The Liverbirds were not unique, but they were certainly unusual. The male groups of the Merseybeat era were ten a penny. Of the 400 Liverpool combos listed by Spencer Leigh in his book Let’s Go Down The Cavern, less than a handful are female. The fact that the Liverbirds played their own instruments made them doubly rare, even more so on a national and international level.
Although they were from Liverpool, as photographs suggest (at a quick glance they could almost be mistaken for the Pretty Things or the Stones) musically the Liverbirds had more in common with the R&B-influenced bands of the South East than your typical Merseybeat group.
So overwhelming was the competition from their local male counterparts that the group found gigs difficult to come by until Manfred Weissleder entered the picture. Weissleder owned the Star-Club in Hamburg, the Beatles' old stomping ground, and was always on the lookout for new talent.
The Liverbirds had a lot to prove – not least their newly acquired nickname die Weiblichen Beatles (the Female Beatles) – but after a shaky start they soon settled in, cranking up the volume and winning over the tough Star-Club crowd with their repertoire of mainly Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry numbers. The club’s audience was known for its contingent of female groupies, but even they grew to accept and admire the group. Duly impressed, Weissleder offered them a recording contract on his Star-Club label. The girls ended up moving to Hamburg permanently.
What the Liverbirds might have lacked in musical expertise, they more than made up for with youthful dynamism, knocking out the songbooks of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry in particular with a compelling punkish naivety often found wanting in the recordings of the their male contemporaries.
As their celebrity grew, the Liverbirds toured all over Germany, Switzerland and Denmark, sharing a bill with their hero Chuck Berry in Berlin. Usually their sets would include several of his songs, but they were told not to play them that night. Ignoring the instruction, the group launched into ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, prompting Berry’s manager to rush the stage demanding that they stop. They carried on playing regardless.
Barring a single issued on US Philips in 1965 and the three tracks featured on Ace’s “Destroy That Boy: More Girls With Guitars” compilation of 2009, “From Merseyside To Hamburg: The Complete Star-Club Recordings” marks the first-ever release of the Liverbirds’ repertoire outside of their adoptive Germany.
By Mick Patrick