It was exactly 56 (!) May birthdays ago that I received my very first “big record” …yes, just like the countless Count Basie and King and I albums in mom and dad’s big oak record cabinet. Needles to say, Capitol Canada T-6054 remained lodged on the Pig Player clear through Christmas ’64 …when I received my second big one.

But throughout the absolutely fab half-century since, I have come to know, and hear, that there was so much more to Liverpool than just JPG&R. As utterly gear as they were, of course. Nevertheless, while most every single musical genre and sub-division, from Rockabilly to Prog to “World” to (finally!) Girl Group has been disinterred, studied, and ultimately immortalized with great big box sets and lavish Netflix documentaries, when it comes to exploring that quirky little pigeonhole known as Merseybeat – the universally poo-pooh’d runt of all musical litters it seems – one must still settle for criminally slim volumes of haphazardly mastered and barely annotated “British Invasion” samplers, which simply regurgitate the same several (American) Top Forty gold oldies (“Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” anyone?)  Perhaps it’s that damnable Freddie Garrity effect that’s to blame; I mean, the sight of a grown man leaping across the Ed Sullivan Show trilling “I’m Telling You Now” whilst pretending to shave with his microphone can do little to, um, legitimize ANY in-depth anthropological study, believe you me.

But like rock ‘n’ roll’s very birth back in the USSA, its bastard British offspring are themselves firmly rooted deep in wonderfully diverse and divergent musical streams. I mean, strictly Beatley-speaking if you must, just chart John Lennon’s pre-Fab years skiffling his mother’s banjo chords with various Quarrymen, or George Harrison’s adolescent infatuations with Hoagy Carmichael and George Formby. Let us not forget that all-American C&W as well was immensely popular in early-Fifties northwestern England, wielding as profound an effect on its fledgling musicians as Hank Snow did on Elvis half a world, and half a mind away (“The first person I ever saw playing a guitar was Slim Whitman,” claims the above-mentioned G. Harrison).

Yet despite such apparent ripeness for further research, Merseybeat as a musical movement – one which, not coincidentally, produced what many consider the most popular band and songwriting team of all time – seems incapable of inspiring the study, not to mention digital immortalization, it truly deserves.

Until, that is, the arrival of a splendid three-disc (!), sixty-song (!!) overview from the visionary folk over at the Viper label right there in, need I say it, Liverpool.

Lovingly packaged (in vintage Mersey Beat Magazine style) and thoroughly annotated (by the supremely witty Bernie Connor most notably), the Unearthed Merseybeat series presents a veritable wealth of seldom, if ever-heard recordings which completely cover the music’s development all the way from Lance Fortune and the Firecrests’ 1957 “Come Go With Me” and “That’ll Be The Day” (compare the latter with the semi-Beatles version on Anthology 1) to Jason Eddie’s jaunty “Mr. Busdriver” from ’68 (which, speaking of those mopped tops, should’ve bounced “Your Mother Should Know” once and for all off the Magical Mystery Tour).

Lest one fear things sit a tad too esoteric though, some comparatively big names and numbers are sprinkled throughout the proceedings as well …but all in riveting alternate or previously unexhumed guises. Unearthed Merseybeat Volume One kicks off, for example, with an out-take of The Merseys’ “Sorrow” which launches in definite SMiLE mode before riffing entirely towards Wilco territory, I kid you not. Plus my childhood faves Gerry and the Pacemakers are liberally represented herein with four – count ‘em! – primordial cuts from a 1961 church hall session, featuring one blistering “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” whose arrangement somehow served double-duty later within the band’s take on Nat King Cole’s “Pretend”  (and while we’re on the subject of Gerry Marsden & Co., let’s now note how producer George Martin was scoring their hits with strings years before he did likewise on “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby,” plus the Pacemakers’ “Summertime” brilliantly paid homage Gershwin’s way long before The Zombies, for example, ever got round to. So there!)

We can also hear for the first time anyway anywhere brave beating Liverpudlians working their ways onward and upward from the dancehall Bill Haley-isms of those Swinging Blue Jeans (“Ain’t What You Do,” live from the Mardi Gras Club, 1960) through dizzying M-beat covers of Johnny Cash’s (“Big River,” as interpreted by Denny Seyton and the Sabres circa ‘63) and even Ritchie Valens (you simply have NOT heard “La Bamba” until you’ve fully experienced the Four Just Men’s Scouse-style Chicano rock!)  Don and Phil Everly, whose blue-mountain duets formed no less than the vocal template for the entire British Invasion, are likewise more than ably tackled by the very young Merseybeats on near note-perfect renditions of “All I Have To Do Is Dream” and the magnificent “So How Come (No One Loves Me),” both recorded right there in their parents’ parlour in the Year of our Lord 1962.

