Black History Month: October 1962 – The Beatles back The Shades/ The Chants. Part 1

The Chants pose outside Liverpool Cathedral
The Chants pose outside Liverpool Cathedral

13th October 1962: The Beatles and The Shades/ Chants – Joe Ankrah, Eddie Ankrah, Edmund Amoo, Nat Smeda, Alan Harding

One of The Beatles’ favourite Liverpool bands was the all-vocal black harmony group, The Shades, who later became The Chants. The Beatles would, in fact, back them on three occasions in 1962. The group originated in the Liverpool 8 area. I met founding member Joe Ankrah, who told me how it began. (Featured in my book The Fab One Hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles)

Joe Ankrah, founder member of The Chants
Joe Ankrah, founder member of The Chants

“My father was the organist and choir master at the African Churches Mission. My brother Edmund and I were in the choir there.  A lot of my upbringing with my dad and the church, I did want to make something of myself.”

Joe attended Upper Park Street Primary School and then went on to Wellington Road Secondary Modern. “When I left school, I wanted to be an artist, as I was quite good at art,” Joe said. “There was a huge gap in opportunities between black people and white people. My dad was good at drawing, and when he was in the army, he was a draughtsman. He did all kinds of rubbish jobs, and ended up as a ship’s fitter over at Cammell Laird.  

“Doing our moves”

“So I left school and suddenly, there were no friends and nothing to do. I decided that there was no way I was going to work in a chippy or something like that. So I put my portfolio together and headed for town and tried to get a job as an artist. It was possible back then, because posters and advertising hoardings were all painted by hand. However, of course, that kind of artwork was dying out and being replaced by photography and new ways of printing. So I found myself out of work, and bumming around.    

“One of our enjoyments was going to the Rialto, which was a cinema.It also had a ballroom where we used to go and listen to music and dance. So we would head down there on a Monday night, all dressed up, stand around the ballroom, doing our moves.

rock around the clock

There was a movie coming on called Rock Around The Clock. We watched this and I was impressed with them, even though it was really about Bill Haley. I just realised that I wanted to start a group, and particularly a vocal-harmony group. My brother Edmund and I were bumming around. Because my dad had been a choirmaster at the church, I knew about harmony.”

Apart for singing in their cellar, they had performed a few times at Stanley House. This was especially when his mother grew sick of them! There was a gang culture developing in Toxteth, as Joe explained: “There was the J’s and the Shines. The J’s were the John Bull’s (John Bull was a political character who symbolised British culture), the white guys. We were the Shines, because our skin was shiny.

cellars and American g.i.S

Joe continued: “I told them we were going to form a group and we started to practice in our cellar. I knew all the harmonies off by heart and that’s how we evolved. People used to come around to the house and we would be singing on the corner. And even when we would be rehearsing, there would be big crowds standing outside the house listening. Several American singers influenced us, and here we had an advantage. I have three aunties–Grace, Adah and Uzor–who were courting American GIs stationed at Burtonwood, just outside of Liverpool. They would bring their records down to my grandmother’s house and we would listen to them.

“We were bored with it eventually. What were we doing? Where were we going? All we seemed to do was rehearse. During one of those periods where we weren’t singing or performing, I found out that Little Richard was visiting Liverpool.”

“we didn’t know about the cavern”

Joe made an interesting observation about the music scene in Liverpool. This showed how the black and white communities were still segregated in the Sixties. “We didn’t know that there was a live music scene in Liverpool,” observed Joe. “We didn’t know about the Cavern and clubs like that. I wouldn’t have known how to get into the clubs and you wouldn’t see a black person in town then. I had no reason to go into town, so I didn’t know what was going on there.

little richard

“I was a big fan of Little Richard and I had some communication with him. He told me he was staying at the Adelphi and to come and meet him. I went down and he spoke to me. ‘Hey man, I’m doing a thing at the Tower, a Mersey show’, so I went to see him live.”

The show was on 12th October 1962 at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton. One of Brian Epstein’s marketing ideas was to have The Beatles playing second to some of the biggest names around.  

the beatles

“I was backstage most of the time because I came with Little Richard,” recalled Joe. The Beatles were on and Little Richard was doing his famous walking around the balcony, singing all of his songs. So we were back by his dressing room and everyone was around Little Richard. I was just standing there, not trying to get near him. These two guys were there and asked me what I was doing there. So I told them I was there to see Little Richard. I asked them what they were doing there, and they told me they’d be on stage.”

Little Richard with The Beatles, The Chants and Derry Wilkie at New Brighton's Tower Ballroom
Little Richard with The Beatles, The Chants and Derry Wilkie at New Brighton’s Tower Ballroom

Without realising it, Joe was talking to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They were also queuing up to meet their hero. Joe didn’t know most of the groups, or even their names. For that reason, he hadn’t recognised John and Paul.  

 “I suppose I may have vaguely heard of the Cavern,” Joe said. “But even if we went into town at night time and tried to get into any of the clubs, we were turned away. We just accepted it back then.  That was how it was, and it was the way it was. We had our photograph taken with Little Richard and The Beatles, plus Derry Wilkie and Sugar Dean.

“come down to the cavern”

“I told John and Paul that I was in a band and they laughed and asked what we played. I told them we don’t, we just sing. They couldn’t quite grasp it. ‘Why don’t you come down to one of the afternoon sessions at The Cavern, and we’ll listen to your band.

And so they did..………… Part 2 coming next

Fab one hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles
Fab one hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles

This is an excerpt from my second book, “The Fab One Hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles”.

David Bedford

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