The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour of Ipswich
By Anna Louise Dobbie
The Fab Four play an important part in Suffolk's musical heritage, having performed not one date, but two during the height of Beatlemania at the Ipswich Gaumont (now The Regent). Everyone who witnessed their visits has their own story to tell.
The Beatles being interviewed by Anglia Television
Originally billed as tour support for Roy Orbison for their first Ipswich appearance on 22 May 1963, the band's popularity snowballed and popular demand meant they arrived in Ipswich as headliners.
With a short set including Love Me Do and Twist and Shout, and support from Gerry and the Pacemakers amongst others, their first Ipswich gig came whilst their popularity world-wide was on a steep upward trajectory.
The group returned on 31 October 1964 as out-and-out headliners with a set including A Hard Day's Night and Long Tall Sally. They played at 6pm and again at 8.45pm, and were paid £850.
The Beatles' visits had a lasting impact on fans, theatre staff and the local media, some of whom believed them to be a 'passing craze'. Here are some of their memories.
The Beatles' 'temporary PR man'
David Lowe was the manager of the Gaumont for both visits: "When The Beatles came the first time, I wouldn't say they were unknown but they weren't known that well.
"They were still playing some good music and they were coming up to their big moment. For 17 months, they travelled around the country staying in different digs, then they went to the States where they erupted - the Americans had never seen anything like it.
"By their second visit, they'd polished up their act and sung their numbers so many times, but they didn't forget that it was the songs that made them famous.
"They named themselves The Beatles because they were fans of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, who also performed at the Gaumont.
"In the summer of 1964, I received a call from the secretary of a promoter. I said 'Why are you phoning me? It must be really something.' and she said 'It is.' I said 'You don't mean The Beatles?' and she said 'I mean The Beatles!'
"The first thing I did was ring up the chief constable of the Ipswich Police Force. I said 'The Beatles are coming' and he said 'heaven help us.'
"We then had to plan a military style operation, not for the coming of The Beatles but for selling the tickets. I was faced with the situation of fairly distributing tickets when so many people wanted them and I decided the only thing to do was first come first served.
"We put the tickets on sale one Sunday morning and we had policemen on duty all through Saturday night making sure the queues remained in the queues. I had a fitful sleep, thinking 'Why do I bring all these things on me? Why don't I have an easy life?'
"I went down to the theatre at 5 o'clock in the morning and walked along the queues, and when I got to the front a chap had just put his radio on, playing A Hard Day's Night. I thought 'yes, it's a hard day's night for people sleeping on the pavement'.
"After that, I thought things went quite well until we came to the actual day in October when we held the concert. I was waiting for The Beatles to come with their manager outside with a gentleman from the press and they were very late - half an hour went by and still no Beatles.
"He said 'do you know what I think, Mr Lowe? I think they're not coming. I think this is another one of your cheap jokes.'
"When they arrived, I went backstage because at this time I knew them, I'd met them the previous year you see. Their manager asked me if I could take them out front to deal with the press and he told me that for now, I'd be the official PR for The Beatles.
"I took them through the auditorium and we came into the foyer. I said 'now who was it who wanted to see The Beatles?' and this chap said 'There they are!', and John said 'how do?', taking the mickey.
"We went to the office and most of the reporters were gobsmacked, they couldn't say much that made sense. We went back into the foyer and they larked around.
"A reporter asked Ringo what he called his haircut - he said 'Arthur', then they went backstage to get ready for the first performance. During this time, I went backstage to see how they were getting on.
"I said an impudent thing. I said 'now you lads, how would you like to be famous?' John looked at me sarcastically and said 'how would WE like to be famous?'
David Lowe with The Beatles
"I smiled and said 'have your picture taken with me.' It worked - I had my picture taken with the famous Beatles."
The curious case of John Lennon's missing mouth organ
"John Lennon used to play a very small mouth organ, he could play it without hands, just twisting it round in his mouth. When he moved from that instrument to another, he'd throw the mouth organ off the stage to get rid of it.
"One of my sons, Malcolm, saw him throw it and thought 'cor, I'll have that' and put it in his pocket and went home. During the interval I got a message saying 'John Lennon will not perform in the next show unless he gets his mouth organ back'.
"I was completely unaware what he was talking about but then I gradually understood. My son had thought, as you do at some of these shows, you have what you call throwaways and so he went home and went to bed.
"I phoned up my wife and said 'would you go and see if Malcolm has John Lennon's mouth organ?' She found it under his pillow.
"She took it back to the theatre and that was that, but it could have been quite an embarrassing situation.
"No doubt about it, they were the best band in the world and it's quite a good thing we had them in the theatre. It's amazing when you think this all happened almost half a century ago now, but their music lives on."
The fledgling photographer
Dave Kindred was only 18 when he met the Fab Four at their 1964 return show, photographing them backstage for the East Anglian Daily Times and Star: "It was absolute chaos because I don't think theatres and promoters had really seen the light before.
"There was no precedent for The Beatles, neither the kind of music nor the kind of show, and older editorial staff just thought it was a passing craze, so myself and a young reporter called Steve Wood volunteered to go along to the press conference, probably because we were the only two people on the staff who had any awareness of what was going on.
