Anthony Hogan

Amberley Publishing

ISBN 978-1-4456-7208-3  £14.99

Reviewed by Geoff Wills   


Anthony Hogan is a prolific author whose work is inspired by a love of his home city of Liverpool. He is the creator of a website, liverpoolremembrance.weebly.com, whose purposeis ‘to remember the people of Liverpool and Merseyside who fought, worked and lived through World War One and World War Two, to create a reminder of them by the people who knew them best: their relatives and friends.’ To coincide with the website, Hogan has written a book entitled Merseyside at War, which highlights the fact that, ‘as one of Britain’s biggest cities, Liverpool was heavily targeted during the two World Wars.’ He has written a companion volume, Voices of the Children: Merseyside Kids during WW2.   


The Merseyside kids who were born prior to or during the Second World War – tough, resilient, good-natured and with working-class origins – are the focus of Hogan’s other passion which springs from his Liverpool background, namely Merseybeat music. In keepingwith his affinity for everyday Liverpudlians, he writes about lesser-known musicians who have nevertheless made significant contributions. His 2016 book From a Storm to a Hurricane tells the story of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, while The Beat Makers takes the story a stage further, with comprehensive biographies and background details of many of ‘the unsung heroes of the Mersey sound.’   


In this book we meet the Liverbirds, the first all-girl beat group, and the musicians Geoff Nugent, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Byrne and Ted ‘Kingsize’ Taylor. The Liverbirds – Valerie Gell, Pam Birch, Mary McGlory and Sylvia Saunders – made a career in Germany aftera successful season at the Star-Club in Hamburg. Geoff Nugent is best known for his role as a singer and guitarist with The Undertakers, a group whose single ‘Just A Little Bit’, with a dynamic vocal by Jackie Lomax and raucous tenor sax by Brian Jones, should have been a big hit (it got to number 49) and was certainly one of the most exciting singles of the Merseybeat era. Johnny ‘Guitar’ Byrne played a starring role alongside Ringo Starr with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes at Butlin’s holiday camps, major Liverpool venues and the Kaiserkeller club in Hamburg. Vocalist and guitarist Ted ‘Kingsize’ Taylor, with his band The Dominoes, pursued a similar route, and enjoyed great success at the Star-Club in Hamburg, where he played with stars like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino.   


It is interesting to note the solid working-class roots of these musicians – Geoff Nugent’s father was an aircraft factory fitter, Johnny Byrne’s father was a seaman and his grandfatherwas a coal dealer. Kingsize Taylor’s father was a bricklayer. When Johnny Byrne retired from full-time music, he became a taxi driver, a milkman and then a paramedic. Kingsize Taylor became a butcher.   


Perhaps the most important sections of The Beat Makers focus on the African/Caribbean influence on Liverpool music. A full chapter is devoted to the career of Derry Wilkie, a highly-rated black singer who made an impact on the Liverpool music scene with his band The Seniors, while the longest chapter in the book covers the influences springing from the Liverpool 8 Toxteth area – Merseyside’s equivalent of Harlem. The scene developed afterWorld War Two and contained the largest collection of nightclubs in the Liverpool area. Many American servicemen stationed at Burtonwood spent time in the clubs and would bring with them American rhythm and blues records. Stanley House, a social centre, opened in 1944, and other important venues were the West Indian Club, The Palm Cove, The Pink Flamingo and Dutch Eddie’s. The Whitehouse pub became a major Liverpool music centreand respected musicians such as jazz guitarist Odie Taylor and Norman Frazer (who appears on the book’s cover) emerged. Playing a key role in Merseybeat music were black vocal groups such as The Shades, The Valentinos and The Chants, featuring Joey and Edmund Ankrah, Nat Smeda, Alan Harding and Eddie Amoo. The latter paved the way for The Real Thing, who reached number one in 1976 with ‘You To Me Are Everything.’ During the early 1960s John Lennon and Paul McCartney were frequently observed watching and taking tips from Toxteth-based musicians.      


Hogan brings his book to a conclusion with accounts of how veteran musicians and younger bands are keeping the Merseybeat tradition alive. The Beat Makers contains a wealth of interesting information and a comprehensive collection of colour photographs, and the section on the African/Caribbean influence deserves to be developed into a book in its own right.