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
Rory’s real name was Alan Caldwell, a former cotton salesman, who decided to form a skiffle group and, at the age of 18, the 6ft 2in blonde-haired singer opened the Morgue Skiffle Club in the basement at Balgownie, 25 Oakhill Road, Broadgreen on March 13th 1958. It was a large Victorian house, formerly a home for retired nurses, that could accommodate 100 people. Groups began playing from 7.30pm on opening night including his own band, then called Al Caldwell’s Texans, and The Quarry Men who later evolved into The Beatles.
The police came down on 1st April and the club was forced to close on 22nd April. The Morgue had been open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it was at the Morgue that George Harrison ‘auditioned’ for The Quarry Men and then became a member. At one time George dated Iris Caldwell, Rory’s sister, and he used to hang around ‘Stormsville’ hoping that Rory would let him join The Hurricanes, but Rory regarded him as being just a young kid. ‘Stormville’ was an open house and Rory’s mother, Vi, was always on hand to make cups of tea and bacon butties and chips for the numerous visitors who included George, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Tarbuck, Bill and Virginia Harry and numerous others.
Rory travelled to London on 11th April 1958 for a cross-country running competition. While in London he played a jam session at Chas McDevitt’s skiffle cellar, as a result of which he arranged an appearance with his group, The Texans, on Radio Luxembourg on 30th April 1958 on the Amateur Skiffle Club programme playing ‘Midnight Special.
January 1959 he changed the name of the group to The Raving Texans and their
line-up comprised Al Caldwell (guitar/vocals), Johnny Byrne (guitar/vocals),
Paul Murphy (guitar/vocals), Reg Hales (washboard) and Jeff Truman (tea-chest
bass). Spud Ward, a former member of the Swinging Bluegenes, took over from
Truman on bass guitar and the group continued as The Raving Texans until
July 1959. By this time Rory had met Ritchie Starkey at a talent contest
called ‘6.5 Special.’ Ritchie had left the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group and
was playing with the Darktown Skiffle when Rory told him that he was looking
for a drummer.
Ritchie was interested in joining them and first appeared with the group on March 25th 1959 at the Mardi Gras in Mount Pleasant. There were a number of changes to the group’s name during 1959, first to Al Storm & The Hurricanes, then Jett Storm & The Hurricanes and finally, by the end of the year, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. The new name came about after he and Johnny had appeared on a show with singer Rory Blackwell at Butlin’s in August 1959. During the group’s first few years, Rory evolved several changes in stage wear and at one time they wore sunglasses and shirts with a palm tree motif.
They then donned red suits, with Rory wearing a pink suit, and Rory also got himself an Elvis-style gold lame suit. When they appeared for their first season at Butlin’s, Rory wore a turquoise suit and gold lame shirt and the Hurricanes wore fluorescent suits.
The line-up now became Rory Storm (vocals), Johnny Byrne (rhythm guitar), Charles O’Brien (lead guitar), Wally Eymond (bass guitar/vocals) and Ritchie Starkey (drums). It remained that way until August 1962 when Ritchie became a member of The Beatles. Despite changing the name from The Texans, Rory was obviously still fond of a Western theme – at the time there were numerous western series on television. He decided to call Byrne 'Johnny Guitar', after the title of the 1954 Joan Crawford Western, Ritchie became 'Ringo Starr' and Charles was renamed 'Ty' after Ty Hardin, star of the ‘Bronco’ series.
Rory also thought that Lou Walters was a more suitable name for Wally. Lou Walters’ voice produced a contrast to Rory’s and he performed numbers such as ‘Fever’, ‘Let It Be Me’, ‘Summertime’, ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ and ‘Mailman.’ Rory performed numbers such as ‘Brand New Cadillac’, ‘I’ll Be Your Hero’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Down The Line’, ‘Dr Feelgood’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.’ Johnny duetted on ‘Since You Broke My Heart’ with Lou and played the instrumental ‘Green Onions.’
The group appeared at the Liverpool Stadium on May 3rd 1960 on the bill with Gene Vincent. This is the show that aroused Larry Parnes’ interest in Liverpool groups and led to the Wyvern Club auditions. Rory actually turned up at the auditions, not to perform, but just to have his photo taken with Billy Fury!
