The Cavern Club, The Beatles and the 1960s British Invasion: interview with The Merseybeats’ Tony Crane

The Merseybeat Milkman in 1964 © to the owners

The Merseybeats in 1964 © to the owners

The third musician belonging to a glorious 1960s band I had the opportunity and the honour to interview after Gerry’s Pacemakers and The Tremeloes as a part of the multi-performer all-the-hits tour Sixties Gold that has regularly been travelling across the UK every year for many years with a magnificent line-up of 1960s artists, is Tony Crane MBE of The Merseybeats.

The Merseybeats were founded in the late 1950s by Tony Crane himself and by bassist and vocalist Billy Kinsley with the addition of David Elias and Frank Sloane, and their sound was significantly influenced by the American duo The Everly Brothers.
In 1962, the quartet became teenage residents of the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool and suddenly found themselves playing almost all days and nights of the week alongside The Beatles who were doing their gigs at The Cavern since 1961.

The Merseybeats - © to the owners

The Merseybeats – © to the owners

They were managed by the illustrious Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein for around six months, and then they dumped him because he purchased suits for The Beatles but not for them and no, I’m not joking, but yes, they still regret this to this very day.
And then they reached for the stars with the hit single It’s Love That Really Counts in 1963 and they shot for the moon in 1964 with the smashing success of their million-selling single I Think Of You that scored them their first gold disc.
After disbanding, going separate ways, changing bands, rebanding as a duo and renaming themselves and then changing again, Billy Kinsley and Tony Crane eventually reunited in 1993 and, with the addition of Bob Packahm and Lou Rosenthal, they are now The Merseybeats again.

In this interview, Tony Crane MBE discusses the latest edition of the annual Sixties Gold tour and reflects on the 1960s, The Beatles, David Bowie covering his song Sorrow in 1973 and all the achievements of a lifetime in music, including being awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017.

Tony, what should your fans expect from the Sixties Gold tour?

We were just looking forward to carrying on with this tour again, because of the way the tour was laid out and because there are so many other artists with us and it’s an all-the-hits show, we just have time to do like four songs, so we made the hits like Don’t Turn Around, Wishin’ And Hopin’ and I Think Of You. Because we were only on for 12 minutes, it had to be the hits. People are a little bit disappointed as we always include one or two of every persons’ songs in our shows, but obviously, we can’t go on with this job here because it’s got to be our own hits here, and nothing else.

What achievements are you most proud of, at this stage in your career?

On my career, my personal one, obviously, with The Merseybeats we have had lots of success in different places all over the world and everything, but the accumulation of everything came to me when I was awarded an MBE in 2017. And the icing on the cake was when I got to Buckingham Palace and I didn’t know who was gonna present me with the award, and it was actually Her Majesty The Queen. So I was like “Oh, I like my career!” I was absolutely delighted meeting the Queen and talking to her, and she did say that she remembers The Merseybeats… we don’t know whether she does or not, but she’s a lovely, lovely lady.

They all say she’s got the memory of an elephant. So it’s probably true.

I Think Of You by The Merseybeats

I Think Of You by The Merseybeats

Well, that’s true, yeah, she said that she and her sister would go and find some groups in Liverpool, in the early 1960s. That was nice. That was fabulous. I was delighted.

How do you feel when you hear one of your songs playing on the radio?

Oh yeah, it’s great, fabulous, especially here, I’m on the Wirral which is part of the Merseyside, anyway, so the local radio stations like Radio Merseyside often play our hits and talk about things and give advice to people and everything, which is really good. And when we do I Think Of You on stage, we dedicate it to the crowd, to the audience, and thank them for coming along, and we dedicate the song to them. I always say to people to keep supporting the 1960 shows, and so The Merseybeats come along, and so we dedicate I Think Of You to them.

Which one of your songs are you most attached to?

Well, I suppose it’s I Think Of You. It came out in 1964, became a hit and turned out to be our biggest-selling single, so I’m attached to that.

What do you think of the current state of music?

Well, I suppose it’s the same all the time. I don’t say to people “This it’s not as good as the 60s, this is not as good as the 70s”, but there’s always good music coming out. And there’s always bad music coming out, too. So you just have to see what you like yourself, what you like to listen to, and you know, it could be anything, because I like all types of music. You know, my biggest regret is that Freddie Mercury died. It was such a loss because Queen is still my favourite group, they were absolutely wonderful. But there’s always good music coming out, you just have to pick and choose what you’re willing to listen to. It could be anything, it could be rap, it could be country music – I became a big fan of country music, I’ve been to Nashville a few times and it was really good.

What’s the biggest difference in music between yesterday and today?

