Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper Mersey Beat
The Swinging Blue Jeans are one of Liverpool’s longest serving groups. In 1961, when compiling a personal list of the best Liverpool bands for Mersey Beat, Cavern disc jockey Bob Wooler placed The Beatles firmly at No 1. Beneath his Top 10 list he added the comment:
“Excluding the Bluegenes, of course, they are beyond comparison. They are in a class of their own.” Known at the time as the Swinging Bluegenes, the group originally took flight in 1957 during the skiffle boom. They were led by Ray Ennis who finally retired from the band earlier in 2010, the last member of the original Sixties line-up.
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.”
When Ray Ennis recalled the night The Beatles made their debut as their guests at the Cavern on 21st March 1961, he said: “I thought they were German. It was the old leather gear which I’d never seen before. It wasn’t til they actually spoke that I realised they were from Liverpool. I thought they were awful and I only listened to two minutes and went to the White Star for a drink.”
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. Ian was replaced by John Ryan for a while and then Phil Thompson took over on drums in 1984.
enough, the group didn’t receive a placing in the first Mersey Beat poll
of the 20 most popular groups in Liverpool in 1961, despite the fact that
they were firmly established locally and were always in work. The following
year they entered the poll at No 11. This could well have been because of
their image at the time. They’d been regarded as a skiffle band and their
stage outfits were rather ‘square’ compared to what the other groups were
Once they’d changed Bluegenes to Bluejeans, actually wore jeans on stage and turned to rock ‘n’ roll, things began to happen very swiftly for them. Brian 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. The Swinging Bluejeans became popular nationally and in November 1963 they began their own Radio Luxembourg show ‘Swingtime,’ and the following month appeared on the Christmas edition of the popular TV series ‘Z Cars,’ performing ‘Hippy Hippy Shake' (click image on right), ‘Angie’ and ‘Money.’
The 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
|Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.|
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