Try dodging the rain on the South Bank of the River Thames.On holiday and staying in Shad Thames, London, a couple of miles or so down river, we often took the casual tourist walk down to Westminster, Big Ben, and Houses of Parliament et al. Today, Christine and I had barely reached the Millennium Bridge when - hey up - down it came again. Huge spots of warm rain hit the smoothed concrete pavements. People scurried towards us escaping the open elements of dark grey sky, blustery unexpected gusts of unpredictable cross-winds and the uncertain 'wobble' of the infamous bridge itself.
They hurried bye in the blink of an eye, seemingly knowing a secure, safe and exact place of local sheltered whereabouts. It was but a mere fifty paces away and yet we had seen this place from many different geographical angles prior to today without much noticing it before. Foreboding, heavy industrial warehousing has long dominated this landscape for centuries past; this structure to me it seemed was not a million miles from those. A huge sign had been grafted to the upper heights of its windowless facade: TATE MODERN. Was this brick building, no more than another of those 'refurb's' which are found mainly in northern UK cities and being advertised as such? 'Luxury Loft Apartment Living'. A little smoked glass and sultry chrome placed on the lower levels added a touch modernist, but even that was duly questionable?
Before we chance to get the umbrella up - we had been swept inside. Emerging from the 'Tate' we entered into bright afternoon sunlight. No more a second thought - now we were both hungry.Sliding into the 'Eat' franchise, a chicken-tikka-masala sandwich for me, a tuna and sweet corn baguette for Christine and the compulsory pot of afternoon tea-for-two, taken unbelievably outside, ala, pavement-cafe French-style. No sign of the rain for now, just that hot sunny uncomfortable glare.
It had been two hours or more since the disorientation of the 'Tate' had had its inspiring effects upon me. Now those thoughts were turning quickly into culinary ones. Then back again they came as our palettes were duly fed and quenched. An odd exhibit of silver cutlery, plates and dinner service accoutrements... some 900 hundred in total had each be suspended on wires from the gallery ceiling reach almost to the floor but not quite: They gave the illusion of floating on a calm imaginary river and it captivated me instantly (Cornelia Parker: 30 Pieces of Silver: Tate Modern 2008).
My love of guitars goes back to early childhood. No: I should really say, "My love of the sound of guitars goes back to my early childhood." In 1955 an American guy released a song in the UK called Rock Around The Clock. It had a devastating effect on this small brain of a nine year old boy who was very nearly getting on for being ten. His name was Bill - just like mine and he had Kiss Curl on his forehead - also just like mine. It was the beat. Nothing quite like it had ever been done or heard before. And the dance - wow - the jive. Could those cats move this beat? This is what was to become known as Rock 'n' Roll. Balmy Saturday nights in the summer months saw a few of us gathering outside the local St Johns Ambulance Hall. We'd sit on the wall just by the door - as we were nowhere near old enough to go inside. Inside was exclusively for the 'Ted' s'; the Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls. The music was seriously loud and I'll never understand how they made that kind of volume on a portable Dansette record player - but they did! We just loved listening to the music but, the best bit; that usually came later. The Ted’s just loved to strut and preen, showing off all tough and sexy like James Dean, Marlon Brando and of course, Elvis Presley. They also liked a drink or two.. Some would get hold of a 'pass-out' to visit the pub just opposite as The Ambulance Hall was always 'dry'. Pop and crisp's was your lot in those days. Soon enough the boys were getting tanked-up and the almighty and inevitable always happened - the fights. The OK Coral had nothing on these guys. Tables, chairs, windows smashed, pop bottles thrown, you name it - Pandemonium. But while all this was going on inside and outside on the cobbled street - the music never stopped.
