When DJs had to talk between records
Sunday 15 August 1999
Throughout the first half of the 1960s, most of Manchester's best beat- room DJs were playing an eclectic mix of tracks, reflecting the music of local bands, the domination of the Beatles (and then the Rolling Stones), the soul classics (like Otis Redding and Dionne Warwick), rougher and ever-present rhythm and blues, (from John Lee Hooker to the Pretty Things), and the beginnings of Motown.
A typical playlist from September 1965 could include tracks by the Small Faces ("Watcha Gonna Do About It"), Wilson Pickett ("In the Midnight Hour"), the Hollies ("Look Through Any Window"), Manfred Mann ("If You Gotta Go Go Now"), pop like Sandie Shaw ("Message Understood") and perhaps even something by the Beach Boys ("California Girls").
As a mark of the continued and now re-emerging interest in genuine rhythm and blues, at the end of September 1965, DJ Ric Vonn's of the week at the Manchester Cavern was Jimmy Smith's "The Organ Grinder's Swing".
The DJs in the early 1960s were using very primitive equipment; Dave Lee Travis at the Oasis was using a Dansette autochange. They talked between records, making a virtue out of a necessity since the technology to segue the records into one another hadn't yet been developed. Thus the patter and personalities of the DJs became important. Jimmy Savile's one-off Disc Club at the Higher Broughton Assembly Rooms promised "Top pops and fun games on the stage with Jimmy".
The excitement in the city at the time was boosted by the success of local bands in the national charts. "Look Through Any Window" was a ninth hit single by the Hollies in a row that included their No 1, "I'm Alive", of May 1965. Manchester's first No 1 was by Herman's Hermits, when they topped the Hit Parade in August 1964 with "I'm Into Something Good", in August 1964. The third of the big three in Manchester at the time, Freddie and the Dreamers, had had four releases in the top 10 by November 1964. Early that year, the Beatles went on tour in the United States, opening the way for other English bands in America. What up until then had been a one-way process - with English music fans looking to the US for constant inspiration - suddenly was reversed. Alan Lawson describes the turnaround as "astronomic".
Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman's Hermits, and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders: all had huge hits in the US in the mid- 1960s, though only Herman's Hermits maintained anything more than temporary success there. The group's singer, Peter Noone, became a huge star in America, as did a second grinning Mancunian who went Stateside - Davy Jones of the Monkees, after appearances as Ena Sharples's nephew in ITV's Coronation Street.
In Manchester in the mid- 1960s, with clubs galore, venues aplenty, bands and DJs by the score, all the ingredients for a good night out were in place. It was not a narrow scene, easily pigeon-holed. For some young Mancs the excitement was to be found in the more specialist soul clubs which were spinning the purer import sounds rather than the city's pop sensations like Wayne Fontana and the Hollies.
For others, weekends were for spending at folk clubs or Chicago blues jams. Some musicians wanted to be the Beatles, some Bob Dylan.
C P Lee, musician and historian, invokes Billy Liar: "I think in the 1960s ... you wanted to get out and it was a fantasy world that you inhabited. Whether it was British modness or a pale imitation of Californian psychedelia, music was always an escape. Going to a club to see a group of Manchester musicians playing Chicago blues, for that 45 minutes or an hour, you could be part of another experience." DH
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