Billy Kinsley was the co-founder and bassist/singer with the Merseybeats. Born in Liverpool in 1946, he was attracted to rock & roll before he was in his teens, and got an almost premature start in the field when he and his longtime friend singer/guitarist Tony Crane formed the Mavericks, later rechristened the Pacifics, then the Mersey Beats, and finally the Merseybeats. At age 16, he was already living every young English rock & roller's dream, playing backup to Little Richard as a member of the group, at a show in New Brighton, and between his and Crane's singing and playing, the band was fluent in a range of styles, from serious R&B shouters to lyrical, harmony-based numbers.
At the end of 1963, with one single already charted in England and a second one -- "I Think of You" -- about to break (and carry the Merseybeats into the U.K. Top Five), Kinsley decided to leave the group, owing to his impending marriage and his desire to stay closer to Liverpool. In the waning days of the year, while playing in Germany, Crane, Kinsley, and their manager approached Johnny Gustafson, bassist and singer, late of Liverpool's Big Three trio, at a Frankfurt club called the Arcadia and offered him Kinsley's spot. He was able to accept as soon as he returned from Frankfurt, and to replace Kinsley in the interim, Bob Garner came in on bass, until Gustafson was back in England. Crane and Gustafson formed a songwriting team, while Kinsley retreated to Liverpool. He didn't abandon music, however -- he kept his hand in performing locally with a group called the Kinsleys, which included Dave Percival on lead guitar and vocals, Dave Preston on drums, and Danny Alexander on rhythm guitar. Their history is, at best, spotty -- the Kinsleys never got to record or attract audiences outside of Liverpool, and by December of 1964, Billy Kinsley had returned to the fold, replacing Gustafson, who was fired -- if Pete Frame's account is to be believed -- for inquiring about the division of earnings within the group. Yet the Kinsleys were good enough and popular enough that they were worth keeping alive, even if the group's namesake was no longer a member; his replacement was none other than Bob Garner, and they lasted into 1965.
Kinsley's return helped sustain the Merseybeats across an ensuing 18 months of declining fortunes, at the end of which he and Crane reshaped their sound and image entirely. Abandoning their instruments, they became the Merseys and, with Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp (who already managed the Who) managing their business and creative affairs, they enjoyed an immense hit with "Sorrow," backed by a band known as the Fruit Eating Bears. They failed to score with their rendition of Pete Townshend's "So Sad About Us," however, and several hoped-for creative hookups with the Beatles and their Apple label failed to materialize, and by late 1968 the Merseys had called it quits. At this point, Kinsley became a session musician, and played with Paul McCartney as well as playing on recording sessions for Liverpool-based singer/songwriter (and Kirkbys and 23rd Turnoff alumnus) Jimmy Campbell's first two albums. Together, Kinsley and Campbell organized Rockin' Horse, which cut an LP entitled Yes It Is (Philips), and the two later played as part of the backing band for Chuck Berry on his 1972 tour of England.
After cutting a pair of singles, "Annabella" and "You Make My Day," for Epic Records, Kinsley revived Rockin' Horse in 1975 as a quartet with Tony Coates (guitar, vocals), Roger Scott Craig (keyboards), and Derek Cashin (drums). They were signed to British Warner Bros. but before the ink was dry, they'd changed their name to Liverpool Express. They released an unsuccessful debut single, but they saw success in 1976 with "You Are My Love," which just missed the British Top Ten but got them onto Top of the Pops four times during its nine-week chart run. Their next two singles, "Hold Tight" and "Every Man Must Have a Dream," charted more modestly, but the group was taken seriously enough to be booked onto a European tour with Rod Stewart. Two LPs, Tracks and Dreamin', were also released in 1976 and 1977, respectively, and the group scored three consecutive South American hits in 1977. Liverpool Express continued right into the 1980s, their credits including a string of chart singles around the world and an invitation from Prince Charles to perform at a Royal Gala Performance.
Meanwhile, Tony Crane had revived their old group as Tony Crane & the Merseybeats. Kinsley continued his separate professional path until he got caught up in the revival of interest in early English rock & roll that took place in the late '80s. He cut some sides with a group known as the Class of 1964, whose ranks included such veteran Liverpool performers as Michael Pender from the Searchers -- their album later appeared on CD as Cavern Days. By 1993, he had begun working once more with Crane, and since then the group has been playing regularly to audiences in England well past its 40th anniversary.