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When The Beatles came to Suffolk
By Anna Louise Dobbie
BBC Blast reporter, Suffolk

The Beatles at Ipswich Gaumont
The Gaumont's manager was made temporary head of PR by The Beatles

The Ipswich Regent, formerly the Gaumont, has played host to some of the biggest names in music over the years - but none bigger than The Beatles.

The Fab Four twice played the town's biggest venue - in 1963 and 1964 - thanks to Gaumont manager David Lowe.

"They were the best band in the world and it's quite a good thing we had them in the theatre," said David.

"It's amazing when you think this all happened almost half a century ago now, but their music lives on."

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'.

The Beatles' 'temporary PR man'

David Lowe said: "When The Beatles came the first time, I wouldn't say they were unknown but they weren't known that well.

"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.

David Lowe and The Beatles
David Lowe introduced The Beatles to the local press

"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.

"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?'

"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."

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."

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.

A competition winner receives a toy guitar from The Beatles
The Beatles' toy guitar was later swapped for an Airfix kit

"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.

"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 Airfix 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.

"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 pre-teen fan

Di Mills was only 10-years-old when her friend's dad, the owner of the Great White Horse Hotel where The Beatles were staying, was offered free press passes: "I was not allowed at all, my parents would've had a fit.

Fans wait outside the Ipswich Gaumont for The Beatles
Fans queued all night for the chance to see the Fab Four

"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.

"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.

"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."

For more information on The Beatles' visit to Ipswich, BBC 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.

Oh boy! Buddy Holly in Suffolk
23 Sep 09 |  Arts & Culture



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