In May the group were offered a summer season at Butlin’s in Pwllheli in the Rock ‘n’ Calypso Ballroom, from July to September. Despite the Butlin’s offer of £25 each per week, some members of the group had to consider the risks they were taking in becoming fully professional.
Ritchie was the most reluctant member: he was an apprentice at the time, and didn’t want to go to Butlin’s, but Rory decided to convince him. It was during this period that Rory insisted on Ringo having his own five-minute spot, ‘Starrtime’, during which he sang numbers such as the Shirelles ‘Boys’ and ‘Alley Oop’.
£25 was a huge sum in those days and years later Johnny Guitar was to recall, “We had to decide whether to stay at home with our routine jobs or whether to throw them in and turn professional. Ringo was very much against it. He was serving an apprenticeship at Henry Hunt’s, making school climbing frames. We persuaded him when we told him of all the women that would be ‘available.’ The Stormy Tempest character that Billy Fury played in the film ‘That’ll Be the Day’ was based on Rory, but they got one thing wrong - there were far more women than that.”
Back at Butlin’s, the act began to shape up far more professionally and they were playing for 16 hours a week. Rory and The Hurricanes played at Butlin’s Pwllheli in 1960 and 1961 (Summer season, probably May through to end of August). They were at Butlin’s Skegness in 1962. In October 1960 Rory Storm & The Hurricanes were off to Hamburg, replacing Derry & The Seniors at the Kaiserkeller. They were paid more than either The Seniors or The Beatles.
were billed above The Beatles and alternated with them on the daily 12-hour
stretch which the groups had to play, so each band did 90 minutes on and
90 minutes off. They also received a certificate from Bruno Koshmider, the
Kaisekeller owner, praising them on their performance. Johnny Guitar was
to comment, “It was like getting a school report. We were very pleased.
The Beatles never had one.”
It was during this eight-week season, on Saturday October 18th 1960, that the recording session took place at the Akustik Studio with Lu Walters backed by John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (performing together for the very first time). Three of Wally’s ballads were recorded: ‘Fever,’ ‘September Song’ and ‘Summertime.’
Rory also sang at the Top Ten, accompanied by Tony Sheridan. Rory Storm & The Hurricanes became the star band on the first Beat night at the Orrell Park Ballroom in March 1961 and they began their second Butlin’s season at Skegness in Lincolnshire, 161 miles from Liverpool.
At one time Ringo considered joining the Seniors but, on 30th December 1961, he left for Germany to back Tony Sheridan at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, enticed by the lure of a large fee, a flat and the use of a car. However, he found Sheridan’s eccentric style of performing too hard to cope with (he’d often change songs in the middle of a performance without telling his backing band) and returned to The Hurricanes. While he was absent from the group, Derek Fell from the Blackpool group The Executioners replaced him.
also toured American bases in France and appeared at a club in Marbella,
Spain, before their third season at Butlin’s, again in Skegness. One of
their bookings was for a one-month season at an American base in Fontenet,
when they had to be accompanied by a female vocalist. They took Vicki Woods,
who’d appeared regularly in Liverpool clubs in a double act with her mother.
The group performed from seven to ten forty-five each night, with four 15-minute
It was also during this year that Lou left the group for a while when he joined The Seniors. During the Skegness season Ringo received a letter from Kingsize Taylor offering him £20 a week if he would join them in Germany as a replacement for Dave Lovelady, who was leaving the group to complete his studies. Ringo agreed. Then, one day, John Lennon and Paul McCartney turned up at the camp and offered Ringo £25 a week if he’d join them.
The extra £5 sealed it and Ringo agreed to become a Beatle as from August 1962. Johnny Guitar says that John and Paul turned up at ten one morning and knocked on their caravan door, saying they wanted Ringo to join them. Rory told them that The Hurricanes couldn’t work without a drummer and they hadn’t finished their season.
Paul told him that Brian Epstein said that they could have Pete Best. Rory went to Liverpool to see him but Pete Best was too upset. Rory then returned to Skegness and used relief drummers, one of whom, Anthony Ashdown, was an actor.
