The Beatles — Before Beatlemania
Lets face it, love ’em or hate them, The Beatles made a difference. They paid their dues. They probably played more gigs than any other band before a hit record came along, enabling them to perfect their style and sound, becoming as tight as a ducks proverbial. Struggle was probably their middle name. Drive, self assurance and belief, they had in spades.
Noah Nelson’s ‘A Beatle Visited Small Town America’, is a fascinating story about the time George Harrison visited the mining community of Benton in Southern Illinois. This was six months before the Fab Four set foot in the States to play the Ed Sullivan Show, when Beatlemania finally arrived in America. His tale reminded me of a time when the group first visited my home town.
Reports in the local media stated 50 punters turned up for that gig in October 1962, at the long since demolished Majestic Ballroom, in a less than salubrious area half a mile east of the centre of Hull.
I got the inside story of what happened from someone who was there that night.
George, a retired ex-cop, whose garden I maintain, will, over a mug of tea, regale me about the times he saw The Beatles in Hull, and how he chatted with them. They even signed a page of his official police notebook, but he tore out that page containing their autographs and gave it to a neighbour’s kid who was Beatle mad. Well, we all were back then in 1962.
George told me he was working a foot beat that night in east Hull, and as he was into music, wondered who was on the bill. He was a friend of the Majestic’s manager, so he nipped inside the venue to have a ‘brew’ (cup of tea), a chat, and listen to some music. I asked him what happened and what these lads from Liverpool were really like.
“They were just ordinary likeable down to earth blokes. It was October when they played. There weren’t even 30 people in that night. George Harrison asked me why it was so dead. ‘Hull Fair,’ I told him. ‘The country’s largest travelling fair is in town for a week, so everybody will be there till midnight.’ One of them said, ‘Bugger that, we’re off.’ And they did, just packed up and left after finishing their first set.”
Within a few months, their records selling like hot cakes, The Beatles were back in Hull, playing the plusher city centre theatre, the ABC Regal Cinema, where fans queued all night for tickets. George said he was on crowd control, but the kids behaved themselves and there were no arrests, just chaos.
My folks wouldn’t let me go out that night, considering I was far too young. So I asked him what it was like.
“Fans had been queuing outside for hours before they opened the theatre doors. I remember my mate, Walt, on the police mounted section, reaching down from his horse among the tightly packed crowd, pulling out girls who had fainted, and handing them to me and the First Aiders to revive. It was bedlam.”
Our local paper once in a while has a feature section called ‘Flashback’, and recently it published photos in an article about that concert, held on Sunday 24 November 1963, inviting readers who attended it to comment. One female respondent answered:
“I was fifteen at the time. It was chaotic outside the ABC, and I remember police horses and huge crowds. The show was fabulous. They played about ten songs, but Twist and Shout was the best. When I went to school the next day I could hardly speak after all that screaming.”
When I asked George what he remembered of the show, and what The Beatles sounded like that night, he rolled his eyes.
“The first thing I remember on entering the theatre, was the overpowering stench of urine and cheap perfume. They were literally wetting their knickers in all the excitement. There were girls collapsing in the aisles being treated by First Aiders, and you could hardly hear which number was being played because of all the screaming. I managed to get backstage and that was better. I know they did their current releases, and I think “Twist and Shout”, which really got the girls worked up, was the last number.”
Was there any trouble, or arrests, afterwards?
“No. Never was at those concerts, even the Rolling Stones one I policed. They were all happy young kids enjoying the music. The biggest problem we faced was how to get the lads out of the venue in one piece.”
So how did they get out without all their clothes being ripped from their backs?
“Our Inspector came up with the idea, though it was a tactic used country wide. There were what seemed like thousands of screaming kids outside surrounding the entire theatre. He got the Coppers outside to pass the word around, that in a few minutes The Beatles would be leaving via the main entrance. It was like the battle of Bull Run seeing those kids charge their way from the rear Stage door to the front of the building. Then all four Beatles, disguised in our police uniform jackets and helmets, were escorted by the Inspector and our Sergeant to a waiting Black Mariah and were driven off round the corner to meet up with their transport.”
Note, that in this clip, John Lennon is asked what he thinks of British Prime Minister Edward ‘Ted’ Heath’s comment about the band’s strong northern accent. The reply is typically blunt, straight-talking Lennon. These guys didn’t take shit from anybody and Lennon clearly makes his point to camera regarding who he won’t be voting for in the forthcoming General Election.
You have to admire his prompt to all the celebrities and royalty in the boxes above to rattle their jewellery!
The Hull date The Beatles played was the 20th of their 1963 Autumn Tour, throughout which it is said they played a standard set of 10 songs: ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. ‘From Me To You’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Boys’, ‘Till There Was You’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and ‘Twist And Shout’.
I would love to have been there witnessing the time the Fab Four visited my home town, but have to satisfy myself seeing it through the eyes of a guy who was there. I did get to Liverpool and The Cavern one time, but that’s another story.
Here are some more of my stories featured in The Riff: