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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Rockers reversed British invasion

For Beatles-crazed North American teens in the early 1960s, Liverpool was a music mecca, and the Cavern Club was the base of the entire British Invasion.
This dank, dingy, brick-walled subterranean club -- a former bulk wine cellar located in the heart of Liverpool's business district -- was where the Fab Four made their name and were discovered by manager Brian Epstein. The band performed on the tiny stage some 292 times between 1961 and 1963 before global fame precluded Cavern appearances. Nonetheless, the club looms large in Beatles lore.
On Aug. 9, 1965, four Winnipeg lads boarded a CNR train headed for Montreal, where they would board a ship bound for Liverpool. Popular local rock quartet the Crescendos -- singer and sax player Glenn MacRae, drummer Vance Masters, guitarist Terry Loeb and bass player Denis Penner -- were about to live the dream of a million teenagers.
"We had seen the Beatles movies and Ferry Cross the Mersey and figured that's where it was at," says MacRae.
The four received a royal send off at the train station, with dozens of fans and members of the media on hand to bid them good luck. They arrived in Liverpool in the evening and had to wait for the customs office to open the following morning.
"We stood on the railing of the ship looking out into the darkened city. We couldn't sleep from excitement.
"Imagine four kids from Winnipeg going to Liverpool with limited funds, no contacts and no place to stay," recalls Penner. "Liverpool was like no place I had ever been to. Small cobblestone streets, houses and buildings that were hundreds of years old, the smell of coal from the docks. The people were friendly and very helpful."
Their first destination was the Cavern.
"They were having an all-night session with a half-dozen bands," MacRae recalls.
The four met many of the bands and discovered a welcoming atmosphere.
"There was a family feeling among the bands. We were never treated as outsiders," he says.
Being a Canadian band on the Liverpool circuit proved to be a curiosity, but the Crescendos proved their worth, earning enough respect to be booked into the legendary Cavern on Sept. 26, 1965.
"When we found out we had a gig at the Cavern, I think it took a while before it finally sunk in," says Penner. "We didn't know what to expect. The event was called A Fabulous All Nighter, with 10 other groups. Rory Storm & the Hurricanes (Ringo Starr's pre-Beatles band) was one of them. I couldn't believe I was on the same stage where the Beatles played."
The group would play the Cavern several times during the next six months. They were the only Canadian band to ever appear at the original Cavern Club.
MacRae found playing the local scene different from what they had experienced in Winnipeg.
"In Liverpool, you did an hour, and then another band would do the next set," he says. "So you had to line up several gigs a night, because they didn't pay that much. You would play a set, pack up and head to another place, set up, play, then head to another gig."
Playing the Liverpool circuit offered meagre funds, so the four Winnipeggers became resourceful.
"We used to steal milk bottles off doorsteps and turn in the bottles for the deposit in order to buy cigarettes," says Masters.
"We stole coal from neighbour's bins," chuckles MacRae. "We burned all the furniture in our flat for heat."
Penner returned home before Christmas.
"When I went to Liverpool I was engaged to be married, so I told the boys I could only stay until early December. We found a replacement a couple of weeks before I left and gave him a crash course with our playlist."


CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM JOEY MOLLAND AT GONZO

The Pilgrim
CD - £9.99

Demos Old And New
CD - £9.99

Return To Memphis
SCD - £9.99

This Way Up
CD - £9.99

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