Rory Storm & The Hurricanes appeared on scores of bills alongside The Beatles, particularly at the local ballrooms and town halls, ranging from Lathom Hall and Litherland Town Hall to Hambleton Hall and Knotty Ash Village Hall. Initially they were the bill toppers, then they shared bills, then they were billed second to The Beatles.
Several books about The Beatles seem to be under the impression that The Beatles got to know Ringo only in Hamburg, but they were appearing at the local ‘jive hives’ together and knew each other well.
Drummer Dave Lovelady of The Dominoes said, “One night at St. Luke’s Hall was an absolute sensation. Rory Storm came in with Wally, who had got the first bass in Liverpool. There was always a bass on American records, but we’d never seen one, and here was Wally with a Framus four-string bass guitar. The groups crowded round in amazement and, when they opened with ‘Brand New Cadillac’, this deep-booming sound was tremendous.”
the first Mersey Beat poll, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes received more votes
than any other group, but Virginia and Bill Harry disqualified a number
of the entries because they were all written in green ink and posted from
the same place at the same time, which meant that The Beatles became No.1
instead (although The Beatles were to admit that they’d done the same thing
as Rory – sending in multiple votes!) and the Hurricanes ended up as No.
The following year they had dropped to the No.19 position, probably due to the fact that they were absent from Liverpool for most of the year with their season at Butlin’s, their tour of American bases in France and their spell in Hamburg. Rory was renowned for his exuberant stage act. At a ‘Beat & Bathe Show’ at New Brighton swimming baths on August Bank Holiday 1963, attended by 1,600 people, he twisted his way to the high-diving board, stripped to his trunks, climbed to the top board, diving off as he finished the song.
In January 1964, during an appearance at the Majestic Ballroom, Birkenhead, he scaled one of the columns from the stage to the balcony, slipped and fell 30 feet, fracturing his leg and necessitating a short stay at Broadgreen Hospital. While performing at New Brighton Pier, he climbed on to the roof of the Pavilion, started twisting and fell through the glass skylight! During one of his shows at the Majestic he played five-a-side football with a team from the ballroom, the Top Rank Ravers – the result was a five-all draw!
he’d decided to become a singer, Rory turned professional with total dedication.
He changed his name to Rory Storm by deed poll, christened the family home
in Broadgreen ‘Stormsville’ and, when some members of his band couldn’t
play lunchtime sessions at the Liverpool Jazz Society because they had jobs,
he formed Rory Storm & The Wild Ones to perform during lunch hours. A superb
athlete, apart from being an exceptional swimmer (he swam the 12½ mile length
of Lake Windermere) and golfer (he would go round Allerton golf course dressed
only in shorts and golf shoes), he was captain of the Mersey Beat soccer
team and also ran for the Pembroke Harriers.
When A&R men began to take an interest in Liverpool in 1963, Rory and the group were among the number of bands who recorded for Oriole’s two ‘This Is Mersey Beat’ albums, and Oriole also released a single ‘Dr Feelgood’ c/w ‘I Can Tell’ in December 1963. The mobile unit recorded them in primitive conditions at the Rialto Ballroom and they missed the opportunity of proper recording facilities in a studio. However, for some reason the major record companies overlooked them, perhaps because they lacked a manager. Rory actually approached Brian Epstein and asked him to manage them, but he refused. Later on Arthur Howes, the promoter of The Beatles’ tours, took over as their manager, but he was based in London and they remained in Liverpool.
It seemed that their luck had changed in 1964 when Rory met Epstein at the Blue Angel club one evening and Epstein agreed to personally record the group. This was a coup and they travelled to London, where Brian produced their record at IBC Studios. They selected the number ‘America’ from the musical ‘West Side Story’. As Rory explained in Mersey Beat: “We first heard this number when we played in Spain. Everyone seemed to be playing it. We liked it a lot and when we came back to Liverpool we did our own arrangement and added it to our repertoire. We shortened it, used some of our own words and it does down a bomb! At the recording session we played one number after another to Brian Epstein. He kept saying ‘No’ until we played this and then he gave an emphatic ‘Yes.’”
