Merseybeat, began in earnest, for me, with the Chants. I had realised that there was something different happening in general in the music arena within the city, with the emergence of so many bands, guys singing on street corners and the change in musical direction on the radio.
But, at a Christmas party in Stanley House on Parliament St in about 60/61, I saw what I believe was the first public performance of the Chants. I was overwhelmed (much like the response related by Paul Barber (actor: The Full Monty, The Long Good Friday, Only Fools And Horses) to first watching the Chants on "Thank Your Lucky Stars" on TV, here were five guys singing "without instruments" and sounding so fantastic that I couldn't really believe it, their voices were instruments, I had not experienced anything like it in my short life. I think they sang "Duke Of Earl" or "A Thousand Stars" or some similar song, but, being only 11 years old at the time, I can't remember which songs they sang. The fact that they were black, and I knew them all, just added to the experience. Living in Selbourne St (on the opposite side of the road to Alan Harding), I knew all the Chants very well, and remember seeing them coming and going from Alan's house carrying their suits covered in plastic bags, it was exciting to think were they were going to or coming from. I remember sitting in my living room with Alan Harding one day waiting for Radio Luxemburg to play their first single "I Don't Care" for the first time (I don't think Alan's family had a radio so we listened in my house) it was a real experience to hear someone singing on the radio while he was actually sitting next to me..
The video featured at top right was taken at The Majestic Ballroom, Birkenhead and was featured in the documentary "Beat City" introduced by Daniel Farson. The track they are singing although not one of their best... illustrates how good vocally they were at the time. I often wonder if they had been given songs more in the R&B flavour of the day (as did a lot of the other Merseybeat bands ) would they have been more successful than they were?.
Selbourne St, in the early sixties, was a very lively street, Eddie Williams (Valentinos) used to be a good friend of my brother Myron and often used to sit on our front steps along with other local guys. I used to pester Eddie to allow me to "have a go" on his "Cherry Red Gibson ES335" (I think it was a Gibson, with Bigsby tremolo) he used to send me to his home to fetch it, I was very proud to carry it through the streets back to Selbourne St. So my first experience with a guitar was provided by someone I considered a "Star". It was also Alan Harding of the Chants who taught me the very first three chords on the guitar, I sat for ages playing "Michael Row The Boat Ashore"!!!...but I was on my way towards being musical.
t was in "64" I think, that I and my brother Colin plus two friends Alan Courtney and Derek Woo (both lived in my street) decided we should form a group together, but the problem was that we had no money to buy instruments, we got around this by making whatever we could. I made a makeshift bass by stretching some piano strings over a biscuit box that I had cut the top away so it was open and covered it with a wet chamois leather, so that when it dried it was quite taught, this made a kind of dull sound but it was ok!, and was played by Alan. I, as the drummer, used an old washtub donated by my mother, which I kicked with my foot (not having a bass drum pedal!!)at first, but this was a bit unwieldy so I eventually made my own construction which worked up to a point..., my brother Myron was interested in drums and owned a pair of drumsticks which I duly borrowed and my uncle Les was actually a drummer in a dance band that played professionally at the David Lewis center at the bottom of Parliament St, donated a Hi-Hat, so I really felt as though I was a real drummer. Colin played a little plastic Beatles guitar that someone gave us, when I say played I mean strummed with his fingers without knowing what he was playing really, and Derek used two coconut shells with rice inside as "Maracas". We made what was probably a terrible din as we pounded out "Doo Wah Diddy" and other such songs of the time.
Derek, as I recall, had the brilliant idea of calling someone at the Liverpool Echo to see if they were interested in doing an interview, and to our surprise they were! So, we were photographed in my whitewashed backyard doing our thing, and the next day there appeared an article in the Echo with a picture (wish I had that picture now) stating "Liverpool's newest and youngest band The Casuals" (we had to drop the name because there was already a Casuals band(Walter Quarless I believe) that we didn't know at the time), and went on to say that "screaming fans lined the backyard walls as the group bashed out its music" it wasn't true of course, but that article made me, and the rest of the guys, very happy, and not least a little well known in Toxteth for a few weeks. I used to enjoy strolling around in my paisley waistcoat carrying an acoustic guitar (that I could just about play three chords on) that my mother had bought for my brother Colin actually, but he couldn't play at all and had no real interest in learning to do so, so I pinched it off him...
But, the day after our picture was in the Echo my uncles Les came to tell us that he could get us a "gig" at the David Lewis center...wow, were we impressed, and somewhat apprehensive at the thought of facing an audience. We were to go on in between the dance bands sets, so we duly carried out all our stuff onto the stage, set it up and did our "noise", we were well received, and I remember my uncle Les was behind the curtains saying "smile boys, smile...". At the end of our performance Les told us to walk through the audience carrying the washtub bass drum between two of us so that people could place money in it, I can't remember how much was in it by the time we reached the other side, but at least it was my first paid gig...and the next day we were in the Echo again with a short report that we had played our first gig.
“The next day we were in the Echo again with a short report that we had played our first gig. All this would have happened around 1962/63, after this in 64 I joined the Royal Navy and went away to sea for the next five years, leaving the Navy in '69.
I and two friends used to hang out together, go to places like the Cavern, but by then the Beatles didn't play there any more. It was "Sweet Soul Music" that ruled, Otis Reading, Arthur Conley, Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye these were the gods that drove us into the night. We learned to sing from them, we learned to dance by watching them, we dressed like them.
“We only ever did one gig, which was at the A&B club in Devonshire Road run by Pat Hamilton. I believe we did "Sweet Was The Wine" by The Marcels and "People Get Ready" by Curtis Mayfield. We went down well, and were offered another gig in some club in Chester, but subsequent events prevented us from fulfilling that opportunity. Not long after our one and only gig Benny went into the Army and Paul went off to be in the musical ‘Hair’.
The Chants(I Could Write A Book - Beat City)
The Chants(click here to hear tracks)
Valentinos : L/R Lawrence Ayreety, Tony Fayal, Eddie Williams and Sugar Dean.
L-R: Barry Philbin, Alan Sef, Keith Jones, Brian Nolan, Mick Chong, front: Lawrence Aryeety, Sugar Deen.
l/r myself, Benny Brown and Paul Barber formed a vocal trio named "Soul Motion". We practiced long and hard coached sometimes by Alan Harding from the Chants. We only ever did one gig at the A&B club in Devonshire Rd...but it was worth all the practice. This image was taken outside the electric shed at the back of Stanley House about 69/70.
Benny and Paul today.