The Bea­tles’ beat down in Mar­cos’s Manila

As one-half of Asia’s great­est klep­toc­racy, Imelda Mar­cos is no­to­ri­ous for own­ing 3000 pairs of shoes. But she has a greater claim to fame: she changed rock mu­sic his­tory,

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - writes Alan Howe

It would be a mem­o­rable day, even for four young men by then liv­ing re­mark­able redlet­ter lives. Fifty years ago, on July 4, 1966, the Bea­tles were to play be­fore 100,000 fans in Manila dur­ing a light­ning stopover hur­riedly tacked on to a se­ries of Tokyo dates. Tokyo had been tense for the band; they re­ceived death threats for dar­ing to play the Nip­pon Bu­dokan cen­tre. To Ja­panese con­ser­va­tives a West­ern rock band play­ing at Bu­dokan was dis­re­spect­ful to the coun­try’s war dead, for whom ser­vices are con­ducted there.

The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment mo­bilised 30,000 men in uni­form to line the road from the air­port to the Bea­tles’ ho­tel — in­clud­ing sharp­shoot­ers on the over­passes — at which they were es­sen­tially im­pris­oned, al­beit with five stars.

The boys were glad to leave Tokyo to make their way to The Philippines, via a refuelling stop in Hong Kong.

The com­bined one-day au­di­ence for the Bea­tles in Manila would be their big­gest, and for many years the world record for any band.

The venue was the Rizal Me­mo­rial Foot­ball Sta­dium. Jose Rizal, a na­tional hero, paved the way for Philippines in­de­pen­dence and was ex­e­cuted by Span­ish colo­nial­ists.

By 1966 a much less no­ble man ran The Philippines. Fer­di­nand Mar­cos had be­come pres­i­dent six months ear­lier. He was al­ready a mur­derer and would evolve into a vi­cious dic­ta­tor, killing and jail­ing his en­e­mies and, with wife Imelda, would steal bil­lions and im­pov­er­ish his na­tion. Imelda, a former Miss Manila, had yet to se­cure her in­fa­mous rep­u­ta­tion but the Bea­tles were to get a taste of what Filipinos had com­ing.

The trou­ble started early. When the Bea­tles’ party ar­rived at Manila air­port, armed soldiers boarded the plane to re­move the mu­si­cians.

“As soon as we got there it was bad news,” Ge­orge Har­ri­son re­mem­bered to­wards the end of his life. “There were tough go­ril­las — lit­tle men — who had short-sleeved shirts and acted very men­ac­ingly.”

The band, but not Brian Ep­stein, nor oth­ers of their en­tourage, were taken to the Philippines Navy Head­quar­ters for a press con­fer­ence. The band mem­bers were con­cerned to be sep­a­rated from what they called their “diplo­matic” bags. This was per­sonal lug­gage in which they kept mar­i­juana.

The Bea­tles, for the first time in a for­eign land with­out the steady hand of Ep­stein and with no con­trol over events, were trans­ferred by launch, again by mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, to a lux­ury yacht in Manila Bay owned by Mar­cos as­so­ciate and in­dus­tri­al­ist Don Manolo El­izalde. His fam­ily con­trolled large me­dia as­sets among a vast port­fo­lio of busi­nesses. He had ar­ranged a party of Manila’s elite on his big boat and the Bea­tles were his prize tro­phies. It had even been ar­ranged for the boys to sleep on an­other boat an­chored nearby.

Mean­while, Ep­stein, who had cleared Cus­toms, was told of these ar­range­ments. He hit the phones to ar­range a launch to re­turn the band to shore, where he booked rooms in the Manila Ho­tel. By 4am the English en­tourage was re­united in the cap­i­tal. They were re­lieved to be to­gether again, but within hours things would take a se­ri­ous turn for the worse.

Lo­cal pro­moter Ra­mon Ramos had agreed to a re­quest from the Mala­canang Palace for the Bea­tles to at­tend an of­fi­cial func­tion there. Imedla Mar­cos wished to meet the most fa­mous young men on the planet and, in do­ing so, im­press gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and se­nior de­fence forces of­fi­cers. The plan was for a lunch at the palace with 200 chil­dren of Manila’s most in­flu­en­tial fam­i­lies.

Un­known to the band, it had al­ready been re­ported that they would at­tend. But when Ep­stein spot­ted it as a sug­ges­tion on the itin­er­ary he had scratched it. Ramos chose not to tell the palace.

The brief af­ter­noon con­cert went with­out a hitch, the 10 songs tak­ing fewer than 30 min­utes. But, rest­ing back at the Manila Ho­tel be­fore the later show, the Bea­tles watched in dis­be­lief as the evening news re­ported they had snubbed the Mar­coses and the chil­dren who had waited three hours for the Bea­tles. “The chil­dren have all the time in the world, but we are busy peo­ple,” Imelda told a reporter as the band’s place cards were re­moved.

Alarmed at the in­ad­ver­tent slight, Ep­stein pre­pared a state­ment he read out on air but, at the point he be­gan to talk a strate­gic burst of static ren­dered him in­audi­ble. Be­fore the band left the ho­tel for the se­cond show, a well-or­gan­ised hate cam­paign was un­der way, start­ing with the Manila Ho­tel and Bri­tish em­bassy re­ceiv­ing bomb threats.

