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

Sixties City

Bill: Most people in other parts of the world think of Liverpool in terms of The Beatles and Liverpool FC, but the city has more to tell than that and your ‘The Talk of Liverpool’ has those stories and is a book which lives and breathes Liverpool. You spent 33 years with the Liverpool Echo, becoming Chief Feature Writer, interviewing and witnessing numerous major events and tragedies from the James Bulger murder to the horrendous deaths at Hillsborough to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Of particular interest to music fans are the numerous tales of Mersey groups from the Seventies onwards such as Echo and The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and Half Man Half Biscuit - and other bands, like The Fall, from Manchester. Which of them did you find most interesting to interview?

Paddy: It might sound like a cop out answer, but they were ALL interesting - in different ways. As a passionate music fan, it was a privilege to be able to meet up with and interview so many of the people whose singles and albums are in my record collection. The band I have seen live more than any other - about 60 times, I think - is Half Man Half Biscuit. It was obviously a great thrill for me when I first met and interviewed the band's singer, guitarist, lyricist and main songwriter, Nigel Blackwell (co-founder Neil Crossley also writes many of the group's songs).

Nigel, unlike so many front men, has very little interest in self-promotion - as people will gather when they read my interviews with him in the book! I think he's a genius, but he certainly couldn't be called big-headed or arrogant. He was just as happy - happier, actually - if I wrote a column about a new HMHB album in my own words, rather than ask him about it in a traditional interview. Our interviewer/interviewee relationship developed into a friendship over the years, and we now meet up regularly for a drink, when we will often talk about anything and everything but HMHB. I was also delighted to be able to engineer meetings (often in pubs - the best place to interview people in my opinion) with so many people whose records I had enjoyed for years. These included Pete Wylie and Ian McCulloch, who were both great company - and provided so many great quotes.

They were born to be front men and born to be interviewed - as was Julian Cope, although I was only able to interview Julian on the phone, as he lives in Wiltshire (it was still an extremely enjoyable and entertaining chat, though). Frank Sidebottom was also interesting - not least because, after turning up to interview him before one of his gigs (at the old Hardman House Hotel on Hardman Street, Liverpool - a great, lost venue), I was told by someone that he wouldn't be able to speak to me as he had a sore throat (didn't stop him performing that night, however!) Knowing I had space to fill in the next day's Echo, I had to think quickly - and was able to persuade him, via an intermediary, to write down his answers to my hastily scribbled questions which I passed backstage. So, I never met him, face to papier mache face, but I got an interview!

There were so many of my heroes I got to meet (the music chapter is the second longest chapter in the book, after the one on Hillsborough - while the chapter on my interviews with relatives and friends of The Beatles is a separate chapter, and also a lengthy one). These heroes also included Mark E. Smith of The Fall, Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks, Vic Godard of Subway Sect and Henry Priestman of Yachts, It's Immaterial and The Christians.

Paddy Shennan and Mary McCartney
Paddy Shennan interviewing photographer Mary McCartney - Photograph courtesy of Reach plc / Mirror Books
I basically worshipped The Fall between, about, 1979 and 1982, and while it was many years later that I interviewed Mark E. Smith - and he seemed a little tired and emotional on the phone (well, it was about four in the afternoon, so maybe I got him a little late in the day!) - it still felt special to be talking to him. Pete Shelley and Vic Godard were just lovely people to talk to - and my interviews with them again underlined how lucky, and honoured, I was to meet and chat to people whose records will always be so special to me.

Bill: Despite the success of several Mersey groups such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, most people still regard the Sixties as the major musical period with The Beatles, Cilla, Gerry, Searchers and others. What did Pete Shotton tell you about John?

Paddy: My interview with Pete was carried out at his Fatty Arbuckle's restaurant in the Edge Lane Retail Park in Liverpool back in 1995. He was fed up with talking about The Beatles but kindly agreed to speak to me because I worked for his hometown paper - we met following the publication of The Day John Met Paul: An Hour-By-Hour Account of How The Beatles Began, by American author Jim O'Donnell. I think it's fair to say Pete wasn't a great fan of the idea behind the 143-page book (in his own book, John Lennon In My Life, which was published in 1983, Pete devoted a mere nine paragraphs to the meeting that revolutionised music). We also spoke about how that booking at the summer fete at St Peter's Church in Woolton came about, and the discussion Pete and John had after Paul McCartney left that evening. Pete also discusses his and John's interest in Elvis and rock 'n' roll - and who was the bigger fan - while I also asked him "What would have happened if John had never met Paul?"