'B'-side was the old Everly Brothers number ‘Since You Broke My Heart,’
with the vocals handled by Lou and Johnny. The session lasted for 15 hours
and other numbers they performed were ‘Ubangi Stomp’ and ‘I’ll Be There.’
Among the session singers were Rory’s sister Iris and her husband Shane
Fenton. Ringo also attended the session. ‘America’ was released by Parlophone
on December 20th 1964, but didn’t reach the charts.
Epstein only ever recorded one other band, The Rustiks. Ringo offered his support to his old group and gave them further chances to record, but they didn’t take them. Ringo said that he’d fix for them to record whenever they wanted to, but Rory couldn’t be bothered finding new material and seemed content to just play rock ‘n’ roll standards. Perhaps he didn’t really want to make the big time. His sister Iris said, “He was happy to be the King of Liverpool: he was never keen on touring, he didn’t want to give up running for the Pembroke Harriers…and he’d never miss a Liverpool football match!”
Over the years there were various changes in personnel: When Ringo left to join The Beatles he was replaced by Gibson Kemp. Gibson then left to join The Dominoes in Hamburg where he married Astrid Kirchherr. Brian Johnson replaced him and recorded with the group for the ‘This Is Mersey Beat’ albums, but then left to join Mark Peters & The Silhouettes. Keef Harley, from Preston group The Thunderbeats, replaced him, but then joined The Midnighters whose drummer, Ian Broad, then took his place in the Hurricanes. When Broad joined The Seniors, Trevor Morais, former drummer with Faron’s Flamingos, replaced him – but then went on to join The Peddlers.
In February 1964 drummer Jimmy Tushingham joined Rory, Johnny, Lou and Ty. Lou left the group to be replaced by Vince Earl, who was subsequently replaced by Dave May. Other bass guitarists followed, including former group leader Karl Terry. By 1967 their line-up comprised the two founder members Rory and Johnny, with Carl Rich on drums, Keith Karlson on bass and Adrian Lord on guitar. This was their last line-up.
In 1967 Ty Brien collapsed on stage and was rushed to hospital. There were complications resulting from a recent appendicitis operation and he died at the age of 26. The group then broke up for a short time, before Rory and Johnny tried to revive it with three new members, but it didn’t work out. After his group had split up, Rory became a disc jockey in Benidorm and Amsterdam – a strange profession for a man with a noticeable stutter. He also acted as a D.J. at the Silver Blades Ice Rink in Liverpool.
| It was
while in Amsterdam that Rory received the news that his father had died.
He returned to Liverpool to console his mother, Vi, but neither recovered
from the shock. Rory was suffering from a chest condition and took sleeping
pills to ease it. On 28th September 1972, both Rory and his mother were
found dead in Stormsville.
Their deaths remain a mystery although Shane Fenton, his brother-in-law at the time, commented: “Rory became very ill. He had a chest condition which meant he couldn’t breathe properly. He found it difficult to sleep so he’d take his pills with a drop of scotch, which doped him completely. At the post-mortem it was established that he hadn’t taken enough pills to kill himself…it had been nothing more than a case of trying to get some kip, but because he was so weak, his body couldn’t handle it."
"He died in the night and his mother found him. She must have felt that she’d lost everything. I think she took an overdose, but I’m convinced that Rory didn’t. When you’ve known somebody long enough, you know whether they’re going to do it or not. The whole thing was an accident.”
No member of The Beatles attended Rory’s funeral. When asked about this, Ringo said, “I wasn’t there when he was born either.”
Rory was only 32 years old. Johnny Guitar became an ambulance driver. In the 1990s he joined Mersey Cats, a group of original Mersey bands who perform in aid of local charities, and he launched his own band, Johnny & The Hurricanes.
Tragically, he died of motor neurone disease in August 1999 at the age of 59. Lou Walters formed a group called Combo, with guitarist Brian Griffiths, and later became a psychiatric nurse, while Vince Earl found success as a comedian and later became one of the stars of the television series ‘Brookside.’
|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