It seems like yesterday

The Beatles in Blackpool
The Beatles in Blackpool
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Tomorrow is exactly 50 years since The Beatles played a now legendary show in Blackpool.

JON RHODES looks back on a day when the Fab Four chose to unleash one of the most famous pop songs of all time.

“For Paul McCartney of Liverpool... Opportunity Knocks!”

The wacky one liner and cheeky grin of a fresh-faced George Harrison said it all, after he approached the microphone to introduce his bandmate to the fired-up audience at Blackpool’s ABC Theatre on Sunday, August 1, 1965.

The Beatles had something pretty special lined up for the resort crowd – not to mention the millions watching the ‘Blackpool Night Out’ show back home on TV.

Acoustic guitar slung around his neck, mop top Paul was left alone under the spotlight as John and George exited stage left.

Two minutes and four seconds later, as the song came to an end, everyone watching knew they had witnessed something ground breaking. Paul McCartney of Liverpool had very much ‘passed the audition’ and the legend that is Yesterday was born.

The song, McCartney’s beautiful and aching ballad of lost love – a tune which, as legend has it, came to him in a dream – is widely considered to be pop music’s most popular.

For the record, Yesterday is the most covered song of all time – 2,200 official recordings to date – while publishing giant Broadcast Music Inc. states the track was performed more than seven million times in the 20th century alone. How they computed that, heaven knows, but what is undeniable is the first time Beatles’ fans got to hear the song was from a stage in Blackpool.

While the crowd went wild, McCartney was not allowed to revel in the musical masterpiece he had just delivered.

Returning to the stage, John Lennon congratulated his song-writing sidekick with the classic quick-witted put down: “Thank you Ringo, that was wonderful!”

Well, he wouldn’t want his mate to get all big-headed now would he?

After tearing through the final number of the night – new single Help! “or our latest electronic noise, depending whose side you’re on” as Lennon quipped – The Beatles were off home with thousands of cries from the Blackpool crowd ringing in their ears.

The next time they would step onto a stage and perform was two weeks later – at New York’s Shea Stadium to a world record 55,600 people.

As far as warm-ups go for the world’s first taste of stadium rock, Blackpool certainly played its part, as it had so many times in The Beatles’ career.

The Fab Four played the resort no fewer than eight times. Each of the gigs at the ABC on Church Street, Queen’s Theatre and Opera House were crazy affairs – often bringing the town centre to a standstill.

And their appearance in August 1965 was to be no different.

The Gazette filled plenty of column inches about The Beatles in the weeks before the televised ABC show. The bill also featured Teddy Johnson, Pearl Carr, Johnny Hart and Lionel Blair.

A week before show-time, the paper reported how the clamour for tickets was so great even the band’s own families were struggling to get in.

“Two urgent telephone messages came to Bob Parsons, manager of the ABC theatre, asking for tickets,” The Gazette reported. “One was from George’s mother and the other from Paul’s father. Last year the boys had their relatives in the holiday audience for their Blackpool TV show.”

On the day of the show the newspaper’s reporter stated: “200 people, many of them teenagers in light summerwear, waited for more than 40 minutes in a blustery wind to see two of The Beatles arrive from London at Blackpool Airport – and saw not one.”

The specially charted twin-engine Dove aircraft – carrying Ringo Starr and manager Brian Epstein – landed at the south end of the airfield, which meant nobody at the terminal could see the superstar drummer.

He was whisked off to the ABC where he joined up with bandmates Paul, John and George.

The Gazette report added: “They came by car from their hideout at the Clifton Arms Hotel, Lytham, where they had slept after arriving during the early hours of the morning.

“They entered through a back entrance, having been driven along a cordoned off East Topping Street and Winstanley Grove. There were screams and shouts from many of the estimated 200 spectators, but no incidents.”

Inside the ABC, a few lucky fans got chance to watch The Beatles rehearse. One of them was 14-year-old Derry Jackson, of North Shore, whose father was a friend of the theatre floor manager.

Reliving his story in The Gazette in 1995, Derry said: “I saw them during rehearsal do a very funny and slightly cruel send up of the Rolling Stones. I watched them laugh and joke together which proved they were very close, not just musically friends.

“During the night of the show they performed Yesterday for the very first time. When Paul finished John walked on to present him with a bunch of flowers. As John turned to walk away he kept the tops of the flowers and Paul was left just holding the stems!”

The six-song set on the night comprised of I Feel Fine, I’m Down, Act Naturally, Ticket To Ride, Yesterday and Help! So good was the show – all 17 minutes of it – four of the songs made it onto The Beatles 1995 Anthology album.

By 10.10pm, more than 500 fans gathered outside the ABC desperate to catch sight of the departing Beatles. The band headed for Lytham, again to sanctuary of The Clifton Arms, where again fans were waiting for them.

Our report added: “Again a few cheers, a few shouts – and some rogue had the effrontery to scrawl in the dust of one of their cars the legend ‘Fred’. It was really all very quiet – all very much like Lytham.”

It may have been a sedate end to the day, but what a day. The Beatles were ready for Shea Stadium, the world fell in love with Yesterday and the nation was talking about a stunning night in Blackpool.

You really can’t say fairer than that.

Fifty years on, Yesterday is still part of McCartney’s live set, as he sells out stadiums around the world.

As for the ABC Theatre, which ended its days as the Syndicate nightclub, it is currently being demolished to make way for a car park.

But for the fans who were there that night, a walk past the old building will surely evoke many fond memories.

They can close their eyes, relive McCartney’s haunting delivery – then remember they have something truly unique... bragging rights as being among the select few who were there when the world first heard THAT song.

• See next week’s Memory Lane for the second part of our Beatles special – as we look at holidays, family strife, football and pub lunches, with the Fab Four on the Fylde coast.