Tony Crane – Original Mersey Beat
Years have rock-and-rolled by
By Jim Stewart
Thinking back 50 years to January, 1963, little did we know the impact the following 12 months would have on our lives, not just musically but also culturally. They were such magical times that everyone who was there DOES remember them, and we still relive those days every time a hit record, still sounding fresh, plays on the radio.
This year’s ‘Solid Silver Sixties tour’ celebrates the anniversary with four star acts who each contributed so much that year, Mike Pender, The Merseybeats, Dave Berry, Wayne Fontana – plus The New Amen Corner, 42 dates beginning on March 7. (See the Good Gig guide for full tour schedule.)
It will come as no surprise to those who regularly see the shows to discover the artists look forward to, and enjoy, the tours just as much as we do, which was where my conversation with Tony Crane, of The Merseybeats began.
“We do the show every second year: they don’t have the same acts every year, and we’ve done it for around 12 years now. We always enjoy it, always have a great time. I’m looking forward to it, I always do, they’re always great packages.
We particularly like it because we’re always touring with old friends of ours, Wayne and I go back to the very beginning because Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders and The Merseybeats were the first two acts signed to the new record label, Fontana Records, and we’ve been friends ever since.
“So it’s 50 years since we all made our first records. We did ours in the summer of 1963, and Mike Pender also did ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ with The Searchers at exactly the same time, so it’s the anniversary for all of us.
“That was a great year because, living in London, our local club, The Glenlyn, used to get the bands on the same night they did ‘Ready Steady Go’. ‘We did a lot of ballrooms at that time because the bands didn’t do many theatres. Occasionally we did a package with Dusty Springfield, or Manfred Mann, but we never did the full tour with them, just a few dates around a certain area’.
“I missed the first of the ‘Solid Silver Tours’ but once I went I was hooked. They’re always great; in fact, we didn’t do last year’s but I still went along and enjoyed it. Brian Hyland: he just played the music, sang good, looked good, and the music spoke for itself, he was great.
I watched ‘Swinging UK’ on Sky over the weekend. I can also recall seeing it at the cinema. What recollections do you have of the movie?
“We did that one plus another one ‘Beat It’. We do ‘Don’t Turn Around’ in ‘Swinging UK’, but I think that was actually lifted from ‘Beat It’ which was a more arty movie. I remember Kent Walton announcing us as ‘The Beatles favourite band’ in ‘Swinging UK’ which was good fun.
“Around that time, the mid-60s, most of our films and TV were all done in Italy, where we had our own TV show. We were very lucky because we had a hit record in Italy before anybody else from Liverpool. So they invited us over in 1964 to do quite a big tour and, while we were there, we began recording these 20-minute slots for TV. We did around 12 of those which were so successful they invited us back to do a spectacular show. They said we could pick our guests because we were the stars of the shows, but make sure you pick people that are well-known in Italy. We thought ‘there’s a challenge’; so we had Matt Monro and Anna Neagle, which was good fun at the time.”
I also saw you as The Merseys on The Four Tops Tour.
‘They were great: in fact, we became good friends. They helped me out one time. We were onstage in Manchester and we looked at two giant guys either side of the stage watching the show and, as we came off stage, they grabbed hold of me, and said: ‘Hurry up, and get changed, we’re taking you to Strangeways Prison, but as it’s late you’ll be spending the night in a police cell in Manchester.’ I thought it was a joke, but by the time I got to empty my pockets before going to the cells, I realised it wasn’t. It turned out I’d signed a contract to do a gig, even though I was under age, and the agent had taken it out, saying ‘you don’t need to do that one, we’ve got Top Of The Pops instead. So we left him to cancel the gig but he didn’t, so they sued. It went to court; I was fined £3,000 – even though the gig was only £300 – or a week in prison.
“I didn’t know anything about this until I got locked up in a cell, The Four Tops heard about it: they said ‘we can’t have Tony locked up,’ so they went and paid the sergeant at the desk three grand in cash. He nearly fell through the floor, and they got me out and threw a party for me. That’s the kind of people The Four Tops were, really genuine and nice.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing The Merseybeats – my only regret is that it’s only been on package tours with the obvious time restrictions.
“I know, that’s the problem: after 25 minutes, or half an hour, we’re only just starting to get warmed up, but on the tours you have to condense the act, which means you always leave something out which upsets someone.
We’re trying to work out our songs for this tour at the moment. We can’t do them all, we’ve got to start with a bang. It’s so important! We’re not going to be doing ‘Live And Let Die’ with all the problems we’ve had over the pyros, so we had to stop doing it.
So, instead, we’re going to try and all the songs people say we never include.”