“We were born in Liverpool” John Lennon
The music scene in Liverpool during the early 1950s was predominantly one of jazz. though houses had a musician, and so, just as the skiffle parties in America gathered communities together, it was the same in Liverpool too.
The great Celtic musical influences from the large Irish, Scottish and Welsh population in the city brought their traditions with them. American influences, as well as jazz, could be seen in the developing country music scene that saw Liverpool named as the “Nashville of the North” . The city had the biggest country music scene in Europe, largely due to the American influences in the city. By the time the ‘50s ended, there were hundreds of groups and, most importantly, hundreds of live music venues for them to play in. There was no music scene like Liverpool’s in Britain. It was unique, yet in the early ‘50s, a career in music was something very few contemplated. All that was about to change in 1956.
Along came Lonnie Donegan and rewrote the rules. By introducing skiffle into Britain, young people nationwide purchased guitars on credit. They formed groups where the only skill you needed was to be able to own an instrument, and not even a proper one at that! Your mother’s washboard and sewing thimbles; a wooden tea-chest with a broom handle as a bass, or a pair of spoons was good enough. If someone owned a guitar or banjo, that was great. At Quarry Bank High School, John Lennon recruited his friends Pete Shotton, Bill Smith and Eric Griffiths, forming The Quarrymen. When Rod Davis purchased a banjo, he was enlisted and they found themselves a drummer in Colin Hanton.
London-based Lonnie Donegan was a frequent visitor to Liverpool, and the version of “Rock Island Line” he sang was based upon the song recorded by Huddy “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, who, in the 1940s, lived at 414, East 10th Street, New York. When he appeared at the Liverpool Empire in November 1956, it inspired Paul McCartney to buy and guitar, and George Harrison to seek Donegan out for an autograph. “Rock Island Line” was one of the few records John Lennon bought. Everything changed.
Liverpool was, and still is, a musical city. The cosmopolitan influences on these skiffle groups saw them evolve, through many changes of style, and musicians, to rock ‘n’ roll groups; to Merseybeat. The Quarrymen eventually became The Beatles, a group that could only have come from Liverpool. The musical influences, the “Cunard Yanks” and American servicemen based at the USAAF base at Burtonwood outside Liverpool all mixed together with skiffle sparked a musical revolution in these teenagers that created the foundation on which The Beatles conquered Liverpool, Hamburg, London, New York and the world.
And it all began in Liddypool.
Discover more about The Beatles in Liverpool in The Beatles Fab Four Cities.