While My Guitar Gently Weeps
The Tragic Story of Rory Storm & the Hurricanes

By Bill Harry  

The last photo of Rory Storm & the HurricanesDuring the group's first few years, Rory evolved several changes in stage wear and at one time they wore sunglasses and shirts with a palm tree motif. They then donned red suits, with Rory wearing a pink suit, and Rory also got himself an Elvis-style gold lame suit. When they appeared for their first season at Butlin's, Rory wore a turquoise suit and gold lame shirt and the Hurricanes wore fluorescent suits.

The line-up now became Rory Storm (vocals), Johnny Byrne (rhythm guitar), Charles O'Brien (lead guitar), Wally Eymond (bass guitar/vocals) and Ritchie Starkey (drums). It basically remained that way until August 1962 when Ritchie became a member of the Beatles (apart from brief periods when Rory and Lu left for a short spell, with people like Bobby Thompson as temporary replacements).

Despite changing the name from the Texans, Rory was obviously still fond of the Western theme - at the time there were numerous Western series on television. He decided to call Byrne Johnny Guitar, after the title of the 1954 Joan Crawford Western, Ritchie became Ringo Starr (after Belle Starr?) and Charles was renamed Ty after Ty Hardin, star of the 'Bronco' series. Rory also thought that Lou Walters was a more suitable name for Wally.

Changing from a skiffle group to a rock 'n' roll band caused problems at the Cavern club where rock 'n' roll was banned. In January 1960 the group were still including a number of skiffle songs in their repertoire and appeared at the Cavern on a bill with the Cy Laurie Jazz Band on Sunday January 2, and the following Saturday were appearing there again supporting the Saints Jazz Band and Terry Lightfoot's New Orleans Jazz Band.

On Sunday January 10 Ray McFall began his Liverpool Jazz Festival in an attempt to put Liverpool and jazz on the map. During that week top trad bands such as Acker Bilk's appeared, together with modern jazz outfits, country music bands and skiffle groups. When Rory Storm & the Hurricanes appeared again on Sunday January 17, on a bill with Micky Ashman's Jazz Band and the Swinging Bluegenes, they began their set with 'Cumberland Gap'. Then they decided to switch to a rock 'n' roll set and played 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'. The jazz fans became furious and started pelting the group with copper coins. The Hurricanes continued the show but were drowned out by a booing audience. When they came offstage, a furious McFall fined them 6/- (shillings) for daring to play rock 'n' roll music. The group were able to collect all the coins off the stage, which more than compensated for the fine.

Lou Walters' voice produced a contrast to Rory's and he performed numbers such as 'Fever', 'Let It Be Me', 'Summertime', 'Beautiful Dreamer' and 'Mailman.' Rory performed numbers such as 'Brand New Cadillac', 'I'll Be Your Hero', 'Roll Over Beethoven', 'Down The Line', 'Dr Feelgood' and 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Going' On.' Johnny duetted on 'Since You Broke My Heart' with Lou and played the instrumental 'Green Onions.'

Johnny 'Guitar' Byrne wrote to me regarding a Rory Storm & the Hurricanes set:
"A typical 40 minute group set for us was:

  1. 'Brand New Cadillac' Rory (vocals). Vince Taylor & the Playboys.
  2. 'Roll Over Beethoven' Rory (vocals). Chuck Berry.
  3. 'I'll Be Your Hero' Rory (vocals). Vince Taylor & the Playboys.
  4. 'Beautiful Dreamer' Lou (vocals). Tony Orlando.
  5. 'Since You Broke My Heart' Lou/Johnny Guitar (vocals). The Everly Brothers.
  6. 'America' Rory (vocals). 'West Side Story.'
  7. 'Danny' Rory (vocals). Marty Wilde.
  8. 'Green Onions' Johnny Guitar. Booker T & the MG's.
  9. 'Down The Line' Rory (vocals). Jerry Lee Lewis.
  10. 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' Rory (vocals). Jerry Lee Lewis.

He added: "The above set was a typical 63/64 set. Earlier sets 58-62 comprised some different material and skiffle numbers."

The group appeared at the Liverpool Stadium on May 3 1960 on the bill with Gene Vincent. This is the show that aroused Larry Parnes' interest in Liverpool groups and led to the Wyvern Club auditions. Rory actually turned up at the auditions, not to perform, but just to have his photo taken with Billy Fury! In May the group were offered a summer season at Butlin's in Pwllheli in the Rock 'n' Calypso Ballroom, from July to September.

Despite the Butlin's offer of £25 each per week, some members of the group had to consider the risks they were taking in becoming fully professional. Ritchie was the most reluctant member: he was an apprentice at the time, and didn't want to go to Butlin's, but Rory decided to convince him.

It was during this period that Rory insisted on Ringo having his own five-minute spot, 'Starrtime,' during which he sang numbers such as the Shirelles 'Boys' and 'Alley Oop.'

£25 was a huge sum in those days and years later Johnny Guitar was to recall, "We had to decide whether to stay at home with our routine jobs or whether to throw them in and turn professional. Ringo was very much against it. He was serving an apprenticeship at Henry Hunt's, making school climbing frames. We persuaded him, when we told him of all the women that would be 'available.' The Stormy Tempest character that Billy Fury played in the film 'That'll Be The Day' was based on Rory, but they got one thing wrong, there were far more women than that."

At the Wyvern Club auditions which were originally to have been held to find a backing group for Billy Fury, but were really to find backing bands for various solo acts managed by Larry Parnes, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes didn't audition because Rory was the lead singer and didn't want his band to become a backing group to someone else. However, with his thirst for publicity, he turned up at the audition and had himself photographed with Billy Fury, looking as much a star as Fury himself.

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