Tony Crane MBE of The Merseybeats - © to the owners

Tony Crane MBE of The Merseybeats – © to the owners

I suppose it’s the different tunes; in the 60s, the tunes were more simple, very memorable. And that’s the difference between the 60s and today, because if you sing a hit from the 60s, everyone sings along with you as they’ll know the words. Now, you might sing a song that came out two years ago, and people have forgotten the words already. Well, you may remember the tune, but some of those songs from the 60s especially, from some different songwriters, are fabulous songs. They are memorable, and I see that every time we sing our songs on stage, the crowd just sings along, which is different to today’s music, I suppose. I don’t think that people will be singing today’s music in like 50 or 60 years time, but the songs from the 60s seem to carry on.

Is there something from the 1960s music scene that is missing from today’s music industry, in your opinion?

Well, the difference is that, as a band, we have always treated the fans as our friends. For instance, at the end of the show, we always go out and meet all the fans and spend about an hour talking to people, and thank them for coming along. Well, not many people do that now.

It’s because they want you to pay to meet them.

You pay for things like the meet and greets and fan mail, and they are charging for that. I think that they should just go out and say hello to everyone and thank them for coming along. I think that’s what’s changed now. They charge a lot of money for these meet and greets.

You were required to change the band name in the early days of the group, weren’t you?

Well, the biggest thing for us was that when we started off, we were playing around Liverpool and we became residents of The Cavern Club. At the time, we were quite successful, but we were called The Mavericks, and we were the only band that was resident of The Cavern at the time with The Beatles. So they said: “You’ll play alongside them for five times a week”, and The Beatles were alternating with us, but we were told “We don’t like your name, it sounds like Country ‘n’ Western”. So when they advertised us on The Cavern, I thought they’d got the wrong band because it read “The Merseybeats, a big, big new discovery”. And when I asked about it they told me it was the name of a newspaper called Mersey Beat, so it could have been the Daily Post or the Daily Express, or anything else.

How did the creator of Mersey Beat Bill Harry react when he found out you named the band after his paper?

Mersey Beat newspaper - © to the owners

Mersey Beat newspaper – © to the owners

Bob Wooler was the DJ at The Cavern Club and also the booking agent for us, and when they asked us to become a resident of The Cavern he said that he was going to think of a name for us to move on from The Mavericks, and he asked Bill Harry if we got permission to use this name. And he said yes, and he said yes you can use the name, only because he thought we were a really good group. And so we got permission. And so we went there on the first night that we were playing at The Cavern alongside The Beatles and we were all in the same dressing room getting ready to go, and John Lennon said to me “Oh, I like your new name, it’s absolutely fabulous”. And I thought, “Well I liked it too, then!” I wasn’t sure at first but when John Lennon said he thought the name was great, then I would go on with that!

Well, of course, you would.

And then The Beatles took us under their wing because we were so young, quite a few years younger than The Beatles. And they liked our stage act. We would do similar songs that they would do, they liked the way we sang early Elvis Presley‘s songs with guitar playing and everything, so it was a good starting chapter for us. We also had an unwritten sort of rule: if The Beatles got a song before us, we’d say we can’t do that now because of The Beatles. After we did a lunchtime session with them, we would run around the corner to Brian Epstein’s NEMS [North End Music Stores] and we’d listen to all the new releases from America’s small labels, and if we liked one of them then we would buy the record and rehearse into it that night at The Cavern…. before the Beatles did it! We just enjoyed doing it. And imagine growing up as a teenager, being a resident of The Cavern Club alongside The Beatles! I didn’t think about it at the time and I was just doing it because I loved it, but when you look back you think, well, what a way to go through your teenage years! When we had our first record I was only 17. So, you know, everything happened so quickly.

Did you ever write songs with The Beatles?

Not with them, no, but quite often we would play a song to them, or I’d recommend seeing what they thought of it. And they played songs to us. I remember Please, Please Me – when John played it to me it was like a ballad.

Have you got a favourite Beatles memory you would like to share?

3 August 1963: The Beatles' final show at The Cavern Club poster

3 August 1963: The Beatles’ final show at The Cavern Club

A little funny story was when The Beatles came back after they’d left, they came back to play one more final show at The Cavern. And they wanted us to be on the bill with them, and so we did that, it was August the 3rd 1963. The story was that two of my sisters were coming along to see the show, obviously, they wanted to The Beatles, but they always wanted to see us anyway. Normally at The Cavern, when you bought a ticket to go in, as you came to the door it would be ripped in half and they gave you half of it back. But one of my sisters tricked this as she was coming in, and fell against the shadow used by going left it so she ended up with the actual ticket unmarked, which went to a Beatles auction last year. There were multiple offers, and that particular ticket ended up selling for, I think £7,500. That was only a small ticket, but it’s just that most of the tickets were all ripped off, you know. So that was a nice little story. She said it had just been in a drawer, in the house, you know, since the 1960s!

