Today is a day of celebration for Beatles fans across the world as Sir James Paul McCartney turns 80.
I’ll hazard a guess that you won’t be able to turn on a TV or a radio today without catching at least a snippet of some form of Macca mania, and I for one have been looking forward to toasting my favourite Beatle on his birthday and throwing my own little tribute to the man into the mix. Happy Birthday to you, Sir Macca!
Full disclosure, I say that Paul is my favourite Beatle but he actually ties with John for me really, I’ve never been able to choose between them. I just like to say that Paul is my favourite as I feel that even now, in 2022, that Paul still needs defending from his detractors. He’s just never quite hip enough, is he? Well, we can’t be having that on his birthday!
I won’t dwell on the folk who’ve recently been bemoaning that his voice doesn’t sound as good as it did 20 years ago, (so what?), and I won’t give time to the guys that still can’t forgive him for The Frog Chorus, (grow up), this is a positive piece. It’s personal. And I think that’s how it should be, at least for me anyway.
There aren’t any superlatives that I can say about Paul McCartney that you can’t already find in countless books, podcasts, magazine articles and documentaries about the man and his former band. It’s all been said by now.
I can however direct you to his flawless bass playing on songs like Something and With a Little Help from My Friends, or to his ferocious guitar solo on Taxman or even to his gorgeous wordless chorus on solo wonder Every Night, taken from his fantastic, yet rather under appreciated self titled debut album from 1970.
I can also share my side of the story, or at least my family’s side of the story, and that’s what I’m going to do today.
I’m going to change tact quite slightly here, but indulge me if you will. This post is going to be more a celebration of The Beatles in general rather than an overview of the birthday boy. But if I can’t shout about my love for The Beatles on a day like today then when can I? Well, I guess I already do shout about it quite often to be fair, but I’m still going to take advantage of the day.
The Beatles are universal. They’re loved by millions and adored en masse, yet this love can be highly personal. We all have our own associations. So, what do The Beatles mean to you?
For me, The Beatles have always been there. They’ve been an ever present comfort and source of happiness. And what I’ve come to realise is that The Beatles have also helped me to forge one of my strongest ever relationships. Because my first and foremost Beatles bond was with the person who not only brought The Beatles into my life, she also brought me to life too. Thanks, Mum!
My Mum and I’s shared love of The Beatles is arguably one of our biggest connections, not forgetting our shared genes and family of course.
Whilst my brothers were busy being sporty, I’d be listening to ‘oldies’ on the radio and chatting pop music with my Mum.
One of my earliest Beatle memories (and earliest memories all together, I think) is asking my Mum on the drive to primary school one time how you can possibly love someone for 8 days a week when there are only 7 days?! Another time, also in the car, (and albeit a little while later), my Mum piped up during Paul’s section in A Day in the Life and told me that “you know he’s singing about marijuana?” I’d never heard one of my parents talk about drugs before. I certainly didn’t realise people sang songs about them either! After that, songs like I Am the Walrus started making a little more sense.
I got the idea of formally asking my Mum about The Beatles after I bought her her a copy of the book ‘I Was There’, which is a collection of first hand accounts of Beatles fans who saw them in concert.
Back in the day the age old question was “what did you do during the war?” Well, I think today’s question should be a little more fun: “what did you do during Beatlemania?”
I never got around to asking my Grandad about what he did during the war, perhaps he wouldn’t have even wanted to talk to me about it. But I know someone who’ll happily talk to me about The Beatles. I’m just kicking myself that I’ve never asked the right questions before.
I know that my Mum saw The Beatles live 3 (three!) times and I’ve always been impressed by that. I’ve just never pressed her on it. Not until now that is.
In honour of Paul’s birthday I’m interviewing my Mum about her experiences growing up as a teen through Beatlemania. My Mum first saw The Beatles on June 16th 1963, 2 days before Paul turned 21. That was 59 years ago this week. Today the man turns 80, in a week’s time he headlines Glastonbury!
This interview is going to be broken up into two parts. The first part providing a little background and the second part exploring the Beatles shows that my Mum was luckily enough to see. It’s highly personal but I hope that it still makes for a pleasant read and I also hope that it gets you talking to your own loved ones about the concerts they saw and they records that they listened to as teens. You never know, they may well have even seen The Beatles!
Part One: Discovering the Beatles
A Q&A with my Mum to find out how The Beatles entered her life at the very start of Beatlemania.
Hi, Mum and thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Can you tell me what’s your earliest memory of The Beatles and how old would you have been?
