Europe’s first all-female rock band The Liverbirds recall sexist John Lennon remark: ‘The cheek of it!’

Europe’s first all-female rock band The Liverbirds have recalled how they were met with a sexist remark from a young John Lennon during their first encounter with The Beatles.

Formed in 1963, The Liverbirds were one of the few female bands on the Merseybeat scene, led by Lennon and his Beatles bandmates, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Comprising singer Valerie Gell, guitarist/singer Pamela Birch, bassist/singer Mary McGlory and drummer Sylvia Saunders, The Liverbirds were dubbed “The Other Fab Four” or “The Female Beatles”, and achieved a top 10 single in Germany with their cover of bo Diddley’s “Diddley Daddy”.

In a book extract for The Times, surviving members McGlory and Saunders – who are preparing to release their new memoir – recalled how they were frequently met with sexist remarks from their male peers, including Lennon and Rolling Stones star Keith Richards.

Introduced to The Beatles backstage at iconic Liverpool venue The Cavern Club, before the days of Beatlemania, the duo said they were met with a “direct and penetrating” stare from Lennon.

The Cavern Club’s compere and DJ told The Beatles how The Liverbirds would be “the first all-girl group”, which McCartney apparently thought was “a great idea”.

Lennon, however, was less impressed. “Girls don’t play guitars,” he notoriously said.


“After we left the dressing room we huffed, ‘The cheek of it! We’re going to prove him wrong,’” Saunders said.

She wrote that years later the band learnt that Lennon came to regret his “disdainful” treatment of women in the early days of his career.

In a 1971 interview with underground newspaper Red Mole, alongside his partner Yoko Ono, Lennon said it would be impossible to have a revolution that didn’t also involve and liberate women.

“It’s so subtle the way you’re taught male superiority,” he said. “It took me quite a long time to realise that my maleness was cutting off certain areas for Yoko. She’s a red hot liberationist and was quick to show me where I was going wrong, even though it seemed to me that I was just acting naturally. That’s why I’m always interested to know how people who claim to be radical treat women."

The Beatles performing at the Cavern Club in 1961 (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
The Beatles performing at the Cavern Club in 1961 (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“It’s clear his feelings about women evolved, but we also wonder if what he said that day in the Cavern dressing room was meant to test us, provoke us into making a success of the band,” The Liverbirds said. “If so, it certainly worked.”

In the same piece, the duo said they wanted to know why Rolling Stones star Keith Richards had apparently referred to them as “real slags” in the 2012 memoir by Stanley Booth: The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones.

“We were young and innocent, anything but slags in those days,” McGlory wrote. “Our new singer, Irene, was trying to get off with Mick Jagger, but that was just flirtation.

“We realise that being in a 1960s all-girl band means that we have sometimes been written about as a gimmick. But to call a woman a slag is a huge insult.”

Keith Richards reportedly branded The Liverbirds as ‘real slags’ in a 2012 memoir (PA)
Keith Richards reportedly branded The Liverbirds as ‘real slags’ in a 2012 memoir (PA)

They continued: “Perhaps Richards was just being careless with his words, but if we ever meet him he will have some explaining to do — we’d ask: could you elaborate on the word ‘slag’? What does a slag mean in this context, please?”

The Independent has contacted Richards’ representative for comment.

Saunders and McGlory’s book The Liverbirds: Our Life in Britain’s First Female Rock’n’roll Band, is published by Faber on 14 March.