Joining St James's CE Church Lads Brigade in Wigan was my first exposure to playing live music; on a snare drum: Like a duck to water; this was for me. I had felt the power of the beat, and it was little 'ole me making it. Soon the bugles joined in. We were insatiable learners. " Two threes; drum solo: By the left... Qui ihhhc ck: March..." Liverpool Anglican Cathedral was my first ever gig. This was massive. I was to be solo drummer for the Massed Battalion Band of the CLB, Liverpool Diocese in 1962; I was just 15. The next 40 odd years or so have remained pretty well static; I have never stopped playing semi-professionally ever since. At whatever job or profession, unemployment and retirements I have gainfully plied the music and the beat has always been there for me. No one could have faintly predicted what it was that going happen in the 1960's and if they had tried to do so, they would have been interned and incarcerated for the rest of their life. The musical and sociological seeds were however, already sown, planted and cultivated in the late 1950's mainly by American black and country musicians. Here in the UK an eager audience awaited knowingly on this side of the big pond. Influenced by an influx of US imported songs from the likes of Little Richard and Chuck Berry followed closely by Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. They were about to unleash the full force of rock 'n roll upon our largely musically conservative nation. Skiffle music had surfaced in the UK courtesy of Lonnie Donegan with raunchy songs like Rock Island Line, Cumberland Gap and Putting' On The Style. This music was so different to anything that had gone before and so inspired were the new generation of the day, enjoying it was tantamount to a teenage totalitarian revolution. At one and the same time and seeming overnight, the nation’s youth were as overwhelmingly excited about this phenomenon as their bewildered parents were equally dismayed. Quickly purchasing guitars on HP, learning a few basic chords and using home made instruments like the tea-chest bass; they became world famous closet pop stars overnight. Soon however, skiffle music had succumbed to the American way. By 1960 there was an estimated 300 bands in Liverpool alone, playing a mix skiffle, blues, country, jazz and rock 'n roll. Whilst instrumental groups like the Shadows had paved the way for 'guitar bands' featuring charismatic front-men like Cliff Richard, who were patently regarded as the rock 'n roll family royal; but, like Skiffle before them, it didn't last not long. However, that this was only the beginning of the decade, what came out in the next ten years was nothing short of utterly mind-blowingly and truly astonishing... Stand by for Mersey Sound explosion.
Many Liverpool bands were playing regularly all over the Merseyside area and their numbers were growing exponentially. They were also getting to be good at what they did. Venues like the Cavern Club, The Jacaranda and the Casbah thrived as they welcomed the pop and crisps brigade to see the new and exciting Merseybeat groups sing and play. Much competitiveness was derived too betwixt the various musical combinations of the day. Good material was hard to come by and sugary-sweet BBC Home Service melodies were eagerly supplanted by introducing grittier styles of rhythm 'b blues welcomely imported from the United States. A case of one-up-manship for the group who could deliver the latest r 'n r rifts into the act. Bands also went from Liverpool to HamburgGermany for short playing tours. Often playing absurd hours for little more than a bite to eat, a floor to sleep on and a few bottle's of Becks beer. The Star Club was amongst the more famous of the haunts. Owned and run by a professional boxer called Horst Fascher, he befriended many of these young men - most of which had never been overseas before - as mentor and protector from the ills and vices of the notorious Rheperbaum red-light district. Here is where the bands who played full-time honed their stage crafts as near to perfection as was humanly possible. One such outstanding outfit was the Beatles. In 1962 the world got their first glimpse of Mersey Sound and a local called Bill Harry ran a successful music newspaper called Mersey Beat, thereafter giving the entire world alternative name for the incredible Liverpool beat phenomena which was about to explode all about and around us. In the UK 'Love Me Do' hit the top twenty charts at no 17 for the Beatles in October 1962. In 1963 they had charted four No 1 hit singles and one single at No 2. Look out... the world. Here comes Mersey beat.