Everyone will answer these questions differently as I think it depends on how old you were at the time Beatlemania started. At the time of Love Me Do I had just turned 14 and was at school, but they really came to my notice when Please Please Me came out. After that, everyone in school and the UK was hooked.
Pop groups at that time were interviewed on the radio, the Light Programme probably (Easy Beat and Saturday Club?). There were very few stations to choose from at that time so everyone knew when they were going to be on and would listen in, these were daytime programmes.
The Beatles featured on the radio a lot but I don’t remember too many television appearances other than Beatlemania being constantly reported on the news. Of course the big one that everyone remembers is November 1963 when they appeared on the Royal Command Performance, (as it was called then) at the London Palladium.
(Fact check: it was The Prince of Wales, London.
Hit the link below to watch the full Royal Command performance, including John’s infamous “rattle your jewellery” quip.
Beatles memories continued…
I can’t remember when this happened, possibly early in 1963 when I was 14. The Beatles were going to be on TV very late, (I can’t remember the name of the programme) at either ten or eleven o’clock at night on a school day. My parents let me stay up to watch them but my friend’s mother said she had to go to bed first and that she would wake her up when they came on. The mother reneged and didn’t wake her, and my friend was so upset the next day that she’s missed seeing The Beatles but all of her friends had got stay up. No way then of recording a programme and watching it another time.
We watched Magical Mystery Tour as a family as well on Boxing Day 1967 on the BBC. We didn’t have colour TV so saw it in black and white.
Can you remember Nan and Grandad’s initial reaction to The Beatles? Did their opinion change at all over time?
Your Nan loved the whole thing and was pleased that the youngsters were enjoying being young. Your Grandad however – he thought the words to A Hard Day’s Night were disgusting filth!
We were on holiday when the film A Hard Day’s Night was released in the summer of 1964 and my Mum took me to a seaside cinema to watch it, just the two of us.
(Pic of my Mum on holiday in Herne Bay, summer 1964: “Who knows, that may have been the day I went to see a Hard Day’s Night?”)
Was there much music being played at home up to that point? If so, what music would you have been hearing in the house before The Beatles came along?
Heard whatever was being played on the radio, was all called ‘popular music’.
What radio stations/shows/DJ’s did you enjoy/listen to?
There wasn’t too much choice, it was the Light Programme or the Home Service and other BBC stations. In 1962 I had a pocket transistor radio and used to listen to Radio Luxembourg under the bed covers instead of going to sleep. Your Nan would come in and say “turn that off!”. At that time, Radio Luxembourg was the best thing for youngsters to listen to. I don’t think it broadcast during the day, only at night. The signal wasn’t very good either. I’d listen to Radio Luxembourg in my bedroom and I’d listen in the dining room for ordinary programmes. I can’t remember any DJ names until the pirate radios burst onto the scene, they were fantastic. The BBC didn’t like the competition and started up Radio 1 in October 1967 and the government outlawed the pirate radio ships.
Did you have your own personal radio/ record player in the house or was there only one family record player? Do you remember what kind of record player it was?
We shared the family radiogram. We had a McMichael stereogram which was a big, good looking piece of furniture, on four spindly legs, very nice. Radio one end, and sliding doors to the record player the other, with room for storing records too. It wasn’t one with a lift up top. Your Dad used a Dansette record player that belonged to your Auntie Eileen.
When did you first get your very own record player?
I never got my own, your Dad and I bought a stereo system when we moved into our first house in Corringham in 1972, so I was 23 before I had my own. But we had lots of singles and LPs from our teenage years to play.
What was the first Beatles record you ever bought? Do you remember where you bought it and how much you paid for it?
Probably Please Please Me and I would have bought it in a record shop that was on the Heathway in Dagenham. At one time they cost six shillings and eight old pence so I guess that’s how much it was.
(My Mum’s copy of Please Please Me. Note that she’s written the title of the track and the month she bought it on the white panel on the sleeve. Please Please Me is also fairly unique in that it’s one of only two Beatles singles to bare the songwriting credit McCartney-Lennon.)
How did you pay for your Beatles singles and albums at that time?
Pocket money, birthday and Christmas presents.
I can’t believe I’ve never asked you this before but what was/ is your favourite Beatles album?
Have never considered a favourite but perhaps I would choose Rubber Soul.
Rubber Soul has always been one of my favourites too, probably because a lot of it was included on the Red compilation album and that’s what I would’ve listened to first. What are your favourite songs from Rubber Soul?
In My Life is my favourite, but I like all the other songs too.
What can you remember about The Beatles and school? What were the kids talking about in the playground and did the teachers ever talk about them?
