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Merseybeat Nostalgia

Mersey Beat

Merseysides Own Entertainment Paper

Bill with Virginia in the Mersey Beat office

Bill & Virginia 2

Bill Harry was born in Liverpool and at the age of 16 entered the Liverpool Collage of Art. It was in 1958, while at the college, he started a magazine called ‘Jazz’. Liverpool, like the rest of the country, was into jazz and had various clubs; the Liverpool Jazz Society, the Temple Jazz Club and the Cavern Club (pre rock ‘n’ roll). Bill also worked on the University magazine ‘Pantosphinx’ and on local music store owner Frank Hessy’s magazine called ‘Frank Comments’, this is when he started to take an interest in the local music scene. By this time he had become friends with fellow art students Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon. John had formed a group and had invited Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who both attended Liverpool Institute, housed in the same building as the Art College, to join his band known simply as the ‘College Band’

Bill, Stuart and John started to spend more time at a coffee bar, the Jacaranda, which was where Bill met Virginia (later to become his wife). Bill had planned to produce a jazz magazine called ‘Storyville/52nd Street’ but decided to cover the emerging local music scene. His experience in writing ‘Frank Comments’ had taken him to places around Liverpool such as Wilson Hall where local rock ‘n’ roll bands played. He began to talk to band members in the Jacaranda and realised something ‘Big’ was happening in Liverpool, the rock ‘n’ roll scene was larger then even the bands had realised. Bill had been filling pocket notebooks with details of groups, venues and promoters and was surprised how extensive the local scene had become. He started writing to newspapers such as the Daily Mail, pointing out what was happening in Liverpool was similar to what had happened in New Orleans but with rock ‘n’ roll bands instead of jazz. Nobody took any notice, even the local

Bill and Virginia

Bill & Virginia 1

evening newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, didn’t cover the local music scene. Because he hadn’t received any reaction from the press he decided, instead of a jazz magazine, he would write about the local rock ‘n’ roll scene. A friend from the Jacaranda introduced him to Jim Anderson, a local civil servant, who offered to lend Bill and Virginia the 50 they needed to launch the project, they decided on a fortnightly newspaper devoted to the music scene on Merseyside, it would be a ‘What’s On’ of every musical event during the next fortnight. He still didn’t have a name for the new musical paper and, sitting alone one night in the papers office, thinking of the distribution area, the whole of Merseyside including Widness and Warrington, a picture of a policeman walking his beat came into his head along with the name ‘Mersey Beat’, (the music papers name is based, not on the ‘beat’ of the music but on a policeman walking his beat!), the first issue sold out, all 5000 copies. Local bands started calling themselves ‘Beat Groups’ instead of rock ‘n’ roll bands and venues started advertising themselves as ‘Beat Sessions’ and ‘Beat Clubs’. Once The Beatles had achieved recording success, national newspapers called the Liverpool sound ‘Mersey Beat’, adopting the name of Bill’s local music paper? Because of his friendship with John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, The Beatles where the main group the paper promoted. They had been brilliantly photographed in Germany by Astrid Kirchherr, photographs now famous, taken outside of a studio and while performing on stage. Bill engaged Dick Matthews to take shots of them on stage at the Cavern and on outside locations, no other group had such a large photographic record of their early career. The papers circulation kept on increasing and started covering groups in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Newcastle, the paper also ‘Championed’ The Rolling Stones.

The Following extract from Bill’s book ‘The Encyclopedia of Beatles People’ explains why he decided to publish ‘Mersey Beat’ far more eloquently than I can;

”Suddenly, there was an awareness of being young and young people wanted their own styles and their own music, just at the time they were beginning to earn money which gave them the spending power. Mersey Beat was their voice, it was a paper for them, crammed with photographs and information about their own groups, which is why it also began to appeal to youngsters throughout Britain as its coverage extended to other areas.

The newspapers, television, theaters and radio were all run by people of a different generation who had no idea of what youngsters wanted. For decades they had manipulated and controlled them (see the scene with George Harrison and Kenneth Haig in A Hard Day’s Night), but now the youngsters wanted to create their own fashions. What existed on the banks of the Mersey between 1958 and 1964 was exciting, energetic and unique, a magical time when an entire city danced to the music of youth”

Photographs reproduced by kind permission of Bill Harry

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