I have now celebrated commemorated and paid tribute to Mersey Sound: 50 Years On. The Mersey~Sound~Wave is attracting both gathering dust and critical acclaim in equal parts. Laid out in the right hand corner of The Beatles Story Fab4store in the new Mersey Ferry's TerminalBuilding at the Pier Head, Liverpool its popularity is largely unquestionable. So many people have told me so I lose count. From that, I will take great comfort. It all started in December 2008 with a simple press release. The Liverpool Daily Post's reporter Alan Weston was to respond as was a Liverpool JMU Student journalist Hugh O'Connell. On 29 January 2009 The LDP & Echo ran the first MSW article. From which the first to respond was Bill Heckle Managing Director of Cavern City Tours. "What a great Idea," he enthused. "You can borrow from us, the Cavern Club's Sir Paul McCartney's signed Hofner Violin Bass Guitar. " Jim Softly was next. "I work at The Beatles Story in Liverpool and I have a red ukulele from my George Harrison Tribute Band." Hugh O'Connell also asked me to appear in Video to be made and available to view on You Tube. I was on my merry way..
Sunday February 15 and date with Bill Heckle at the Cavern Club. Bill was to officially present me with the McCartney bass at the Denny Laine Cavern Concert. And Denny it was who performed the ceremony by handing over the world famous bass to me and the Mersey Sound Wave. Over the next few months the project attracted 25 Cavern 'played' guitars of the estimated 100 I required to complete the finished guitar sculpture. Now - I needed to secure a suitable venue. This 'small' task however, was to prove so far the most daunting - or so I though at the time. Meanwhile, news about the MSW was out on the Merseyside streets. Asked to pay a visit Beacon CE Primary School by Headteacher Sally Aspinwall; she wanted to know more... The Cavern Club had never seen anything quite like it. Around thirty School children were to perform for the Mersey~Sound~Wave. Singing, playing guitars and dancing they had been rehearsing for weeks for the performance of a lifetime to a packed-out Cavern and tumultuous applause. This was the first MSW collaboration; there would be much more. The MSW was now moving into a true community style project. Now it involved so much more than rock 'n roll legends. This was a real happening at grass roots level. Thirty-five children in just one school in Liverpool were learning to play the guitar and now they each had a performance at the Cavern under their belts. Whereas, back then, I started my gigging at the Anglican Cathedral - they were starting theirs at the spiritual home of Mersey Sound itself - the World famous Cavern Club, Liverpool. How good is that? Fab!
They were kind, they were courteous but they deliberated a 'big fat no'. I tried all the LiverpoolMuseums and Galleries but they were simply not buying into the MSW concept. But onwards and upwards I prevailed, but to no avail either. I looked to smaller venues to which Merseyside has many and is qualitatively thriving. No go again. I had planned for around a two year wait for my exposition to be realised - not a two year search. Now it was autumn 2009 and heading for another cool winter and 2010. Yet I had no confirmed venue and too few guitars. The project felt it was steadily slipping away from me. In October 2009 I received a phone call from Jerry Goldman, Managing Director, The Beatles Story Visitor Attraction, As a commercial set-up and major award-winning tourist attraction it ranked along side the Cavern Club in Liverpool's list of top world wide popular attractions. He and his staff entertained me for an hour or so, not giving me any inkling of my project's acceptability to them one way or the other. The Beatles Story Fab4store proved the almost perfect setting for this dream project. Permanently piped Beatles tracks filling the air, stunning views across the River Mersey and surrounded by thousands of bits of Beatles merchandise and memorabilia. A month later in late November 2009 I received the phone-call I'd already given up waiting for! "In principle I like your proposal," Jerry Goldman mused. "However, I think there may be problems in accommodating the MSW here in The Beatles Story at The Albert Dock. Please contact Clair Duffy in the next few days." I was set for a meeting with Clair - Store Manager of the brand spanking new Fab4store in the equally new Mersey Ferry Terminal, Pier Head, Liverpool. We agreed on a MSW start date set-up on 29 March and its break-down on the 7 May 2010; wonderful, perfect; so I thought. As a major venue The Beatles Story proved to be truly fitting for the MSW exhibit. It ticked every box on my long shopping list in Merseyside the MSW now has a home for exactly five weeks. One week each representing the five decades of Mersey Sound.