One teacher said during assembly “don’t think we don’t know about The Beatles, we like them too you know?”. Looking back she was probably only about 25 herself!
In 1963 the only playground talk was about all of the groups, not just those from Liverpool.
I know George is your favourite Beatle but has that always been the case? What was it about George?
Perhaps because George was the youngest, he was always my favourite, and to this day I have never wavered. John always seemed to caustic to me and not very nice, poor Ringo wasn’t handsome and Paul just wasn’t my type.
(NB: I always knew my Mum never fancied Ringo as his portrait is the only surviving insert from my Mum’s original copy of the White Album. This means that the pictures of all the other Beatles must have been displayed at some point yet Ringo’s mugshot was left alone in the record sleeve for me to find 30 odd years later.
I once mentioned this to the owner of my local record shop and he said that it’s a pretty common phenomenon. He said you’re more likely to find a Ringo in a second hand copy of the White Album than any of the other fabs. Who knew that Beatles fans could be so superficial? Don’t pass him by, ladies.)
Anyway, that was some background context, let’s get onto the shows!
Part 2: You saw them standing there!
My Mum’s memories of the three times she saw The Beatles live in concert.
(An Alamy copyrighted picture of The Beatles performing live in 1963. I can’t be 100% sure but I believe that this photo may have been taken on the night that my Mum first saw The Beatles if the Alamy blurb is correct.)
The First Time: 16/06/63
The first time I saw The Beatles was on the 16th June 1963 at the Romford Odeon. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday and my best friend Jennifer and I went on the bus to the 6pm show. There were two performances and the second show was at 8:30pm. We went to the first one.
We had good seats, to the side a little but only about 6 rows back. We may have paid about 10 shillings and sixpence for them. The other performers were Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas. None of them were on for very long, and the Beatles were on for about 20 minutes or so.
I read that that line up was considered as being “something of a coup for pop fans” at that time as The Beatles, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and Gerry and the Pacemakers occupied the top three places in the singles chart that week. It must have been exciting. Was the Romford show the first concert you ever went to?
Yes it was. Famous musicians appearing in cinemas was very new and I wouldn’t have been old enough for concerts before The Beatles anyway.
(The concert bill for the night in question)
(The tour programme)
(A ticket stub from that early show. My Mum wanted to point out that her seat was closer than this one!)
I was unable to confirm a set list for this show, however I found this one from a week earlier and I’m pretty certain that they would have played the same set every night of the tour at that time.
Note the early inclusion of Do You Want to Know a Secret. If this set is accurate then it means that the first original Beatles song that my Mum would have seen live would have been sung by George! Quite fitting really.
The Second Time: 09/11/63
The second time I saw them was on the 9th November 1963 at the East Ham Granada. Again I went with my friend Jennifer and again we had good seats near to the front. There was a lot more hysteria this time and the screaming was deafening. I didn’t know it at the time but Alun Owen the screenwriter was in the audience that night. He was shadowing The Beatles in order to write a film about them, and of course the screenplay he ended up writing became A Hard Day’s Night.
(Tour Programme for the November 1963 show)
(Used ticket stubs for the 9th November 1963 performances.)
(This is the setlist for the second time that my Mum saw The Beatles in concert and I can understand why the hysteria had increased. I bet every song here was sensational. If only I had a time machine.)
The Third Time: Christmas 1964
The last time I saw The Beatles was at the Hammersmith Odeon, London. I don’t know the exact date as they were playing several shows on the run up to Christmas and over the New Year, so I may have gone just after Christmas. I went with two girls from secretarial college but I can’t remember their names. Our seats were in the circle this time but we still had a good view, and the screaming was more intense than ever before. I can remember feeling deaf on the way home on the train. Hammersmith was a long way to go from Dagenham on a winter’s night for three young girls on their own who had only just turned 16.
Jimmy Savile was the compère, I’m sorry to say, and also appearing were Freddie and the Dreamers and The Yardbirds. So, I must have seen Eric Clapton before he became so famous. Apparently it was during those shows that George and Eric began their friendship.
(Official Tour programme for The Beatles Christmas shows 1964).
(Another amazing set of songs that my Mum was lucky enough to see live.)
(A selection of tickets from The Beatles’ Hammersmith Christmas residency)
Who would have bought your tickets for these shows and where did you get the tickets from? Were they hard to get? I’m guessing they were all sold out?
Of course they all sold out in minutes. Your Uncle John (my Mum’s twin brother) queued up for the Romford tickets as your Nan wouldn’t let me go and get them.
Good on Uncle John for getting you a ticket. Did he get one for himself?
No, he didn’t go, there weren’t many boys interested, but I think he enjoyed being in the queue with all the girls!
