Styles & Forms | Merseybeat | Pop

A basic line-up of drums, bass and two guitars, sometimes augmented by a piano or a saxophone – this was the blueprint for the 500 or so bands who, staying faithful to the spirit and material of classic rock’n’roll, and to many obscure R&B songs, invigorated the pop scene in and around Liverpool between 1958 and 1964.

Taking its name from the river that runs through the city, what came to be known as ‘Merseybeat’, or the ‘Mersey Sound’, was often built around guitars backed by a solid beat and fronted by an energetic lead vocal. However, because these characteristics weren’t always shared or necessarily unique, it is debatable whether Merseybeat was anything other than a convenient, press-contrived pigeonhole assigned to bands hailing from the north-west of England.

Performed onstage at ‘jive hives’ such as the Aintree Institute, Grosvenor Ballroom, Hambleton Hall, Litherland Town Hall, Knotty Ash Village Hall, New Clubmoor Halland, most famously, the Cavern Club, the bright and melodic music was, largely, a throwback to the days of leather-clad rockers, both in terms of the material covered and, during an ultra-slick pop era, the groups’ rough-and-ready appearances. Smart attire and smoother attitudes would only be adopted once the scene became known beyond Merseyside, for while British acts were virtual nonentities on the American pop charts throughout the early 1960s, much the same could be said about the UK recording scene for artists based anywhere but in London. All of the major British record labels and studios were located in the capital, and if the artists and/or their managers were not able to audition for them, it was equally unlikely that the A&R (Artists & Repertoire) people would venture north of Watford in search of new talent.

Ripe For Exploitation

All of that changed in 1963, however, after the manager Brian Epstein’s tireless efforts to secure a recording contract for The Beatles reaped dividends in the form of their smash-hit singles ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘From Me To You’. The latter’s seven-week stay at No. 1 was sandwiched between fellow Liverpudlians and Epstein stablemates Gerry & The Pacemakers chart-topping ‘How Do You Do It?’ and ‘I Like It’. As a result, it didn’t take long for the record industry honchos to break with tradition and check out who else might be ripe for exploitation ‘up north’. Liverpool was suddenly overrun with talent scouts, managers and booking agents, resulting in success for a few notable and not-so-notable acts. However, it also eluded many who, despite being highly popular on the local scene, fell between the cracks due to a fateful lack of luck and talent.

Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, whose line-up formerly included Ringo Starr on drums; Kingsize Taylor & The Dominoes, who claimed to have been Liverpool’s first beat group; Derry Wilkie & The Seniors, who were the first Merseysiders to play a residency in the German rock’n’roll stomping ground of Hamburg; Faron’s Flamingos – the raw-edged sounds and stage performances...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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