Brian McFadden’s Bizarre Tales of the British Invasion – Part Three
This is the 3rd installment of bewildering tales from the early British Invasion as researched by author Brian McFadden and presented in his “Rock Rarities for a Song – Budget That Saved The Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Kohner, Madison & Danforth – copyright 2015).
The budget vinyl mammoth, Pickwick International was best known for releases on the Design, International Award, and Grand Prix labels. Brian reports that the founder of Pickwick was Cy Leslie, who started off producing recorded greeting cards, which we came to know as “flexi” disks. These were geared towards children and in short order, Leslie obtained rights to many children’s recordings and released them on his “Cricket” label beginning in the early 1950’s. His next target became adults who were increasingly purchasing long play albums as opposed to singles.
The initial releases by Pickwick were across the pop spectrum but that would change entering into the 1960’s as Brian reports, “….Pickwick’s various labels were turning out albums of interest to collectors”. LP’s featuring obscure and early releases by Lloyd Price, Jan and Dean , The Champs, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others, would all hit the marketplace and do quite well.
With the arrival of the “Fab Four”, Pickwick would quickly enter into the fray. McFadden: “Of all the U.S. budget labels, Pickwick had the best production and distribution network in Britain. So the company was well-positioned to take advantage of The Beatle boom and did so with a couple of LP’s that actually were recorded in England.” … and most certainly recorded by actual British lads.
Brian explains that on the various Brit LP’s noted producer Bill Shepherd composed nearly all of the songs less the actual Beatle cuts which were usually limited to about 2 to an LP. (Shepherd would later arrange many Bee Gee compositions.) Pickwick designated their group “Billy and the Pepper Pots” on U.K. releases and chose “The Beats” in the U.S on the Design label and then renamed them “The Liverpool Beats” on the Rondo label. A third effort was titled “Beat-A-Mania”. McFadden: “The first two LP’s were a success, so Pickwick officials decided a third was in order. Unfortunately they’d already gone through all the material Bill Shepherd had recorded in England.”
The solution? A new group and a rather peculiar approach: “The Fabulous Beats Go Country Style!” Brian notes that this assembly of musicians was completely lacking any semblance of a British accent, but because they were doing pure country. McFadden: “Many of the songs here are done well. For example ‘Walking After Midnight” gets a really excellent ‘Buddy Holly’ treatment. And the lead singer, who sounds a lot like Don Everly, is great on certain tunes.”
Brian also shares yet another industry rumor, being that future Velvet Underground member Lou Reed was involved in the production of the Beats country LP. Reed was involved at Pickwick during this time, and Brian further relates, working as a producer, singer, session man and in some instances dominated an entire LP such as the “Soundsville” LP illustrated here.
Do yourself a big favor and pick up a copy of Brian’s historical account of Pickwick and all the other major budget labels.
Next Post Up: Crown Records Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!
(Visit Brian McFadden’s Amazon Store here to purchase “Rock Rarities” and more.) and to read a nice bio on McFadden.