Bill Harry, a student at the Liverpool College of Art, published the first edition of Mersey Beat magazine on this day.
I was trying to get backers for a jazz magazine I’d designed, but I’d got so involved with The Beatles that I decided to do a rock ‘n’ roll mag instead. I borrowed £50 to start the paper and thought of the name Mersey Beat and that was when the Mersey beat scene officially began. The music didn’t have a name before. When I started Mersey Beat, I got together with Bob Wooler and we came out with a list of over 400 bands covering the area from Liverpool to Southport and over the water. I knew that there was no other scene like this in the entire country, probably not in the whole world, and it was very like New Orleans at the turn of the century when jazz began.
The Cavern, Spencer Leigh
The fortnightly magazine quickly became an essential read for fans of the Liverpool music scene, and The Beatles appeared numerous times in its pages. Harry, a friend to John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe, was a keen writer. However, his attempts to interest the national press in the burgeoning Liverpool music scene came to nothing.
Having received no reaction to my appeals to the press to cover what was happening, I decided to do something about it myself. Instead of a jazz magazine, I’d write about the local rock ‘n’ roll scene.
Although I’d received my National Diploma in design, I was still at the art college, having become the first student of the new Graphic Design course and later winner of the Senior City Art Scholarship. John Lennon had hoped to enter the Graphic Art department with me, but the lecturer, Roy Sharpe, wouldn’t accept him.
Mersey Beat was launched with a loan of £50. Harry’s girlfriend Virginia – later his wife – played a key role in getting the project off the ground.
Money was still a problem, but Dick Matthews, a friend from the Jacaranda, introduced me to Jim Anderson, who offered to lend Virginia and me the £50 we needed to launch the project. By this time I’d decided on a fortnightly newspaper, completely devoted to the music of Merseyside, which would also be a ‘what’s on’ of every musical event during the fortnight.
Virginia’s support is what really kept me going and ensured that the visions in my head became a reality. She gave up her job to work full-time on the project and Jim found us an office above a wine merchant’s shop in Renshaw Street. Jim, Dick, Virginia and I entered the tiny attic office room carrying a typewriter, a desk and a couple of chairs, which Jim had provided us with. Dick also took out his camera and promised to cover the local music scene for the new paper.
Sitting in the Jacaranda with John and Stu, I’d tell them of our progress. By that time they’d left the college and were about to go to Germany. I asked John if he could write a biography of the Beatles for the new paper, which I could run in the first issue. When the Beatles returned from Germany, John gave me the biography, written in his own inimitable style, which I entitled On The Dubious Origins Of Beatles, Translated From the John Lennon.
Lennon’s biography of The Beatles appeared on page two of the first issue of Mersey Beat. Harry printed it without changing a single word.
Once upon a time there were three little boys called John, George and Paul, by name christened. They decided to get together because they were the getting together type. When they were together they wondered what for after all, what for? So all of a sudden they grew guitars and fashioned a noise. Funnily enough, no one was interested, least of all the three little men. So-o-o-o on discovering a fourth little even littler man called Stuart Sutcliffe running about them they said, quite ‘Sonny get a bass guitar and you will be alright’ and he did – but he wasn’t alright because he couldn’t play it. So they sat on him with comfort ’til he could play. Still there was no beat, and a kindly old man said, quote ‘Thou hast not drums!’ We had no drums! they coffed. So a series of drums came and went and came.
Suddenly, in Scotland, touring with Johnny Gentle, the group (called the Beatles called) discovered they had not a very nice sound – because they had no amplifiers. They got some.
Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. 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’. Thank you, mister man, they said, thanking him.
And then a man with a beard cut off said – will you go to Germany (Hamburg) and play mighty rock for the peasants for money? And we said we would play mighty anything for money.
But before we could go we had to grow a drummer, so we grew one in West Derby in a club called Some Casbah and his trouble was Pete Best. we called ‘Hello Pete, come off to Germany!’ ‘Yes!’ Zooooom. After a few months, Peter and Paul (who is called McArtrey, son of Jim McArtrey, his father) lit a Kino (cinema) and the German police said ‘Bad Beatles, you must go home and light your English cinemas’. Zooooom, half a group. But before even this, the Gestapo had taken my friend little George Harrison (of speke) away because he was only twelve and too young to vote in Germany; but after two months in England he grew eighteen and the Gestapoes said ‘you can come’. So suddenly all back in Liverpool Village were many groups playing in grey suits and Jim said ‘Why have you no grey suits?’ ‘We don’t like them, Jim’ we said, speaking to Jim.
After playing in the clubs a bit, everyone said ‘Go to Germany!’ So we are. Zooooom Stuart gone. Zoom zoom John (of Woolton) George (of Speke) Peter and Paul zoom zoom. All of them gone. Thank you club members, from John and George (what are friends).
With both concept and content coming together, Harry needed a name for his magazine. Inspiration struck early one morning.
Sitting alone in the office at about two in the morning, I was attempting to think of a name for the new paper. Having decided that I’d cover the entire Merseyside region – Liverpool, the Wirral, Southport, Crosby, St. Helens, Widnes, Warrington and so on – I suddenly visualised it as a policeman’s beat. The image of a copper walking around a map of the surrounding area came into my head, along with the name ‘Mersey Beat.’
The cover of the first edition of Mersey Beat featured a photograph of Gene Vincent taken at the Rialto in Liverpool by a photographer from the Widnes Weekly News photographer. The edition sold well, far exceeding Harry’s expectations.
The Big Three The reaction to Mersey Beat was literally phenomenal locally and all 5,000 copies of the first issue sold out. The three main wholesalers, WH Smith, Blackburn’s and Conlan’s, took copies; I delivered copies personally to another two dozen newsagents, in addition to the main local venues and musical instruments and record stores.
At North End Music Stores (NEMS), when I asked to see the manager, Brian Epstein came down from his office. I showed him the publication and he agreed to take a dozen copies. He phoned me soon after to tell me how surprised he was that they sold out almost immediately. He ordered more – and more – and more. For the second issue he placed an advance order for twelve dozen copies, an incredible amount of copies for a single publication in one outlet.