Welcome to The Liverpool Beat website, chronicling the history of UK Rock music from the golden era of Merseyside music of the 50s and 60s to the present day. Some say the roots of Rock 'n ' Roll lie purely in the deep south of the USA. That maybe true, but Liverpool in the 50s/60s was the centre of the new wave of music which formed the basis of "garage" and even heavy metal. Liverpool Beat takes you on a journey from those heady days of The Beatles into the 21st century with news, reviews and exclusive articles from the real world of rock music.
Most of the great Liverpool Beat bands have come and gone, but there is one band who keeps on coming and coming...The Fabulous Undertakers.
I want take you back to 1964, the place The Orrell Park Ballroom (OPB). It was probably my second favourite venue in town after the Iron Door Club. Each Friday and Saturday there were at least three bands booked for the venue and in those days their were no permanent back lines in place, so each band had to lump their gear up the back stairs and onto the stage. Now if amps and guitars weren't bad enough, this lot used to carry coffins in as part of their act. At one time the Undertakers looked as if they were going to be as big as the Beatles and they should have been because they were extremely professional accomplished musicians and in Brian Jones on Sax they had a secret weapon that set them apart from other bands on the scene. At the time I never had the chance to meet or get to know any of them as my little band was just starting up and they were already stars of the scene.
Fast forward to 2006 and I had wandered into the Mersey Cats jam night in Liverpool and couldn't believe my eyes... there they were hammering on as if the years had melted away with Geoff Nugent, Jackie Lomax and Brian Jones still there.... and playing one of my all time favourite MerseyBeat tracks "Just a Little Bit" which was a hit for the band in 1964.
I couldn't resist so I went up to Geoff Nugent and said "you've just given me back my youth in one" and magnanimously he said..... "excuse me I need a drink!". Well nothing changes... I've since got to know Geoff quite well and I can tell you he is one great guy, always willing to talk about the "Days" and still playing his heart out either with The Undertakers or as a solo act round the Liverpool Clubs. I have also met Brian Jones a couple of times and he is just one of the great Rock 'n' Roll Sax players and a super funny guy. Jackie Lomax now lives in California and plays the circuit over there. Jackie comes over to Liverpool every year and joins up with band for the Mathew Street Festival.
I've also got to know their original lead guitarist Chris Huston a little through a 60s forum called Beat Gear Cavern. Chris was kind enough to let me have some original photographs of the Star Club days which will shortly be featured in the Hard Days Night Hotel.
The Undertakers, or the 'Takers, as they were sometimes referred to, had their start in 1961, when two of the top local groups in Wallasey disbanded and formed two new bands - one was the Undertakers, and the other was Dee & the Dynamites. The Undertakers' original line-up was Bob Evans at the drums, Chris Huston on lead guitar, Geoff Nugent playing rhythm guitar, Brian Jones (not the Rolling Stone) on saxophone, Dave "Mushy" Cooper on bass, and Jimmy McManus singing. Evans left the band in late 1961, to be replaced by Bugs Pemberton (of Dee & The Dynamites), and in January of 1962 Cooper departed to join Faron's Flamingos, and was replaced by Jackie Lomax - who had never played bass before, and had one thrust into his hands upon joining. Within a few months, McManus - who was known for picking fights with audience members - was eased out and Lomax took over the singing.
The Undertakers developed a serious following in Wallasey and Liverpool, partly due to Lomax's unusually good singing and the fact that, in addition to the standard mix of obscure American rock & roll and genre standards, they also attempted more big-band style R&B, helped by Brian Jones' sax - few Mersey-side groups had a saxophone in their lineup.
Ironically, the band rejected the management offers of Brian Epstein, choosing instead to be represented by Ralph Webster, who had connections to numerous local performing venues, thus assuring them of constant work. The band's summer 1962 residency at the Star Club in Hamburg allowed the Undertakers to learn first-hand from American legends such as Ray Charles and Little Richard, which greatly improved their act. By the spring of 1963, they had a contract with Pye Records, and were recording the most commercial parts of their stage act.
Left to Right:
- Chris Huston (Vocals Lead Guitar)
- Geoff Nugent (Vocals/Guitar)
- Bugs Pemberton (Drums)
- Jackie Lomax (Vocals/Bass Guitar)
- Brian Jones (Sax)
Their first single, "(Do The) Mashed Potatoes" b/w "Everybody Loves a Lover," didn't sell, nor did "What About Us" b/w "Money" - although the latter was one of the more convincing covers of the British beat boom, rivaling the Beatles' version for raw power - but their third single, "Just A Little Bit" b/w "Stupidity," became a top 20 hit in England during the summer of 1964. With the saxophone, and the thumping beat favored during this period, they sounded very slightly like the Dave Clark Five, but Jones was a more articulate player than that, and the lead guitar always made the group's sound pretty complex, and Lomax was an incredibly charismatic soul singer, the Mersey-side rival to Eric Burdon and maybe better than that.
A Band Called The Undertakers?
Originally called The Vegas Five , the band were due to play the Litherland Town Hall and were mistakenly billed in the obituary column of the local newspaper. Bob Wooler who was the DJ at the Litherland Town Hall introduced the band to the sounds of the "Death March" as the Undertakers, the band went down a storm and The Undertakers were born.Brian Jones Davy Cooper 1960
The band worked all the Merseyside ‘Jive Hives’ , building up a reputation as a powerhouse group. Their repertoire of US hit releases included various elements of Soul, R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll.
