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In 1961 Bill Harry, a classmate of John Lennon at Liverpool Art College, created 'Mersey Beat'; a music magazine to reflect and promote the outpouring of new music talent that Liverpool was producing at the time. He wrote a letter to the Daily Mail stating "Liverpool is like New Orleans at the turn of the century, but with rock ‘n’ roll instead of jazz". He also wrote to The Liverpool Echo about the emerging Liverpool music scene, but neither paper was interested in stories about music that was popular with teenagers.
Bill came up with the title 'Mersey Beat'. 'Beat' was not a musical reference but a term as in a police beat. He borrowed £50 and moved into the office above the bar at 81 Renshaw Street, which at the time was an off-licence. The rent was £5 per week and Mersey Beat became the most influential regional music paper in the land. The Beatles had a close association with Mersey Beat which carried many exclusive stories and photos of them. It also published several of Lennon's early writings, including a history of the band, and occasional comical classified advertisements by him as space filler. Mersey Beat was by no means just about the Beatles. Between 1958 and 1964, the Merseyside area had about 500 different groups which were constantly forming and breaking up, with an average of about 350 groups playing concerts on a regular basis. In 1961, Harry and The Cavern Club's DJ Bob Wooler, compiled a list of groups that they had personally heard of, which had almost 300 names.
Splitting the 3d price of the newspaper with retailers, Harry arranged for three major wholesalers to sell Mersey Beat. Harry personally delivered copies to more than 20 newsagents as well as to local venues and musical instrument and record stores, such as Cramer & Lea, Rushworth & Draper, and Cranes. The paper released its first edition on the 6th July 1961, selling out all 5,000 copies.
The paper's circulation increased rapidly as Harry started featuring stories about groups in other cities and would grow to 75,000. The Beatles, along with many other Liverpool bands, were regulars at 81 Renshaw Street. Its importance in its day as a vehicle for news and interviews cannot be underestimated. As the newspaper's sales rose, it became known as the "Teenagers Bible". Local groups were soon being called "beat groups", and venues started advertising concerts as "Beat Sessions". With circulation continuing to rise, the paper's offices were moved downstairs to a larger two-roomed office on the first floor of 81 Renshaw Street. The Cavern Club's doorman, Pat (Paddy) Delaney, was employed to deliver copies. A secretary, Pat Finn, was hired, as well as Raymond Kane to promote advertising space.
In 1962, Mersey Beat held a poll to find out who was the most popular Merseyside group. When the votes were counted Rory Storm & The Hurricanes were in first place, but after looking through the postal votes again, Harry noticed that forty votes were all written in the same handwriting in green ink from the same area of Liverpool, so the dubious votes were declared void. This was suspected to have been Storm himself, but Harry had no idea that The Beatles had done exactly the same thing.
The results were announced on the 4th January 1962, with The Beatles in first place. The results were printed in issue 13 of Mersey Beat on the 4th January 1962 with the front page announcing "Beatles Top Poll!". Such was the popularity of the poll, Rushworth's music store manager, Bob Hobbs, presented Lennon and George Harrison with new guitars. Many groups in Liverpool complained to Harry that his newspaper should be called 'Mersey Beatles', as he featured them so often.
Phone: 0151 7071805 email: sales@81Renshaw.co.uk 81 Renshaw Street, Liverpool L1 2SJ