It is exactly 50 years since the Beatles first played in York. That turned out to be a low-key appearance but their later concerts prompted a severe outbreak of Beatlemania, as Van Wilson recalls
On February 27, 1963 Helen Shapiro was to top the bill at a package show at the Rialto on Fishergate, York – where Mecca Bingo is today – with the Beatles as second billing. Helen contracted flu and did not appear so singer Danny Williams took her place. The Beatles only rated seven lines in a one-page review.
The Beatles returned on March 13. Chris Montez topped the bill, followed by the Beatles then Tommy Roe. John Lennon was ill and could not play so the group performed for the only time in their career as a trio. After the show George Harrison told Stacey Brewer of the Yorkshire Evening Press, that the Beatles’ next single, From Me To You, had been written by them in the coach as they travelled from York to Shrewsbury following the February concert.
On May 29 they came back again with Roy Orbison topping the bill and tickets were sold out two weeks before the concert. This time the Beatles were headline news. In only two months they had shot to fame and From Me To You, their first number one hit, remained in the charts for 21 weeks.
By their fourth and final appearance in York, on November 27, they were topping the bill. Arriving early in York in their Austin Princess limousine, they dropped in at the York Motel on Tadcaster Road for a meal. I lived in that area and remember a friend of my brother’s dashing round to our house to tell my elder brother Mike that he’d heard the Beatles were at the motel.
They ran down to the main road to try to catch a glimpse. I wanted to go too but was not allowed! Half an hour later he came back gloating because they had seen a car go by the Knavesmire with the Beatles inside. There was no one else around so they knew that when they waved madly, they got a personal wave in return, which was more than the crowd at the Rialto got, as the Beatles were rush in through the front door to avoid all the fans at the back door.
Before the concert the police had to work out a special “Beatle plan” and arrange traffic diversions. As well as 100 policemen, another 40 special constables were drafted in on “Beatle duty” for the occasion. Some young people had started queuing at lunchtime in the hopes of seeing their heroes. The Rialto management had been sent hundreds of requests for autographs, and even a dress which the owner wanted the Beatles to sign so that she could raffle it for charity.
There were 1,800 fans inside the auditorium and another 400 outside jammed behind crush barriers chanting, “We want Paul, George, John, Ringo” throughout the concert. In fact they stood for five hours in the cold. Stacey Brewer’s review in the Yorkshire Evening Press said that “their final, frenzied frantic version of Twist And Shout threatened to lift the roof off the Mecca Casino”.
Other memories of the Fab Four in York
Colin Carr was the drummer in the York group The Clubmen.
I was fortunate enough to see the Beatles. Anton’s boss, Malcolm, wasn’t short of a bob or two. He booked a block of eight seats, and he took the Clubmen, and his wife and two children, and they were really good seats. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. They were so famous then, they took the world by storm, and you just couldn’t believe you were so near to them, when they came running on to the stage.
The way they announced it, the curtains went back, there were just drums on a rostrum, all gleaming and shining, and three guitars, and the compere would be teasing you, waffling on. Then, ‘And here they are, the Beatles’, and they’d run on, and it was just deafening. The girls were absolutely out of their minds. And you were sat there, so involved in it, you’re struck dumb. It just got you. I’ve never felt like that since, so emotionally involved.
Professor Wilfrid Mellers came to York in 1963 to found the music department at the new university.
Ella Hirst, daughter of jazz pianist Bobby Hirst, said the Beatles “changed the world”.
You and your friends were into a new thing, and it was like a revolution because old people were absolutely horrified. I met The Beatles. John Pick [a freelance reporter] was doing a story on a girl who spent all her holidays in the Cavern in Liverpool. She knew about the Beatles before anybody. It was 1963. I was 16 and my dad found out that John was gonna do this story and take her into the Rialto. He got hold of my dad and he said, ‘I owe you a favour, I’ll take Ella as well’. So I took a day off tech college.
At the Rialto, all the girls were screaming and shouting outside but there was just me, this girl, John Pick and the Beatles. It was every girl’s dream. I was very slim and had red hair, and Paul McCartney said: ‘Doesn’t she remind you of Jane?’ ’cos he was going out with Jane Asher at the time. I had to sit on his knee for a picture, and he’s got his arm round me. I think it was on the front page of the Daily Expres. So I go back to college, and the headmaster said, ‘Why were you off school yesterday?’ ‘I had bronchitis’. ‘Mm, you weren’t poorly enough not to go to the Rialto with the Beatles on.’ I could have died. It never occurred to me it would be in the paper.
Rosemary Clegg sold programmes at the Rialto’s big shows in return for watching the show for free.
- These are extracts from Van Wilson’s 2002 book Something in the Air: An History of Popular Music in York
- Van’s latest book is It’s How You Play the Game: Olympic Sports in York
- See also Fifty years on, The Beatles are still the greatest