Do you also have a favourite Cavern Club memory?

One of The Cavern Club is that we hadn’t played there for a number of years, and when we had our new manager who also managed The Who, he came up with an idea, like let’s go back to The Cavern and get some publicity and try to play non-stop for 12 hours to break the world record and be in all the newspapers! So we went back, but little did he tell us that he had already booked us in Burlington on the East Cost, that night! So by the time we got to The Cavern to start this man of plague, it must have been about nearly four o’clock in the morning, when we got there. So we played and we played and we played and we played – non stop. We did eight hours, and we only stopped then because the drummer sort of fell off the drums. He couldn’t carry on, he couldn’t carry on any more and we tried to carry on without him. But I think that was just that we were just drinking soft drinks, and I think our drummer at the time was adamant about going into Coke. So, but that was a good experience to be back there, it was on all the papers and in the national papers, but a lot of the papers all they put in was a photograph of our drummer sitting in the back of our limousine against a window!

That’s quite an accurate representation of 8 hours of playing.

Hardly anyone showed photographs of us on stage, but we got a lot of publicity from it, so the manager got the job done. And we saw a lot of affection, and now we still do our annual show, we go back once a year to The Cavern and do an anniversary show. We did one for the first time when it was 50 years since we started playing at The Cavern. So we booked The Cavern and we did that, that was about six years ago, now. We do a once-a-year event on the 19th of September, so we’ve just done this year’s one, and people travelled from great distances because they’d never seen The Merseybeats play at The Cavern, and it’s something they always wanted to do. And so people come from all over Europe and from Canada, and from Japan and South Africa, regularly. These have been fans of us for years but they’ve never seen us playing at The Cavern and so they make a special trip to see us playing.

That’s awesome. And what’s the greatest memory of Brian Epstein you’ve got?

I don’t know if you know this story, it was a bit stupid thing for us. We kept saying Brian Epstein: “You keep buying suits for The Beatles”.

Yes, I heard this suits story. 

Well, it’s a true story. Brian Epstein kept saying “Wait another six months”, but because The Beatles had already said that we’d got some great songs, in the end, we just said no, we’re just going to try and make it on our own, and we left Brian Epstein, after only about six months. And we regret it to this day, because a couple of years after that, when Billy [Kinsley] and I became the duo called The Merseys, Brian Epstein, came up to us and said “I’m going to talk with The Four Tops to put you in their tour as you’ve got to be back in the charts, I want to look after you and we’ll have a new record out and I’ll put you back in charts and everything else”. And then of course we did The Four Tops tour which was fabulous, wonderful, and shortly after that, by the time The Beatles went to India, Brian Epstein died. So that never came to fruition. That was sad.

Since we are still talking about The Beatles, what do you think of the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory claiming that the real Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced with an imposter by the name of Billy Shears Campbell?

I just don’t believe everything I read these days – but even then, I would believe rarely.

Got it.

I mean, The Beatles were still close friends of ours and they were such nice people. It’s like when people used to say to me that John Lennon was a terrible person. He was the nicest person I’d ever met in my life. And it was just so strange that people are now beating around the bush. Some people are supposed to be very nice but they have two faces, and John Lennon just said it as it was, you know? And he was such a big fan of us and he loved what we did so much that he said if he could produce our next record, and we went down to the studio and we really wrote the songs, and he was ready to do it, to write the songs and produce them with us, but when we went back and told our new manager, he said “No, you can’t do that, I’m your record producer”, and I found out later that he only said that because he was publishings The Who’s Pete Townshend’s songs, so he wanted us to do a Pete Townshend so he could make the money out of the publishing. So yeah, it’s a shame, because once we made a rehearsal with John, sitting around the table and going through all the different songs, George Harrison said “You’re gonna need a guitarist on this track, can I play the guitar on it?” And then Ringo said “You’re going to need a drummer, aren’t you? What about me?” So, if it was recorded, that song would have been produced by John Lennon with George Harrison on the guitar and Ringo Starr on the drums and so on. But Paul was too busy in the studio, mixing his tracks. So that was something that didn’t come to fruition, sorry that didn’t happen. We ended up recording a song and that wasn’t a hit at all, although in the later years it’s steadily sold. It’s called So Sad About Us.

The term Merseybeat later became a general definition for 60s beat music: what do you think of that? I mean, you were the first to use that name to record music.

