Pam Birch: Guitarist and singer who helped to break the mould with the Sixties all-girl beat group the Liver Birds

Friday 04 December 2009 01:00

Although the beat group the Liver Birds had limited success in the 1960s, they can beseen, with hindsight, as culturally significant. The beat groups, like the rock'n'roll artists before them, were male dominated and the Liver Birds were, in all probability, the first all-singing, all-playing female rock band. There may have been some little-known bands before them, but the Liver Birds were the first to take it seriously. They ignored John Lennon's gibe in the Cavern, "Girls with guitars? That'll never work".

Most of the girls following the Liverpool bands were content to encourage their favourite singers, often by screaming at them in the close confines of the Cavern. However, Valerie Gell, Irene Green, Sylvia Saunders and the sisters Mary and Sheila McGlory wanted to play the music for themselves. In 1963 they formed the Liver Birds, named after the city's heraldic symbol.

The rock manager Henry Henroid was looking for Liverpool bands for the Star-Club in Hamburg and thought an all-girl band was perfect. Irene Green left, later recording as part of Tiffany's Dimensions, while Sheila McGlory did not want to go to Hamburg. The band advertised in the Mersey Beat newspaper for potential members.

Pam Birch was born in the Liverpool suburb of Kirkdale in 1944 but the family soon moved to Speke. Leaving school at 16, she worked in a lawyer's office in Liverpool city centre, and she played guitar and sang with her sister, Diane, who was three years younger. They won talent competitions, and when Pam saw the ad in Mersey Beat, shedecided to apply.

As a result, Pam Birch joined Gell, Saunders and Mary McGlory and became their rhythm guitarist as well as featured vocalist. Her blonde beehive was distinctive, but the group did not play on its sexuality: they dressed like a male band and did-hard rocking numbers like "Peanut Butter" and "Too Much Monkey Business" rather than romantic ballads.

Because Saunders was under 18, the band needed a court order to leave the country and travel to Hamburg.

While they were obtaining this in London, they foolishly spoke to a reporter and consequently found themselves pilloried in The People as playing beat music, which was not considered a suitable occupation for young ladies, and certainly not in a redlightdistrict.

The Liver Birds did well in Hamburg, though, and recorded for Star-Club's own label, making two albums, mostly of Chuck Berry covers, and they made the German Top 40 with a Bo Diddley song, "Diddley Daddy", in 1965. Birch became a competent songwriter,writing for the band; Johnny Kidd recorded her song "It's Got to Be You"in 1966.

By 1968, Birch and McGlory were the only two Liver Birds left and they did their final shows in Japan, where a following had emerged. Birch joined a covers band in Iran, and then returned to the UK for five years. In 1974 she settled in Hamburg, working in record promotion for Warner Brothers and then becoming a disc jockey in up-marketclubs and hotels. In 1977, she took part in a reunion concert for Star-Club musicians and became a member of the sporadic band Rock Circus.

Meanwhile, her sister, Diane, had chart success in the groups Arrival and Kokomo. The Liver Birds reformed for a show in Liverpool in 2005 and they are now more than a museum piece. Students writing about gender in rock often study their appeal.

Spencer Leigh

Pamela Ann Birch, singer and guitarist: born Liverpool 9 August 1944; died Hamburg 27 October 2009.

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