Twist And Shout: When the Beatles rocked Abergavenny Town Hall
Beatlemania is back. It never really went away, but Peter Jackson’s brilliant documentary Get Back has reignited the world’s adulation for the legendary Fab Four.
It is well known that the Liverpudlian’s last (paid) concert was in front of 25,000 screaming fans at San Francisco’s famous Candlestick Park.
Worn out, unhappy, and unable to hear themselves as they were drowned out by the shrieks of their adoring crowd, the group’s touring days ended prematurely on that windy Californian evening on 29 August 1966.
It is perhaps not as widely known that just three years earlier, John, Paul, George and Ringo had dazzled just 600 people at Abergavenny’s Town Hall.
Organised by the locally renowned dance and concert promoter Eddie Tattersall, the booking was made in early 1963 for just £250, before the March release of the Beatles first album Please, Please Me.
Their third single, From Me To You, reached number 1 in the singles chart just a month before the now famed show in the Welsh market town on Saturday 22 June, 1963.
The legendary concert is the stuff of folklore amongst the locals in Abergavenny, with personal stories and anecdotes often shared by the lucky few attendees who managed to witness, or at least be in the vicinity of the historic event.
There were initial concerns that the show wouldn’t take place at all, partly due to the meteoric rise and success of the band globally, but also when it emerged that John Lennon had been double-booked.
Lennon was to appear on the BBC music show Juke Box Jury in London that day and rumours spread that a cancellation was looming.
But their ever efficient and honest manager Brian Epstein, who had ensured the band meet all of their contractual agreements that had been signed prior to their stratospheric success, forked £100 out of his own pocket to arrange a helicopter to fly Lennon to Abergavenny in time for the show.
Lennon would eventually land on Abergavenny Thursday’s Pen-Y-Pound football pitch at 9:45pm, 45 minutes late and to an ever-expanding crowd of onlookers, desperate to get a glimpse of the bespectacled superstar.
The acerbic Lennon apparently quipped to local reporters that flying on what he referred to as a “fish” was “just like sitting in a flying armchair, with only a piece of glass in front of you, but it was very cold up there!”
Lennon’s arrival was in stark contrast to his bandmates, who had more modestly travelled by train and then road.
Les Hicks, who went on to become the drummer with Welsh psychedelic band Blonde on Blonde, spoke to the South Wales Argus in 2013 about how he and some friends ended up travelling to the gig with Paul McCartney.
“We got on the train at Newport and saw Paul McCartney as we walked along the corridor looking for a seat. I recognised him straight away. He was sitting alone in First Class so we asked if we could join him in his compartment.
“He gave each of us his autograph and wrote the name of his band by his signature and we ended up chatting all the way to Abergavenny. He was a really friendly guy.
“I was a drummer in a band and explained we were trying to come up with a name. He suggested ‘The Witnesses’- though we never used it.
“When we got to Abergavenny, he asked how we were getting into town and said we could share his taxi. We jumped in the taxi and drove to the Town Hall. The taxi driver looked in his mirror and mistook me for one of The Beatles, which was quite funny.”
Liz Sutton, who was 16 at the time and travelled from Tredegar for the show, remembers that there was a buzz around the town leading up to the concert.
“I remember the sheer excitement. The Beatles were in their very early days then. My Dad was from Abergavenny and he knew a lot of people there, so he managed to get the tickets for me. The excitement was overwhelming really!”
Abergavenny singer Bryn Yemm, who was just 21 at the time, had the unique chance of being in the dressing room with the band.
“I had been invited along as the guest of the Mayor Jack Thurston. I was pretty famous in south Wales. My band Bryn Yemm and the Perfectionnaires had done shows for Eddie Tattersall, the man who responsible for bringing the Beatles to Aber.”
Yemm, who still performs, remembers how the Mayor’s office was used as the changing room for the Beatles.
“I was there with Paul, George, and Ringo before and after the gig. John Lennon was late and flew in on a helicopter, as is well known. There was a good bit of banter between them all about it in the dressing room.
“They had to start getting ready quickly, as time was rolling on. I was the only other person with them. Ringo was very friendly and chatted to me a lot. I realised from the vibes that he was more relaxed than the others.”
Yemm also recalls how Paul McCartney wanted to take a look around the venue before the gig.
“He said to me ‘show me where it is, I want to see what the stage and hall are like’. We were down below the ballroom, so we had to walk up some stairs. As we climbed up, we could see it was buzzing and full of people. Paul didn’t want to get mobbed so said ‘I think it’s best if we go back’, so we turned around and went back to the dressing room.”
Supported by local band The Fabulous Fortunes, The Beatles finally took to the stage around 10:30pm, beginning with Hippy Hippy Shake, before roaring into their early hits and many album tracks from Please, Please Me.
Tickets were just 12/6d, a bargain price for the chance to see one of the world’s biggest bands. The group had been scheduled to play two 20-minute sets, but due to Lennon’s late arrival from London condensed their set to one 35-minute performance.
Sue Gay, 75, who was right at the front of the stage recalls: “it was really good music, loud, very noisy. I was in the front row with my friends from school, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
“I can remember all the screaming!” recollects Liz Sutton, who is now 75 and lives in Sutton Coldfield.
“They weren’t on for long and it was quite late if I remember correctly. Even though it was a short show, it was so powerful. You just knew the event was something special. They were just fantastic!”
Robert Edwards, who had just turned 13, said “I had to sit up in the balcony and not on the dance floor. My personal recollection is of the crowd noise that became known as Beatlemania. I remember I was late walking home with my mate and got a telling-off from my Father!”
After the gig
Following the show, all four members signed autographs that were then sold to fans for three pence each, with proceeds going to the local branch of the Freedom From Hunger Campaign.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though, as somebody had locked the band’s changing room during the show, proceeding to go home with the key.
With fans realising they had an opportunity to mob their heroes, it was decided to smash down the door to the relative safety of the room.
Yemm remembers the convivial atmosphere after the gig. “There was a little reception in the Mayor’s parlour and all the boys were there. It was brilliant. Brian Epstein even turned up too.”
Legendary manager Epstein, who also posed for photographs, claimed he had accompanied Lennon on the helicopter as he had “footed the bill, and I’d never been on a helicopter before!”
Local photographer Albert Lyons took pictures that evening, capturing images that are etched into Abergavenny’s rich history.
“The Mayor called me over as he was chatting to Epstein”, recalls Yemm. “He said, ‘this is Bryn, he’s our local celebrity who has been rocking here for some years’, or something to that effect.
“With that I got chatting to Epstein. It was great to meet him. He offered me the chance to go down to London, but I never had the money. I was very young and asking a young lad from Abergavenny to go to London was like asking me to go to New York!
“Of course, there are regrets, but I’ve had a great career. I’ve been called ‘The most famous unknown singer’, and I like that.”
Yemm, who spends his time between Abergavenny and Florida, still has his signed copy of Please, Please Me from that night. “It is signed by all of them and was worth thousands of pounds, though the value soon went down after I allowed my daughter to sign the LP too!”
Yemm has kind words for Eddie Tattersall, the unsung hero and organiser of so many great events in the town.
“He was a wonderful man. He never got the recognition he deserved for everything he did. The list of people he attracted to Abergavenny is unbelievable.
“The Hollies, The Yardbirds, Lulu & The Luvvers, this list goes on! It was a fantastic time to be alive in our town, it was proper rock n’ roll!”
Following the afterparty, The Beatles spent the night at the nearby Angel Hotel before heading back to London.
They left behind an exhilarated crowd and town, with treasured memories for the few lucky locals who got to witness the most influential and legendary band in rock and roll history.
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