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
A five-piece vocal harmony group who proved to be Liverpool’s most popular black vocal act. The Chants evolved in the Liverpool 8 district of Liverpool, the Toxteth area, which they felt was totally isolated from the rest of Merseyside, part of it being almost a Liverpool equivalent of Harlem where the black community had their own cultural influences.
The music the Chants listened to was reflected in their own cultural heritage as they were brought up on what was to become known as R&B, introduced to them by the black GI’s who came to Liverpool 8 from American bases such as Burtonwood. This included doo-wop recordings by outfits such as the Del Vikings, along with the music of artists such as Johnny Otis and Little Richard and The Miracles – this was before these artists became mainstream and their music became the embryonic influence of The Shades, their original name.
Joe and Edmund Ankrah’s father was a church minister who played organ and he taught his sons how to sing in harmony. They enlisted a few of their friends to join them in forming a harmony group and rehearsed in the cellar of the Ankrahs' house, initially practicing harmony with a version of Paul Anka’s ‘Don’t Gamble With Love.’ Their first approach to The Beatles was reported in an item in the Mersey Beat music paper in 1963:
“Last year, Joe Ankrah and his brother Eddie joined a vocal group called The Shades, whose only appearances were in Stanley House, Upper Parliament Street. Due to the fact that a rock ‘n’ roll group in London had the same name, the group decided to call themselves the Chants.
Joe went along to the Tower Ballroom during an appearance by The Beatles and he had a chat with Paul McCartney, who asked him to bring the group for an audition. The Beatles liked the group so much that they provided backing for them on a number of appearances.”
fact, when they turned up at the Cavern for an audition, but didn’t have
a backing group, The Beatles offered to provide backing for them, but Brian
Epstein objected. The Beatles overruled him and The Chants made their Cavern
debut on Wednesday 21st November 1962 with The Beatles providing their backing.
The group’s leader, Joe Ankrah, wanted to form an American-style vocal group
and The Chants were his third attempt. The other members were Edmund Ankrah,
Nat Smeda, Alan Harding and Edmund Amoo.
Joe first met Paul McCartney at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton, on 12th October 1962. He ‘blagged’ his way into Little Richard’s dressing room after the concert and Paul spotted him leaving. Paul wanted to find out who he was and was fascinated when Joe told him about being in an acapella group. He then gave Joe a note, signed by himself, for The Chants to produce at the Cavern when The Beatles returned from Hamburg which they did, turning up for one of the lunchtime sessions. They waited for The Beatles to come off stage and ‘waylaid’ them when they left the dressing room as the gig emptied.
Paul introduced them to the rest of the group and then beckoned them onto the stage. Eddie Amoo recalls,
“They went ‘apeshit’ when we started to sing. I can still see George and John racing up to the stage with their mouths stuffed with hot dogs or whatever. The invitation to make our Cavern debut was given as soon as we finished ‘A Thousand Stars’ for them. They insisted we perform that very night."
"Everything happened completely spontaneously from that point. The Beatles themselves offered to back us when we told them we’d never worked with a band before. We then rehearsed four songs with them and then we ran home to tell all and sundry that we had ‘made it’!” “When Brian Epstein arrived at the Cavern that night he refused to allow The Beatles to back us, but they collectively persuaded him to change his mind – and when he heard us he invited us to appear on many subsequent appearances with them.”
that Cavern debut The Chants, backed by The Beatles, performed ‘Duke Of
Earl’, ‘A Thousand Stars’, ‘16 Candles’ and ‘Come Go With Me’ before an
enraptured audience, their set lasting approximately 20 minutes. Local MP
Bessie Braddock took an interest in the group as they were from her Liverpool
district, the Exchange ward, and she arranged for them to be the only other
Liverpool group present at The Beatles’ civic reception at Liverpool Town
Hall. Despite his initial frustration at the Beatles’ agreeing to back The
Chants against his wishes, Epstein took over the management of the group
early in 1963, but only for a short time and without any formal contract
The group found him ineffectual as a manager and he agreed to release them. They then signed with Manchester agent Ted Ross, who arranged a recording deal with Pye Records. However, they were later to consider they had committed “professional suicide” by signing with Ross, although they were grateful for what he tried to do for them.
On the special all-Beatles edition of the TV show ‘Juke Box Jury’, the first record played to them was The Chants’ ‘I Could Write A Book’, which they voted a hit – but it became a miss despite their positive comments. The Chants debut disc, ‘I Don’t Care’, flipside ‘Come Go With Me’, was released on 17th September 1963. Their second, ‘I Could Write A Book’, flipside ‘A Thousand Stars’, was released on 1st January 1964. Their third was ‘She’s Mine’, flipside ‘Then I’ll Be Home’ in June 1964, and their final release for Pye was ‘Sweet Was The Wine’, flipside ‘One Star’ on 11th September 1964.
wrote ‘One Star’, credited to Stanley Houseman, as a tribute to Stanley
House where they’d made their first appearance. Stanley House was a social
meeting place in the Toxteth area where young met old and black met white
to drink, dance and play football, table tennis, snooker and generally mix
together. Commenting on their period with Pye Records, Eddie said:
“They had no idea what to do with a black 'doo wop' group - they just had no idea.”
The group never found record success, despite further releases with Fontana, Page One, Decca and RCA and strong singles such as ‘Man Without A Face’. After they disbanded in 1975, Joey and Edmund Ankrah joined another group, Ashanti, and enjoyed a degree of success on the television talent show ‘New Faces’.
Eddie Amoo formed a Liverpool soul group, The Real Thing, with his brother Chris and finally found UK chart success in June 1976 with ‘You To Me Are Everything’ which topped the charts and also reached No. 5 on its re-release in April 1986. The Real Thing are still active with Eddie commenting:
“We have seen our flagship song recorded by Philip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire and Courtney Pine, one of our leading sax players. ‘Can You Feel The Force’ was probably our biggest seller in terms of sales and is still being covered and sampled all over the world."
" We also have two songs in the all-time top 100 of the Guinness Book of Records. “I had 13 years of struggle and scraping with The Chants - and plenty of fun also – and 23 years of being in a hit band, I think the balance has been more than redressed.”
Singles (with links to You Tube):
I Don’t Care / Come Go With Me - Pye 7N 15557 1963
I Could Write A Book / A Thousand Stars - Pye 7N 15591 1964
She’s Mine / Then I’ll Be Home - Pye 7N 15643 1964
Sweet Was The Wine / One Star - Pye 7N 15643 1964
Come Back And Get This Loving Baby / Lovelight - Fontana TF 715 1967
A Lover’s Story / Wearing A Smile - Decca F 12650 1967
Ain’t Nobody Home / For You - Page One POF 016 1967
A Man Without A Face / Baby I Don’t Need Your Love - RCA 1754 1968
I Get The Sweetest Feeling / Candy - RCA 1823 1969.
|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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