Thursday, 10 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Girls Don't Play Guitars - The Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool.


‘Girls Don’t Play Guitars’ is a remark, made sneeringly by John Lennon to Mary McGlory, bass guitarist with The Liverbirds at The Cavern Club in Liverpool back in 1963. Mary and her friends, Pam Birch and Valerie Gell proved him wrong as along with Sylvia Saunders on drums they performed as the first all-female rock band – the only all-female rock band, The Liverbirds from Liverpool.

This show by writer Ian Salmon based on an original idea by Paul Fitzgerald, chronicles the birth of the band, originally called The Squaws, who played at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and starred in Hamburg’s famous Star Club. Musical Director, Howard Gray has featured Beatles songs along with original tunes recorded by The Liverbirds, such as 'Peanut Butter' and 'Why Do You Hang Around Me'.

The four girls in this piece, Molly Grace Cutler (Val), Alice McKenna (Mary), Sarah Workman (Sylvia) and Lisa Wright (Pam) are excellent as the four Liverpudlian musicians, all having accomplished singing and guitar playing skills along with the entire cast who all add value to the production.

The show recalled how in the summer of 1963, at the young age of seventeen, The Liverbirds started gigging in and around Liverpool often with bands such as The Kinks and The Rolling Stones.

The audience marvelled at the tales of how the girls were featured in Merseybeat, the then only music newspaper worth reading and went on tour at the age of 18 to the legendary Star Club in Hamburg after auditioning for Henri Henroid, the booking agent for the club who after a brief audition offered them a residency. Kink’s manager, Larry Page and Brian Epstein had offered to manage the band but the girls wanted to do the six week residency first before considering their offers. This may have been a mistake because after leaving for Hamburg in May 1964, they pretty much never went back home. Who knows how things would have turned out if Epstein had managed them?

The Star Club had been waiting for the very first all-girl rock band to arrive and they were treated well playing to packed rooms every night and they fell in love with Hamburg. They signed up with Manfred Weissleder, the legendary German booker/ partner of Chas Chandler, manager of Jimi Hendrix and within a few days they were asked to play with Hendrix and go on tour with Chuck Berry. They had the audacity to play Chuck Berry numbers whilst performing as his support act and as a result Berry planned to take them on tour with him to USA but manager Weissleder persuaded them to stay in Hamburg after startling them into thinking that they would be asked to play topless in Las Vegas. They went on to tour constantly in Germany and Europe and recorded two LPs and four singles before touring Japan in 1968.

Cracks in the group began when Sylvia, the drummer became pregnant and decided to leave to get married and Val left to get married to her German boyfriend who unfortunately was paralysed as a result of a car crash. This left just Pam and Mary who then at the ages of twenty two and twenty three decided to call it a day. Mary McGlory, married German songwriter Frank Dostal, and still runs a music publishing company with him in Hamburg. She was instrumental in their story being told and provided invaluable input. Val, Pam, and Mary all settled in Hamburg, and Sylvia in Benidorm.

In 2010, Ace Records compiled most of their recordings onto one album, meaning that nearly 50 years after they were recorded, those songs were finally released in England. The girls were delighted but were sad for Pam who would have been so proud, as she wrote some of the songs but sadly died shortly before the album was released. Sadly Val also passed away in 2016 at the age of 71. Mary and Sylvia live on to tell the tale and were in the audience and joined in at the end of the show to play on stage with the cast; Mary on bass guitar and Sylvia on drums. They are still very talented and brought the house down. It’s an incredible story and one which has taken such a long time to be unveiled.

The set was inspired by the music industry having a large illuminated guitar outlining the stage surrounded by amps and TV screens. There were also black and white clips of the original Liverbirds shown on overhead screens above the stage. The four girls portraying The Liverbirds are to be commended for their acting ability, their timing, their musical ability and their accomplished portrayal of a band most people may not have heard of but I’m sure they will definitely be checking them out after seeing this excellent performance. The show had everything - vitality, nostalgia, music, comedy and emotion and left the audience wanting more. In my opinion, the show could definitely transfer to the West End stage, London.

Reviewer - Anne Pritchard
on - 9/10/19

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