Of course it was none other than Buddy Holly and his Crickets which gave all of England not only a musical, but a visual blueprint upon which to launch The Swinging Sixties (“Everything I learned, everything I played, was based on Holly” admits no less an authority than Mike Pender of The Searchers). Yet seldom have I been more impressed with a Cricket cover than with the downright bizarrely mini-Meek production of “I’m Gonna Love You Too” by our pal Denny Seyton, now forever preserved for us all on Unearthed Merseybeat, Volume One.

Next step? Graft those Everly harmonies atop the Crickets’ power-pop-trio approach, add some youthful adrenaline (not to mention Hamburg-sanctioned amphetamines), back it all with grand new electric guitars and Vox amps and then, in no small part spurred by those first few Lennon-McCartney northern songs, most any Merseybeater worth his black turtleneck soon began composing up their own storms before taking it all down the nearest cellar club …or, if they were lucky, into the neighbourhood tape deck. And it is here that Merseybeat, and Unearthed Merseybeat, really grows fully and uniquely into its own, as exemplified by the Connoisseurs’ “Make Up Your Mind” (just to bring things full circle, this combo were later the first anywhere to cover Rubber Soul’s “I’m Looking Through You,” which is also preserved on Volume Three), the Kinsleys’ utterly charmful “Do Me A Favour,” and then the Kirkbys’ “Dreaming” (if the Rutles had taken on Herman’s Hermits, THIS would’ve been their hit).

That’s a sweet sixteen tracks noted so far, and I’ve honestly only begun to skim the surface of the many gems present on these discs (i.e., a Four Just Men instrumental from ‘64 which sounds uncannily like the late-Seventies B-52’s, a crazed Merseybeats take on the almighty Arthur Alexander’s “Soldier Of Love” which could’ve so easily slotted onto the second Who long-player – and small wonder too: it was produced by none other than mod-opera mastermind himself Kit Lambert – and the truly remarkable Newtowns, who weave influences as varied as the Dave Clark Five, Buckinghams, Beach Boys and Procol Harum across their two ear-dropping offerings before ending it all with a version of “Over The Rainbow” which defies even my descriptive powers).

Alas, as life started to get all serious and Technicolor post-Pepper, this meaty beaty party was practically over (“the lysergic journeys of Kesey and the Pranksters may as well have been the other side of the spiritual universe. Things like that don’t happen in Garston or The Dingle; mind expansion, for the bulk of the musicians at least, was not on the menu,” says our trusty annotator Bernie Connor. Or, in the more positively pointed words of Merseybeatman Billy Kinsley, “the Liverpool groups were simple pop groups who would have laughed at the silliness of psychedelia.”)

Still, we can hear in the ’66/’67 Unearthed tracks a definite leaning away from Little Richard and Duane Eddy towards greener, loftier pastures (Dale Roberts and the Jaywalkers’ surprisingly respectful rendition of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” and the once-Swinging Blue Jeans’ downright proto-Badfinger “Keep Me Warm Til The Sun Shines”). But by the time our beloved Four Just Men had grown out their moptops and transformed into Wimple Winch (their “Rumble On Mersey Square South” sounds as if the Electric Prunes had rudely scored West Side Story), I for one choose to disembark and leave the driving to others more able.

Still, in that golden, sublimely simple decade between ‘57 and ‘67, the world as we know it forever changed …and not only musically, either. And while we may have veritable mountains of audio/visual aids at the ready regarding Sun, Stax, Brill, Bang, Motown et al, we can finally now add, thanks to Unearthed Merseybeat at long long last, a rich new field for extensive study, with nuggets aplenty enough to hopefully keep a whole herd of Rhinos – or at least some Bear Families out there – busy researching and repackaging well into our current century. The Viper Label have masterfully paved the way here, shining a well-deserved spotlight into the caverns of early Sixties Liverpool and uncovering in the process a multitude of tracks fortunately preserved upon primitive acetates and rickety quarter-inch reels, ready for all the world to hear anew today and for the ages.

Do unearth your very own Merseybeat then. Right now, right Here…

Volume One

Volume Two

Volume Three

…and tell ‘em Gary “Gear” Gold sentcha!


Gary appears here whenever he wants

DBAWIS_ButtonGary Pig Gold may have grown up in Port Credit, run away to Hamilton to join his first rock ‘n’ roll group, hung out with Joe Strummer on his first-ever night in the UK, returned to T.O. to publish Canada’s first-ever rock ‘n’ roll (fan)zine, run away again gary pig gpld facong leftto Surf City to (almost) tour Australia with Jan & Dean, come home again to tour O Canada with that country’s first-ever (authorized!) Beach Boys tribute band …but STILL, he had to travel all the way back to the USSR to secure his first-ever recording contract

One Response to “Gary Pig Gold has UNEARTHED MERSEYBEAT”

  1. Frederick Harrison Says:

    For years this was the best compilation you could get on Mersey Beat. Liner notes by Bill Harry who, I suspect, may have helped select the track listing.

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