Lost Liverpool Music: Jimmy Campbell

We are starting a new series of articles on The Guide Liverpool looking back at some of the city’s finest musicians, actors and more. Those that have shaped the city as we know it today and left their stamp on Liverpool. First up we are taking you back to the Merseybeat period and to a musician who was once described as “the era’s lost songwriter”.

True to his home town sensibilities, Jimmy Campbell’s output was infused with humour and local references throughout his career. One of the best examples of both of these qualities came to the fore early on in his professional life. Upon Cavern compere Bob Wooler mixing up the name of Campbell’s band with their native suburb, The Panthers became The Kirkbys in 1964.

The Kirkbys also signalled Campbell’s desire to shift from the early 60s beat sound – prevalent in the city at the time – to a more folk rock sound. The likeness to Americana contemporaries The Byrds can be heard on track ‘Don’t You Want Me No More’ while ‘It’s A Crime’ is laced with the potent RnB popularised by The Rolling Stones at the time.

 

Like all great artists, Campbell was a restless soul who kept on wanting his music to progress with the times. A genre which has recently seen a resurgence in popularity in these parts was his next pet sound – psychedelia. Keeping with the theme of regional reference points, Campbell’s next band was named after the M6 exit onto the East Lancs road, namely The 23rd Turnoff. The dreamy sounds of tracks such as ‘Michelangelo’ not only showcased Campbell’s rare gift to write an almost perfect pop song complete with interesting textures and hooks but also pointed towards the composer’s own frustrations with his professional life. “Why should it be that a man such as me / Who cares not for money and fame / shouldn’t be rich with God’s natural gifts / To have something to show at the end of life’s game” Campbell sang in the flower power classic.

 

While Campbell was receiving admiration from some circles, he wasn’t quite breaking into the mainstream, despite Liverpool contemporaries such as The Swinging Blue Jeans and The Merseys recording his songs to a modicum of success. As the 60s drew to a close the dawn of a new decade saw Campbell go it alone and produce what is probably his most enduring legacy. His 1970 album ‘Half Baked’ is a nailed-on classic.

 

The LP displays all the songwriter’s propensity for heartbreak, loneliness and sorrow but also includes up beat numbers which raise a smile and tap a foot. Going through the gamut of genres from barnstorming country (‘Green Eyed American Actress’) to blissful psychedelia (‘In My Room’), the album is a masterclass and deserves the praise of author Paul Du Noyer who says of Campbell: ‘Of all the unrecognised talents who fell as anonymous foot soldiers in the 60s beat campaign, Campbell was the best.’

 

The  story of Jimmy Campbell has a very sad ending unfortunately. The man who should have claimed a place next to Lennon, McCartney and Billy Fury (another one who recognised his songwriting talents and covered a number of his tracks), died in anonymity in Liverpool in 2007. However, music fans are left with a trove of largely undiscovered treasures in a back catalogue which spans numerous guises, styles and sounds. Check it out yourself.

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