Boys from the black stuff
Twenty years ago Liverpool was the centre of the pop universe.
Merseybeat was the sound of British pop, the music The Beatles took with them when they conquered the States.
The word “wacky” was on everyone’s lips, silly group names were all the rage, and teenagers all over the world copied the Liverpool sound and style.
In ‘84 the ‘Pool is still making pop history. Groups like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Echo And The Bunnymen, China Crisis and The Icicle Works are dominating the charts. Perhaps they’re not all quite so wacky, but they do still have weird names…
Liverpool was a busy port in the early ‘60s. When American sailors came spilling out of the docks, they didn’t just pick fights with the local gangs, they also brought piles of American rhythm and blues records that were unavailable elsewhere in the country.
When young Scouse groups started experimenting with the R&B sound, Merseybeat was born.
In 1961 there were over 300 of these Beat groups and gradually the city’s small clubs and bars turned away from jazz bands and let them play instead.
The most famous of these clubs was The Cavern—
Groups like Gerry And The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer, The Fourmost, The Merseybeats, The Searchers and The Swinging Blue Jeans followed in their wake. All had hits.
The new groups dressed crisply and their songs summed up their spirit of the times. ‘She Loves You’, ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ and ‘The Hippy Hippy Shake’ were played on Dansettes and jukeboxes up and down the country, and the Liverpool groups became the folk heroes of their day.
Much was made of the Liverpool sense of humour—
But each group was forced to go south to London to find fame and fortune, and eventually Liverpool was drained of inspiration. The strength of the sound had been the fact that it was so localised.
By 1957 Mersey beat was as good as over.
The late ‘60s and early ‘70s were depressing times for Liverpool. The port declined and the pop scene switched to London.
But there was one exception—
Between 1962 and 1982 they released 27 singles.
Even when they split up in 1970, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr all continued to make chart records. And as today’s chart shows, it seems not even death can prevent John Lennon having hits.
Liverpool’s next boom started in 1977 when Eric’s Club opened. People flocked to see the London punk groups play and then, surprise surprise, started forming groups themselves.
They were reacting against the decline of the port, unemployment, boredom—
Eric’s was just as important as The Cavern in its own way, as it gave the young people of the city a focus for their talents—
Big In Japan (featuring Holly from Frankie and Budgie from The Banshees) were the first of the new Liverpool groups, and they were followed by The Crucial Three, a legendary group comprising Ian McCulloch from Echo And The Bunnymen, Julian Cope of The Teardrop Explodes and Pete Wylie of Wah! They only played together four times but all three went on to greater things…
The most recent generation of Liverpool groups are OMD, The Lotus Eaters, China Crisis, The Icicle Works, Frankie, and Dead Or Alive.
There are two broad types of Liverpool music in the ‘80s. The whimsical synth pop of China Crisis and The Icicle Works seems to be saying, “Yeah, times are hard but love can rise above all that”. The harder, sleazier groups like Frankie and Dead Or Alive are saying, “Yeah, times are hard and we want to rub your noses in it.”
The Bunnymen walk somewhere in between the two extremes, talking about love honestly yet somehow romanticising the decay.
All these bands look like being around a good while yet.
And don’t worry, there are still plenty of silly names where they came from. Look out for Virgin Dance and The
Gerry And The Pacemakers: Their first three singles were all No.1s and one of these, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is now the chant of the Liverpool Kop.
Merseybeats: The fad, the sound. the group. They never had massive hits but they captured the spirit of the times and who could resist a band who sported frilly shirts, bolero jackets and masses of rings?
Searchers: ‘Needles And Pins’, their only No.1, was not only a classic record but also a cute way of describing temporary paralysis of the outer nervous system. Seen here on the pop show Ready Steady Go, which was the Top Of The Pops of yesteryear.
Billy J Kramer: His first three records were all written by The Beatles and were all smashes. Funny that. After that he wrote his own and was never as big again.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Relax! The B-side is ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’. so who said that the old hits are best?
Icicle Works: Describing themselves as makers of a kind of frozen pop winterland.
China Crisis: Credited by many critics as the original wimp band and doing their level best to live up to the image
Echo And The Bunnymen: Much the same type of humour as The Beatles. In fact their biggest disappointment in their inability to say or do anthing The Beatles haven’t already said or done.
IN THE CHARTS…
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD ‘Relax’ (ZTT)
PAUL McCARTNEY ‘Pipes Of Peace’ (Parlophone)
JOE FAGIN ‘That’s Living Alright’ (Towerbell)
ICICLE WORKS ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ (Beggars Banquet)
CHINA CRISIS ‘Wishing Thinking’ (Virgin)Continue »
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN ‘Killing Moon’ (Korova)
JOHN LENNON ‘Nobody Told Me’ (Polydor)
…and bubbling under:
PALE FOUNTAINS ‘Unless’ (Virgin)
DEAD OR ALIVE ‘I Do Anything’ CBS
WIN A MERSEYBEAT ALBUM!
If you fancy listening to some of the bands you’ve just read about then you really should get your hands on Parlophone’s ‘Merseybeat’ double album. It contains singles by all the ‘60s groups mentioned here, and more. We’ve got ten copies, so if you’d like one, send a postcard to Mersey, No.1, Room 2614, King’s Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS.