The Rocking City: The Explosive Birth of the Beatles
by Sam Leach
Publisher: Pharaoh Press, UK
ISBN#: 1 901442 292
Note: Published in the USA as
The Birth of the Beatles
(Same cover, different title)
ISBN#: 1 901442 306
Like many other young PopRock refugees I was lured into well-charted waters by the Beatles music in the late 1970’s. However it was the Beatles story, and a captivating one it was, that really hooked me. That was more than twenty years ago today, and since then the story has been told over and over and over again. So much so that even my eyes glaze over when I hear a new Beatles book is on the way. I’m pleased to say that my eyes are clear and bright after reading The Rocking City, a fresh new title by Sam Leach. His stories and their intimacy breathe new life into a well-worn tale, rekindling a romance often forgotten with years of familiarity.
Sam, affectionately known as “Leachy” to the Beatles, was arguably the Liverpool promoter from 1960 to 1964. Through his clubs, and in halls and ballrooms around Merseyside, local bands slowly honed their skills and built a faithful army of fans. Sam, a self-confessed rock’n’roll fan, regularly featured Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Searchers, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the Bluegenes, and of course the Beatles, long before Bob Wooler convinced the Cavern to drop its jazz format and switch to rock.
Promoting rock’n’roll in the early sixties was a dog eat dog affair, and not a profession for the faint of heart. If you see red when your Ebay bid is sniped at the last minute, you probably wouldn’t have survived 1961. Sam has every reason to be bitter, and after reading his exploits you’ll know what I mean. His battles, first with Alan Williams, then with Bob Wooler and Ray McFall of the Cavern, and finally with Brian Epstein will leave you shaking your head (and maybe your fist). Of course Sam was no angel. His devious scheme to outwit Bob Wooler in a race to book Gerry Marsden is still talked about today! These tales of intrigue and frustration are both entertaining and revealing, and place the reader in the box-office and behind the Mean Machine, Sam’s legendary team of intimidating bouncers. Despite the hardships and fierce rivalry this is not a tell-all or vindictive account, Sam gives credit where credit is due and takes it all in stride, a Liverpudlian trademark if there ever was one.
The most fascinating aspect of The Rocking City is the detailed narrative surrounding several specific shows. You’re treated to a rare glimpse back-stage, a chance to sit atop an amplifier in the tiny crowded dressing room, while the Beatles, Pacemakers and Hurricanes tease and torment both Sam and each other. Perhaps “glimpse” is not the right word…Sam’s 36 page account of his Rock-Around-the-Clock show (March 11, 1961) is as comprehensive as you could hope for! Another highlight is the story of the Beatles ill-fated attempt to conquer the South when they travelled to Aldershot (just outside London) on Dec. 9, 1961. On that night the Beatles performed live in front of a throng of eighteen jivers, a fact many might refuse to believe if it weren’t for the photographic evidence backing it up. A series of six shots from this venue are included, along with another ninety-four black & white photos, several of which have never been published before.
Quite frankly, I could write several pages simply listing my favourite stories, whether it be the foggy evening that saw the lift-off of Opearation Big Beat, the brain-rattling Jerry Lee Lewis concert, or of an intoxicated John Lennon rolling raw eggs down a fan’s birdnest hairdo. But then who needs a history lesson from me when you can travel back in time yourself – so buy the book, fix a cuppa and get back.