The Co-op on Walton Road, Liverpool 4 was a huge building that was a Mecca for shoppers for many years. The basement housed a furniture store and a chemist's shop. The ground floor was for groceries, clothing and soft furnishings, while the first floor was Co-op offices and the banking services.
The second floor was the famous Blair Hall that was used for dancing and social gatherings. The third floor was more of an attic or turret room and it was used by the telephone staff and served all of the offices in the building.
The Co-op was always a hive of activity when I went there as a child with my mother and sister in the Nineteen Fifties. Money was always scarce for people still suffering from the after effects of World War 11 so shopping at the Co-op made good sense. Not only were there bargains to be had, but there was also 'The Divvy!'
Shoppers were given a number (I can still remember ours!) and each purchase gained a 'dividend' that would be totted up over a period and eventually a voucher would be issued to buy more goods. This was the forerunner of the present day shop loyalty card. The store on the ground floor had assistants that would take the money and the 'Divvy Card.' A Heath Robinson cylinder type device would convey these items up to where the office staff overlooking the area would inspect them, and then return the marked card and any money that was due in change. As children we thought these devices were the height (no pun intended) of technology, as they soared up on wires to the waiting cashiers in the galleries above. We looked on open mouthed with our heads nodding in unison as the cylinders returned, jerking like ski-lifts back to where we were standing. As we left we stared back in wonder at this scientific miracle.
It was second only to going to The Grotto at Christmastime!

Blair Hall's entrance was at the side of the Co-op in Christopher Street. There were several flights of stairs to be climbed to gain admittance to the hall. This must have been good exercise for the many bands that played there in the early sixties. These included Gerry and The Pacemakers and The Beatles.
My own special memories of the venue came a while later though, as in the late Sixties I became a big fan of The Hillsiders. I thought then and I still do today that the lead singer of the band, Kenny Johnson, had the best voice of any British Country Music singer. The band played twice a week at the venue, on Sunday and Tuesday evenings. The other, also very talented members of the band were Joe Butler, Brian Hilton, Ronnie Bennett and Brian 'Noddy' Redman. My wife and I started a fan club for the band and we went to support them whenever we could in the North West.
The Hillsiders went to Nashville and made LPs with Bobby Bare and George Hamilton 1Vth. They worked with Bill Anderson, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn etc at the Wembley Festivals in London and they were the first British band ever to appear on The Grand Ol' Opry. They had their own BBC TV series too!
I remember sometimes at Blair Hall that I had to turn people away and only admit the fan club members, due to the fire regulations on safety.
Other local bands that appeared with The Hillsiders included Phil Brady and The Ranchers, The Stringdusters (later becoming Harvey),The Kentuckians, Western Union, Hank Walters and the Dusty Road Ramblers etc. I saw Kenny Johnson with a hand picked band of musicians at the Mathew Street Festival on the bill with Albert Lee and Hogan's Heroes. 'Still Country after all these years' as Paul Simon almost said!



By Briant Briant

This story was added on 21st May 2011

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