkeller) were The Jets, who ironically never recorded. However, their main man, singer/guitarist Tony Sheridan, would go on to become a legendary figure in Germany and one of the most influential musicians on the Beat scene. He famously recorded with The Beatles, of course; indeed, their single, ‘My Bonnie’/‘The Saints’, made the German charts in late 1961, reputedly selling around 100,000 copies (by 1964 it was a certified million-seller, having belatedly made both the UK and US charts on the back of Beatlemania). More pertinently, it was this very record which would lead Brian Epstein to The Beatles. Sheridan also recorded with The Beat Brothers and went on to cut a number of well-received solo releases, enjoying further chart action in Germany.
The first Liverpudlians to play in Hamburg, in the summer of 1960, were Derry & The Seniors, led by saxman Howie Casey and fronted by black singer Derry Wilkie. Realigned as Howie Casey & The Seniors, with Freddie Fowell (aka Freddie Starr) as second vocalist, they would also be the first Scouse beat group to cut a record, the Twist At The Top LP, for Fontana, in 1962. Meanwhile, other important British groups to play there during the early 60s included Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates (whose ‘A Shot Of Rhythm & Blues’/‘I Can Tell’ was the very first classic Beat Boom 45), Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages, Joe Brown & The Bruvvers, Emile Ford & The Checkmates, Buddy Britten & The Regents and Mike Berry & The Outlaws. Jimmy Justice, who was always far more popular overseas than in the UK, enjoyed particular success in Germany, notably at the Star-Club, as did Roy Young, who teamed up with Tony Sheridan in The Beat Brothers, and would continue to live in Hamburg for several years.
But not all British beat groups were learning their trade out in Germany. Back home in the UK there was an equally active scene, where many of these bands were just as popular and busy – notably Johnny Kidd, Joe Brown and Lord Sutch – and a number of other groups, e.g. The Dave Clark Five, Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, Carter-Lewis & The Southerners, The Overlanders, The Roulettes (who would later back Adam Faith) and The Dowlands & The Soundtracks, were also starting out on their recording careers. These would all go on to taste later successes, to varying degrees, most notably the Dave Clark Five, who would (astonishingly!) become enormous in the US, second in popularity only to The Beatles. Brian Poole & The Tremeloes were, of course the band whom Decca Records famously signed instead of The Beatles; they would top the UK charts the following year, whilst The Trems would ultimately split with Poole and go on to even bigger successes.
Sadly, a number of equally-fine (in a couple of cases, considerably better) artists never quite ‘made it’ in terms of record success, although they were hugely popular live acts. These notably included Jackie Lynton & The Jury (Jackie remains a dynamic live performer to this very day), Jimmy Powell & The Dimensions and Robb Storme & The Whispers. Elsewhere, a number of unlikely one-off 45s certainly captured the right vibe; Doug Sheldon’s cover of Kenny Dino’s US hit ‘Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night’ comes across as the blueprint for the Dave Clark Five’s ‘Bits And Pieces’, whilst a pair of Joe Meek productions, Michael Cox’s revival of ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ (on which he was backed by The Krew Kats) and Geoff Goddard’s twangy ‘Try Once More’ (backed by The Outlaws, with Ritchie Blackmore very much in evidence) sound a year or two ahead of their time.
Rather more surprisingly, perhaps, a few of the old school chart acts still showed occasional signs of hitting the right groove. Certainly, taken in isolation, Cliff & The Shadows’ revivals of Bobby Freeman’s ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ and Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘It’ll Be Me’ pack a real punch, sounding nothing like the soppy ballads he was warbling at that time, whilst Adam Faith, Shane Fenton & The Fentones, Jet Harris and Eden Kane all sound equally comfortable on some suitable material. Mind you, Billy Fury always had good taste, even when his record company insisted on his recording ballads, as these tracks recorded with The Tornadoes, for his Radio Luxembourg radio show (hence the iffy sound quality), readily confirm.
Finally, there was another musical revolution taking place, very gradually, deep in the Thames Delta. It started in West London, where Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies founded the Ealing Blues Club so that their band Blues Incorporated would have a regular gig. They began attracting other young, like-minded musicians – Long John Baldry joined as second vocalist, whilst Duffy Power would feature in a later line-up – and bands like Chris Farlowe & The Thunderbirds turned up to play. Eventually, new bands formed from the throngs of hangers-on who queued to get up and jam with Alexis and Cyril…bands like The Rolling Stones and Manfred Mann…but that’s another story, for another day.
Special thanks to Tony Wilkinson and Lucky Parker
Hamburg: The Cradle Of British Rock by Alan Clayson (Sanctuary Books, 1997)