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Lennon & the birth of the Mersey Beat Paper, etc...

WITH writers like John Lennon, Brian Epstein and Cilla Black, Bill Harry was a lucky editor. Now he is preparing to relaunch the legendary Mersey Beat.

Bill Harry's Mersey Beat website (www.mersey-beat.net) has articles by all the Beatles and Brian Epstein.

"No one else in the world has these," says Bill, 65. "I am doing the history of every group and every artist - an A to Z of all the Liverpool acts.

"This has really sparked the interest of the media abroad. I have done interviews with Japanese TV and I have been getting correspondence from all over the world.

"The first section is called Birth and it is the story of how Mersey Beat was founded with a list of more than 400 groups who played in Liverpool. Then we have the Archive section with all the material from the original Mersey Beats, and there is a section devoted to The Beatles.

"I have been in touch with a printer and I am licensing a company, so there will be replica copies of the Mersey Beat, probably available next year. There is talk now of me doing Mersey Beat Today, an up-to-date account of all the groups now."
ONCE there was a meeting of four dreamers in the congenial fug of an old pub, where they stared deep into their mugs, fortified their spirits, and declared how each one would, in his own way, make Liverpool famous.

The wind swept in from the river and the door opened and closed at Ye Crack on the city's Rice Street on that June night in 1960.

The thin eyes of John Lennon met the gaze of Stuart Sutcliffe, and Bill Harry smiled at Rod Murray. Then the art students looked from one to the other and laughed at their ambition.

Stuart and Rod said their offering would be painting, Lennon said his would be music. Harry was to be the writer.

Well, he didn't turn into the new Dostoyevsky or even Jack Kerouac, but he did become one of the most influential journalists of his generation.

And he has achieved that rare distinction in newspapers - his work has lasted, as a record of an astonishing period in Britain's post-war history.

In fact, there is a huge new demand for old editions of Mersey Beat, the music paper which acted as a prophet in print, giving news of the groups before they were famous.

That demand is expected to grow as Liverpool prepares for the influx of overseas tourists, leading to the 2008 European Capital of Culture.

So Bill is making them available on a special Mersey Beat website, before they are reproduced on paper.

It all began in 1960 when the four were at the Liverpool College of Art in Hope Street. As part of his course, Bill had studied typography and page lay-out which helped him produce a magazine for Frank Hessy's music stores, where the local musicians bought their guitars.

At about this time, John had asked Rod if he would like to be the bass guitarist in the group. Rod began making a guitar, but was beaten by Stuart, who had won a John Moores art competition and used part of his £60 prize to put a deposit on one at Hessy's.

Rod became an art teacher instead of a Beatle.

Bill was living with his girlfriend, Virginia Sowry, in Parliament Street. She became his wife and mother of their son Sean, now 33.

Together, they began planning a paper. It would tell of the port which was like New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century with rock and roll instead of jazz.

With £50 borrowed from Jim Anderson, a civil servant, Bill and Virginia moved into a room above a wine shop in Renshaw Street, Liverpool, with two chairs, a desk and a typewriter.

They called their paper Mersey Beat after Bill had a vision of a policemen plodding over the area as though it was his "beat".

Deals were struck with local photographers. Virginia gathered in advertising. Bill wrote the stories.

Five thousand copies of the threepenny, eight-page paper were printed. Newsagents and music venues agreed to stock it.

On July 6, 1961, the first front cover featured the American rocker Gene Vincent at the Rialto Ballroom, Liverpool. Inside were fashion notes by "Swinging Cilla", Bill's friend Priscilla White. Sadly, he had a memory lapse and by-lined her Pricilla Black. She liked the name.

Also in the first edition was a story called Being A Short Diversion on the Dubious Origin of the Beatles, which told of a man who came down in a flaming pie. The writer was John Lennon.

Bill was approached by Brian Epstein, boss of NEMS record store in Whitechapel, who had been impressed by how quickly the paper sold, particularly the second which devoted the front page to the Beatles in Hamburg. Could he be the paper's record reviewer? His column, Stop the World I Want to Get Off, appeared in the third Mersey Beat.

After 18 months, the paper was issued weekly. It ran for five years, reaching sales of 75,000 and a quarter of a million readers, when Epstein, by then a multi-millionaire managing a host of stars, suggested starting a national music paper. The Music Echo was founded with Bill as editor, but he resigned after a few months.

"Brian Epstein wasn't a particularly talented writer when he began," recalls Bill.. "He liked jazz and middle-of-the-road music and I had to tell him that we were a rock and roll paper. I liked it better when he wrote about other things. I commissioned him to report on the Beatles' first recording session and their first tour of America. They were far more interesting.

"Cilla only did one article. But John Lennon was delighted that I published his story, which he gave me on two dirty scraps of paper. Then he came into the office with a big bundle of jokes, cartoons, stories and said I could do what I wanted with them. I loved the stuff so much that I began publishing them as a column called Beatcomber because I had liked the Beachcomber column in the Daily Express. It had a similar type of humour."

Tragically, the whole lot was lost when the paper moved to larger premises on Renshaw Street.

"It is a pity John didn't continue writing in that vein because he had a terrific sense of humour," says Bill.

Now his Mersey Beat website (www.mersey-beat.net) has articles by all the Beatles and Brian Epstein.

"No one else in the world has these," says Bill, 65. "I am doing the history of every group and every artist - an A to Z of all the Liverpool acts.

"This has really sparked the interest of the media abroad. I have done interviews with Japanese TV and I have been getting correspondence from all over the world.

"The first section is called Birth and it is the story of how Mersey Beat was founded with a list of more than 400 groups who played in Liverpool. Then we have the archive section with all the material from the original Mersey Beats and there is a section devoted to the Beatles.

"I have been in touch with a printer and I am licensing a company, so there will be replica copies of the Mersey Beat, probably available next year. There is talk now of me doing Mersey Beat Today, an up-to-date account of all the groups now."

It's Still Happening, Man, is the slogan of the enterprise, being backed by David Maggin, boss of Triumph, a communications company in Washington DC.

Dispatches from the front line of the Mersey sound

THE influences on John Lennon's writing were "Professor" Stanley Unwin, whose fractured

English and surreal word-play gained a cult following, the Goons (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe) and Lewis Carroll. Lennon's columns in Mersey Beat encouraged him to write his two books, In his Own Write and a Spaniard in the Works.

Paul McCartney was another "reporter" on Mersey Beat, noting that Hamburg was a bit like Blackpool "with strip clubs instead of waxworks".

Another regular on the paper was Bob Wooler, DJ at The Cavern, whose column was called The Roving Eye.


 

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