Bassman Ken Shalliker is an original Mersey beat musician who has done it all. Been there and done that from the late in the 1950's to the present day. Spending considerable time in Hamburg, Germany with King-Size Taylor and The Domino's amongst his many other groups of the time. Not dwelling too much on these past exploits he excitedly showed me his plans for a brand new bass guitar. Built by himself from scratch - The 'Spirit of the Wave' it was to be called, -this was to be his perfect addition and compliment to the Mersey~Sound~Wave. Now, I had but the other 75 guitars to collect from potential pledges in the four months up to the Press Launch. 1 April 2010 - April Fools Day. Also, I had promised to produce a Mersey Sound Wave CD Album, an MSW DVD and MSW book. Also, it would be Christmas 2009 very soon. Whilst the MSW is all about Mersey Sound: 50 Years On, its special guitars and its special people - it is also about the unsung heroes and lesser lights of the local music business. Superstar guitars will be a huge attraction for the MSW but so too are the hundreds of musicians and the many aspiring young people living in our communities. It is they who are waiting for the chance and opportunity to truly shine.
Wonderfully, the MSW is fast becoming seen as a huge catalyst of inspiration. Now to recruit sufficient guitars: This, together with procuring a suitable venue, being the other major area over which I have little or no control. The space I had inside the Fab4store, to set up the 'Wave' was much less than I had originally planned for. However, it was in direct proportion to the number of guitars I would eventually recruit. Most importantly though... was it big enough to make a maximum viewing impact.. and so too, give-out the necessary WOW factor? The Mersey River is tidal where the river meets the Irish Sea. If a gently flowing river wave was to be made to be, I needed to experiment. I made several scale models from a 150 miniature guitars measuring 50-60 mm long. Many painstaking hours were spent suspending them from an overhead frame with nylon fishing line to varying degrees of success and failure. But, I soon got the drift... The Fab4store ceiling was a truly accommodating area.
Engineer Alan Turner MD Travtec Package Engineering - provided the ideal solution by fitting shiny metal bars and matrix's to the overhead exposed RSJ beams perfectly matching the existing upper ceiling cladding materials. A large fixed air conditioning unit operated overhead centre of the 'Wave'. The floor area also took a 90 degree turn to the right, so the overhead fitments had to take the same path. Walkways around the exhibition were provided for installation access only - just one area being provided to an emergency exit, toilet and public viewing corridor. Next, the guitar suspensions. I opted for simplicity. White nylon chord was the product of choice and a breaking strength of 150lbs was secured. The heaviest guitar would weigh no more than 10lbs or 4kg, so I had a built-in safety factor of x15. The first guitar is placed around nine inches or 225mm above the floor, setting the datum level to which all the other guitars will refer. Will I have enough guitars for my desired MSW effect? In the end I needn't have worried. Altogether a total of 108 guitars were kindly volunteered to be featured in the MSW during its five week display. Over the next three days the rest of the donated guitars will be placed accordingly and as specified in my own minds eye.
This endeavour - to my knowledge - has never been done before. Will it work and will I get the impact I so passionately desire and... Will I make the dead-line and have a Mersey~Sound~Wave ready for the Press Launch at 5:00pm on Thurs 1 April 2010? I waited patiently in my car for the Engineers delivery truck to arrive. The gleaming wet heavy rods of metal were swiftly taken inside.The wind raged straight down the Mersey and into Liverpool Bay. Rain teemed down obscuring the window views, the Royal Iris looked uncomfortable in the river's uncertain wake and the foaming waves gave us a greeting from far away frozen lands beyond the horizon. It was Monday morning in Liverpool. Four days to go and now and there was no turning back. Momentarily my thoughts were back in London and last summer at the 'Tate'. It had rained heavily that day too.
The BeaCles Children sang their socks off to the one-hundred or so invited guests. The signature Mersey Sound Wave Theme Tune started the proceedings by opening the MSW Press Launch in 'Fab' musical style. The children, staff and parents of Beacon CE Primary School were again the 'stars of the show' and helped me with the ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the Mersey Sound Wave.
Bill Hart 2010