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

Cradle Of Rock / Ticket To Ride

Cradle of Rock
Neil Foster has penned a novel set in Liverpool in the days of the Mersey Sound which was published in 2005 by Top F Books. He tells me: "I started to write the novel in 1964 after seeing the film 'A Hard Day's Night.' It struck me that no one had every written a novel telling the truth about a rock 'n' roll/beat group, i.e. their hopes, dreams, disappointments, problems etc, so I started to write one. As you probably know, I was tenor sax player in the Delacardoes, one of the very few Liverpool groups that featured a sax. O.K., I wasn't brilliant, but the sax gave us a different sound. I only completed about 12,000 words before I got writer's block and couldn't write any more. I put the manuscript aside for 20 years and after returning to Liverpool from London in 1984 and experiencing a long period of unemployment, I realised that if I didn't finish it then I never would, so I set to work and completed it in six months".

"I sent it to just about every publisher, but no one was interested, not even Spencer Leigh's agent, who told me it would never sell as nothing much happened in it. I didn't want to write the Beatles story all over again but the story of just one of hundreds of also-rans who didn't make it. I also wanted to describe the Liverpool of 1961, just as it was. As you know, it's all history now. I tried for 20 years to publish it myself but couldn't raise enough money. Then a friend, George White, who runs his own publishing company called Music Mentor Books, sent me one of his publications in December 2004 and to my amazement he told me it cost just £300 initially to set up and have some copies printed (using Print on Demand, which I didn't know much about them). That was it. I had some money (£2,000) put aside for the book, so I set up my own publishing company: Top F Books - the allusion is to the top note of the tenor sax, also my name is Foster so 'Top F', get it?

I ordered an initial supply of just 200 copies for promotion etc (cost price was £4 per book) but the response locally has been very disappointing - no interest from the local Merseyside papers, no interest from Prescot Library (I was born in Prescot), no interest or reply from any of the big bookshops I contacted and no interest from most book shops in Liverpool. One book shop told me: "Music books don't sell, not even those about The Beatles". However, he took a couple of copies and the next time I saw them the price on the cover was £12.99, almost double my cover price! Work that out. Still, none of that matters. The point is it has taken me 40 years of effort to bring the book out and I have done it. As far as I know (correct me if I am wrong) still, no other novel about the Mersey Sound has ever appeared and I have tried to make mine as authentic as possible - I describe real incidents, real people, real clubs etc, plus the streets and scenes of the sixties as they really were, before they ruined it all!"

" When you read the book you'll find Mersey Beat, the newspaper, quoted a lot. I have the group move to London in 1962 (which we did), not Hamburg, as we never went there, so I couldn't describe the German scene accurately. I had to think of a plot device which would mean that although the group (the Jaguars) were in London, they could still follow what was happening back in Liverpool, to which they eventually return. How could I do that? Simple! One of the group members has a girlfriend back in the 'Pool who posts him copies of Mersey Beat every two weeks, so he knows everything that goes on".

Neil's reminiscences reminded me of the novel about the Mersey scene which I began to write in the Seventies. I'd called it 'The Mersey Beast' and it was a combination of a coming-of-age story, with detailed descriptions of the Liverpool I knew and the tale of a young singer who experiences the Liverpool clubs and the Hamburg scene and eventually becomes a superstar, but has turned to the dark side in an Alistair Crowley way. Everything was based on my own experiences and the groups and events which shaped that unique period. I'd reached the Hamburg section of the book but lost most of the manuscript and never got back to completing it. There have been other novels of the Mersey scene, though. The first one was 'All Night Stand', penned by Thom Keyes. Thom was an American who lived in Liverpool at the time as his father worked for Liverpool Corporation Transport. He began to travel to gigs with groups such as Faron's Flamingos and based his story on those experiences.

Ticket to Ride

Another interesting novel of the period is 'Ticket To Ride' by Graham Sclater, published by Flame Books, which is 'Dedicated to the many musicians who followed their impossible dream.' Graham was born in Exeter in 1947 and was to perform with various groups in Germany and Scandinavia for several years in the Sixties. On his return to England he became a session musician and has played or recorded with numerous stars ranging from Jimi Hendrix and Fats Domino to James Taylor and Elton John. He also became a manager, songwriter and publisher. 'Ticket To Ride', based on his memories of the years in Hamburg, is his first book and in the foreword he recalls "The mid to late Sixties was a magical period never to be repeated. Everyone had hope, none more than the young people did…...The more proficient, confident but often foolhardy musicians travelled to Germany, following in the path of the Beatles, to try their luck in the larger cities such as Hamburg, Hanover, Munich and Frankfurt, where the clubs and German girls had an almost insatiable appetite for English groups" Some groups made it, others didn't and Graham decided to write about the misfortunes of one of the also-rans. The temptations open to groups working in Hamburg, around the St Pauli area were often too available for young lads from England to resist and the group in Graham's story, the Cheetahs, were dragged down, their lives affected forever by the everyday world of prostitution, sex, drugs and violence, resulting in a total breakdown of the values that they had once believed in. To the hundreds of members of British groups (remember, a lot of groups from Scotland played in Hamburg) who had never-to-be-forgotten experiences in Germany in the Sixties, this is a book to jog their memories!

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 Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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