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 Gallery To Play To - Phil Bowen

Virginia and I used to go to Streates in Mount Pleasant to listen to local poets such as Phil Tasker, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. We’d usually start off from the Jacaranda and as we walked along Slater Street would note John and Cynthia and Paul and Dot kissing in shop doorways. Streates was a small club, basically a coffee bar for people interested in poetry. As we listened to the performances of our poet friends, who could predict that the Mersey poets would become the most influential performance poets in Britain and their book ‘The Mersey Sound’ become the biggest-selling poetry book of the decade? This particular scene is captured in Phil Bowen’s book ‘A Gallery To Play To', a biography of Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten.

When I read the book when it was republished by Liverpool University Press in 2008, I decided to interview Phil, who had previously compiled a book of poetry about The Beatles. He was to tell me, “I first had the idea to write the book when I met Roger and Brian on an Arvon Course in 1992 - although from Liverpool I never knew them. The Arvon Foundation is based in Totleigh Barton, Sheepwash , Hatherleigh, mid-Devon. It's a creative writing centre set up in the seventies for sixteen would-be writers with two tutors and a guest reader, for a duration of five days. There are others now in Yorkshire, Scotland and Shropshire. I was a publican at the time in 1991, coming to the end of my tether, and a friend who knew I was interested in writing, particularly poetry, recommended it. I noticed Brian and Roger were tutors in August 1991 - so I gave it a go".

"Brian suggested I try writing about comedians as I seemed to know about one or two, and that formed the basis of my first short collection 'The Professor's Boots' including poems about Max Wall, Tony Hancock, Tommy Cooper and Ken Dodd. I've stayed in touch with Ken Dodd ever since, after giving him a copy in 1994. The following year all three agreed to give me a try as a biographer as 'there wasn't anyone else really interested'. It was difficult at first but gradually - around 1997 - I felt I was getting somewhere and could see the overall structure of the book taking shape. I'd catch up with Adrian, Roger and Brian every so often - they were very helpful - and I seemed to be good at interviewing them and transcribing those interviews. Other people I recorded include: Mike Evans, George Melly, Andy Roberts, Maurice Cockerell and Yankel Feather. My poetry publisher Stride agreed to publish it in 1999 - around the time of Adrian's stroke - so it was great that Liverpool University Press have republished in 2007 bringing the story full circle in a sense - fifty years since Adrian moved to Liverpool, Roger returned from Hull University, the Cavern opened, John met Paul and Brian failed the 11 plus".
A Gallery To Play To - Phil BowenPhil Bowen

"I was born in Liverpool 18 near Penny Lane on 23rd October 1949. My first real awareness of Liverpool culture was seeing The Beatles on ‘People and Places’ late 1962. I subsequently edited ’Things We Said Today' - poetry about The Beatles - in 1995 including poems by Adrian and Roger - having done a similar book on Bob Dylan the previous year with Stride Publications. I asked Roger, Brian and Adrian - as far as I know they weren't looking for a biographer, but they felt a book would be useful as long as it was a good one. I pressed ahead without a publisher, but Stride went with it on sending them a late draft in 1998. It took about six years and really got well under way in 1997 having a tentative start in 1993. I'd like to do one on John Cooper Clarke and have first refusal but up to now John doesn't want one. My father was a very good detective in the CID in Liverpool and being a biographer is a bit like that - I think I inherited his ability to stay on the case, track people down and ask the right questions. He once arrested one of Brian's cousins who was quite notorious in Wavertree!"

"One of the few differences was Adrian's version of where Allen Ginsberg read when he visited Liverpool in the mid sixties - Adrian reckoned over Parry Books - Brian - over Wilson's. I changed it to Brian's version when I did the recent update for LUP. It was initially launched at The Chelsea Arts Club in 1999 - Adrian's first public appearance since his stroke - and then at Waterstone's, Piccadilly, some months later. Lemn Sissay - currently poet in residence at the South Bank - really liked it and used it to inform his celebration of the Mersey Poets for The Poetry Society's 'Under the influence of' series at The Arts Theatre, Newport Street".

Mersey Beat Magazine 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.

Article Bill Harry 2017               Original Graphics SixtiesCity 2017

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