Unlike most of their contemporaries, The Liverbirds weren’t a vocal group – instead the four-piece band played all their own instruments. The girls became a regular fixture at Hamburg’s Star-Club and even enjoyed success in the German charts. Over the years, many fallacies about the group have been accepted as truth – but here, with help from bassist Mary McGlory, we put the record straight.
As their name suggests, girl group The Liverbirds hailed from Liverpool, in north west England. At the height of their success, they were a four piece band. They were led by Pamela Birch on guitar and lead vocals, with Valerie Gell also on guitar, Mary McGlory on bass and Sylvia Saunders on drums.
It is sometimes said that the group were called The Debutones originally, but this isn’t true.
The group formed in early 1962. At that time, there were five members: Irene Green (on vocals), Valerie Gell (guitar), cousins Sheila McGlory (guitar) and Mary McGlory (bass) and Sylvia Saunders (drums).
In early 1964 Henri Henroid signed the group for a four-week stint at Hamburg’s Star-Club.
However, Sheila opted out of the tour and quit the group to join another local girl band, The Demoiselles. Irene had already left the group by this time, becoming Tiffany and joining Tiffany’s Dimensions before enjoying a solo career.
The Kinks introduced 19-year-old blonde Pamela Birch to the group to fill the gap after both groups played together in Liverpool. It was one of a series of local gigs that also included appearances alongside The Rolling Stones – all of which was intended to prepare the new line-up for their German jaunt.
It is often claimed that the group were managed by Joe Flannery and that he brought Pam on board, but this is not true. Instead, Star-Club owner Manfred Weissleder became the group’s one and only manager.
Billed as “die weiblichen Beatles” (the female Beatles), the foursome arrived in Hamburg at the end of May 1964. Their enthusiasm and unexpectedly masculine stage outfits – leather jerkins and winkle pickers – charmed Star-Club visitors, even if their musical abilities were a little rough around the edges. With a repertoire influenced by that of The Rolling Stones – with many Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry songs – the girls held their own and were soon offered a rolling booking at the club. As a result, the group remained in Germany, without returning home.
As part of the deal, they were also signed to the Star-Club record label. A version of Motown group The Miracles’ Shop around became the group’s debut single that summer. The B-side, It’s got to be you, had been composed by lead singer Pam.
Further club appearances followed, and in early 1965, the group issued their first LP, Star-Club show 4. Like their stage act, it included Bo Diddley covers (including Mona and You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover) and versions of Chuck Berry songs (such as Talking about you and Johnny B Goode). More interesting were versions of Barrett Strong’s Money and the Everly Brothers’ Love hurts.
A take on Bo Diddley’s Diddley daddy was lifted from the LP as the group’s next single. Again the flip was one of Pam’s own compositions, this time Leave all your old loves in the past.
Issued in May 1965, the record reached number 33 in the German charts.
Its success prompted a wave of publicity and the group featured in music magazines such as Bravo and appeared in youth-oriented TV programmes such as Beat Club. The group performed their third 45, Peanut butter, on television rather enthusastically. (As had become customary by now, a Pam Birch original, this time the excellent Why do you hang around me, was included on the B-side.)
A tour of Germany, Denmark and Switzerland, raised their profile further. (Amusingly, they appeared on the same bill as Chuck Berry, who took umbrage when they performed versions of his material.)
The group issued their second LP, More of The Liverbirds, in early 1966. Moving away from the band’s R&B roots, the album offered more typical girl group material, such as versions of Martha and the Vandellas’ Heatwave and Maxine Brown’s Oh no not my baby. He’s about a mover and the Doc Pomus composition He hardly ever calls me honey anymore proved other highlights of the LP.
The group were reunited with The Rattles, appearing in the Beatles-style Hurra, Die Rattles kommen, Germany’s first beat film, which hit cinemas in February 1966. In it, The Liverbirds performed a couple of tracks from their album.
A fourth – and final – single followed later that year: Loop de loop, backed by Bo Diddley is a lover (unusually, not a Pam Birch song).
The release failed to return the group to the charts, though the girls continued to perform live. By 1968, however, both Val and Sylvia had quit the group to get married. (Val remained in Germany, though she moved south, to Munich.)
The pair were replaced by two local girls, Christiane Schulz on guitar and Renate Wassermeyer on drums. The new line-up toured Japan, but Pam and Mary’s hearts were no longer in it and the pair wound up the group.
Mary remained in Hamburg, where she married Rattles singer Frank Dostal and went on to run a music publishing company. Pam stayed in the music business too, first in a covers band in Iran, then in record promotion back in Germany.
The group performed the occasional reunion gig until Pam’s death in 2009.
Follow the links to hear other singers' versions of Liverbirds songs
The Ruby Rats: Heatwave
Mandy and the Girlfriends: Money
Helen Shapiro: Shop around
Our pick of the pops
He's about a mover
Why do you hang around me
He hardly ever calls me honey anymore
It's got to be you
From Merseyside to Hamburg
Find Liverbirds 45s, LPs and CDs at GEMM
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