MERSEY BEAT |
Bill Harry | Founder & Editor
Mersey Beat not only gave name to the thunderous, atomic, 4/4 beat sound emerging from all around Merseyside—giving it
a sense of cohesion and identity that it had sorely lacked up until that point—it also helped showcase the extraordinary phenomenon that was…The Beatles.
A veritable ‘What’s On’ of the musical and entertainment scene all around Merseyside—Mersey Beat was the first newspaper of its kind in England. Published fortnightly, it covered the music scene in Liverpool, as well as everything happening on the Wirral, in Birkenhead, New Brighton, Crosby, Southport, Warrington, Widnes, and Runcorn.
Truly, one of those instances where if it didn’t exist—someone would have had to invent it. Beatles' fans can only give thanks it was Bill Harry—ably assisted by his girlfriend, Virginia Sowry—who had the wit and wherewithal—the passion and the perspicacity—to do it and do it so well.
Mersey Beat was a wonder of its time. And even though it ran for less than four years—publishing ninety or so editions—before it was merged with another music publication—it was already very much a legend in its own right.
"Newspapers, television, theatres, and radio were all controlled and manipulated by people of a different generation—who had no idea at all what youngsters wanted. Then, suddenly, there was an awareness of being young. Young people wanted their own styles and their own music—just at the time they were beginning to earn money and have real spending power. Mersey Beat was their voice. It was a paper just for them—crammed with photos and information about their own groups. Which is why—as its coverage extended to other areas—it also began to appeal to youngsters all over Britain." — Bill Harry
MERSEY BEAT | Vol. 1 | No. 1
Bill Harry wrote to the Daily Mail—one of Britain’s leading newspapers—to tell them what was happening on Merseyside—"Liverpool is like New Orleans at the turn of the century, but with rock 'n' roll instead of jazz"—but his observation fell on deaf ears. Undeterred, he pressed on with his idea of a Liverpool-focused music and entertainments newspaper—believing it would be sufficiently different enough from national music papers such as New Musical Express and Melody Maker that concentrated on current chart hits and established music artists.
Bill borrowed £50—from a friend of a friend—rented a small attic office—above David Land's wine merchant's shop at 81a Renshaw Street—for £5 a week. Then with nothing more than a desk, a chair, and an Olivetti typewriter—also on loan—and with the assistance of his girlfriend and future wife, Virginia Sowry (who he’d met at the Jacaranda Club)—and a photographer friend, Dick Matthews—he set about publishing Mersey Beat.
Bill did all the writing, designing, advertising, and circulation—Virginia did everything else—all the paperwork—the phone calls—the follow up with all the groups—the two of them often having to put in extremely long workweeks.
Bill Harry named the newspaper Mersey Beat—based on the idea of a policeman's 'beat' (the area patrolled on foot by an on-duty policeman) and nothing at all to do with a musical ‘beat’—and released the very first issue on 6 July 1961.
Such was the demand, all 5000 copies quickly sold out. Made all the more incredible—as Bill Harry was still ‘officially’ attending Liverpool Art College. The very same august institution of 'higher education' where he’d met his two very best friends—a very talented fine artist, Stuart Sutcliffe—and a certain disaffected youth—would be rock ‘n’ roll musician—John Lennon.
NOW OVER 250,000 READERS EVERY ISSUE | PRICE 6d.
The circulation of Mersey Beat grew at rapid pace and in short order—even with its cover price doubling—from threepence to sixpence—it was reaching over 250,000 readers with every issue—and proudly able to sport the new legend: Britain's Leading Beat Paper.
The enormous success of Mersey Beat was almost without precedent in the newspaper-publishing world and when pop-culture journalist, Nancy Spain, did a special feature on it all in the News of the World, Bill and Virginia—now married—were dubbed "Mr and Mrs Mersey Beat".
TOP PHOTO: EAST TOWARDS ST. LUKE'S CHURCH. 1957. |
THE No. 82E BUS ON ITS WAY OUT TO SPEKE, NO DOUBT |
BOTTOM PHOTO: WEST TOWARDS ST. GEORGE'S HALL: 2007 |
No. 81A RENSHAW STREET IS THE GREEN-PAINTED SHOP FRONT, THIRD FROM THE RIGHT ( IT'S NOW A CAFE. SEE FOOT OF PAGE)
The paper's circulation increased rapidly as it started featuring stories about groups in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Newcastle—and the newspaper had to move downstairs and take over a large, two-roomed office just to keep up with the demand.
