GO: Good guy, '60s maven and author Ralph Gowling sent a sneak preview of a piece he penned for the August issue of The Beat, spotlighting Liverpool's Shakers and leader Tony O'Keeffe, who, as you'll recall, opened my 9 May birthday celebrations at the Amersham Rock 'n' Roll Club.
SHAKIN' ALL OVER
By Ralph Gowling
The Shakers must be one of the most unique groups on the '60s circuit. This is no tribute band to The Beatles or any of the other Merseybeat greats. The Shakers have their own image and produce the sort of high-octane performance that was last witnessed at The Cavern and at Hamburg's Star Club around 1960-64. The memorable early Merseybeat hits in their repertoire are tackled with genuine gusto, but so too are the rarely performed numbers off albums, EPs and B-sides that The Shakers like to dust off. The Shakers also bring the clothing styles of that early '60s era to the stage, complete with the black waistcoats and boots. Merseybeat legend Kingsize Taylor said after seeing The Shakers in action: "I haven't heard a sound like that since the Star Club in 1962!"
The Shakers hail from the home of Merseybeat, Liverpool, and have been building up a strong fan base since their formation four years ago. On Merseyside they have become firm regulars at The Cavern and Beatles celebrations, and their reputation has spread internationally to win them bookings at major events in countries like Bahrain, Italy and Switzerland. At the time of writing two ladies from Watford, both newish converts to The Shakers, were about to set off by rail to see the group do a prime Saturday performance at The Cavern. That's a distance of nearly 200 miles and some compliment to the group.
"Basically the reason for putting The Shakers together was because I wanted to get back to the raw energy and sound of Merseybeat when it started," the band's leader and drummer, Tony O'Keeffe, said in an interview with The Beat. "I had seen all these '60s acts, which were great and entertaining, but the sound never quite resonated with me as being authentic enough. It was always a little bit too polished and I thought that's not what is on the record and I'm sure it wasn't what was going on in The Cavern live. So The Shakers were meant to be representative of the live Merseybeat '60s sound, which is what I think we've achieved. We've wanted to keep that energy of that period there. We've been quite lucky in that we've managed to establish ourselves quite quickly on The Beatles and Merseybeat circuit and we've been to Italy a couple of times, Switzerland and Bahrain. That has involved a lot of Beatles festivals which is quite good to have as a recommendation and seems to show we have built up a good reputation."
Tony is particularly delighted to see a loyal fan base grow and grow for The Shakers. "We have regular people who come to all our gigs on the Liverpool circuit and we also get people who visit websites and stuff who follow us elsewhere which is great. It's always nice to have familiar faces at gigs wherever you are."
Since starting up in 2005, The Shakers have just recently had their first personnel changes. Tony and lead singer and guitarist Eddie Harrison remain as the originals and are now joined by George Burton (vocals/guitarist) and Martin Davies (vocals/bass guitar).
"Basically, I think any band goes through this. Even The Beatles had various line-ups before the one that we all know. A lot of our favourite bands have been through the same thing and these days even many of the '60s bands have just one original member along with various floating members. We're not exempt from that. For various reasons things happen—people have other demands in their lives or are not committed or it's not what they want to do. As far as I am concerned, as long as The Shakers' name is around I hope it will be a mark of quality for that raw Merseybeat sound. It doesn't really matter who is doing it as long as that is still preserved and I think we have managed to do that. That is all that matters really."
The two "new boys" have excellent pedigrees to become Shakers, with George having served in leading Scottish Beat group, The Beatcombers, and Martin having been a stalwart with Colin and The Persuaders, a top UK rock 'n' roll band.
"George has fitted in very well and we're all enjoying it. The Beatcombers have done the standard Beatles festivals but they've also tended to play the more obscure material and have had a couple of albums out—this has won them a good reputation on the circuit. "Martin was with Colin Paul and The Persuaders for about 12 years. He is a great guy and is a left-handed Hofner player like Paul McCartney and absolutely loves what we do."
One of the highlights of Tony's year was The Shakers doing a sold out show as guests of The Rapiers at the Amersham Rock 'n' Roll Club in May. A long-time admirer of Colin Pryce-Jones' classy Beat combo from north London, it was Tony's first chance to perform on the same stage with The Rapiers. The Shakers went down a storm with the audience and Colin kindly called them back on stage just before the end to take another bow.
"It was a complete honour to do the show. I'm a fan of The Rapiers anyway and it's always great to play with people you admire and like. I've always admired their way of doing things and the fact that they stick to that. It's very much a template for what we do, but obviously we're different in our way as they are to us. It was a wonderful night, we had a good reception and that is as much as we could ask for. It was just a complete buzz playing with them."