The Beat Merchants were formed in Horsham, Sussex in 1962. Initially known as the Hustlers, the line-up consisted of Ralph Worman on lead guitar, his cousin Geoff Farndell on bass, Gavin Daneski playing rhythm guitar and Les Rogers on drums. In the early days, heavily influenced by Britain's leading group of the time, The Shadows, the fledgling group concentrated on instrumental numbers.
They added singer Peter Toal to the line-up, but lost drummer Rogers following a motorcycle accident. He was replaced by Vic Sendall from another local group, the Texans.
During 1963 they recorded a demo which aroused the interest of famed EMI producer Norrie Paramor. Meanwhile they were building up a strong fan-base at venues on the south coast. They began to switch to more R'n'B material after supporting the Rolling Stones. Also during that year, singer Toal left the group to emigrate to Australia. His replacement was another former member of the Texans, Chris Boyle. It was around this time that they changed their name to the Merchants.
In '64 they signed with Bob Gaitley, a leading impresario on the south coast. Against their wishes, he insisted on the adding the "Beat" prefix to their name and they turned professional in the middle of that year.
The Beat Merchants successfully auditioned for both Columbia and Decca. They chose Columbia and the debut single, "Pretty Face" was released at the end of September. They appeared on TV's "Thank Your Lucky Stars" and "Scene At 6.30". These appearances helped push the record into Melody Maker's charts.
They then embarked on a nationwide package tour along with the Applejacks, Lulu & the Luvvers, the Honeycombs, Millie and American rocker Gene Vincent. In fact they spent a large part of the next two years on the road.
The second single, "So Fine" was issued in February 1965. The record did not chart in the UK. However, the song did reach No.1 in the USA when it was put on the flip side of Freddie & the Dreamers' "You Were Made For Me".
The Beat Merchants' founder, Ralph Worman, quit the group in '65 and Rick MacEvoy was drafted in to replace him. McEvoy's stay with the group was brief however, and he was soon replaced by Alan Piggott. Another change soon followed when vocalist Boyle was ousted. The Merchants were now a quartet with Farndell and Daneski handling the vocal duties. Their problems were further compounded when EMI dropped them. Undeterred, the group began to concentrate more on original material written by Farndell and Daneski. Demo recordings of the new songs were made in December 1965 but they didn't generate sufficient enthusiasm from the record companies to earn them a new contract.
After spending much of 1966 touring Europe they played a triumphant homecoming gig in Horsham, but disillusionment was setting in and the band fell apart shortly afterwards.
Both the bands' 45s as well as demo recordings made at various points in their career have recently been made available by Circle Records.
Listening to this 19-song compilation of official singles and demo tracks by the Beat Merchants, one just wants to ask, "What the hell went wrong?" Based on these sides, these guys had it all, a distinctive guitar attack, nicely coarse vocals, and a ton of collective charisma, but they never made it as a recording act. Whether they're engaging in Beatles-like balladry ("Was Before") or going head-to-head with the Rolling Stones on Muddy Waters' "Messin' With the Man," the Beat Merchants were making entertaining, exciting, and interesting records; even "Does It Show," a sub-Who hard rock ballad, is utterly diverting, and the best of the cuts here, "Pretty Face," "Moanin'," "Reasons," "So Fine," "On a Summer Day," "Pretty Thing," and "Not Guilty" — the latter a sneering punk anthem from very late in their history, which shows they still had what it took as players and songwriter in 1966, without a recording contract to their names — are as good as any archival releases by the Yardbirds and the Kinks et al.
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LINK: ALL SHE WANT IS ME ! ! ! ( A GARAGE MAN...)