Glean­ings

Evergreen - - Contents - Greg Morse

When The Bea­tles were “re­mas­tered” a few years ago, many — like me — took the op­por­tu­nity to buy the fa­mous al­bums again. Fans de­lighted in the fresh­ness of their favourite songs. Crit­ics wrote of in­creased clar­ity and newly revealed sounds. One thing that hadn’t changed, though, was the sur­prise you still get when you lis­ten to the record­ings back- to- back, and re­alise how

many dif­fer­ent bands they ac­tu­ally be­came.

It took just four years to reach the lush, pastoral tones of “Straw­berry Fields” from the nasal hum of “Love Me Do”. Four years, and yet it was prac­ti­cally a whole di­men­sion away.

There was a world out there to be con­quered, and con­quer it they would, but back in Jan­uary 1962 they had only played in the south of Eng­land once — on 9th De­cem­ber 1961 when they took part in one of Sam Leach’s Big Beat Ses­sions at the Palais Ball­room, Alder­shot. Billed as a “bat­tle of the bands” be­tween the boys and Ivor Jay and the Jay­walk­ers, a ma­jor pub­lic­ity blun­der re­sulted in only 18 peo­ple turn­ing up.

Un­de­terred, man­ager Brian Ep­stein started to ex­tend the band’s reach by book­ing venues fur­ther out of Liver­pool, in places like North­wich and Rhyl. He also be­gan deal­ing with the London- based Cana Va­ri­ety Agency.

Jack Fal­lon, who owned Cana ( and who ended up play­ing fid­dle on “Don’t Pass Me By” in 1968), also ran Jay­bee Clubs, which pro­moted dances pre­dom­i­nantly in the west of Eng­land. With con­tracts signed and hands shaken, The Bea­tles’ first gig for Jay­bee was at the Sub­scrip­tion Rooms, Stroud, on 31st March 1962. The sec­ond, on 17th July, was at McIl­roy’s Ball­room, Swin­don.

This came near the end of a run of 61 live en­gage­ments and a look at the shows be­fore and after gives a good idea of just how busy the boys were. On the 16th they played a lunchtime ses­sion at the Cav­ern, fol­lowed by an evening con­cert at the Plaza, St. He­lens. They then came all the way down to Swin­don, only to go vir­tu­ally straight back to Liver­pool for an­other lunchtime book­ing at the Cav­ern the next day — where they also played that night. Now that was hard work — for the band and their van!

McIl­roy’s, or “Mac’s” as it was known, was within a plush depart­ment store. What was a restau­rant by day was con­verted for evening use by mov­ing the ta­bles to the carpet around the cen­tral

par­quet dance floor. Drinks were sold from an oak, ho­tel- like bar, while a ro­tat­ing glit­ter ball cast its thrilling beams of light onto the as­sem­bled throng. The stage, though com­modi­ous, was only a foot or so above floor level. As well as many lo­cal groups, the likes of Joe Brown, Shane Fen­ton ( aka Alvin Star­dust) and Gene Vin­cent all ex­pe­ri­enced its dizzy­ing lack of height.

Thurs­day nights at Mac’s were all about jazz and many top acts like Kenny Ball, Humphrey Lyt­tel­ton and Acker Bilk ap­peared there. Tues­days, on the other hand, were re­served for “beat groups”. But while the band may have been billed as “The Most Popular Group in the North”, most lo­cal young­sters treated The Bea­tles’ gig as “just an­other Tuesday”. That said, 360 peo­ple are be­lieved to have turned up — which was cer­tainly an im­prove­ment on their Alder­shot gig!

Imag­ine your­self, then, in win­klepick­ers, drain­pipes or your best chif­fon, as loud guitars ring and the drums thump a beat that would be­come so fa­mil­iar to so many. You’ve just got a shot of R. White’s from the bar and you’re up for a shot of rhythm and blues.

The MC for that night, Don Hedges, re­calls that the boys had no stage clothes: “They just got out of an old banger of a van and played as they were.”

Sadly, other de­tails are sketchy, though we do know the band played two 60- minute ses­sions be­tween 8 and 11, tak­ing the first and last hours while back­ground mu­sic played dur­ing an ex­tended in­ter­val from 9 till 10. For this they were paid the princely sum of £ 27.10s.

Chuck Berry num­bers prob­a­bly fea­tured heav­ily, though the band’s quest for orig­i­nal­ity means the au­di­ence would also have been treated to a range of ob­scure tracks from records sup­plied by mer­chant sea­men ( known as “Cu­nard Yanks” on Merseyside). This would have in­tro­duced them to songs like Bobby Free­man’s “Shimmy Shimmy” or Lit­tle Wil­lie John’s “Leave My Kit­ten Alone”, which they would record in 1964 ( but which wouldn’t be re­leased for over 30 years).

Of course, there’s also the in­trigu­ing pos­si­bil­ity that the boys might have tried out some of their own ma­te­rial, like “One After 909” or “Hello Lit­tle Girl”, both of which had been writ­ten by this time. John Len­non once com­mented that much of their best work was done dur­ing this “pre- the­atre” pe­riod, so the au­di­ence would have been treated to a show packed with en­ergy and ex­cite­ment, what­ever was played.

Clearly, the Swin­don gig came at a very in­ter­est­ing time in The Bea­tles’ ca­reer. It was, after all, one of Pete Best’s fi­nal con­certs with the band and, though they’d signed a con­tract with EMI and had recorded ses­sions for BBC Ra­dio, the big time was still just out of reach. The months ahead would see them edge closer with yet more live dates and the re­lease of their first sin­gle, “Love Me Do”, on 5th Oc­to­ber, its climb to num­ber 17 in the hit pa­rade doubt­less aided by a live ap­pear­ance on Granada Tele­vi­sion’s Peo­ple and Places. Three more tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances came in De­cem­ber, along with a run at the Star Club in Ham­burg. Then came 1963, the year it all went mad...

The Bea­tles never re­turned to North Wilt­shire, but many other bands — like The Who and The Yard­birds — did play at Mac’s be­fore it closed when the whole build­ing was mod­ernised in the late 1960s. The depart­ment store sur­vived un­til 1998, when the land was sold for de­vel­op­ment. The site is now oc­cu­pied by a sports shop, but it will al­ways have a tiny place in rock his­tory.

The Bea­tles with Pete Best on drums. He left the group shortly after the Swin­don gig.

Dur­ing the day a depart­ment store, in the evening McIl­roy’s be­came a popular en­ter­tain­ment venue.

The line- up that the world came to know, with Ringo Starr join­ing from Rory Storm and the Hur­ri­canes.

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