No one can lay more claim to fatherhood of the British Invasion than Brian Epstein. Without his unfailing belief in the Beatles and his determination that they succeed, it’s unlikely that the band would have come to the attention of London record producers, and without the Beatles, there wouldn’t have been a British Invasion as we know it.
Epstein’s eye for talent, his sense of stagecraft, and his industry connections — not to mention the caché that comes with managing the most sought-after band in the country — was a winning combination. Quick on the heels of the Beatles’ initial success, he took the next logical step in his burgeoning management career: to find more where that came from.
Even though many never became household names, the artists on Epstein’s NEMS Enterprises roster were essential to the success of the British Invasion. The sheer number of groups that shared roots and history with the Beatles allowed fans to immerse themselves in the sounds and ethos that so attracted them in the first place. And artists managed by Brian Epstein had access to something almost no other band had: the Lennon/McCartney catalog. Whether a new artist recorded an existing Beatles song or a brand-new track, a Lennon/McCartney original would definitely attract attention.
Below are some of Epstein’s most well-known and enduring artists — just a few of the many performers on his roster. The British Invasion wouldn’t have been the same without them.
1) Gerry and the Pacemakers
Gerry and the Pacemakers were one of the Beatles’ top rivals, both on the local Liverpool scene and in the Hamburg club circuit. So when Epstein wanted to follow the Beatles with a similar act, he signed them immediately, giving them the full treatment: matching suits, a lesson in stage manners, and a recording contract with Parlophone, produced by George Martin.
Their first single, Mitch Murray’s “How Do You Do It?” was given to them after the Beatles rejected it in favor of their own material, and Gerry and the Pacemakers took it straight to #1 in the UK. They followed that success with two more #1 hits — “I Like It” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel) — making them the first group whose first three singles went straight to the top.
Frontman Gerry Marsden composed many of their later tracks, including their signature song, “Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey,” a romantic look at their hometown of Liverpool. The band broke up in 1966, but Marsden continues to maintain an active touring schedule.
2) Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas
Billy J. Kramer piqued Epstein’s interest when his band, Billy Kramer and the Coasters, opened for the Beatles. While Kramer was interested in Epstein’s offer of management, the Coasters were not. So Epstein paired Kramer with the Manchester-based Dakotas (who themselves were managed under a separate contract with Epstein and recorded on their own), and added the “J” to Kramer’s name — probably to honor the upcoming birth of John Lennon’s first child, who would be called Julian. (We can only speculate that if it were a girl, she would have been named Julia after Lennon’s mother; it’s natural “J” names would have been on his mind!)
Kramer and the Dakotas benefited hugely from Epstein’s association with Lennon and McCartney, who wrote three songs for them: “From a Window,” “I’ll Keep You Satisfied,” and “Bad to Me.” Kramer continues to record and was a highlight of the 2014–2015 British Invasion tour as well as a frequent guest at the Fest for Beatles Fans.
3) The Big Three
The Big Three was known as one of the most aggressive, loudest, and most powerful bands on the Liverpool circuit, thanks to drummer Johnny Hutchinson and the giant amps (called “coffins”) they built for themselves.
Though they were initially pleased to sign with Epstein, this rough group was less inclined to go along with the standard Epstein makeover. The relationship crumbled when their demo of “Some Other Guy,” recorded for their Decca audition, was released without their permission; they parted ways after little more than a year.
While the Big Three was not successful as a trio, Epstein was highly impressed by Johnny Hutchinson’s drumming; so impressed that he asked him to replace Pete Best in the Beatles before it was offered to Ringo Starr. But Hutchinson, who despised the rival band, flatly turned him down, telling Epstein, “I wouldn’t join the Beatles for a gold clock.”
The Big Three disbanded in 1966, and Hutchinson retired from music and has refused to talk about that time, or about the Beatles, since then.
4) Cilla Black
Like others on the Epstein roster, Cilla Black was a staple of the Liverpool music scene. But being a woman, she wasn’t in a band of her own. So “Swinging Cilla” would often join other bands for a few numbers in their sets and eventually became a popular Cavern Club attraction.
She originally came to Epstein’s notice through John Lennon, who suggested he come see her sing at the Cavern. Thanks to a bad case of nerves and a song played in the wrong key, she failed her first audition dismally. But after a second look, Epstein contracted her as the first — and only — female performer on his roster.
Black also got the benefit of starting off by recording a Lennon/McCartney composition, “Love of the Loved,” but it was her second single, “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” that really kick-started her career. Though Black didn’t make a huge impact on American audiences, she was Epstein’s most successful client after the Beatles, with a career in both music and television that spanned more than five decades.
Her transition to television began with a contract arranged by Epstein in 1967, just months before his death.
5) The Cyrkle
Though not actually part of the British Invasion, the Cyrkle is notable because they were the only American group to contract with NEMS, and the last band Epstein signed before his death. Originally called the Rhondells, the band was re-named — by John Lennon — and began their time with Epstein as an opening act for the Beatles during their 1965 and 1966 American tours.
They recorded two hit singles, “Red Rubber Ball” and “Turn-Down Day,” but disbanded shortly after Brian passed away. The band’s two frontmen, Don Dannemann and Tom Dawes, both became jingle writers after the band broke up; Dawes’ biggest claim to fame may be the iconic “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz” jingle for Alka-Seltzer.
The tip of the iceburg…
These five bands were only a few on the giant Epstein roster. Others included:
- The Fourmost
- Tommy Quickly with the Remo Four
- The Moody Blues
- Michael Haslam
- The Paramounts
- Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers
- Paddy, Klaus, and Gibson (“Klaus” being the Beatles’ longtime Hamburg friend, Klaus Voorman)
By any standard, the number of bands Brian Epstein managed and the impact they had on the worldwide music scene makes for an extraordinary career. For a man with no prior artist management experience who was only in the business for six short years, his accomplishments — and those of his artists — were and are astounding.