Bill Harry has a very unique perspective on Beatles history. He not only witnessed it first-hand, he helped shape it from the very beginning. He introduced John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe, setting the stage for what would become The Beatles. He, along with his wife Virginia, founded Liverpool's legendary 'Mersey Beat', the music newspaper that chronicled the Mersey sound of the early to mid-sixties and gave The Beatles their first major publicity. Contrary to popular lore, he also brought the group to the attention of Brian Epstein.

Bill's recent projects include the online version of Mersey Beat, featuring many of the articles from the original publication as well as new articles written especially for the site.

In an exclusive interview for 'Beatle Folks', Bill Harry recalls those incredible years and tackles some popular myths that have grown over the decades.




Q: On your website, you discuss Brian Epstein's first discovery of the Beatles, which differs from the story most of us have heard. What was the real story behind his discovery of the Beatles and where did the other version of the story originate?

Bill Harry, John Lennon, Virginia HarryWhen I entered the Nems record store in Whitechapel the first week of July 1961 with copies of the first issue of Mersey Beat, I asked to see the manager. A dapper man came down the stairs from his office to meet me and I showed him copies of the newspaper and explained to him what it was about. On the spot he ordered a dozen copies. He was completely unaware that any musical scene existed in Liverpool and I was the first person from the local music scene ever to mention it to him. Brian next phoned me at the office (the address and telephone number was on page 2), surprised that they'd immediately sold out, and ordered a few dozen more. When they sold out he phoned and asked for more. He then placed an order for 12 dozen copies of issue No.2. Think about it - 12 dozen copies of a music paper for one local store! - it was unheard of, even today. He usually ordered one dozen copies of a publication and that was that. The speed with which it sold and the demand for it ensured that he wanted to know more.

When I came to deliver the second issue he invited me into his office for a chat. He offered me a drink; I think it was a sherry or something. He took the latest issue and went through it, page by page, asking me various questions. He noticed that there were no record reviews and asked if he could become my reviewer. Why would he do that unless he felt that Mersey Beat was important to his business? But he also asked me about the local scene I was writing about. He'd been completely unaware of it and was intrigued by the number of groups and activities. There were also features about the Cavern club. Brian also immediately ordered advertisements. One of them appeared on the same page as Bob Wooler's prophetic full page article about the Beatles in the August 31 issue, which ended "Such are the fantastic Beatles. I don't think anything like them will happen again". Anyone who read this article would want to know about the group (apart from the full page coverage on Issue 2 and the continual coverage I gave them - plugging them so much that Bob Wooler complained that the other groups were referring to the paper as the Mersey Beatles!) Brian was excited about what was happening on the local scene and I could see that it went beyond his merely writing reviews and taking advertisements. He invited me to lunch at the Basnett Bar in Basnett Street on a couple of occasions to discuss the local scene further. Then he asked me to arrange for him to go to the Cavern to see the Beatles perform as they were the ones most heavily promoted in Mersey Beat. Epstein himself has confirmed this, as has Ray McFall of the Cavern. Brian went on a weekend trip to Amsterdam and dropped into the office to give Virginia a box of chocolate liquors. Then, on his birthday, he invited Virginia and I and Bob Wooler to be his guests at the Royal Restaurant in Hanover Street. The artist Max Wall was the entertainer that night. So to suggest that the first time he ever heard about the Beatles is when a boy entered his store to ask for the record some months later is pure fantasy and the copies of Mersey Beat with the detailed items I've mentioned printed there in black and white really tell the true story.

Of course kids went to Nems to ask about the Beatles record which had not only dominated the Mersey Beat cover, but had been played locally by Bob Wooler - Paul McCartney had brought copies back from Hamburg for me and Bob. I've still got my copy.

Raymond Jones just happened to be one of the people who ordered the record - and, since they didn't have a copy, his name was taken down. He exists, but his only relevance to the Beatles story would be that if Brian Epstein had never heard of them before. But I'd been discussing them with him via Mersey Beat for months. To try to explain this anomaly, Brian's assistant, the late Alistair Taylor kept claiming that he'd made up the name Raymond Jones, which has further complicated the story.

Q: Do you think Brian Epstein's shaping of his artists' image helped them achieve success they might not have achieved otherwise?

Undoubtedly! You must realize that at the time the media - newspapers, television, radio, newspapers were very 'square.' The rough and ready leather-clad Beatles as they were would have been unacceptable to the TV and radio producers at the time.

Mersey Beat OnlineEpstein realized that the group would have to conform and change their image to have any success in the Britain of that particular time. Paul McCartney loved the idea, John Lennon and Pete Best didn't. Brian took them to the Empire Theatre in Liverpool to watch the Shadows and pointed out how they bowed to the audience at the end of their act - and said that the Beatles must do the same. I can imagine John cringing! Epstein took them to Horne Brothers and had their hair cut in a standardized way. He took them to his tailor Beno Dorm to have mohair suits made for them. Brian, basically, turned them into a group who conformed to what the media would accept - they became the loveable mop tops rather than the savage young Beatles.

