sat 04/12/2021

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Merseybeats, The Sorrows | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Merseybeats, The Sorrows

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Merseybeats, The Sorrows

The complete works of British Beat Boom-era bands are collected in one place

The Merseybeats: frequently superb

After a band’s back catalogue has been reissued countless times, any new release needs a fresh approach to attract attention. Archives and collections can be scoured to find previously unissued tracks. There might be otherwise unknown recordings released under aliases, or maybe something which escaped via an obscure continental soundtrack album. But on their own, such discoveries aren’t enough. They need to be married-up with the familiar.

Hence what can be a last-resort release: a complete works collection.

A few bands can have their original master tapes mucked about with to offer a new spin. The Beatles have become the wallet-busting exemplars. However, with most of their Sixties contemporaries, such an approach – even if possible – is unlikely to make potential buyers get their cash out. Lesser-lights might be great but with a concomitant limited interest, a complete-works release bolstered by unfamiliar bonuses is a standard route for getting a band back into the shops.

The Sorrows - Pink Purple Yellow & RedThis is what’s happened with British Beat Boom-era bands The Merseybeats (who slimmed-down to The Merseys) and The Sorrows. I Stand Accused: The Complete Merseybeats and Merseys Sixties Recordings is a double CD in a fold-out digi-pack. Pink, Purple, Yellow & Red: The Complete Sorrows is a 4-CD clam-shell box. The titles say it all.

Neither band issued enough in their home country to fill up this amount of discs. However, adding-in continental European releases, singles made under other names or by associated bands, post-fact recordings and archive disinterments ensures that each release makes the grade. A diligent approach, it results in definitive statements. Even so, the fourth disc of Pink, Purple, Yellow & Red includes a boxy-sounding audience recording of a 1980 Sorrows reunion show which barely anyone would be jazzed about.

The Merseybeats were Liverpool contemporaries of The Beatles with roots stretching back to a relatively recent 1961. Cavern Club DJ Bob Wooler named them in early 1962. The Merseybeats was a strange choice which may have made sense at the time but it’s akin to naming a band The Punk Rockers or The Trip-Hoppers. So specific to time, place and style, it quickly became a millstone. After appearing on the This Is Mersey Beat Vol. One compilation LP, their first single was issued in August 1963. Perhaps their name (the Mersey Beats then) made it seem they were the album’s main course? When the band imploded in early 1966 members Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley continued as The Merseys, whose single “Sorrow” was later covered by David Bowie. The full story is told in the booklet.

THE MERSEYBEATS THE MERSEYS I Stand Accused The Complete Merseybeats and Merseys Sixties RecordingsOver 1963 to 1965, The Merseybeats charted with six singles and their sole album. The beat aspect of their name was largely absent on what they succeeded with. Their ballad-heavy repertoire showcased moody harmonies and odd dips into Latin rhythms. They were not a top-drawer band of the era, but were frequently superb.

With its completist angle the story here offers an alternate, filled-out version of their history. There’s “Nur Unsere Liebe Zahlt” a German-language version of “It’s Love That Really Counts” and an interesting, impressive 1965 version of “Soldier of Love” which wasn’t issued at the time (The Beatles didn’t release their version either). There are also two December 1962 home-recorded demos. Singles by on-off member Johnny Gustafson and his bands are satisfying soul-beat confections. A crunchy, previously issued but shelved-at-the-time early version of “Sorrow” features Jimmy Page on guitar. The most amazing track is “It Happens All the Time,” a January 1969 B-side issued when The Merseys were working as Crackers. It’s like and as good as what the Left Banke were doing. Overall, the picture painted is of a band lacking a strong trajectory.

Coventry’s The Sorrows charted just once; in Autumn 1965 with the brooding, hyper-moody “Take a Heart.” That was their third single and could have been their final shot. Had it not sold, they would have been dumped by their label. Essentially, the early Sorrows were a Bo Diddley-centric R&B band but were short of the marketable anti-social vibe and shagginess of The Pretty Things, the instant charisma of the 1964/65 Kinks or the all-out cool of The Animals. They did though make some very special records. Their version of “Teenage Letter” is wild. “You’ve Got What I Want” is beyond wild, one of the most unhinged records spawned during Beat-Boom years.

The SorrowsThe Sorrows (pictured right, in 1966) visited Italy in 1966, returned often and relocated there. From this point, as gone into in mind-spinning detail in Pink, Purple, Yellow & Red’s booklet, there were many line-up changes. Despite this, they stuck with Italy and issued an album there in 1969 (their second, following a UK LP in December 1965). This box includes an unreleased earlier version of that late album. Also collected is a dizzying selection of further Italy only material, band member’s demos from 1968, and post-Sorrows singles by The Eggy (1969) and Renegade (1974).

On Pink, Purple, Yellow & Red the star finds are three demos made for Joe Meek in 1964, two of which have never been heard before. Why he passed on them is evident: they haven’t yet toughened-up their sound and come across as a half-formed R&B wannabees still in thrall to rock ’n roll . By the time they signed with Pye in late 1964, they knew who they were. As time wore on, their grip on their identity lessened and despite the top-notch thug-psych of the June 1967 single “Pink Purple Yellow and Red” and the freaky late 1966 Italian recording “Ypotron” (not issued at the time) most of what they got up to after mid 1966 isn’t essential.

Both releases raise the question of whether such an all-encompassing approach undermines or enhances attitudes towards a band. Is collecting so much in one place spreading them too thin? Is what was great diluted? Probably. However, who wouldn’t want to hear The Sorrows recording in Joe Meek’s Holloway Road studio? In the Crackers guise, The Merseys are astonishingly good. Dig in.

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