About Just 4 Men
Larry's band were right in the middle of the Merseybeat explosion - read on and learn how he lost a tambourine to Ringo Starr, only to be given a Snare Drum from George Harrison - perhaps the first example of 'Good Karma' hitting the Merseybeat scene!
IT BEGAN with a newly formed quartet during 1961 with the unremarkable name of The Silhouettes, comprising of Dee Christopholos (Guitar and Vocals), Pete Turner (Lead Guitar), Harry Bearpark (Bass Guitar) and myself (Drums).
We did some gigs in the various youth clubs and church halls in and around the Huyton and Whiston areas of Merseyside. It was about six months later that we heard of a venue being run by Bob Wooler, but he was not too keen on the band unless we had a singing only frontman. This lead to us recruiting another guitarist, John Kelman who had just aquired a Vox amp to go with his Strat, who was a terrific lead guitarist and a really immense fan of Hank Marvin.
So we became Dee Fenton & the Silhouettes, eventually persuading Bob to book us at the Hambleton Hall, and despite having practised what we thought was a real show stopping set we were upstaged by another newish band on the scene, The Beatles, in fact they upstaged everybody and their line up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best soon had virtually every band on the scene gaining their inspiration from this remarkable rock combo.
We quickly realised we would need to do a serious rethink about our material and duly went about trying to keep up with the furious pace set by the "Fab Five" as the Merseybeat scene began in ernest.
Over the next few months we got ourselves more and more gigs as the club scene was exploding and did all the regular venues, The Cavern, Iron Door, Aintree Institute, Hambleton Hall, Odd Spot and Orrel Park Ballroom were just some of the regular venues.
Somehow despite having a reasonable fan following we thought our band could be improved and when Harry decided to leave, we reverted to a 4 piece, Dee went back to Rythmn Guitar and Pete changed to bass, we revamped our image and became 4 Just Men.
Pin Wheel Twist
(It was about this time that the Fab Four started to introduce thier own material into their set. The first song I heard them doing was a number called Pin Wheel Twist, a raucous rocker which McCartney sang which strangely enough never seemed to have made it to record, well at least not that I'm aware of. Maybe they felt it just wasn't good enough to continue with. Incidentally we had been using a John Kelman instrumental ditty called 'Law & Order' as our opening number. Maybe there was a collective conciousness that rippled through the scene promting others to start using their own material also?)
Anyway although still semi pro we started to feel like we were really getting a name despite the multitude of other bands that had sprung up, many of whom were professionals and it was about now that Brian Epstein broke through with the announcement that The Beatles had acquired a record deal and were releasing a new single, Love Me Do
We had also got ourselves several more bookings at The Cavern which by now had become THE place to play and on the first of these were the Fab Four, a few days after they had announced the sacking of Pete Best and his replacement by Ringo Starr.
Well, you can imagine the atmosphere that night after the news had broke! It was amazing!
The place was packed and everywhere there were signs like Bring back Pete, Down with Ringo, We still love Pete and so on. In what passed for a dressing room we were getting ready to go on as the Beatles arrived and amid a crescendo of screams we stepped on stage and tried to ignore all the cries for Pete Best and launched into our version of Johnny B Good.
"Ringo asked me for the loan of my tambourine I was in a good mood and said yes."
As it turned out it was a good set, so when we were back in the 'dressing room' where the Beatles were just getting ready to follow us onto the stage, Ringo asked me for the loan of my tambourine and as I was in a good mood and liked the group I said yes. Paul was practising his whoops and high notes while shaking his head, John was doing some final tuning while George just sat there inwardly thinking I presumed. However after their gig (Which was tremendous and winning over those fans who were shouting for Pete) he never returned it and I forgot to ask, so I guess I contributed to their success, for after all without the sound of my tambourine maybe Ringo wouldn't have been accepted by their fans? (...and anyway we never played on the same bill again with them so I didn't get chance to mention it.)
However we did get to meet George again at a Battle of the Bands contest at the Philharmonic Hall where he was one of the judge's and we were one of the entrants. It was a three day affair during which a 80 or so groups that were whittled down to about 16 on the final day. Our lead guitarist John Kelman had quit a week or so before the contest began so a friend and guitarist who knew our set, Lal Stott, practised with us a few times before the contest and was really good too. (Incidentally Lal moved to Italy a few years later where he became successful as a performer and songwriter. Tragically he was killed in a traffic accident some years later.)
At the end of the final night we had secured 4th place just out of the money, but I had claimed "the most promising drummer" award, and it was George Harrison who presented me with the prize...a snare drum!
An interesting aspect of the this competition was that it was for unsigned bands only. The group John had joined was Freddie Starr & the Midnighters who were voted winners but then thrown out because they already had a record deal with Decca. Runners up, The Escorts were declared the winners and everyone else moved up a place. But this whole affair had soured the event and was a taste of how manipulaters tried to fix the odds. This time, however it failed.
The 4 Just Men were spotted by a Manchester agent who offered loads of gigs around the north west, but there was a catch. We were all working in daytime jobs and it would mean turning professional and going on the road full time. It also meant that we would most likely have to up sticks and move to Manchester where most of the gigs and where the agent was based. Some hard choices had to be made."
The Liverpool scene at that time was buzzing! There were venues and clubs all over the place, in town and on the outskirts. Places like The Cavern, The Iron Door, The Odd Spot, The R.A.F.A.,The Jacaranda, The Blue Angel, Hambleton Hall, Aintree Institute, Orrell Park Ballroom to name but a few. I think nearly all of the 130+ bands that were reputed to be on Merseyside at the time played these venues. The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Big Three, The Searchers, Tommy Quickly,The Undertakers,Kingsize Tailor, Karl Terry, Farons Flamingoes, The Escorts, Freddie Starr,Beryl Marsden, Billy J. Kramer, The Fourmost, Derry and the Seniors, we crossed paths with amost of them besides loads more whose names escape me. A lot of these had all done the German Trip and were full time muso's. We knew if we wanted to keep up with the pace, devoting all of our time to music was the only way forward and this was to influence our thinking when the time came to decide.
There was also another factor for me to consider and that was about my personal skill as a drummer. You see like our band nearly every other musician in the Merseybeat scene was self taught, we had had no formal training whatsoever and what we knew was self aquired ( I used to pick up loads of tips from the recordings of the time and began by copying the drum riffs that many of the imported records demonstrated, and I compared myself to my Liverpool peers and thought, "I am as good as any of them' and felt confident I could hold my own. I think this applied to most everyone so if we did turn pro it would be more about how many gigs we could get, was there a recording contract up for grabs and could we make the most of this hunger for the Liverpool sound. Well there was really only one way to find out....................................
Continued on page 2..........
(AN ODD FACT THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD ABOUT:
When Brian Epstein signed Billy J Kramer, the singer had a backing group called The Coasters, which Brian didn't think suitable for his new protege. So he looked around and found a band in Manchester who were backing Pete McClaine called The Dakotas and offered the band a job backing Billy J instead. This left Pete without a backing band and as fate would have it, my group, The 4 Just Men (aka Just 4 Men) had just signed to Kennedy Street Enterprises, the same agent as Pete McClaine. We were offered the role of providing him with a backing band and as we could also do our own set we agreed. Strange how things turn out, a scouse singer pinches a mancunian group and a mancunian singer pinches a scouse group............................)