The Chants
By Bill Harry  

The ChantsA five-piece vocal harmony group who proved to be Liverpool’s most popular black vocal act.

The Chants evolved in the Liverpool 8 district of Liverpool, the Toxteth area, which they felt was totally isolated from the rest of Merseyside, part of it being almost a Liverpool equivalent of Harlem, where the black community had their own cultural influences. The music the Chants listened to was reflected in their own cultural heritage as they were brought up on what was to become known as R&B, which was introduced to them by the black GI’s who came to Liverpool 8 from American bases such as Burtonwood. This included doo-wop recordings by outfits such as the Del Vikings, along with the music of artists such as Johnny Otis and Little Richard and the Miracles – this was before these artists became mainstream and their music became the embryonic influence of the Shades, their original name.

Joe and Edmund Ankrah’s father was a church minister who played organ and he taught his sons how to sing in harmony. They enlisted a few of their friends to join them in forming a harmony group and rehearsed in the cellar of the Ankrah’s house, initially practicing harmony with a version of Paul Anka’s ‘Don’t Gamble With Love.’

Their first approach to the Beatles was reported in an item in Mersey Beat in 1963:

Joe Ankrah“Last year, Joe Ankrah and his brother Eddie joined a vocal group called the Shades, whose only appearances were in Stanley House, Upper Parliament Street. Due to the fact that a rock ‘n’ roll group in London had the same name. The group decided to call themselves the Chants.

“Joe went along to the Tower Ballroom during an appearance by the Beatles. He had a chat with Paul McCartney, who asked him to bring the group for an audition. The Beatles liked the group so much that they provided backing for them on a number of appearances.”

In fact, when they turned up at the Cavern for an audition but didn’t have a backing group, the Beatles offered to provide backing for them, but Brian Epstein objected. John Lennon overruled him and the Chants made their Cavern debut on Wednesday 21 November 1962, with the Beatles providing their backing.

The group’s leader, Joe Ankrah, wanted to form an American-style vocal group and the Chants were his third attempt. The other members were Edmund Ankrah, Nat Smeda, Alan Harding and Edmund Amoo.”

Joe first met Paul McCartney at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton on 12 October 1962. He ‘blagged’ his way into Little Richard’s dressing room after the concert and Paul spotted him leaving. Paul wanted to find out who he was and was fascinated when Joe told him about being in an a cappella group. He then gave Joe a note, signed by himself, for the Chants to produce at the Cavern when the Beatles returned from Hamburg. They did this, turning up for one of the lunchtime sessions. They waited for the Beatles to come off stage and ‘waylaid’ them when they left the dressing room as the gig emptied. Paul introduced them to the rest of the group and then beckoned them onto the stage.

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