Radcliffe reporter, Pauline Smith, shares treasured memories of seeing the Fab Four perform in Manchester in 1963.
Becoming a teenager in 1961 was really a watershed, my early teenage years were Friday nights spent at the local church youth club in Sale dancing badly to Chris Montez and Chubby Checker. Discovering popular music coincided with becoming a teenager, whilst having to go to school every weekday in school uniform.
Back in the early 1960s, listening to pop, rock and soul music on any media was difficult, the only regular source was Radio Luxembourg with its intermittent signal and lots of hissing and crackling. Juke Box Jury on Saturday night BBC television, where new releases were played in front of Jury of 4 who voted if they would be a hit or miss, attracted a regular audience of 12 million in 1962.
As young teenagers we went to record stores to buy singles, and listen to them in special booths…word of mouth helped and friends bought new releases – you could visit the stores to listen to the same 2 – 3 minute song again and again.
In some ways the early 60s were looking back to the 1950s and the rate of change accelerated rapidly with the launch of Ready Steady Go in late 63 on Friday nights on ITV, with pop and Tamla Motown, and the pirate Radio Caroline broadcasting from a ship off the Essex coast in 1964 almost 24 hours a day of popular music.
The first song from that era that had an impact on me was Hey Baby by Bruce Channel in the spring of 1962, with its evocative harmonica playing by Delbert McClinton.
However the song which really changed me and many of my generation was Love Me Do by the Beatles in 1962. The Beatles changed music forever and enabled the opening up of so many new ways of listening to music for “Our Generation”; as the rock magazine Rolling Stone said about them much later, “The first self-contained rock band”. We saw them on Granada North West on telly twice between Love Me Do in the autumn of 1962 and early March 1963….
And then our luck changed when my Mum managed to get tickets for 4 of us to see them live on May 30th 1963 on the balcony floor at the Odeon on Oxford Street.
They were touring the UK for 21 performances with Roy Orbison (the Big O) – who was Top of the Bill when the tour started in Slough on 18th May but by the time they reached the Odeon in Manchester the Fab Four were Top of the Bill.
We probably paid 5 bob or 25 pence in today’s money for a balcony ticket – the top tier of 3 decks – mainly because as young impoverished teenage school kids we could only afford the cheaper seats and also because getting four seats together was not easy. My Mum got us the tickets as she worked in an office near the Midland Hotel and it was a short walk for her to the Odeon to get tickets for us.
The Odeon was a usually a cinema and held almost 3,000 people and was a large venue back then for a rock concert; it was built in 1930 and had a Baroque interior as the Paramount Theatre. It became an Odeon around 1940 and was one of several cinemas in the 60s along Oxford Street…now they have all gone. The Odeon was demolished in October 2017.
Although the main draw of the gig was to see The Beatles in the flesh, I loved Roy Orbison’s songs and that voice. He was the last act before the Beatles…it was a sort of double header really…the peaceful sunset before the storm!
Roy had a really unique voice and it ranged from baritone to tenor with a 3 or 4 octave range and his songs were nearly all ballads with tear-jerking moments that captured teenage angst…
He started with “Cryin’” and when he effortlessly hit those high notes the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and from then on he had the 2900 teenagers inside the Odeon in the palm of his hand.
He finished his set with “Running Scared”…the ultimate teenage ballad with its twist in the final note, it still gets me 57 years later whenever I hear it.
And then, of course, it was the Fab Four: those 4 musicians from just down the road in Liverpool that we had come to see perform live.
Everyone said how incredible they were playing live, all those years playing in Hamburg and the Cavern in Liverpool and small venues across the North West meant they had honed their talents on stage.
We were so lucky to get this golden chance to see the Beatles live, not merely see them on Granada TV in black and white or listen to their records.
See really was the crucial word as with all the screaming fans, many of whom threw jelly babies at George after he said he liked them, you couldn’t actually hear many words or notes. Though I can remember that the whole balcony floor was swaying up and down with fans screaming and jumping up and down.
They usually played 6 songs during that tour in the finale and I can remember hearing bits of “Please Please Me” and the closing piece “Twist and Shout”.
The 6 songs they played that night were “Some Other Guy” with John on vocals, “Do You Want to Know a Secret” with George on vocals then “Love Me Do” with Paul, John lead the vocals on then “From Me to You”; “Twist and Shout” and“Please Please Me” “I saw Her Standing There” with Paul.
To hear their classics that have stood the test of time performed live will stay with me forever: John lead on the vocals for “Some Other Guy”; “From Me To You” and “Please Please Me”, Paul led “Love Me Do” and “I Saw Her Standing There” while George sang “Do You Want to Know a Secret”. The crowd hit true Beatles-mania when the band ended the night with “I saw Her Standing There”.
And then it really was over, a special night in Manchester…Roy Orbison at the peak of his songwriting powers and the Beatles just starting out on their own unique journey.
Those 4 conquered the world with their music and enabled so many UK acts to break into the US market and their love of black music helped many black artists be successful on both sides of the pond. I never saw them play live again, nor Roy Orbison – but to witness their stardom at the beginning of their legendary careers is something I will never forget.
We all caught the bus back to Sale.