|In a 1963 Mersey Beat interview, bass guitarist Les Braid recalled the group’s early career. “During the skiffle days I used to go down to the Cavern. I was in the club one day when a member of one of the groups appearing there – Johnny Carter of the Hi Cats – came without a string-bass player so I just went up and asked them if I could join the group. They jumped at the chance as there weren’t any bass players about in those days. During the time I was with the group the Bluegenes asked me to do jobs for them and eventually I was getting more work off the Bluegenes than the other groups, so I joined them. “It was about 1959 and there weren’t that many groups around – the Beatles weren’t heard about in those days and there was more jazz being played at the Cavern than anything else. “We used to have a three-quarters-of-an-hour spot every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and later on we had a guest night of Tuesday evenings. The Cavern had been closed on Tuesdays and we made arrangements with Ray McFall about playing on those nights and Ray suggested we had guest groups. This was in 1961 and the groups we had as guests included Gerry, The Searchers, Billy Kramer & The Coasters and, of course, The Beatles.”|
noticed that their average audience of 60 had swelled to almost 200
for that first Beatles performance and was quite impressed by their
local fan following. The Bluegenes were a quintet at the time but John
Carter left two months later and they decided to remain a quartet. Their
original line-up had been washboard, tea-chest bass, guitar and banjo.
Washboard player Norman Kuhlke became their drummer and remained with
the band until 1969. Banjoist Paul Moss left in 1960 and wasn’t replaced.
The line-up and personnel who performed on their hit singles lasted
from 1961 to 1966 and comprised Ray (rhythm guitar), Les (bass guitar),
Norman (drums) and Ralph Ellis (guitar).
Ralph was replaced in 1966 by Terry Sylvester, former member of The Escorts, and the quartet became a quintet the following year with another ex-Escort, Mike Gregory, on bass (Les became organist for a time). Terry left to join The Hollies and Mike had also left and been replaced by Billy Kinsley, former member of The Merseybeats, who was to leave and form Liverpool Express. Ray and Les were then joined by Mike Pynn on lead guitar and John Lawrence on drums for a while. They were replaced in 1975 by Hedley Vick and Chris Mute. Garth Elliott replaced Hedley in 1975 and in 1978 Ray and Les were joined by Colin Manley, former member of The Remo Four, on guitar/vocals and Ian McGee on drums.
Epstein wasn’t the only local manager with a stable of artists. Jim
Ireland, who ran some popular clubs – the Mardi Gras and the Downbeat
– managed The Swinging Bluejeans, The Escorts, Earl Preston’s Realms
and Cy Tucker’s Friars.
The group signed with EMI’s HMV label and their debut single ‘It’s Too Late Now’, was issued in June 1963, followed by ‘Do You Know?’ in September. It was their third disc, ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’, which launched them into the big time.
Many years later, Ray was to tell Radio Merseyside broadcaster Spencer Leigh: “We had to fight like hell with EMI to get ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ released. They said, ‘No, this will never make it.’ We felt so strongly about it, four little humble lads from Liverpool that we said, ‘If you don’t release it, we won’t make any more records.’ They released it and Wally Ridley, the A&R; man, apologised afterwards. ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ sold three million copies.
following year they appeared in ‘Circularama Cavalcade’, a new film
process in which the screen surrounded the audience; read from Shakespeare
at Durham University; performed at the finishing post of a major horse
riding event; participated in the famous Denby Dale pie ceremony and
teamed up with Les Ballets Africains for a performance. Indeed, 1964
was their peak year and they only had one further chart hit, ‘Don’t
Make Me Over’ in 1966.
Since then the group have continued to perform around the world and in a single year recently appeared in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and the Middle East. Ralph Ellis worked in a bank until his retirement, Colin Manley passed away on 9th April 1999 and Les Braid succumbed to cancer on 31st July 2005.