Stripped to the waist in the clammy cellars of James Street’s The Liverpool, Karl Terry chugs back a glass of Guinness. One set down, one to go.
Those who claimed the Olympic stadium was noisy have never been to The Liverpool at five o’clock on a Sunday. Outside, the city is still sleeping off the night before. Inside, the joint is jumping. A popular beat combo whips the afternoon crowd into a frenzy with a tight blend of rhythm, blues, rock and roll.
It’s standing room only, and the building’s skin glistens with sweat. Mums, daughters, mates, strangers – bumping, jiving, hugging, smiling.
Not for them the parallel universe of tribute bands next weekend. This is our history. This warm primordial soup of backbeats, spilt beer and ruddy faces is how it started.
“I was up drinking til five this morning,” Terry croaks.
“Whiskey?” SevenStreets enquires.
“No. I’m not sure what it was. But it was green...”
Terry’s band members, The Cruisers, exchange glances and snigger like schoolkids passing contraband beneath their desks. “Let’s just say it was one of those nights,” guitarist Mike offers, obliquely.
The ridges and peaks of his face may resemble a relief map of Snowdonia, but Terry’s lithe chestnut brown torso wouldn’t look out of place on the dancing fields of Daresbury at next week’s Creamfields.
What’s his secret? Simple: have ‘one of those nights’ (up to three times an evening) for 55 years. Mix liberally with a few spoonfuls of Good Golly Miss Molly, add a dose of Cigarettes, Cold Beer and Sexy Ladies, and see how you feel in the morning.
Karl Terry and The Cruisers helped forge the beat they called Mersey. In 1961 they were as fab as the other four. He served his time in the bars and strip clubs of the Reeperbahn, spent summers entertaining the troops in the GI bases of France, and toured with The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones and Sandie Shaw.
That’s what we call a back catalogue.
So many nights. So many dank cellars. Roll-ups, late nights, green stuff. Who needs honey and lemon when the shark still has shiny teeth?
Whatever’s in that green liquid, we say, can you have it wrapped and sent right over?
“It’s always been about soul,” Terry says, “we were a white five piece from Liverpool playing Perry Como, but when we first heard blues and soul, we knew that was what we wanted to spend our lives doing. We bluffed it at first of course. We all did.”
Boot camp came in the shape of seven gigs a day in Hamburg. “We started at three in the afternoon, and finished at five the next morning. But it worked. Paul McCartney didn’t have an ounce of soul. But he went to Hamburg, and came back sounding like Little Richard.”
That seismic moment, when Rock and Roll put the funk into the beat and blew the lid off the 50s? Karl Terry was there. He was a witness. And the reverberations echo down through the years. Listen hard in The Liverpool, and you can hear the big bang itself. The birth of modern music.
“It’s good time music, people come to be taken to another place,” he says.
“It’s the best night out in town, and it’s in the middle of the afternoon. It’s dead by eight o’clock!” Mary shouts down SevenStreets’ ear – dancing around her Debenhams bags with her friends, after a spot of shopping.
“We’ll stay for an hour, have a dance, then go home and do the dinner. We love it!”
Two hours later, and we get the feeling there’s a family in Kirkdale, cutlery poised, waiting for mum to bring home the M&S roasties.
Mum’s having none of it. She’s writhing on the floor while a bodybuilder does a scouse variant of the gay gordons over her skirt, to That’s Alright Mama.
It’s good time music, people come to be taken to another place
They call him the Sheik of Shake – a name bestowed on Terry by Cavern Club DJ, and the man who introduced the Beatles to Epstein, Bob Wooler. And, one set into their Sunday afternoon session at the Liverpool, SevenStreets can confirm, there’s a whole lot of shakin’ still going on.
“You can’t give it up,” Terry says, “You’re like a punchdrunk boxer. You keep going, even when everything in you is saying ‘stop!’”
And he’s kept on rocking. After Liverpool’s ballrooms of romance – The Iron Door, Garston’s Winter Gardens, The Aintree Institute – have crumbled and fallen, Terry and his band are still here, shouting See You Later Alligator.
“There was a time when every venue would have a compare, a resident trio and a bingo caller. Now, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a young bloke with a karaoke machine. People don’t want to pay for bands anymore. Smoking. That’s what’s done for our business.”
Nervously, warm up act 24 year old Gary Barker nods his approval: “I’d love to have a band,” he says, referring to his black-box orchestra of backing tracks. “But I’ve got to make a living.”
He does, he says, by flying over to Marbella for three nights a week. Back home, work is harder to find: “apart from funerals, they’re on the up.”
“Is music all you’ve ever done?” SevenStreets asks Terry.
“No, I’m a time served bricklayer.”
“So, if it all goes wrong, you could always go back to that?” we suggest.
“It has all gone wrong. Look at me. I’m still having to do this stuff!”
Terry’s bright blue eyes crinkle. He doesn’t believe a word of it.
Neither do we.
0151 236 1650
Words: David Lloyd
Pictures: Jane MacNeil