The Liverbirds: “The Female Beatles”

She wanted to be a nun. Instead, Mary McGlory became the bass player for Liverpool’s first all-female rock band, The Liverbirds. [Note: it’s pronounced “LYVER-birds” not “Liverbirds,” as I originally thought. And the fictional “liver bird” is the symbol of their hometown of Liverpool.]

In 1963, Liverpool and surrounding Merseyside were filled with kids wanting to form bands. The Beatles were the most famous, but they weren’t alone. Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer, and The Searchers were also finding success in the clubs and on the charts. Four girls decided it was their turn and went for it.

The Liverbirds (McGlory on bass, guitarists/vocalists Pam Birch and Valerie Gell, and drummer Sylvia Saunders) were determined to get their share of the fame, fortune, and fun coursing through their northern port city. They picked up instruments at the local music shop, learned to play, and followed the road map laid out by the Beatles. First stop, the Cavern Club. Next stop? Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn, where they played the Star Club, just as the Fabs had done. They were billed as “the female Beatles.”

Although when they had the chance to meet John and Paul at the Cavern, it was, um, “awkward.” In an interview, McGlory recalls Paul being nice, but John snarkily telling them, “Girls don’t play guitars.” In gritty Scouser fashion, the band took it as a challenge to prove him wrong.

And they did. Between 1963 and 1968, they recorded two hit albums and toured alongside Chuck Berry, the Kinks, and the Stones. McGlory recalls snapping a bass string on stage; seeing her alarm, Bill Wyman handed her his bass, taking hers offstage to repair it. She recently told a chat show host, “…I still have that string!”

The Liverbirds performed mostly covers, with a few originals written by Birch. One of their biggest hits was a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Diddley Daddy.”

They never quite gained traction in the UK (turning down Brian Epstein as their manager probably didn’t help), but became hugely popular in Germany. Both McGlory and Saunders met their future husbands there among their fans. After the group broke up in 1968, most of the girls remained in Germany, working other jobs and raising families.

Yes, the story of The Liverbirds aligns with the burgeoning women’s movement of the time, but it’s really the story of four young friends who just wanted to play. When I watched the video of their 1965 performance of “Peanut Butter,” I was struck by the joy emanating from Sylvia Saunders; she’s practically vibrating off her drum kit, with the same kind of infectious charm as Ringo.


While Gell and Birch have since passed, McGlory and Saunders co-authored the recent book, The Liverbirds: Our Life in Britain’s First Female Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. Their story is also the subject of a UK musical, with McGlory and Saunders occasionally sitting in with the actors playing their former bandmates. And they just recorded a new song with two new members.

Since those days in the 60s, we’ve had “girl rock groups” like Fanny, The Runaways, The Bangles, The Go-Gos, Heart, and more. All of them have said they’ve faced the same disbelief that “girls could play guitars” and had to work ten times harder to be taken seriously. The Liverbirds first broke that uncertain ground; and like McCartney and Jagger, they’re a testament to the agelessness of rock n’ roll.

Although McGlory cheekily says she still hasn’t quite given up her dream of being a nun.

-Cindy Grogan

Photo: The Liverbirds, 1965 (l-r Valerie Gell, Sylvia Saunders, Mary McGlory, Pam Birch). Public Domain via WikiMedia Commons.

8 comments on “The Liverbirds: “The Female Beatles”

  1. Sue Morgan

    Interesting that the drummer and the bass player are the two left in their group too!

  2. Steve Valvano

    Any info as to which section of Liverpool they were from? Woolton? Speke? Upon Green? Waver Tree? Dingle?

  3. Who KNEW? I like this new song. Good on ya, Cindy!

  4. Mark Hudson

    I grew up in England in the sixties (my Nan (Grandma) took me to see “Help” at the pictures (movies) when I was 7) and I can honestly say, as pop music obsessed as I was, I have never heard of this group until today.
    There was a TV sitcom that aired in 1969 called “The Liver Birds” though, although not related.

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