They invested the money from gigs into equipment and are believed to be the first group in the country with an all Gibson guitar line-up and also the first to use a 100 watt P.A. The Undertakers signed with Pye records who failed to capture their stage excitement on record. Along with the Beatles and the Big Three, they were considered the best ‘Hard Rockers’ around. The groups of Merseyside knew what music teenagers wanted to hear but the London A&R men, with no idea of how to appeal to them, insisted on telling the groups what to record. Pye, in particular Tony Hatch, made ’Mashed Potatoes’ the ‘B’ side of their debut disc with ‘Everybody Loves A Lover’ the ‘A’ side.
The video features Jackie Lomax on vocals and some interviews of other MerseyBeat bands of the era.
For their second release, The Undertakers wanted ‘Money’ as the ‘A’ side but Pye made ‘What About Us’ the ‘A’ side, they were allowed to choose the third record and released ‘Just A Little Bit’ which entered the charts. The fourth and final recording for Pye was ‘If You Don’t Come Back’ , it started to move up the charts but unfortunately this coincided with the annual holidays for the record producing plant so no more copies were pressed making it impossible for them to have a chart hit.
Sadly "Just a Little Bit" was the last chart hit for the group, a travesty as they were an immense band.
Despite the success of their third release, relations between the band and the label were never good. Pye had offered the Undertakers a good contract in monetary terms, but the group was given Tony Hatch - who otherwise produced Petula Clark and the Searchers - as producer. They never got along with him or agreed with his ideas, and the only thing that prevented a disaster was that their contract gave the band the right to select its repertory for recording, which meant that they worked around Hatch. By late 1964, however, the situation had deteriorated, and they left Pye - the Undertakers were without a contract until the following year, when they began the strangest chapter in their history.
While playing the continent, the group saw an advertisement promising work in America for a British band - the Undertakers, reduced to a quartet by the absence of rhythm guitarist Geoff Nugent, took off for New York. They signed with New York-based entrepreneur Bob Harvey - who also put ex-Beatle drummer Pete Best under contract at the very same time. It turned out that Harvey was more willing to push Best, who was easy to market as an ex-Beatle, into the best gigs. Meanwhile, the Undertakers, skirting the limits of their visas and playing shows for short-end money in America and Canada, were so hard up that they ended up sleeping in the midtown Manhattan studio where they were working with producer-arranger Bob Gallo.
The Undertakers got one single, "I Fell In Love," written by Bob Bateman, into release. When they weren't scrounging around for money, the group played gigs, and also contributed to the session on a Gallo-produced effort, credited to the "You-Know-Who-Group," that's become a piece of British invasion ersatz. While hanging around the studio with members of the Pete Best Combo (who were treated no better than they were - only Best saw any real respect), the Undertakers did manage to record an entire album of their own, which went unreleased for 30 years, until 1995.
They gave up on their American manager when the money ran out. Brian Jones headed back to England, Chris Huston reportedly hooked up with the Young Rascals, and Bugs Pemberton became the resident Englishman in a New York-based outfit called the Mersey Lads, and hooked up with Lomax in a group called the Lost Souls. Based in New York, they were spotted by Brian Epstein, who helped them get an album cut at Columbia Records, which was never released. Epstein's death in the summer of 1967 called a halt to that group, but a year later, longtime admirer George Harrison brought Jackie Lomax aboard as an Apple recording artist.
The band never got an album out in its own time, and only charted a couple of records, but the Undertakers remain fondly remembered in England, especially in and around Liverpool. In 1995, Big Beat Records issued a CD of the Undertakers' recordings, including their never-issued American album.
The band finally broke up in 1965 with Brian Jones returning to Liverpool and Chris Huston deciding to stay in the states where he lives to this day. Chris later on became a designer of recording studios. Bugs Pemberton also stayed in the States. Jackie Lomax returned to the UK and signed with Brian Epstein and recorded under the direction of George Harrison at Apple who wrote Jackie's Single "Sour Milk Sea".
This is an extremely rare recording of Jackie talking about the track and practicing it with George Harrison at his home circa 1968.
Sour Milk Sea - Jackie Lomax with George Harrison
In 1966 the band reformed with Geoff Nugent and Brian Jones who were joined by Bob Frazer on organ, Jimmy Jones Bass Guitar and Bobby Williams on drums. They played until 1968 when Geoff quit show business for many years. Later on he returned as a solo artist under the name of Vern Gordon.
Brian Jones became a session musician and featured on B side of the Beatles Let it Be. Brian also featured with The Glitter Band the reformed 80s version of Faron's Flamingos and as a member of the fabulous Liverpool Soul Group Y-Kickamoocow.
In the eighties Geoff Nugent reformed the Undertakers but as the only original member.
The Undertakers Today...
Fast forward to today sees the band still performing regularly and the current line up is shown below with originals Geoff Nugent and Brian Jones assisted by Jimmy O'Brien on drums, Billy Good on Bass and Baz Davies on Lead Guitar. The band have recently played at the Casbah 50th Anniversary and at the Mathew Street Festival.
Geoff Nugent is a regular performer at Mersey Rats both solo and with the Undertakers. Brian Jones and Jackie Lomax have also performed recently with the band.
The Undertakers have been back in the studio and have cut a fabulous new album. If you would like to purchase it please email Brian Jones at the address shown.
Here's a sample track.....
Is this the most atmospheric picture from the era, I think so. Chris Huston original member of the band now living not far from Nashville in the US has allowed us to show this never before seen shot of the band in action with Rory Storm and Ringo Starr looking on (They were on next).
- For the complete Undertakers History, Photos, Videos and News visit http://www.myspace.com/theoriginalundertakers
- Jackie Lomax has his own website www.jackielomax.com