Bill: I was interested to hear that Cynthia told you about the time John hit her in the face at the Art College. What did she reveal?

Paddy: In her book, simply called ‘John’, she recalls this incident at Liverpool College of Art - the day after John had apparently worked himself into a jealous frenzy after seeing Cynthia dancing with his best pal, Stuart Sutcliffe: "Before I could speak he raised his arm and hit me across the face, knocking my head into the pipes that ran down the wall behind me..." But, to me, she seemed to try to downplay it, saying that "he didn't beat me up and give me a black eye. He slapped me." Then she added: "These days I think a lot of women slap their men."

Bill: Nigel Walley, John’s close friend from his early days and manager of The Quarrymen, witnessed the tragic death of John’s mother Julia. Did he feel John resented him for not talking to her longer which would have prevented the accident?

Paddy: Yes, that was another fascinating - and, at times, very sad - interview. Nigel, who moved with his family from Woolton to New Brighton not long after Julia's death (before the end of 1958 - the accident happened on July 15th that year) had nightmares about the tragedy for years. He told me: "I didn't see John much after that because he became a bit of a recluse. It worried me because, deep down, I wondered whether he blamed me for the accident and was thinking 'If only Nigel Walley had stayed a minute longer talking to my mum.' But hindsight is a wonderful thing."

Bill: You interviewed Yoko around the time Liverpool had been announced as the European Capital of Culture. What did she have to say about John’s love of Liverpool and how he had intended to return to perform there?

Paddy: I interviewed Yoko on Sunday October 9th, 2005 - what would have been John's 65th birthday, and what was their son, Sean's, 30th. Two years earlier, Liverpool had learned it would be European Capital of Culture in 2008, and Yoko told me John would have been delighted about that. He was always telling her how living in New York was like living in Liverpool - he said, for example, that New York taxi drivers "were just like the lads from Liverpool - very down to earth." When I asked her about the prospect of him returning to Liverpool to promote Double Fantasy, Yoko told me that John was a very proud man and didn't want to return to Liverpool until he had a number one album - but he would definitely have returned and would have been so proud to show Sean around his home city.

Bill: When you joined Allan Williams for a drink (his was red wine with ice), he told you that he got a big kick out of barring The Beatles from The Blue Angel. He also told you about the split between him and the group when Stu Sutcliffe phoned him from Hamburg.

Paddy: I loved interviewing Allan - he was such a brilliant character with such a self-deprecating sense of humour. It was a lovely chat in The Jacaranda - which he had opened as a coffee bar in 1957 - around the time of his 80th birthday. He told me that he was a millionaire - "of memories." Yes, he recalled Stu telling him that John had decided the group shouldn't pay him a commission (for the second visit to Hamburg) because they believed they had secured the job themselves. Allan told me: "I said 'You would never have smelt Hamburg if I hadn't taken you.' And yes, he said the biggest kick he got was barring them from The Blue Angel - which he had opened in 1960 - explaining "I cut off their whole social scene." Though he goes on to explain how he and the lads were happily reunited there - thanks to a diplomatic intervention by Brian Epstein.

Bill: Mary McCartney told you about her love of photography, which her mother Linda was so successful at. Also, how it runs in the family because of Mike McCartney’s photographic talent.

Paddy: That's right - as I say in the book, photography doesn't run in the McCartney family, it gallops. I met Mary in 2013 at The Lowry in Salford, where she had an exhibition of her photographs of the likes of Madonna, Marianne Faithfull and Helen Mirren. She explained how she had grown up around photography (of course, a picture by Linda of Mary as a baby being held inside dad's jacket adorns the sleeve of Paul's 1970 debut solo album, McCartney). But it wasn't until her early 20s that she really picked up a camera seriously - "I went into my mum's archive when she asked me to help her with a book and that inspired me." Regarding Uncle Mike, she said: "He's an inspiration. Whenever we are together, he's got his camera with him. I like that kind of photography. He's always fresh and interested and smiling."

Bill: You interviewed comedians such as Ken Dodd and Ricky Tomlinson. Do you think Liverpool should have received acknowledgement for the large number of comedians which came from the city?

