Gold still glistens on the tours

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Sep 2019 Gold still glistens on the tours

By Martin Hutchinson

THE END of the year is replete with great tours, one of which is the annual 60s Gold Tour.

This years’ line-up consists of five of the very best from the sixties: Hermans Hermits, The Merseybeats, Marmalade, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, and Steve Ellis’ Love Affair.

The tour starts on September 27 and goes on to December 15, taking in all parts of the country in a music extravaganza that never fails to entertain and pull in the audiences.

“The audiences are fantastic,” said Billy Kinsley of The Merseybeats. “And it’s the same the whole country over, and they don’t seem to be diminishing over the years. It’s great.”

Billy is, of course, one of two founder members with Tony Crane of The Merseybeats.

“Sadly, there aren’t all that many sixties bands still in existence who have original members, and with two of us still here, we have more than most.”

For the statistic-conscious, Hermans Hermits still has original drummer Barry ‘The Bean’ Whitwam. Obviously there’s the original Wayne Fontana and Steve Ellis, and Sandy Newman joined Marmalade in 1975.

The hits will come thick and fast: with Hermans Hermits playing There’s a Kind of Hush, I’m Into Something Good, Silhouettes and My Sentimental Friend.

Steve Ellis of Love Affair fame sings Rainbow County, Bringing On Back The Good Times, and of course, Everlasting Love. Marmalade’s hits include Reflections of My Life, Cousin Norman and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.

Wayne Fontana, with his latest line-up of Mindbenders will extol the virtues of Pamela Pamela, saying Um Um Um Um ( I may have missed a couple of ‘Ums’) and will enjoy A Groovy Kind Of Love. Wayne also has the kind of patter that would be the envy of any stand-up comic with his stories about life in the pop world.

Matching him for stories – he seems to have an endless supply – is the ever-smiling Billy Kinsley who, with the rest of The Merseybeats, will be Wishin’ and Hopin’. They also perform their other smash hits, which include I Think Of You and Sorrow (which they recorded as The Merseys).

Billy is one of the friendliest and most enthusiastic musician I have ever come across, and speaking from his Liverpool home we chatted about his career. The band formed at the beginning of the sixties at a boy’s club in Liverpool.

“I was in a boy’s club on Shiel Road doing sports and such like, and I suggested to my mates; ‘why don’t we get a band together?’ We built a stage, and me and Dave Elias (who was a better guitarist them me) started sussing people out.

On one of these sussing-out sessions, I walked into the billiard room and met Tony Crane. I then became the bassist as I was the youngest and the others had been playing guitar longer than me.

“We rehearsed and got a drummer, but Tony didn’t want to do the very first gig as he thought we weren’t ready. It was the very first time that girls had been let into the boy’s club, and Tony actually came with his girlfriend, and enjoyed it.”

And the venue is still there.

“It’s not a boy’s club anymore, but the building is still there – I go past it often.”

The band had a different name in those days.

“We were called The Mavericks after the TV show, and it was a good name at the time, but Cavern Club DJ Bob Wooler said the name was ‘too country’ and said we should change it.”

And here we come to what could arguably be termed almost like ‘corporate sponsorship’.

“There was a newspaper at the time called The Mersey Beat and Bob took us to see the editor and suggested that we would be called The Merseybeats and would he be OK with it.”

Billy laughed. “Well, he’d seen us play and said he’d be honoured.”
The band had a string of hits from 1963 to 1965 but disaster struck in ’66.

“At the time, we had Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp (The Who) as our managers, and we were having a few problems with John and Aaron. They were hitting the bottle and generally being unreliable. Kit and Chris said we couldn’t carry on with John and Aaron, so why don’t me and Tony get another backing band and just sing.

“I was at school with John and he was a friend, so we came to an agreement; they would continue as The Merseybeats and me and Tony would become The Merseys.

“To be honest, they weren’t that interested and broke up not long after, while we went on to have the hit with Sorrow. But Tony and I split after a few years.”

Both Billy and Tony continued with other bands, most notably Billy’s seventies band Liverpool Express. They had a massive hit with You Are My Love and still perform occasionally. But that’s a story.

Billy and Tony reformed The Merseybeats in 1993 and have toured constantly since. One of the highlights of Billy’s career stems from the very early days.

“Yeah, we must have appeared on the same bill as The Beatles more than anybody else, and even though we toured with everybody, The Beatles were special.”

And a couple of years ago, he received praise from another music legend.

“I found myself talking to Graham Gouldman of 10CC and he told me he was delighted to see me as he and his friends used to watch us play at the Jewish Club in Manchester.”

Going back to The Beatles, Billy has a couple of stories to tell from his inexhaustible supply.

“Funnily enough, The Beatles used to let us go on stage after them. Now, the last act is usually top of the bill, so on first thought you’d think it was a great honour, but it isn’t always what it seems. In those days, all the pubs would close at 10pm or 10.30 and people would tend to leave early to catch ‘last orders’ and then get the last bus home. The Beatles, naturally, didn’t want to play to an almost empty hall as people left, so they’d let us go on instead.”

But it had its perks.

“Yeah, we ended up using their equipment. John used Pete Best’s drums and I used Paul’s bass guitar amp and cabinet. At the time I lived on West Derby Road, which was between The Cavern and Casbah clubs, so we used to put their gear on our van and store it at our house.”

And, in true raconteur style, this leads on to another, related tale of how some things come back to haunt you.

“At the time, if you could hear the bass guitar sound at the top of Matthew Street, one of three bands were playing at The Cavern; The Beatles, The Big Three or us, the reason being that all three bassists, Paul, John Gustafson and me, had these big bass cabinets, which makes the bass sound incredible.”

“Paul, however, had an 18-inch speaker that no-one else had in this cabinet that we called ‘the coffin’. Well, one of the times I had his speaker at my house, I took the back off and basically copied the cabinet.

“It took me three months to save up for the actual speaker, but when people heard the bass, they went ‘wow!’ About 15 years ago, I had a call from John Hamill. He was working for Paul as his road manager, and he said to me: ‘I’ve got a message from Paul that’ll make you laugh. He says ‘can you make him a coffin?’”

But then, something spooky happened.

“The day after, I got a call from the lead guitarist from The Big Three, who now lives in Hawaii, who built Paul’s original. I told him Paul wanted me to make him the cabinet, but then I thought that he would prefer one built by the original maker, and he agreed. The upshot is that Paul now has a copy of my copy of his original.”

Billy says the greatest achievement in his career is “lasting a long time, still enjoying it and working with great bands. We’ve worked with everyone on the bill in the past, and strangely, most of ‘em have had No.1s, but we haven’t. The camaraderie backstage is great, the only bad thing is the travelling – and it’s getting worse.”

Billy is keeping busy.

“Yes, more touring and I’m thinking of recording my own album.”