HERE in Liverpool, Brian Epstein’s name will always be most associated with The Beatles. But NEMS Enterprises Ltd, his management organisation looked after other artists, as well. Some of these are still around today.
From 1962 until his death at the age of 32 in 1967, Brian Epstein managed quite a stable of artists. Gerry and the Pacemakers were perhaps the most prominent. In common with the Beatles, they came from Liverpool, were also recorded by George Martin.
Gerry formed the group in 1959 with his brother, Fred, Les Chadwick and Arthur McMahon. They rivalled the Beatles early in their career, playing in the same areas of Hamburg, Germany and Liverpool. McMahon (known as Arthur Mack) was replaced on piano by Les Maguire around 1961.
When Brian Epstein signed The Pacemakers he gave them the same treatment he’d given to The Beatles, putting them in identical suits and smartening up their stage presentation. They began recording in early 1963 with “How Do You Do It?” a song written by Mitch Murray, that Adam Faith had turned down and one that the Beatles chose not to release. The song was produced by George Martin and became a number one hit in the UK, the first by an Epstein Liverpool group to achieve this on all charts.
The Pacemakers’ next two singles, Murray’s “I Like It” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, both also reached number one.
Gerry Marsden began writing most of their songs, including “I’m the One”, “It’s Gonna Be All Right” and “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, as well as their first and biggest US hit, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”, which peaked at No.4.
By 1963, Epstein had added more acts to his stable. He’d seen another Liverpudlian band, Billy Kramer and The Coasters, who opened for The Beatles, Epstein offered to be the group’s manager. Kramer was immediately interested.
“To be approached by somebody who was managing The Beatles was a big deal to me,” Kramer said. Born William Howard Ashton in Bootle on 19 August 1943, he initially worked as an apprentice fitter for an engineering firm. The name Billy Kramer was a surname chosen at random from the telephone directory, and the middle initial, J was reportedly added at John Lennon’s suggestion. Brian signed him up, but the Coasters refused to turn professional.
Brian had to find another group to back Billy and eventually found The Dakotas who at the time were backing Pete Maclaine. He gave him a John Lennon/Paul McCartney composition to release as his first single. ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret’ it reached number two in the charts, another Lennon/ McCartney song unrecorded by The Beatles, ‘Bad To Me’, hit number one, while a third, ‘I’ll Keep You Satisfied’, managed number four.
All were released in 1963, in his first year as a professional performer. Although Brian would have been happy for him to continue covering Lennon/McCartney creations, Kramer was conscious that his initial success drew heavily on that of The Beatles.
Accordingly, after trawling through music publishers’ catalogues, he decided to release the US composition ‘Little Children’ as his fourth single. Released in March 1964, it was his second and final number one hit, and also the only one of his singles to have an impact in America. He performed it, the B-side ‘They Remind Me Of You’ and his earlier hit ‘I’ll Keep You Satisfied’ at the Wembley concert.
Brian had gone through the usual routine with Kramer, putting him in a nice suit and steering him toward pop, rather than the rock Kramer preferred. The Big Three, another Liverpool group he signed frequently argued with Brian over this issue.
The Beatles’ breakthrough in America was in 1964, and it was also the breakthrough year for another signing, Cilla Black.
Cilla worked at The Cavern and occasionally she would get up on stage to sing. After being recommended by John Lennon, she auditioned for Brian and failed.
Nine months later, when Epstein saw her singing “Bye Bye Blackbird” at a club, he promptly signed her. Her first single, released in 1963, was Lennon-McCartney’s “Love of the Loved,” which reached No. 35. Then, in 1964, she topped the charts with “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “You’re My World.”
The Fourmost, formed in 1957 as a Merseybeat duo called The Two Jays, consisting of singerguitarists Brian O’Hara and Joey Bower, but after adding bass guitarist Billy Hatton and drummer Brian Redman, they changed their name to The Four Jays in 1959. The group played at the Cavern Club in March 1961, nearly three weeks before The Beatles, and they changed their name to The Foremost in June 1962. They sang Lennon-McCartney compositions. “I’m in love” (which went to No. 17 in the UK in 1963) and “Hello Little Girl”, a No. 9 hit.
The Remo Four, a rock band from Liverpool were enlisted by Brian as backup musicians for one of his clients, vocalist Tommy Quickly, The Remo Four and The Beatles were among the regulars at the Cavern Club in 1961 and 1962.
The Silkie, an English folk group known primarily for their 1965 rendition of “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” were signed by Brian after an early 1965 appearance at The Cavern Club. Shortly thereafter he appointed Alistair Taylor as their manager. “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” was a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and it was recorded with accompaniment and assistance by The Beatles.
Other Acts signed by Brian Epstein included, Paddy Klause and Gibson, Sounds Incorporated, Tony Rivers and the Castaways, Michael Haslam, Tommy Quickly, The Cyrkle, P.J Proby,The Paramounts and other acts briefly signed by Epstein, including Michael Haslam, whom Epstein first saw singing at the White Hart pub in Bolton.
Brian Epstein brought a sense of professionalism to the music scene that had previously been lacking. Musicians who never thought it was possible to have a career in music were given a chance. Although acts didn’t always achieve the success they desired, they were all given an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise have had.