British singer Beryl Marsden had a powerful voice and a taste for soulful American songs. However, despite frequent billing as the “next big thing”, she never enjoyed the success she deserved. Stints with The Shotgun Express and She Trinity, plus session work and live appearances as part of Martha Reeves’ Vandellas kept her working, and she continues to record today.
She was born Beryl Hogg in the Toxteth district of Liverpool, in the north west of England, in June 1947.
At 14, the diminutive singer – she stood at just 5’, or 152 cm, tall – won a local talent contest, having performed a version of The Shirelles’ Boys. Shortly afterwards, she was invited to sing with local group The Undertakers at a gig. A positive reaction from the audience meant that she soon joined the group on a more regular basis.
However, when talent scouts from Hamburg’s Star-Club invited the group to Germany, Beryl, who at 15 was under-age, got left behind.
She continued to sing in various local clubs, including The Cavern, where she was introduced to Brian Epstein. There was talk of him becoming her manager, but as he was already managing The Beatles, she felt that he wouldn’t have the time to devote to her.
She opted instead for Joe Flannery, the brother of one of The Allstars, her backing musicians. In turning down Epstein, she also lost out on the chance to record the Lennon and McCartney-penned Love of the loved, and the song became the debut single for Epstein’s newest signing, Cilla Black.
Flannery secured Beryl a recording deal with the Decca label in 1963, where she released two singles.
The first was an excellent cover of Barbara George’s I know – retitled I know (you don’t love me nomore). Interestingly, the numbering of the songs on the record’s label suggests that the flip, I only care about you, was intended as the A-side.
Her follow up was a version of The Supremes’ When the lovelight starts shining thru’ his eyes, issued in January 1964. (The B-side, Love is going to happen to me, had been written by fellow Brit girl singer Lesley Duncan.)
Sadly, neither of these releases was a hit. Some put this down to an image problem – the girly outfits that Beryl was instructed to wear for TV appearances were at odds with her material, causing confusion among record buyers.
Finally, after cutting a live version of Doris Day’s Everybody loves a lover for the LP At the Cavern, Beryl got to appear at Hamburg’s Star-Club. But, when she returned to Britain in early 1965, her contracts with both Flannery and with Decca had expired.
So, the young singer headed for London and found a new manager, Tony Stratton-Smith, who would later go on to manage a number of groups including Genesis.
Stratton-Smith landed Beryl a contract with EMI’s Columbia subsidiary. Under the watchful eye of Ivor Raymonde – the man behind many of Dusty Springfield’s hits – she cut a couple of singles, both of which are more notable for their B-sides.
The first, Who you gonna hurt?, released in October 1965, had a cracking version of April Young’s girl group-styled Gonna make him my baby on the reverse. The 45 was considered strong enough for release in the US, where it was issued on the Capitol label.
The second UK single hit the shops in December that year. It was a version of a Stevie Wonder track, Music talk. However, it is the B-side, Break-a-way (a cover of an Irma Thomas track and also a UK hit for actress/comedienne Tracey Ullman in the 1980s), which has become a favourite among fans of the Brit girl genre.
Live appearances as part of a package tour that included The Beatles on the bill helped to promote the single.
Her final solo single, the Mod favourite What’s she got (that I ain't got), was issued in April 1966. (The B-side was another Motown cover, this time of R Dean Taylor’s Let’s go somewhere.)
When none of these releases attracted the attention of record buyers, she did a stint with Rod Stewart in The Shotgun Express. After significant live promotional work, the group went into the studios in the autumn of 1966 to record the single I could feel the whole world turn round. However, after one further 45, the band called it a day.
Beryl quickly joined the girl group She Trinity for a while, and performed in both France and Germany. Later, after returning to Liverpool, she formed The Beryl Marsden Band, and later, Gambler.
In the 1970s, she became a session singer, and also went on to release a couple of solo records, Sad songs (billed as Lynn Jackson) in 1979 and I video (as Beryl Marsden again) in 1981.
In the mid-1980s, perhaps surprisingly, she performed as a member of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, before becoming part of the Beautiful World project in the 1990s.
With increased self-confidence, Beryl took to writing new material. Hello stranger, credited to Gospel Garden featuring Beryl Marsden, was used in the soundtrack of the film Another 91/2 weeks.
Recently, Beryl has returned to the studios again. In 2007, she issued the single Baby it’s you, a cover of the old Shirelles number, and, in November 2008, Too late, which she co-wrote.
A CD featuring her recordings from 1963 to 2011, entitled Changes: The story of Beryl Marsden, was released in January 2012, and is available to purchase from Amazon and elsewhere.