John and Pete didn't want to dispose of their leathers, but they were persuaded. When they went on concert stages in their suits and ties, John would indicate his protest by unbuttoning the top of his shirt. Paul would then button it up for him. I believe John resented the change so much that Epstein realized he was becoming estranged from him and arranged for him to go to Barcelona for a short break while he convinced him that what he was doing - effectively changing the group from John's group into Paul's group - was in the best interests of the band.

John always resented the change, hence his comment that the best music they made was in Hamburg and Liverpool and that they'd sold out after that. He was furious with the rough image specifically created for the Rolling Stones. Andrew Loog Oldham was inspired to create the image after seeing the Beatles on stage. He realized that now was the time for an opposite image. But for the Beatles pioneering the way, that Rolling Stone image wouldn't have happened. Consider, while the Beatles were roughing it up in Hamburg in their black leathers to audiences of gangsters and prostitutes, whoring and drinking and taking drugs, playing raw rock and roll and R&B, the Rolling Stones were in the Home Counties, Brian Jones from genteel Cheltenham and Mick Jagger at the London School of Economics.
It always amuses me when people from the Sixties say that they really preferred the Rolling Stones to the Beatles, because the Stones were the rebellious rock 'n' roll band while the Beatles were clean-cut moptops. Little do they know!

In some of the articles on your website, you portray Brian Epstein as a heavy-handed manager, forcing his artists to change things like their style, music, etc. What are your thoughts of him both as a manager and as a person?

Billy J. Kramer & Virginia HarryInitially, Brian was very nice to Virginia and me, but later showed a nasty side. I came to realize that he had a huge ego, was petulant and often vindictive. Freddie Starr said that Epstein ruined his career because he wouldn't sleep with him; he deliberately forced a record company to cease distributing Freddie Lennon's single and upset virtually everyone who worked for him. Philip Norman in 'Shout!' pointed out that Brian didn't like to attribute any credit to anyone but himself.

Don't just take my word for it, just look at the facts.

Epstein often chastised members of his staff, depending on his mood. Some were able to take the insults, others weren't and, over a period of years, a number of his staff left following disagreements with him.

He made certain promises to Brian Somerville when he hired him as press agent to the Beatles. He reneged on this, began criticizing Somerville, haggling over his expenses and berating him in public.
Somerville resented the manner in which he was treated by Brian and told Epstein biographer Ray Coleman, "He was very bad at arranging financial affairs. He allowed his heart to rule his head far too many times in too many areas. He wasn't honest. He didn't have integrity. I couldn't trust his word."
Derek Taylor was hired as Brian's personal assistant, but it only lasted a few months. At the end of their first American tour, when the group had embarked on a social night out, Epstein accused Taylor of riding in a limousine meant for him, which Derek denied. There was an argument, with Brian trying to humiliate Derek in public and Derek felt that this was one humiliating scene too many and resigned.
He was replaced by Wendy Hanson. However, just like Derek Taylor, Brian Somerville and so many other associates of Brian's, she found that his tantrums led him to insult his aides over often trivial items and she quit her post as personal assistant several times. On each occasion he refused to accept her letters of resignation, would take her out to dinner and talk her out of it. However, Brian's whims, moods and tantrums proved too much even for her to cope with and she did resign.

As a manager he overreached himself and didn't know how to delegate. He signed up far too many artists. Colonel Tom Parker couldn't understand why Epstein had the biggest group in the world and instead of concentrating purely on them he kept signing artist after artist - Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Remo Four, the Fourmost, Billy J Kramer, Michael Haslam, the Silkie, the Rustics and several others, even a bullfighter, Henry Higgins.

Q: Did most other Liverpool groups, like Rory Storm & the Hurricanes and others, have the ambition to follow in the Beatles' footsteps and achieve the same kind of global fame?

To some extent, the ambition was there following the success of the Beatles. Prior to the Beatles, it was almost impossible for a group from the provinces to make it because London ruled the musical roost. The media - newspapers, magazines, television, radio, managers, agents, theatre groups - were all basically in London and owned by those living down there. Previously, to have any hope of success you had to move down to London lock stock and barrel. It had already happened with Liverpool artists such as Billy Fury, Lance Fortune, Johnny Gentle and the Vernons Girls. It was also to happen with the Beatles.

There was a distinct north-south divide, apart from the fact that prior to the motorways, the journey by car from Liverpool to London took 8 hours. However, once the Beatles made it they broke a hole in the dam of London control, which helped so many other provincial bands to make it, including the Hollies, Herman's Hermits and Freddie & the Dreamers in Manchester, Dave Berry & the Cruisers in Sheffield, the Animals in Newcastle etc.

After the initial impetus, London was able to close the gap and take control again and things became difficult for Liverpool bands. The talent was there, but the infrastructure remained in London and London wanted to promote its own acts - Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five and numerous other London-based acts.

In the case of Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, Rory had no ambition. They were also better live than on record and the few recordings that exist give no indication of how exciting they were on stage. Their former drummer Ringo Starr arranged for Brian Epstein to record them. The single 'America' wasn't a particularly good choice. Ringo said he could arrange for them to make further recordings whenever they wanted, but Rory didn't bother. Rory's sister admitted that he had no ambition outside of Merseyside - that he was the King of Liverpool and would remain so, content to be a big fish in a small pond - and he'd never miss a Liverpool soccer match!