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HalfWay to paradise

alWyn W. Turner is the author of My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock, also published by the V&A. Amongst his other books on politics and popular culture are Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s and Rejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s, as well as The Biba Experience and The Man Who Invented the Daleks: The Strange Worlds of Terry Nation.

Halfway to

paradise The Birth of British rock ock alwyn W Turner

HalfWay to paradise The Birth of British Rock In 1954, just weeks after the end of rationing in Britain, Bill Haley and his Comets broke into the charts with their single ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’. Over the course of the next ten years the country was transformed completely as it moved from austerity to the Swinging Sixties. A crucial part of that development was the music that soundtracked the nation’s evolution. Home-grown heroes like Lonnie Donegan, Cliff Richard and Billy Fury emerged from the shadows of the American stars (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly), and laid the ground for the British invasion that was to sweep United States and then the world.

alwyn W Turner

For nearly two decades Harry Hammond was Britain’s leading showbiz photographer. Starting in the late 1940s, he captured the definitive images of virtually every leading British musician, as well as those of visiting Americans. From Tommy Steele to the Beatles, from Shirley Bassey to Dusty Springfield, from trad jazz to r&b, he shot them all. In the process he also caught the early days of British rock television. Drawing on this invaluable archive, Halfway to Paradise tells the story of Britain’s embrace – and ultimate domination – of rock and roll, from the skiffle craze to the arrival of Merseybeat.

Photographs by Harry Hammond from the V&a collecTion £20.00


From skiffle to beat. Lonnie Donegan (above) at the Royal Albert Hall, 1956, with Mickey Ashman on bass. The Beatles (opposite) backstage with Gerry and the Pacemakers and Roy Orbison on their tour in early summer, 1963.


From skiffle to beat. Lonnie Donegan (above) at the Royal Albert Hall, 1956, with Mickey Ashman on bass. The Beatles (opposite) backstage with Gerry and the Pacemakers and Roy Orbison on their tour in early summer, 1963.


INTRODUCTION

LEFT: Billie Holiday on her one visit to Britain, at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1954. RIGHT:

Frank Sinatra lands in London.

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INTRODUCTION

LEFT: Billie Holiday on her one visit to Britain, at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1954. RIGHT:

Frank Sinatra lands in London.

15


LEFT: Shirley Bassey in the studio with producer Johnny Franz. RIGHT:

Shirley Bassey on stage at the London Palladium. ‘I’d like to be known as the female Elvis Presley,’ reflected Bassey. ‘He’s the greatest showman since Liberace.’

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LEFT: Shirley Bassey in the studio with producer Johnny Franz. RIGHT:

Shirley Bassey on stage at the London Palladium. ‘I’d like to be known as the female Elvis Presley,’ reflected Bassey. ‘He’s the greatest showman since Liberace.’

30


chapter three

WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’ GOIN’ ON

T

he arrival of rock and roll in Britain, and particularly the film Rock Around the Clock, was greeted by a chorus of disapproval that verged on atavistic fear. The Times warned that we might see a replication of scenes from the United States, where there had been: ‘Outbursts of violence

spurred by the heavy, pulsing beat of this latest derivative of Negro blues, by the moaning suggestiveness of most of its songs.’ The Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe denounced the movie as ‘musical Mau Mau’, and worried that ‘a fourth-rate film with fifth-rate music can pierce through the thin shell of civilization and turn people into wild dervishes’. Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, clearly shared Thorpe’s perspective: ‘It is nothing more than an exhibition of primitive tom-tom thumping,’ he shuddered. ‘There is nothing new or wonderful about it. “Rock and roll” has been played in the jungle for centuries.’ At least the bandleader Ted Heath could take some comfort from these analyses, explaining that rock and roll simply wouldn’t take off in Britain: ‘You see, it is primarily for the coloured population.’ Such comments had a particular resonance in the mid-1950s, as Britain began to come to terms with the imminent loss of its imperial status. The Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya had effectively been crushed by the time Thorpe made his comparison between Bill Haley and Jomo Kenyatta, but the demands everywhere for national liberation continued to grow; indeed, the timetable had already been agreed that would see Ghana become the first African colony to gain independence in 1957. In this context, one can see a certain fear that in rock and roll the empire was somehow striking back: ‘We sometimes wonder whether this is the Negro’s revenge,’ is how the Daily Mail put it in a 1956 front-page editorial headlined ‘ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BABIES’.

OPPOSITE:

74

Little Richard, backstage on his 1962 British tour.


chapter three

WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’ GOIN’ ON

T

he arrival of rock and roll in Britain, and particularly the film Rock Around the Clock, was greeted by a chorus of disapproval that verged on atavistic fear. The Times warned that we might see a replication of scenes from the United States, where there had been: ‘Outbursts of violence

spurred by the heavy, pulsing beat of this latest derivative of Negro blues, by the moaning suggestiveness of most of its songs.’ The Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe denounced the movie as ‘musical Mau Mau’, and worried that ‘a fourth-rate film with fifth-rate music can pierce through the thin shell of civilization and turn people into wild dervishes’. Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, clearly shared Thorpe’s perspective: ‘It is nothing more than an exhibition of primitive tom-tom thumping,’ he shuddered. ‘There is nothing new or wonderful about it. “Rock and roll” has been played in the jungle for centuries.’ At least the bandleader Ted Heath could take some comfort from these analyses, explaining that rock and roll simply wouldn’t take off in Britain: ‘You see, it is primarily for the coloured population.’ Such comments had a particular resonance in the mid-1950s, as Britain began to come to terms with the imminent loss of its imperial status. The Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya had effectively been crushed by the time Thorpe made his comparison between Bill Haley and Jomo Kenyatta, but the demands everywhere for national liberation continued to grow; indeed, the timetable had already been agreed that would see Ghana become the first African colony to gain independence in 1957. In this context, one can see a certain fear that in rock and roll the empire was somehow striking back: ‘We sometimes wonder whether this is the Negro’s revenge,’ is how the Daily Mail put it in a 1956 front-page editorial headlined ‘ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BABIES’.

OPPOSITE:

74

Little Richard, backstage on his 1962 British tour.


Halfway to Paradise