Paddy: I think a lot of people in other parts of the country do recognise Liverpool for having produced so many famous comedians - and the fact that so many of its people are just naturally funny, as well as friendly - but there has often been talk about something official being done to recognise the city's comedy legacy. Ken Dodd said there should be a museum dedicated to comedy in the city - though I remember there was an exhibition devoted to Doddy in the Museum of Liverpool, while a statue of him was unveiled on the concourse of Lime Street station. But yes, perhaps more could be done - generally and permanently - to recognise the very many comedians that the city has produced.

Bill: You gained some insight into what it was like to be a Scouser when you launched a series called ‘This is my City.’ What is a good example of a Scouser's opinion of his city?

Paddy: Yes, there is a chapter devoted to that series - which features extracts from interviews with so many people, including Mike McCartney, Pete Wylie, Ian McCulloch, Pauline Daniels, Marina Dalglish, Margi Clarke, Bill Kenwright, Les Dennis, Neil Fitzmaurice, and local broadcasters Billy Butler, Tony (Snelly) Snell and Roger Phillips. They all had their own take on the city and its people. Snelly made an interesting observation, saying: "We can be contrary - if someone says 'black' we will say 'white', just to get a reaction. It's not even to be abrasive, it's just a trait of ours as we try and weigh people up." Margi Clarke, meanwhile, told me that in Liverpool, everything starts with the River Mersey - "the lifeforce and heartbeat of the city." And John Bishop said: "There's an edge to Liverpool and there's an openness and friendliness about the people. And I think Liverpool people have a much more enhanced sense of identity and feel a greater sense of pride than people from many other cities." I'd go along with that - and add that while people from the city might, at times, have cause to knock it themselves, they would strongly defend it from any attacks made from the outside. And people here have so much to be proud about - it is a wonderful city, with its stunning waterfront and impressive architecture and array of listed buildings. More importantly, it is the atmosphere of the place - so many visitors and friends from elsewhere have told me that there's a buzz about the city; a vibrancy, something in the air that is unique and special. As comedian Alexei Sayle told me in one of my interviews with him: "It feels like real life here, while being in London doesn't. You feel more connected and more alive when you are here. You feel comfortable as well."

Bill: I was also interested in your series about Liverpool pubs. What did you have to say about Ye Cracke and The Grapes?

Paddy: I loved having the opportunity to write about pubs when I was on the Echo. With my then colleague Mike Chapple, I launched a weekly pub column - which led to the award-winning Liverpool Echo Pub Guidebook, published by Bluecoat Press in 2002 (now out of print, but maybe the odd copy is floating around the internet - along with some of our original columns). I love Ye Cracke, in Rice Street - Mike had the pleasure of reviewing it for the column/book, but it's always been one of my favourite pubs. It has such a great atmosphere and you can almost smell its long and interesting history - not least its Beatles-related history. It also has a fantastic beer garden at the back - and from one corner of it there is the best view provided by any pub in the city; of my favourite building in Liverpool, the awe-inspiring Liverpool (Anglican) Cathedral. I reviewed the legendary Grapes in Mathew Street in 2002, writing: "Once upon a time it was known as The Grapes. It was a famous pub. Then it was renamed The Famous Grapes - even though everybody already knew it was a famous pub. Now, praise the great god of common sense, it is once again known, simply, as The Grapes." Mathew Street can get incredibly busy, and you can often find yourself colliding with tourists who suddenly stop to take photos, but Liverpool people are rightly proud of its world-famous history - and The Grapes is a fine place to absorb part of that history. Many years ago, I used to spend every Saturday lunchtime in there - having a lovely, late breakfast (a full fry-up) and a few pints. I'm suddenly starting to feel hungry...and thirsty. The Grapes has been remodelled and refurbished over the years, but it's a must-visit place for any self-respecting fan of The Beatles.

Bill: There are some quotes on your back page which summed up what some people thought of Liverpool. What would your personal quote have been?

Paddy: A great question - and difficult to answer! I've mentioned elsewhere in this interview what others have said about the city and its people, while on the back cover Tony Benn is quoted as saying: "Liverpool is a city which is never demoralised, and that is what makes it different." I think I'd say "Liverpool is an edgy city in more ways than one - courtesy of its people and its world-famous waterfront. Its people are proud, open, welcoming and friendly - and not shy about sharing their time, thoughts and opinions. There is an undeniable buzz about the place. You will feel alive in Liverpool - and, as with other vibrant cities which are defined by the character of its people, such as Dublin and Glasgow, you MUST visit at least a few of its many wonderful pubs."

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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