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1963: Good Times, Bad Times

by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"


Looking back in time, the images aren’t always crystal clear and sharp: more often than not they’re just hazy fragments of the whole picture. But when they’re fully in focus it’s as if the Sixties were only yesterday, offering a welcoming doorway to the past…

With his trademark cheeky grin and bubbly delivery, Gerry Marsden with his group The Pacemakers performs his latest single for an adoring television studio audience. It’s October 1963 and the song is You’ll Never Walk Alone. The popular Liverpool quartet is making history. They’re the first artists to have their first three singles reach Number One in the British charts, a feat that has eluded even the mighty Beatles. It’s a record that will stand for more than 20 years.

All this against a background of change: the social, cultural and political life of Britain is headed in a whole new direction. Vanishing fast are the grey smothering cobwebs of the austere years of the post-war era, blowing away in the bracing fresh wind of change.

I’m just beginning my final year at school and like lots of other young people of my age I want to be free from the constraints and restrictions that have governed the lives of my parents and grand parents generations.

There’s a general feeling that something exciting is afoot, and this encourages my friends and me to find our voices. We’re determined we’ll be heard. Hope and optimism are high: and we have exciting aspirations. Music is in the vanguard of this unstoppable thrust forward and we embrace it with open arms.

Although The Beatles are on top of the musical pile, Beatlemania having swept through the country like wildfire, there’s a large supporting cast of talented and ambitious Liverpool groups, including Gerry and the Pacemakers, who are more than holding their own in what is being labelled the Mersey Beat Boom. The Searchers are also to the forefront, causing a stir with Sweets For My Sweet and then with Sugar And Spice. Simple, infectious songs that fit in perfectly with the times: young people just wanting their music to be fun.

I’ve just seen the latter-named bands on the Sixties Gold UK Tour; both were as entertaining and energetic as in their heyday all that time ago.  Honest: the years just rolled away. Of course, they played all their hits (after all, that what the audience wanted) and had young and old alike on their feet, clapping, singing along and dancing in the aisles. It was like 1963 all over again)…

Early January sees The  Beatles’ second record, Please Please Me, released and it’s an immediate success:  of course, no one realises just how massive they’ll become but the signs are there that they’ll be around a for sometime!

My friends and me are regulars at the famous Studio 51 in London where we see the burgeoning Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and a whole host of other exciting home-grown rhythm and blues acts. We also see visiting American blues icons such as John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed. The richness of choice is exhilarating. 

April, and Gerry and the Pacemakers have their initial top of the pops hit. How Do You Do It is originally intended for The Beatles but they turn it down! This is followed in June by I Like It. It rules the charts for four weeks and cements the group’s standing.

They’ll never last, says the older generation. They won’t be remembered this time next year! How wrong can you be?

All this happening as the James Bond movie series ignites with From Russia With Love: Martin Luther King delivers his historic ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in Washington; Bob Dylan makes his big breakthrough with the album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Winter’s icy tentacles give you the shivers and Christmas is just a matter of weeks away. It’s all down to Studio 51, hot and sweaty beneath the low arched ceiling. The music’s cool, everything in the world is just fine. Then shattering news abruptly interrupts the evening. The date is Friday November 22, a date never to be forgotten…

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.




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