"Steve bought two copies of the album A Hard Day's Night on his way to the theatre and had them autographed by the band. I spoke to Steve recently and one was sold at Christies for just over £20,000.
"The other one he gave away to a girl - I think they paid her around £13,000 for it. Sadly I didn't buy an album and get it signed.
"The press conference was brief, it took place in the manager's office which was only about ten foot square. There was The Beatles and only about half a dozen other people.
"I took a few photographs and then they went into the inner foyer area, like a long curved lounge at the back, and did an interview with Anglia Television. The whole thing only lasted about 10 minutes.
Competition winners receive a toy guitar
"I took a photo of them with some competition winners. Six or seven years ago, a chap said to me 'You took my picture with The Beatles when I was a competition winner'.
"He won a toy guitar signed by The Beatles and I said 'Wow, that must have been worth some good money?' He said 'I swapped it later that day for an air fix kit because I didn't like The Beatles', so he had the reverse of an investment!
"Goodness only knows what that would have been worth because while there must be a few autographed albums, there were no or very few autographed toy guitars. I wonder where that ended up, it probably got thrown on a skip.
"There was a very long queue for the tickets - apparently they went on sale in July and a lot of people slept over night and bought the tickets which were 15 shillings, now 75p, for the stalls. I suppose that seems ridiculously cheap, it's probably about £10 which would still be very, very cheap.
"I saw a piece of television recently with a report about the ticket sales and I was surprised to learn that not all of the tickets sold to the queue. The capacity there is about 1,600 - it's curious given the momentum there was at the time that they didn't all sell immediately.
"The story seems bigger in hindsight than it did at the time. Imagine a current popular band with teenagers coming to Ipswich and somebody saying that they'd still be world famous in future years, you'd wonder whether they really would have any significance 40 years on.
"I don't think The Beatles themselves thought their popularity would last so long, it's hard to anticipate.
"The Beatles were relaxed, probably a little travel weary, I don't know how many interviews and photographs they'd done. There wasn't the back up for them then, there wasn't the press team and the record company etcetera, they were almost on their own.
"I went to the theatre late afternoon so they were probably in the theatre from about four o'clock. They got into town quietly hidden in a police car and into the theatre because they anticipated a bit of a rush outside but the security was very laid back inside the theatre.
"The equipment they had on stage - the average pub gig has more now! It's no wonder they were screamed down by the fans because the amplification just wasn't there, they were playing through four amplifiers. I don't know whether the drums were amplified at all.
"Really big names wouldn't play venues this small now - they play in stadiums where you end up watching them on a big TV screen and you have to remind yourself to look at the person on the stage, it's so remote.
"Music fans now don't get to see the band in the way they did in a theatre like The Regent, or if they do, the band tends to be on the way up or the way down, not in its prime."
The pre-teen fan
Di Mills was only 10-years-old when her friend's dad, the owner of The Great White Horse where The Beatles were staying, was offered free press passes: "I was not allowed at all, my parents would've had a fit.
"My main memory was thinking how scruffy they were, which when you look at them now is strange. Everyone still had short back and sides, so The Beatles' haircuts were the biggest things we saw.
"Oh my god, look at them they have really long hair!"
"They had those collarless suits on, I can remember that really clearly, being absolutely shocked by their appearance which is ridiculous now. When you see them on the telly, they look incredibly respectable.
Waiting to see The Beatles
"They played all the really early songs. I can't remember who was supporting, it was just biding your time until The Beatles came on.
"The crowd responded with lots of screaming, all waving their arms. I think I was quite overawed because most people were much older than I was.
"But I was tall for my age as was my friend, we were both about 5'4'', and we borrowed a bit of mascara from my sister so we got in, no questions asked.
"We went backstage afterwards but we didn't see them then, we just had a look round, but we met them back at The Great White Horse after, not that they were particularly interested in meeting us but they did sign autographs for us.
"They didn't really talk to us - they were just talking about Ipswich, what a decent place it was and what a good reception they'd had.
"There wasn't a problem getting complimentary tickets, they were just handing them out. My friend's dad said that his daughter was a fan and they said 'Ooh, have some free tickets' - it was no big deal at the time at all.
"I'm glad I met The Beatles but I just wish I'd kept their autographs. When I was about 16, I threw them out - they were in a tiny little autograph book along with The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds, Herman and the Hermits and all sorts of bands that I didn't particularly like any more, so I threw it away as you do when you're young and stupid!
"I've still got all their albums in my loft on vinyl and I'd definitely be tempted to buy them on CD." --- For more information on The Beatles' visit to Ipswich, BBC Radio Suffolk's Stephen Foster has co-written a book on Ipswich's Regent Theatre.
From Buddy to the Beatles recalls the days The Regent rocked. It tells the story of Buddy Holly's visit in 1958 as well as concerts there by The Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard and The Byrds among many other legendary acts.
Many of the photographs used were taken by David Kindred when he was working for the East Anglian Daily Times and the Evening Star. These are reproduced by courtesy of the Archant Group.
last updated: 09/09/2009 at 09:43
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