The Merseybeats formed in 1961 as The Mavericks. After a short period as The Pacifics, they finally settled on The Merseybeats (at the suggestion of Cavern MC Bob Wooler) in early 1962.
Toughened during the required Hamburg stretch, their local standing became such that they were granted a spot low on the renowned New Brighton Rock Spectacular bill headed by Little Richard and The Beatles.
They had a unique stage presence, sporting frilly shirts, bolero jackets (pictured above), and a mass of rings on their fingers, provoking an enthusiastic response from their female fans.
Signed to Fontana in 1963, their debut single was a cover of The Shirelles‘ romantic ballad It’s Love That Really Counts. The follow-up, also a ballad, was I Think Of You, which made the Top Five.
Don’t Turn Around and Bacharach’s Wishin’ and Hopin’ both made Number 13. The latter was the nearest the group came to a US breakthrough but unhappily they were beaten to the punch there by Dusty Springfield‘s rendition.
At the height of their success, Billy Kinsley walked out in February 1964 to be replaced by Johnny ‘Gus’ Gustafson from The Big Three.
For the next two years, they continued to make singles, most of which sold very well. The Who‘s managers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp took them on but their first single for the new regime – the great I Stand Accused (revived by Elvis Costello in 1980) – barely scraped the Top 40. The band split just before an early 1966 tour.
Kit Lambert suggested Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley continue as a duo, which they did – shortening their name to The Merseys. Their first single was a cover version of Sorrow, the B-side to The McCoys‘ Hang On Sloopy follow-up Fever.
Using the best UK session players (Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones on bass, Jack Bruce on stand-up bass, Clem Cattini on drums), Fontana rejected the finished take and sent The Merseys back to the studio. The retake climbed into the Top 10.
They received a fantastic offer when John Lennon announced he wanted to produce the duo on a version of I’ll Be Back. George Harrison and Ringo Starr both offered to play on the single, but Kit Lambert vetoed the project, and released a cover of The Who‘s So Sad About Us, given the full Spector treatment with two drummers and eight French horns . . .
Backed by The Fruit Eating Bears, The Merseys carried on making (unsuccessful) records until finally splitting in 1968.
Their profile got an unexpected boost in 1973 when David Bowie covered Sorrow on his Pin Ups albums