The show went ahead and its thrilled young au­di­ence of up to 70,000 fans seemed obliv­i­ous to de­vel­op­ments else­where. But af­ter the show the band found their po­lice es­cort had with­drawn and the sta­dium gates had been locked. While they tried to ne­go­ti­ate their way out dozens of men sur­rounded their cars, press­ing their faces against the win­dows, bang­ing on the ve­hi­cles and rock­ing them.

Beatle­ma­nia was a youth phe­nom­e­non. T These were adults and or­gan­ised.

At the ho­tel the stars were told to lock their doors. A min­der was taken to po­lice head­quar­ters and ques­tioned for hours about why the Bea­tles had em­bar­rassed the first fam­ily.

In the morning no limos ar­rived to take the Bea­tles to the air­port. They hur­riedly grabbed cabs. Once there, so-called tax in­spec­tors de­manded Ep­stein pay tax on the pre­vi­ous day’s tak­ings, a con­tracted obli­ga­tion of the lo­cal pro­moter. Ep­stein paid any­way.

The air­port’s escalators were turned off and the band strug­gled with their suit­cases and equip­ment to get to the de­par­ture lounge, where thugs set upon them, even fir­ing guns into the ceil­ing. Ep­stein and the band’s road man­ager, Mal Evans, were badly bashed. Chauf­feur Alf Bick­nall suf­fered a frac­tured rib and dam­aged spine.

A tri­umphant Manila Times re­ported that “drum­mer Ringo Starr was floored by an up­per­cut. As he crawled away the mob kicked him. Ge­orge Har­ri­son and John Len­non re­ceived kicks and blows as they ran to the cus­toms zone.”

All four Bea­tles vowed never to re­turn to The Philippines. None ever has.

The youngest of them, Har­ri­son, who had just turned 23 and was re­cently mar­ried, was deeply shaken. He de­clared he would never tour again and quickly brought Starr and John Len­non on board. Paul McCart­ney, though, wanted to con­tinue and talked them in to com­plet­ing the fi­nal dates of the fol­low­ing month’s US tour. His­tory records that the Bea­tles’ last tick­eted con­cert took place at San Fran­cisco’s Can­dle­stick Park on Au­gust 29 that year, af­ter which Har­ri­son sat back in his first-class seat and de­clared: “That’s it, then. I’m no longer a Bea­tle.”

Imelda, who turns 87 on July 2 and still has a seat in the Philippines House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, has, on oc­ca­sion, im­plau­si­bly de­nied in­volve­ment in this thriller in Manila. But there’s lit­tle doubt the Mar­coses ended the touring life of the world’s most pop­u­lar band. Yet in do­ing so they un­leashed an un­fore­seen revo­lu­tion.

With no tours, and three of them mar­ried, it was a very dif­fer­ent band that ap­proached the next Bea­tles’ al­bum. Their first had been recorded in 12 hours at Lon­don’s Abbey Road stu­dios on Fe­bru­ary 11, 1963, cost­ing just £400. This one, their eighth, would take a leisurely hal­fyear — and change the course of 20th-cen­tury mu­sic.

The Bea­tles gath­ered at Abbey Road at 7pm on Novem­ber 24, 1966, and be­gan to record what McCart­ney would de­scribe as “a col­lec­tion of north­ern songs”. That was the name of their pub­lish­ing com­pany; these songs would cel­e­brate themes of north­ern English life.

Know­ing they would never be re­quired to recre­ate any of the mu­sic live on stage, an un­prece­dented long and com­plex jour­ney us­ing the stu­dio as an in­stru­ment be­gan with work on a Len­non song about a Liver­pool Sal­va­tion Army home for chil­dren. The first take of Straw­berry Fields For­ever was fin­ished by 2.30am. In­spired by sim­i­lar boy­hood mem­o­ries, McCart­ney re­turned days later with his new song — Penny Lane.

A Bea­tles’ con­cept al­bum was un­der way, although EMI soon ru­ined the idea by forc­ing the band to is­sue those two songs as a pot­boiler sin­gle, of­ten rated the best of the rock era. It was the last time the band yielded to any­one.

Seven months later, af­ter 700 stu­dio hours, Sgt Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band turned up on June 1, 1967. Its breadth of vi­sion — a fab­u­lous mar­riage of rock, mu­sic hall, In­dian and folk mu­sic — was a shock. The dis­tant rum­ble was ground be­ing bro­ken: the al­bum era had ar­rived. Bands would con­trol their mu­sic and their des­tiny. Sgt Pep­per’s ex­trav­a­gantly il­lus­trated gate­fold cover — with the lyrics on the back — was a first. There were no gaps be­tween songs. There would be no sin­gles from it, which was un­heard of. Ob­vi­ously there would be no tour to pro­mote it.

The fi­nal song on Sgt Pep­per runs al­most six min­utes and its last dis­so­nant chord fea­tures four vi­o­lins, two vi­o­las, two cel­los, two clar­inets, one dou­ble bass and three pi­anos. Fifty sec­onds later rock’s most in­flu­en­tial al­bum — Imelda Mar­cos’s great­est achieve­ment — is over.

The Bea­tles at the height of their fame, left; Imelda Mar­cos, top; a ticket to the Bea­tles show in Manila in 1966, above

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.