Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Big Beat Scene by Royston Ellis

Published by Music Mentor Books

Re-released from first printing in 1961, The Big Beat Scene should bring back a lot of memories, along with things we didn't know, to anyone who was young or young at heart in the 1950s and early '60s both in North America and in Great Britain. Personally, I felt the music all over again as I read this book. This was my era. It was the time of what I always feel is happy music, you just can't keep still when you hear it. I am grateful for a book that talks to my generation so well.

Royston Ellis has done very little in additions to the original. A couple of corrections, reinserting some sections that were originally censored or deleted out in the first release in 1961. Because of this, he has left the vernacular of the time as is, rather than go down the road of political correctness of today. This makes the book feel more in step with its own time. For North American readers, although he does have two major sections taking place on this side of the pond, the wording is '50s British, but not difficult to understand for those of us who are not familiar with it.

The author, a teenager himself when this was written, has done an admirable job on this era, obviously well-researched in addition to his personal involvement in this new world of entertainment. He was in fact a "beat" poet who read his poems on stage and TV while backed up by various bands who later often became famous in their own right. Dubbed "King of the Beatniks", he had his own fame. Performing poetry to rock and roll, he called his performance "rocketry".

Keeping in mind that this book was originally published fifty years ago, it was then a happening story. Now it is an excellent historical look at the changing times after a period of teen repression in the fifteen years following WWII. The book could be considered at this date more encyclopaedic, but certainly not dry! Beginning with the beatniks, rolling on into the rock and roll excitement and on through the reinstated jazz scene, the feel of the book is palpable. He is descriptive to the point where one can almost smell the smoke, see the performers, recognize the scenes that played out in so many clubs, coffee houses, recording studios and even that newish invention TV. The reader is sure to be in the center of it all.

Many individuals and bands cited are well-known figures such as Bill Haley and the Comets, to North America and others just as well-known as the hit-makers of Britain, all the way to the beginnings of the Beatles, but this is not a book for promotion, ego-tickling, or bogus promoters, although Royston does touch on how some creativity was used by managers/promoters, occasionally submerging a lacklustre or shy performer's true personality. Nor is it an exposé as we think of it in today's jaded, muckraking world. This is, in fact, an informative and entertaining view of the era seen through the eyes of the teenagers who reveled in the new freedom in music and dance. It is not a fan production, it is an honest look at how this music changed lives, and eventually some of those lives changed the music. What is sad to this reader is how many of these youngsters have passed away in the interim, many still young.

It is interesting to see the way rock and roll moved around, the wave taking a little longer to get to Britain but perhaps moving along faster once it got going. The next big wave would be the "British Invasion" in the '60s, occurring after the writing of this book. I enjoyed this book completely, and happily recommend it. A captivating read of a very exciting time in entertainment history.

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