The beatles back the shades at the cavern
Having been invited down to The Cavern by John and Paul (see Part 1), the boys went to Mathew Street. They couldn’t get in to The Cavern!
“We went down there the following day and they wouldn’t let us in while they (The Beatles) were on,” said Joe Ankrah from the group. “Five black guys, standing outside The Cavern, which would have looked suspicious. So after they’d finished and everyone was coming out, they said we could come in then. The saving grace for us was that as we walked in, Paul remembered my name and said; ‘Joe, how are you?’ I told him I’d brought the band, and he was great. It was a really nice atmosphere.
“It was dark, the stage was lit and people were clearing up around us. He asked us to sing, so we started to sing ‘Duke Of Earl’. They were absolutely knocked dead, which was a buzz for us, because we’d been doing all of this rehearsing for twelve months and getting everything sharp without performing anywhere. It was refreshing to see people responding to what we were doing.
go and get brian Epstein!
“Bob Wooler, the Cavern compere, was there and he heard us and said; ‘I must go and get Brian. So he ran down Mathew Street to NEMS to see Eppy, and then came back to us. Brian can’t come down now, but tell the boys not to speak to anyone or sign anything, and we were just bemused. The Beatles picked up their instruments and started playing. We were just happy to be playing with a band, as we were used to just singing together. I would start us off with the pitch and away we’d go.”
There was, however, one problem, and that was Brian Epstein. When Epstein arrived at The Cavern that night, he hadn’t realised that The Shades didn’t have musicians and objected to The Beatles providing the backing. However, after intervention from John and Paul, he was overruled and The Beatles backed The Shades.
john and paul introduced us
“We found ourselves appearing at The Cavern that night and we turned up with these smart black shirts and suits. John or Paul said, ‘I’d like to introduce you all to some friends of ours, The Shades’, and then we walked on, wearing our dark glasses, our shades, being cool, all dressed in black, and we started singing. The place was in an uproar. We only had two microphones, with the lead singer on one, and the other four gathered around the second microphone, and doing our thing, and it was great. That’s where it all started.”
The Shades performed four songs that night: “Duke of Earl”, “A Thousand Stars”, “16 Candles” and “Come Go With Me”.
paul mccartney played piano
“I can remember going up to the Blue Angel after The Cavern”, Joe said, “and we did a few numbers with Paul playing the piano for us for Allan Williams.”
“After appearing with The Beatles, I signed with Eppy on behalf of the band, which didn’t mean much really, as we were under 21. But at least if people asked us to do anything, we could say no, because we were under contract.
played with the beatles
“We played with The Beatles then a couple more times–once at The Majestic Ballroom in Birkenhead on 15 October ‘62, and then La Scala in Runcorn on 16 October ‘62, which I remember because we went over the bridge to this little cinema. Then we played another couple of times with them.
“Lots of our friends were starting up groups, but we were ahead of them, and had worked so hard on our stage presence. We were rough, but I had to tell the others that we can’t be swearing on stage, and getting into arguments with them, but we had to watch what we said, how we said it. We once had a complaint from a member of the audience at the Playboy Club in London because one of us was sweating, and another one had different coloured socks than the others!”
There weren’t many black groups around in the UK at the time, so where did they get their inspiration? Joe explained: “I watched a group called the Deep River Boys, who did all the moves on stage, dancing around the microphone and maybe a little more cabaret than us. We were a bit snobby about cabaret because we didn’t want to do that. However, artists like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, or the original Drifters, were a great inspiration to us. Furthermore, I would say all the black American vocal groups like The Marcels, the Del-Vikings, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and so many more. They were all fantastic.”
With their career under the guidance of Brian Epstein, they should have had success, but it wasn’t to be. “We didn’t do much with Epstein really, because he was busy with The Beatles, Gerry and Cilla,” said Joe. They didn’t see them again until after they had come back from America in 1964, because they had this civic reception at the Town Hall. We were invited, and we were the only other band there. I’ve got the picture from the day to prove it, but the photo has never really been seen, maybe because it had black guys in it. It is hard to believe that it was happening back then, but we just accepted that was the way it was.
juke box jury
The Beatles taped the episode of Juke Box Jury at the Empire Theatre between 2.30pm and 3.15pm on December 7, 1963. Juke Box Jury was a popular show hosted by David Jacobs in which panellists voted on whether forthcoming singles would be hits or misses. In the audience were members of The Beatles’ Northern Area Fan Club members. Juke Box Jury was broadcast later that evening between 6.05pm and 6.35pm, and was watched by an estimated 23 million people.
The first song to be judged was “I Could Write A Book” by The Chants, and this is how The Beatles rated it:
John: “It’s gear. Fabulous. Fab. It’s it.”
Paul: “I talked to The Chants recently about the disc. They said it’s powerful. It is.”
Ringo: “I’ll buy it.”
George: “It’s great. Enough plugs and they’ve got a hit.”
David Jacobs: “Are they being too generous?”
the beatles voted it a hit
The Beatles unanimously voted the single a hit, but sadly, despite their support, it failed to achieve chart status. None of the group’s other records fared any better: their debut single, “I Don’t Care”, released in September 1963; “She’s Mine”, released in June 1964; and their last single with Pye, “Sweet Was The Wine”, from September 1964. Commenting on their period with Pye Records, Eddie Amoo commented, “They had no idea what to do with a black doo wop group. They just had no idea.”
The group never found record success despite further releases with Fontana, Page One, Decca and RCA. They toured with box office stars like Helen Shapiro, Bobby Rydell and The Searchers and went to Hamburg and played at the famous Star Club, where they were very popular. “All we had to do,” recalled Joe, “was play two sets of twenty minutes, whereas the other groups were playing three or four hours each night. We had a great time there and Manfred Weissleder was very good to us.”
the real thing
After they disbanded in 1975, Joey and Edmund Ankrah formed another group, OFANCHI, and enjoyed a degree of success on the television show New Faces. Eddie Amoo joined the Liverpool soul band The Real Thing, whose lineup included his brother Chris Amoo. They found UK chart success in June 1976 with “You To Me Are Everything”, which reached number 1 in the UK and number 28 on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart. Their follow-up UK hit, “Can’t Get By Without You”, reached number 2. They released a number of successful albums, including one named after the Toxteth area of Liverpool, their home turf.
The Chants were a fantastic group who should have made it big, especially with the help of The Beatles. Look them up on YouTube and listen to them. Fantastic!
This is an excerpt from “The Black Roots of The Beatles” in my book.
They are among the “Fab 104” people who featured in my second book, “The Fab one hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles”.