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Only nine songs, but we'll never forget the night the Beatles came

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 08, 2014

By Brian Nicholls

  • Brian and his fellow Fleetwoods were at the Beatles show to pick up some tips. Brian is second from left

  • Ad for The Beatles' support act, The Blue Stars

  • The Beatles on stage in their prime, much as they would have looked when they played Old Hill and Handsworth

  • Local press ad for Ma Regan's Plaza in Handsworth

  • A postcard from the Beatles' office, sent to Brian's band The Fleetwoods, wishing them luck

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A SHOT of rhythm and blues is what all of us Beatlemaniacs experienced on Friday June 5, 1963, when the Fab Four appeared at The Plaza Ballroom, Rookery Road, Handsworth.

They had just hot-footed it from an appearance at The Plaza Ballroom, Old Hill, where many a lucky Black Country boy and girl had managed to get their first in-the-flesh glimpse of their heroes – though many more were disappointed, such was demand for the show.

Much about The Beatles has appeared in the Bugle of late, alongside 50th anniversary celebratory journals on magazine racks at your local newsagents, but I am one of those fortunate enough to remember it first hand.

If ever an atmosphere was electric with anticipation, this was it. The crowd were constantly on the look out for a Beatle sighting. Groups of girls in particular – best described as 'maruading' – were up and down the stairs from ballroom to bar and one of my party, Fleetwoods' drummer Ray Green, didn't help calm matters by mischieviously stating very loudly within earshot of a bunch of girls, 'I've just seen Lennon in the bar!'

The resultant screams and mini-stampede could have had disastrous results with the benefit of hindsight. I don't think many were taking much notice of support act The Blue Stars' first set due to the obvious preoccupation. I have to admit that we, as a bunch of four lads, were also keeping our eyes open for an opportunity of spotting a Beatle, but in a more discreet manner. Needless to say, we did not get a sighting as we often did with other visiting stars. The Fab Four just appeared, did their set and literally vanished. I knew people who made it outside The Plaza after their final song, but they also reported no sighting. It was later discovered that a ruse of The Beatles was to depart in disguise – often as police officers.

The ticket price was 7/6d (37 and a half pence) but it was all on a strictly first come, first served basis, so you had to be very early to queue to get in. I know for a fact that after the doors closed there were many tears outside The Plaza in Rookery Road.

The Beatles were halfway through a 400 gig tour of the UK. They had just come straight from Old Hill Plaza, where they were ably supported by Birmingham group Denny Laine and The Diplomats. Who would have known then that Denny Laine was to eventually tie up with Paul McCartney decades later to form the first incarnation of Wings? Laine also collaborated with Macca to write the smash hit Mull Of Kintyre. Also, Diplomats' drummer Bev Bevan later went on to be a founder member of The Electric Light Orchestra.

However, at The Plaza, Handsworth, The Beatles were supported by The Blue Stars from Cannock – a more than worthy choice for the job and very popular on the Ma Regan Ballroom circuit. They did a 45 minute warm up spot prior to The Beatles' nine song set and then a further 45 minutes to round off the evening afterwards.

A year earlier The Beatles had famously completed a gruelling 300 gig stint in Germany. But they served us well locally in 1963, having played all the following venues:

Jan 11: Plaza, Old Hill (after a gig at The Cavern, Liverpool!).

Jan 15: Ritz, Kings Heath.

Mar 10: Hippodrome,

Birmingham.

Mar 14: Gaumont,

Wolverhampton.

Jun 4: Town Hall,

Birmingham.

Jul 5: Plaza, Old Hill and Plaza, Handsworth.

Nov 10: Hippodrome,

Birmingham.

Nov 17: Gaumont,

Wolverhampton.

Dec 9: Odeon, Birmingham.

In 1962 , months before Love Me Do was released, The Beatles were paid £70 to perform at the three Regan ballrooms, but fame changed all that and in June 1963 they were paid £250 for the two Plaza gigs.

As a sixteen year old aspiring guitarist I was there with my three bandmates in order to get a strategic position on the ballroom floor, in order to check out what chords they played and how they did the guitar intros to Roll Over Beethoven and Please Please Me etc. As a bonus though, The Blue Stars obliged by playing three Beatles songs amongst their set with the introductory remark, "here's another one from The Beatles latest LP'

Then came the moment! Ma Regan's husband Jack, resplendent in a smart black suit with black silk stripes down each side of his trousers and white shirt topped off with a dicky bow, announced to the audience in his inimitable style as MC, 'we've got some great gear for you now!'

I remember, it was loud! Lennon, Mc Cartney and Harrison were each plugged into their state-of-the-art Vox AC30 amplifiers and Ringo sat behind a luxurious set of Ludwig drums. Lennon played a Rickenbacker, Harrison a Gretsch and McCartney his trademark Hofner Violin Bass.

They wore black suits, pink shirts and black ties and their delivery was tight. Most groups play as four individuals but these lads played as one – if that makes any sense to readers! Their act was effortless, a phenomenon borne not out of rehearsing but out of relentless gigging! All four were smiling and enjoying themselves – free from any of the tensions that were to beset them in later years.

The 30 watt Vox amplifiers were sufficient for such ballroom venues and town halls alike. They still are sufficient, so why is there a need for each of today's musicians to have a stack of Marshall amplifiers, as began in the late sixties, which led to the inevitable demise of live music as we once knew it? The Beatles sounded just like their recordings and, because of the then-poor sound quality of live television broadcasts, much, much better in the flesh.

I recall that Ringo was using sizzles – a type of cymbal drilled with multiple holes filled with with loose rivets. The effect was that 'hissing' sound heard on Roll Over Beethoven – track one/side two of their second album, With The Beatles.

Because The Beatles played their own instruments on their recordings, they obviously sounded very authentic when heard live. Readers would be shocked if they knew that some of their favourite groups' records were actually studio musicians playing and not their idols. Take The Beach Boys as an example, while they sang impeccable vocal harmonies on not one of their albums did they trouble a guitar or drum kit!

It was Lennon who originally formed the group and he clearly was still the undisputed leader on this occasion, with lots of friendly banter with the crowd. There were a few friendly jibes to lads in the crowd to 'get yer hurr cut!' Now, that's rich coming from a mop top!

On another occasion a young girl in tight, bright red shorts near the front called out a number and Lennon replied with 'we've just had a request from the girl in red knickers.'

The playlist for that evening was:

Roll Over Beethoven

Thank You Girl

Chains

Please Please Me

A Taste Of Honey

I Saw Her Standing There

Baby It's You

From Me To You

Twist and Shout

That evening we all experienced first-hand why it was called Beatlemania! You could not escape the profound effect their music had on you. Words really fail me – you had to experience it first hand.

They were, musically speaking, a breath of fresh air as they led the beat boom in the UK from 1962 to 1966. Things would never be the same again.

Did you see The Beatles fifty years ago? Let us know what it was like to see them in the flesh. Write in, give us a call, or email gjones@blackcountry bugle.co.uk.

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