Billy Hatton, who has died aged 76, was the bass player and harmony singer with the Fourmost, the Liverpool beat group signed in 1963 with the Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s NEMS company.
Their first hits, Hello Little Girl and I’m In Love, released later that year, were produced by George Martin and written by John and Paul. Hatton’s relationship with John was strained, however, as he had stopped the Beatle from beating up the Cavern Club’s DJ Bob Wooler at Paul ’s 21st birthday party. “Lennon deserved a smack, no doubt about that,” Hatton said, “but someone shouted out: ‘Billy, if you hit him, your career will be over!’”
The Fourmost made the Top 10 in April 1964 with the up-tempo A Little Loving, then had a record-breaking run, from June to December that year, in the Startime revue at the London Palladium with Tommy Cooper, Cilla Black and Frankie Vaughan, and appeared in the film Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965). Three further singles made the Top 40, and their versatility was showcased on the album First and Fourmost (1965). The group’s promotion of their cover of the Four Tops’ Baby I Need Your Loving on Ready Steady Go! was helped when an enthusiastic fan made a grab at Hatton on live TV.
Son of Harry, a fireman, and Alice, Hatton was born in a terraced house in the Dingle area of Liverpool. In kindergarten, his playmates were Ronnie Wycherley (later Billy Fury) and Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr). During his teens, Hatton and Wycherley played guitars together and he encouraged Wycherley to write songs and to perform. “He was a sexy sod, wasn’t he?” recalled Hatton, “He would walk into a party and all the girls would turn into blobs of oil. I was lucky to be with him.”
Hatton himself sang and played the guitar in a country band and then with the Four Jays. In 1962 they were Epstein’s second choice to sign, after the Beatles, but there were problems. Their lead singer and guitarist, Brian O’Hara, was studying accountancy; the rhythm guitarist, Mike Millward, worked for a solicitor; the drummer, Dave Lovelady, had his sights on being an architect; and Hatton was serving an apprenticeship with the Atomic Energy Authority in Cheshire. They were regarded as the brainiest group on Merseyside and they did not want to throw away their prospects for the slim chance of a hit record. For the time being, they remained on Merseyside and played in their spare time. “We never wanted to just stand there and sing,” said Hatton, and they developed a fast-moving act which included comedy routines and a lengthy version of September in the Rain, packed with impersonations. The Beatles had them as special guests for their fan club night at the Cavern in April 1962.
Once the NEMS artists were having hit records, Epstein approached the Four Jays again. By then, both O’Hara and Hatton had passed their examinations and they turned fully professional as musicians, securing a record contract with Parlophone. Wooler suggested a name change to the Fourmost.
For all their early success, Hatton lacked confidence and in his private life he never wanted responsibility. He recognised this as a flaw and said he regretted not marrying his onetime girlfriend, Nicky Stevens, singer with the pop group Brotherhood of Man.In later years Hatton mostly worked as a security officer on Merseyside but he often played with Dave Lovelady and Joey Bower as Clouds and later the Original Fourmost. In 2008, they lost a court case to a tribute band calling themselves the Fourmost. “We made those records, we established the name,” Hatton railed. “Doesn’t that count for anything?”
He was a popular figure in Liverpool, especially in the Roscoe Head, the pub he called his office. His final television appearance was with the Hairy Bikers in their Liverpool episode of The Pubs That Built Britain (2016). “I’ve had a good life,” Hatton told me. “I never thought I would even get on TV with my spikey nose.” He is survived by his sister, Ada.
• William Henry Hatton, guitarist and singer, born 9 June 1941; died 19 September 2017