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

Keith West, dressed in colourful clothes from ‘Granny Takes A Trip’, looked slightly tired: “I haven’t had much sleep,” he admitted, having recently arrived back from a TV show in Brussels where he was mobbed by the audience. “The kids were jumping all over me and I looked around for help, but there was no one there, so I ran out”.

We were in Robbins Music – Ian Ralfini and Tony Roberts from Robbins, Mark Wirtz and Keith from ‘Teenage Opera’, Brian Morrison – agent, Mike Nellman from the Sunday Times and me. The occasion was a celebratory lunch hailing the success of ‘Excerpt’ which was currently No.2 in the charts. So, away to Alvaro’s in the Kings Road and, on the way, Keith told me about the follow-up. “It’ll be out the first week in December, but we haven’t found a name for it yet…and it runs for well over five minutes. All in all, ‘Excerpt’ took us five months to make, our new disc has only taken two or three months now we’ve got the formula".

“There were 65 musicians and a choir of ten children and fifteen adults on ‘Excerpt From A Teenage Opera’, but on our next one we have more musicians – and fifteen Russian balalaika players. There’ll be some older children in the choir and 6-year old Charmaine, who was on the last record, is like a co-star on the next. She has a much bigger singing role”. When we alighted from the cab, Mike muttered something about ‘nymphets’ when he saw a young toddler, aged about eight, dressed to kill. She was dressed halfway between Batman and Robin. In fact, the Kings Road was filled with sights and Keith commented, “You must come down on a Saturday afternoon, it’s great in the Kings Road”.

Inside Alvaro’s we sat around a round table battling with a giant menu. I discovered that Salsicce a la Caine was sausage and mash, but decided on chicken. I found that the album of the complete ‘Teenage Opera’ would be ready early next year – but there were likely to be two further singles issued prior to its release. Keith was guarded when I asked him to outline its plot.

“The storyline on the album? Basically, it’s set in a European village. Grocer Jack is a main character – but there are eight or ten characters like this and it’s a fantasy sort of thing. He doesn’t return, he dies in the end – he was working for so many years and no one appreciated what he was doing. When he died the children realised he was a nice old man. “It’s like a puzzle. Each new single will bring further clues – and the record buyers will soon begin to figure the story out. There’s a big clue to what it’s all about on the next single”.

I was quite impressed by Mark Wirtz – who, I’ve no doubt, will become a major influence on the pop scene. He admitted that he’d once played piano with a German group called The Beat Crackers – “a Jerry Lee Lewis scene” and I was interested to find that he had written a variety of material which Robbins are currently placing with artists. Talk around the table was merry, between the courses and the wine, everything from comic strips to ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and Derry Wilkie was discussed. Brian Morrison added much to the gaiety, and it was more like a party than a lunch.

I wonder what Suzy Kendall, sitting behind us, must have thought of the explosions of laughter erupting from our table. Talk wove around to The Syn, who are making an L.P. of pop operas, which aroused the interest of Mark Wirtz and the wrath of Keith West. “The Syn used to copy all the numbers we did with Tomorrow. We were at Windsor with them and they tried to copy everything we did. They’re bandwagon jumpers…they always used to come to the UFO to watch us and Pink Floyd".

Tony Roberts admitted that he was slightly worried that people might consider Keith’s new record with Tomorrow to be a follow-up to ‘Teenage Opera’, but everyone else disagreed. Time passed, and after the brandies and coffee it was back to the grindstone - but a good time had been had by all.

Note: The project was intended to be a two-record set to be released later, however, further test releases failed to chart, and EMI then shelved the project. It was not until 1996 that a 23-track album featuring performances by Keith West, Tomorrow, Wirtz, Kippington Lodge, the Sweetshop, Zion de Gallier, and Steve Flynn was eventually released and a stage show was created in 2017!

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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