First of all, when the Beatles made it and when a couple of other bands made it, it was originally started to be called “the Mersey sound”. The Merseybeat came later on, and a lot of people asked us over the years if we had tried to cash in on the name by calling ourselves The Merseybeats, and I said no, we were called it well before the music was called Merseybeat. With the beat music, the funny thing was that we were known then for being like a ballad-type band. And yet, the measured beat was beat music, so it was a bit confusing to people for a while, but then again, because when we did our live shows, we only did two or three ballads, the highlights of our shows were always when we did a slow ballad usually by The Shirelles or The Everly Brothers. The guys disliked slow ballads, but the girls seemed to like that.

Your music has always been compared to The Everly Brothers; did they ever know about that? Did you ever meet them and told them so?

Well, we didn’t. We almost had the chance as we were supposed to do a tour of Australia with them quite a few years ago but it didn’t come about to something, and I think they’d broken up again because they were broken up over and over the years. And we really wanted to plan coming outside their dressing room door and singing one of their songs, like Maybe Tomorrow, in our voices, but that never happened. It’s so sad, and there was a thing about Facebook and social media when Don finally died a few weeks ago [Isaac Donald Everly died in August 2021], there was a reference to The Merseybeats from their people making comments on socials – there were also other names, but the majority of the people said The Merseybeats, which was nice.

Looking back on your career, do you think The Merseybeats have been lucky or unlucky?

I think everybody was lucky at the beginning because when you first start, to have a hit record or a recording contract was like something you thought would never happen, and when we finally got our recording contract it was by accident anyway, that’s when you say about being lucky! We were playing a lunchtime session at The Cavern, and an A&R man from London who was auditioning for different bands, possibly signing them to Philips Records, said: “I want to offer you a recording contract, and we have an audition for you, because you’re the best band of all here”, and all the other ones were not offered a contract. So we got that by accident. And they were starting a new label, and we were going to be the first band signed to this new label called Photon Records, all under the banner of Philip Records but it was the new label, and a week later, the A&R man did the same thing in Manchester, and he ended up signing Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders. So we were the first two bands on that label, and we became friends with Fontana who sadly passed away about a year ago. But we remained friends all the way through, and The Mindbenders became 10cc so they had more success on their own.

Is there any band from the 60s that you think is still underrated?

There are quite a few because some of the bands in the 60s had lots of hit records and carried on touring and everything else, but they didn’t sort of have any of the success from the 60s, and I could never see why. I don’t know whether it was bad management, because they were still making good records. I think what was wrong was the radio stations – the main radio stations wouldn’t play them. They were abandoned where they had a new single out or a new album, they couldn’t get placed in the major radio stations, if you get them on the local radio stations but they couldn’t get played on Radio One, Radio Two and things like that, then they would all say that they were not in style any more so they wouldn’t play their records. Without the plays, no one would buy them because they didn’t know about them.

Maybe there was just too much incredibly good music back in time.

Yeah, that’s true.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m putting an album together which should be out soon. My son Adrian is in the band and he came up with the idea, he said: “Have you realised that there’re lots of famous people that have covered our songs? So why don’t you think of putting an album together and try to mix them together?” So I’ve done that. That’s all finished and is called The Merseybeats and Friends. And the friends are impressive because they are David Bowie, John Lennon, Dusty Springfield, Elvis Costello, The Who and Robert Plant. That’s actually a good lineup and we’re just waiting on confirmation that we can use the music because we’ve really mixed a lot of these tracks together. We need permission to use Lennon’s voice, and we have even done a new version of Sorrow, where David Bowie is first slicing the second verse and so on.

Did you like David Bowie’s cover of Sorrow?

It was okay, I don’t think it is as good as our version but I was very flattered that he did it because he started out being a fan of ours quite a bit when he was just David Jones and even in the early days he used to say “I’m going to try and make it on my own”, and I thought he meant as a focusing, because he sat in the dressing room on the acoustic guitar just singing the songs that he’d written. And then we didn’t see him for a couple of years, and then all of a sudden this guy would make it and was suddenly on television, and we would be like “Oh, that’s David Jones?!” So, David Bowie, he, of course, got the Bowie from the Battle of the Alamo’ Jim Bowie, and we all know the Bowie knife.

★ If you love the British Invasion and early American rock, you may also enjoy our other interviews with the man who introduced The Beatles to Brian Epstein: Bill Harry of Mersey Beat, The Animals, Gerry’s Pacemakers, Pat Boone (remember Speedy Gonzales?), The Tremeloes, Maggie Bell of Stone the Crows,The Zombies, Jeff Christie and also the weird things we found out about the Paul is dead conspiracy theory

★ Also, read Part 7 of this to see what we found out about the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory

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