Fab Four pocketed just £50 for historic Harrogate gig

John Lennon and The Beatles on stage at the Royal Hall in Harrogate, March 8, 1963. (Picture courtesy of audience member Mrs Catherine Hemming, originally published in the Harrogate Advertiser).
John Lennon and The Beatles on stage at the Royal Hall in Harrogate, March 8, 1963. (Picture courtesy of audience member Mrs Catherine Hemming, originally published in the Harrogate Advertiser).

By Gig Scene Editor Graham Chalmers

To The Beatles it was just another show, one of many in that incredibly hectic, epoch-making year of 1963.

“Derek Arnold presents Dancing for Teens and Twenties with The Beatles” announced the poster outside the Royal Hall.

To anyone lucky enough to be there that night in Harrogate 50 years ago tomorrow on Friday, March 8, it has turned out to be a bit more special than that.

But that’s mostly with the benefit of hindsight.

The Fab Four were far from being a household name when local promoter Derek Arnold booked them in December 1962 to come to Harrogate in a bill featuring local beat groups Barry Corbett and The Mustangs and Ricky Fenton and The Apaches.

Even by the time of the actual show three months later, The Beatles only had one number one hit under their belt( Please Please Me ) and their debut album of the same name was still two weeks’ from release.

But the only time The Beatles played Harrogate has turned out to be more memorable than anyone might have guessed – why else would the 50th anniversary be treated as a historical event in the town, a cultural Dunkirk or VE Day?

It’s proof, if proof was needed, that The Beatles have transcended the era that spawned them and will most likely endure as Dickens or Shakespeare have endured.

The Harrogate show was peculiar in several ways, ways that that only real aficiandos might have realised until now.

Some of the mysteries surrounding their visit have been cleared up. John , Paul, George and Ringo did not stay the night in a Harrogate hotel after the show ended.

Local historian Malcolm Neesam cleared up that particular myth in the Harrogate Advertiser in 2006.

One reader, Mrs Christine Hemming of Regent Grove, Harrogate did write to the paper recently saying she had shown Paul and Ringo the way to the Old Swan Hotel before the show, which potentially introduces a new question mark on the interpretation of the day’s events 50 years ago.

But the consensus remains that, after helping carry their own gear back out of the hall, The Beatles got into their humble yellow van and drove straight back down south.

As well as having a concert to perform at Granada Cinema in London the following night, Saturday, March 9, a fact confirmed in Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn’s definite guide to their career, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, it’s also claimed they had a radio show to record the following morning.

The Beatles certainly earned their money that year.

Booked by local promoter Derek Arnold who, incidentally, was the manager of another of the local support bands, girl group The Chincillas, the band were paid the princely sum of £75 to play the Royal Hall with £25 of that going to manager Brian Epstein.

Their first £100 appearance had been just four days earlier, an engagement at St Helens.

It doesn’t sound much in modern money but this was quite a fee for a group which normally featured low on the bill on package tours.

As yet full Beatlemania was six months away and the Royal Hall show was sandwiched between minor support slots on package tours headlined, respectively, by Helen Shapiro and Tommy Roe and Chris ‘Let’s Dance’ Montez.

It’s the stand-alone nature of the show booked independently by Mr Arnold that makes the Royal Hall show 50 years ago almost unique.

And they did get the full like-up at least. Fans at shows in Bedford and York only a few days later were treated to ‘The Threatles’ when a flu-ridden John Lennon was forced to miss a couple of shows.

Anyone in this splendid Edwardian building that night got more for their money than almost any other Beatles fans that year – with the exception, perhaps, of their original coterie of loyal fans in The Cavern in Liverpool where they continued to return at regular intervals until the release of She Loves You in August initiated their meteoric ascent into the showbiz stratosphere.

Bob Mason, lead guitarist that night in one of the support bands, Ricky Fenton and the Apaches, clearly remembers The Beatles playing two sets at the Royal Hall of 30-40 minutes each.

Indeed, the contract for their only Harrogate show confirms the band were obliged to perform for a total of at least 60 minutes.

Rather than knocking out five or six songs, their normal repertoire for most of their time on the road in 1963, this means they must have performed a substantial set.

With only a small number of self-penned hits at their disposal at the time, this undoubtedly meant that the audience were treated not only to original numbers such as Love Me Do, I Saw Her Standing There and Please, Please Me but a generous helping of the wide-ranging cover versions they’d use to climb the rock n roll ladder from sweaty clubs in Hamburg to the ballrooms of Britain.

Only one mystery remains for Beatleologists. The song that was to be their next number one, From Me To You, was recorded four days before the Fab Four visited Harrogate. The question is did The Beatles give it an early airing at the Royal Hall 50 years ago this week?

We may have to wait for the 100th anniversary for the answer to that one.

The Royal Hall Restoration Trust is presenting a 50th anniversary concert on Wednesday, March 27 starring world famous tribute band The Upbeat Beatles.

Some tickets may still be available at the Harrogate Theatre Box Office on 01423 502116 or book at www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk