Beat - Merseyside's Own Entertainment Paper - The Beatles, The Liverpool
Sound, The Swinging Sixties... It's still happening, man!
Money, of course, was tight - the office cost £5 a week, Virginia had a
salary of £2.10s and I took no wages at all, but lived on my grant from
a Senior City Art Scholarship. The first person that I approached to write
for me was John. I’d originally discovered his ability as a wordsmith when
we were sitting together in 'Ye Cracke' one evening. I’d heard rumours that
he wrote poetry and asked if I could see a sample. He was, initially, reluctant
to discuss it then gave way and showed me a poem he had on folded scraps
of paper in his pocket. I found that it was full of humour, double entendres
and was so essentially 'British'. No San Franciscan poet could have written
this . . . . .
Owl George 'ee be a farmer’s
With mucklekak and cow
'Ee be the son of ‘is owl dad
But why I don’t know how
.'Ee tak a fork and bale the hay
And stacking-stook he stock
And lived his loif from day to day
Dressed in a sweaty smock.
One day he marry be
To Nellie Nack the Lass
And we shall see what we shall see
A-f***ing in the grass.
Our Nellie be a gal so fine
All dimpled wart and blue.
She herds the pigs, the rotten swine,
It mak we wanna spew!
Somehaps, perchance, 'ee’ll be a man
But now I will unfurl
Owl George is out of the frying pan
‘Cos ee’s a little girl.
was later to ask John if he could write me a piece for my forthcoming
publication about his group. In the meantime, Virginia and I were
preparing the debut issue. Generally, after I’d taken Virginia home
in the evening, I’d return to the office and work through the night
- often going out for a break at four in the morning to the Pier Head
where I’d get a cup of tea and a hot pie.
The time came for me to think of a name for the publication and I
was racking my brains – it was to be a ‘what’s on of Merseyside music’
but what should I call it? It was around 2 o'clock one morning when
I sat back and began to work out what the name should be.
One decision I had to make was regarding the area I’d be covering.
I thought that, apart from Liverpool, I’d cover ‘over the water’ –
The Wirral, Birkenhead, New Brighton, because there was a lot of activity
there with groups. I also decided to include Crosby and Southport
because there were also venues there for the groups. Warrington, Widnes
and Runcorn would also be part of my 'beat'.
I began to visualise in my head a map of the area I’d be covering.
I pictured the entire Merseyside conurbation and, suddenly, in the
visualisation, I saw a policeman – a policeman’s beat! The entire
area of Merseyside would be my 'beat' – the 'Mersey Beat'!
At that time there was no such term as ‘beat group’ - that only
came later, after 'Mersey Beat' had been established as a paper. The groups
were rock ‘n’ roll groups and the venues were jive hives – jive and twist
were the most popular terms, then, to describe the music. I arranged for
James E. James to print the newspaper but, due to costs of having metal
blocks made, I couldn’t use many photos in the first issue. 'The Widnes
Weekly News' lent me a block they’d had made of Gene Vincent with Terry
Sharrock and Mary Larkin, the two girls who worked at The Jacaranda, and
I used that as the front cover photo. To illustrate adverts I used blocks
of cartoons from my art school mates which I’d originally used in 'Pantosphinx'.
The article on page 4, ‘Swinging Cilla’, was responsible for Cilla Black’s
stage name as the second paragraph begins with the words ‘Cilla Black is
a Liverpool girl who is starting on the road to fame'. I remember going
down to the State Ballroom one evening when I was putting the first issue
together and asking Cilla if she had the fashion column that she had promised
me. She was with her mate, Pat Davies, and 'Cass & The Cassanovas' were
on stage. When I got back to the office I began working on the copy for
the first issue and began to type out a story on Cilla. When it came to
putting down her surname my mind went blank - I knew it was a colour, but
forgot which one. I took out the piece of paper with Cilla’s fashion column
on it (which was published in Issue No. 2) but she hadn’t signed it. The
column was all about colours in fashion and went from white to black. Looking
at it I decided on the 'black' but I was wrong - her name was Cilla White!
After Mersey Beat was published, Cilla came into the office and told me
that I’d got her surname wrong – but she liked it so much she decided to
call herself Cilla Black from then on!
we were sitting in 'The Jacaranda' shortly before The Beatles set
off on their second trip to Hamburg, John handed me some scraps of
paper – it was the piece I’d asked him to write about The Beatles'
origins. It was something totally unexpected and its sheer wackiness
delighted me. I immediately ordered him coffee and jam toast!
The piece appeared on page 2 of the first issue (right), which was
originally published on July 6th 1961. The humour of it appealed to
me. It was the time of 'The Goons' (who regularly said 'you rotten
swine') and at Junior Art School I'd been involved with some friends
in what we called the 'Natty Nut Society'. I was also interested in
the nonsense novels of Stephen Leacock (as was Paul McCartney). As
a result I decided to print the biography, as John had written it,
without altering a single word. It had no title so I made up the heading
'Being A Short Diversion On The Dubious Origins Of Beatles (Translated
From The John Lennon)'. It’s interesting to note that a sentence from
the piece: “It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie
and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an A’
provided the inspiration for Paul’s ‘Flaming Pie’ album decades later.
I ordered 5,000 copies of the newspaper and approached the three main
wholesale distributors on Merseyside – W.H.Smith, Conlan’s and Blackburn’s,
and they all agreed to take copies. I also trekked around Liverpool
and got personal orders from 28 newsagents. Then I arranged with Ray
McFall to stock it in the 'Cavern' and I also contacted Brian Kelly
and other promoters to take copies.