I think I got the latter two lots of tickets via the post. You could send a letter to the cinema enclosing the money, probably postal orders, and the tickets would be sent to you.
The only time I queued for Beatles tickets was in 1965. I was at work by then and my friend Janice and I went to Hammersmith on the train on a Sunday morning to buy Beatles tickets for December, but the queue was already very long when we got there. A policeman came along the line and said that we might as well go home as there no way we’re going to get a ticket. I remember my Mum being sad that I arrived home without a ticket.
Can you remember how you got to each show and how you were feeling on the way?
We took the bus to Romford and the Tube to East Ham and Hammersmith. I was smiling all the way and of course, was very excited.
Do you remember any other people you saw at any of the venues?
I remember the Romford show the most, I suppose because it was a lovely sunny afternoon and being only 14 I had nothing else to think about but The Beatles.
There were mainly happy excited crowds of girls, although there were some teenage boys there too. Everyone was so happy, even the bus conductor was pleased to be part of transporting fans on his bus to the Odeon. There were huge crowds outside the cinema after the early show and my friend and I joined in with hanging around.
Paul McCartney was turning 21 a couple of days later and outside the stage door there was a girl who had made a huge silver key out of cardboard and was trying her best to be allowed to present it to him personally. I don’t know if she got in. Once the next show started at 8:30pm we went home.
The East Ham and Hammersmith shows were both winter evenings and probably raining, so I don’t remember too much about getting there and back.
I’ve seen pictures that were supposedly taken outside East Ham Granada on the 9th November 1963 and there’s a large police presence holding back a surging crowd of kids. Did you see any police at the show?
No, no police, and that isn’t the road that the East Ham Granada is in.
Do you remember how you were feeling the first time you saw The Beatles in the flesh? Be honest, did you scream?
The run up to the June concert in 1963 was electric at school. Lots of girls in my class had tickets and every morning in assembly during the week before we would be saying “only four more days to go, only three more days to go etc.”
I didn’t scream, and nor did Jennifer, because we wanted to concentrate on seeing and looking at our idols, not holding our heads in our hands and screaming. All I wanted to do was look at them. No, not them, at George! Jennifer was a Paul fan.
We knew what The Beatles were playing so we must have been able to hear them.
(Screaming girls at the East Ham Granada 1963)
What songs, if any, any can you remember them playing?
I can only truly remember Twist and Shout which I think they finished with. Even though there was a lot of noise I could hear that John sounded just like the record. They may have opened with I Saw Her Standing There, and I can only guess that they played Please Please Me/ Love Me Do/ She Loves You but I can’t be sure.
(NB: I’ve since found out some of the set lists from these shows and I can confirm that my Mum saw all of those songs live.
Did anything change for you after seeing The Beatles?
For me at the age of 14, it was the beginning of my teenage years and the change wasn’t anything to do with The Beatles, it was just growing up.
What other acts from that era did you see in concert?
Cliff Richard was still big, Dusty Springfield, The Shadows, The Searchers. I saw The Rolling Stones (with Brian Jones) at the Romford Odeon in 1964. In later years I saw Cilla Black, Tom Jones, The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Gene Pitney, The Everly Brothers, Diana Ross, Neil Sedaka and so many others I can’t recall now.
That’s an astonishingly impressive list of acts you can proudly say you’ve seen live. Out of all of those legendary artists who would you say put on the best show?
The Beach Boys!
Yeah, I can very well believe that.
Thanks for reading, everyone. That was my Macca/Beatles inspired project for the day. I’ve been meaning to write something like this for a long time.
Huge thanks to my Mum for being my first ever interviewee. She’s answered some questions there that I should’ve asked her years ago, she absolutely smashed it!
It’s Father’s Day tomorrow too so I should also thank my Dad for taking me to Liverpool at the tail end of Britpop, whereupon we embarked on our very own Magical Mystery Tour.
I came home from that trip with The Beatles Anthologies on vinyl and that started my real deep dive into The Beatles songbook.
I said at the start that my biggest Beatle bond is with my Mum but both of my parents have fuelled my love for The Beatles, and I’m forever grateful for all the Beatles books, films and records that they’ve very kindly lavished on me over the years.
The most treasured records in my collection are the original Beatles LPs that my Mum would have played as a teenager. I listened to those same records as a teen myself and I still play them regularly to this day. Some of these records are even being enjoyed by my own kids nowadays. It makes me unbelievably happy knowing that one day the family Beatles albums will belong to them too.
Take care everyone, and congratulations once again to Sir Paul McCartney. They say it’s his birthday.