Last Saturday you may remember I reviewed a new book by Martin Creasy all about The Beatles on tour in the early 1960’s. On one tour – before they were the world’s top band – they were support to Helen Shapiro.
But also on the bill were a trio of singing sisters, The Honeys.
The three Liddell girls were all born in Portsmouth and found fame, if not fortune, touring with some of the biggest names in pop and rock during the Sixties.
The girls were Anita, the oldest, then Vilma and finally Pearl.
Pearl now lives in Spain but I met up with Vilma and Anita in Farlington where they told me of their lives as The Honeys.
Their father, Jay Liddell, was a drummer and band leader and when the girls were quite young the family moved from their home in Dartmouth Road, Copnor.
Their father made sure two of the girls played instruments and Pearl took piano lessons while Vilma learnt to play drums.
Moving back to the city in their early teens, they lived in Commercial Road and their father put them on stage where they used to mime to famous acts of the day. They called themselves The Liddell Triplets and Anita was lead singer, while the other two followed in harmonies.
They appeared in many clubs in the Portsmouth area and one day someone asked them why they didn’t sing.
They got the message and local pianist Bill Cole – who was very well-known in Portsmouth at the time for playing with the Johnny Lyne Band – arranged all the harmonies for the girls and, after learning some songs of the time, the girls were on their way. In the late 1950’s they appeared on television most days on a lunchtime magazine programme for Southern Television, as it was then, based in Southampton.
They acquired an agent, Eve Taylor, whose father was an impresario of some repute. Eve herself was not one to toy with. She was Adam Faith’s agent and later Eurovision competition winner Sandie Shaw came under her wing.
Eve got them work, at the normal agents’ fee of course, and tours and television beckoned.
In 1960 while on tour with Adam Faith, Vilma tells me that he received as warm as a reception as The Beatles later did.
They also toured with Cliff Richard and the Shadows to Israel.
Some of the more well-known people the girls appeared with were Frankie Vaughan, Englebert Humperdink, Ken Dodd and Jo Brown and his Bruvvers.
They also appeared with Larry Grayson, who was later to take over Bruce Forsyth’s mantle on television’s The Generation Game.
But it was 1963 when they met an up-and-coming band from Liverpool.
Top of the bill for this tour was Helen Shapiro, who had just had two hit records with Walking Back to Happiness and Please Don’t Treat Me Like a Child, along with other top artists of the day.
Second billing went to a group that was to become more famous in the world than any other – The Beatles.
Although The Beatles were support to Shapiro, half-way through the tour they had become so well-known that they were taken off it
Jet Harris and Tony Meehan the former bass guitarist and drummer with The Shadows took their place. So, were The Beatles much fun?
Anita says that Paul was shrewd, George serious and John thoughtful. Ringo didn’t get a mention!
‘When we were all on the tour bus the boys always grabbed the back seats so that they could rehearse new songs they had written,’ she adds. ‘They used to hand around sheets of paper with lyrics on them, so we must have been the first to have seen the lyrics to many of their early hit songs.’
If only they had managed to keep hold of some of those bits of paper, eh?
Vilma says: ‘One song we used to sing on stage was Manyana and the boys used to take the mickey and have a sing-a-long on the bus.’
I asked the girls how they were fed in those days before decent motorways.
‘We used to stop off at places that became well-known to touring bands,’ says Vilma. ‘We used to say “Shall we stop off for a plate of grease?” Such were the meals served up at transport cafes of the time.’
By 1967, touring had taken its toll and the girls started to settle down, with Vilma and Anita both retiring from showbiz. But Pearl went on to become a magician’s assistant. She married him and they toured the world, entertaining on liners and cruise ships.
Yes, Vilma and Anita missed the lifestyle. But once marriage and children came along, that took over their lives and it all became a thing of the past.
What marvellous memories they have of their lives as the singing Honeys though.