As the newspaper's sales continued to rise, it became known as the "Teenagers Bible"—local groups began calling themselves "beat groups"—venues began advertising concerts as "Beat Sessions"—and rival Liverpool “beat groups” were starting to complain that Mersey Beat featured The Beatles so often, that it should be re-named Mersey Beatle.
Regardless—Mersey Beat could now proudly proclaim itself— ‘The North’s Own Entertainment’s Paper'
MERSEY BEAT' | Vol. 1 | No. 13 | JANUARY 4-18, 1962
Mersey Beat held its first ever poll to find out who was the most popular group on Merseyside. When the votes were finally counted, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes were in first place.
However, on closer scrutiny of the postal votes, Bill Harry noticed more than forty votes all written in the same green ink—in the same handwriting—all from the same area of Liverpool. The questionable votes were declared void. The chief suspect none other than Rory Storm himself. Although Bill Harry could have had no idea that The Beatles—and most every other group on Merseyside—had done exactly the same thing.
MERSEY BEAT | AND AFTER
Bill Harry went to live and work in London. Was a music newspaper publisher and highly regarded rock journalist. He later went on to open a very successful entertainements PR agency. Hugely prolific. His many published works on The Beatles and their 'Times'—the music scene in general—are encyclopaedic—beyond scholarly. Today—he maintains a large comprehensive website dedicated to all the many great things that was Mersey Beat.
"MR AND MRS MERSEY BEAT" | THE DYNAMIC DUO
BILL HARRY AND VIRGINIA SOWRY | LIVERPOOL 1962
81 RENSHAW STREET | L1 | 2015
Celebrate Mersey Beat—and all it achieved—by raising a glass of wine—or a cup of coffee—to Bill And Virginia Harry—and photographer Dick Matthews—next time you find yourself on Renshaw Street, Liverpool 1.
As J. ‘Winston’ O’ Boogie himself might have said:
"Never…In All The Fabled History Of The Sound Of Merseybeat…Was So Much Owed… By So Many…To So Few."
In 2015 Bill Harry began a much more personal blog—giving his observations, thoughts, and reflections on past People and Places and Times—he, of course, touches on The Beatles, Mersey Beat, Merseyside, 'the Mersey Sound', as well as the British and American music scene over the last fifty years.
As with all good journalists and chroniclers—he still has the power to startle as well as delight.
Thanks, there, Bill.
John Lennon’s musings—poems—short stories—even spoof classified adverts—became a regular feature under the by-line 'Beatcomber' and were later the basis of his book: John Lennon, In His Own Write published to great acclaim by Jonathan Cape.
Bob Wooler—Cavern DJ and compere—wrote regular columns variously entitled—Mr Big Beat's Rhythm 'N' News—The Wandering ‘I’ and Well Now Dig This—where he famously described The Beatles as "rhythmic revolutionaries".
Virginia Sowry contributed a regular column called Mersey Roundabout: News. Views. Comments. Gossip. And good old Dick Matthews took photographs of all the ‘beat’ groups.
Also—“someone rather famous”—local record shop owner—Brian Epstein—submitted a regular column about the coming crop of record releases—mostly featuring balladeers, big band orchestras, and show tunes—and big, established stars such as Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard and The Shadows. No Beatles.
MERSEY BEAT | Vol.1 No. 1.
On The Dubious Origins Of The Beatles | John Lennon
"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 so they were "Beatles."
MERSEY BEAT | BEATLES TOP POLL!
Brian Epstein knew just how very important Mersey Beat was to the growing success of The Beatles around Merseyside. Which is why—after his first meeting with George Martin—at EMI's Abbey Road Studios, London—he immediately went in search of a Post Office and sent a telegram to The Beatles—in Hamburg—and a second—all important—telegram to Bill Harry—c/o Mersey Beat Royal 0003 Liverpool.
'Have Secured Contract For Beatles To Recorded For EMI On Parlaphone Label 1st Recording Date Set For June 6th -
"I read the news today…oh boy…"
THE ALL-IMPORTANT 'EMI' TELEGRAM |
BRIAN EPSTEIN SENT TO |
MERSEY BEAT | ROYAL 0003 | LIVERPOOL
MERSEY BEAT OFFICES | 81a RENSHAW STREET | L1
BILL HARRY PRESENTS THE BEATLES WITH THE
1963 'MERSEY BEAT' POPULARITY POLL SHIELD
MERSEY BEAT | CONTRIBUTORS
MERSEY BEAT | CIRCULATION 75,000 |
THE NORTH’S OWN ENTERTAINMENTS PAPER