Mayor Phil set to rock for Shrewsbury Beatles Weekend
Phil Gillam was just six years old, but it is a day etched clearly on his mind.
"We had moved to Castlefields in Shrewsbury, I remember walking around the streets with my older sister," he says. "It must have been a warm day, because everybody had their doors and windows open, and I could hear Beatles' music coming through everybody's front door.
The music-mad Mayor of Shrewsbury will this weekend indulge one of his great loves as the town celebrates the Fab Four with a Beatles festival. And some 56 years after his childhood encounter, his passion for their unique melodies and lyrics is as strong as ever.
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He says: "I was only a little boy, but I remember being impressed by the sound. I was also impressed by the friendship they had, that band of brothers that looked out for each other.
"I think they were the most innovative pop group of the time, they were the most highly respected, and they were the most loved."
The three-day festival opens today, although a limited number of fans took part in a special preview event aboard the riverboat Sabrina last night. Five films relating to the group will be screened at venues around the town, with live music events and talks from experts. One highlight will be tonight's screening of the 2018 film Looking for Lennon, which takes an evocative look back at the singer-songwriter's early life. The film will be introduced by its maker Roger Appleton, who will take questions from the audience after the showing. Hobsons Brewery, of Cleobury Mortimer, has even produced a celebratory beer to mark the event.
It is a dream come true for Phil, particularly as it will raise a substantial sum of money for his chosen charity, Samaritans of Shrewsbury.
"I was never going to have a traditional ball with chandeliers and all that," he says. He says he has no idea how far people will travel from the event, but is hopeful that it will appeal to fans from outside the West Midlands.
"I don't know how far people will come, whether it will be people from Shrewsbury or whether we might get people from Liverpool coming down for the event," he says.
He says The Beatles played in the town three times – once at the Granada Theatre, and twice at the Music Hall – and they wrote From Me to You while travelling from York to Shrewsbury in February 1963.
Phil, who is 62, was to young to have seen them play in the town. He was just 13 when they broke up, and it was around that time he began to appreciate the finer nuances of their work.
"I can't remember which was the first Beatles record I bought, there were so many of them I bought in quite a short time when I was 13, 14 or 15," he says.
Phil thinks part of the group's appeal was the way they reflected the changing social scene in Britain during the 1960s.
"A whole generation grew up with them," he says. "You can't imagine that happening today.
"When they started as a pop group they were surrounded by screaming girls, but as they developed they became more sophisticated, and women and young men were now taking an interest.
"By the time of Sgt Pepper they were very sophisticated, they were called the greatest composers since Beethoven."
And while Phil says he loves music spanning many eras and styles, he says there is something very special about The Beatles which has never been replicated.
"When you look back, you have the likes of Queen and Pink Floyd, so many huge bands who have come and gone, but I don't think there is anyone else who was held in the same affection," he says.
The Beatles break-up in December 1970 generated a huge amount of headlines, with reports of acrimony behind the scenes. But, with hindsight, was it the right time to call it a day, for lads to quite while they were still at the top of their game? And how would they have evolved, had they continued through the age of glam rock?
He believes the successful solo careers of John, Paul and George demonstrate how The Beatles would have developed over the years that followed.
"Maybe your energy and dynamism goes a little bit as you get older, but you also see people like Neil Diamond, who has brought out some amazing acoustic albums, they are beautiful. Very different from what he was doing as a young man," he says.
"I think if you follow through the careers of John, Paul and George as solo artists, you get a feel for how they would have sounded if they stayed together.
"I think Paul's genius as a writer of albums stayed with him for the whole of the 1970s, he did some excellent albums, he wrote some extraordinary music.
"Who knows with John? His life was cut short in his prime, who knows what he would have gone on to do."
But he believes the break-up was probably inevitable as the four began to develop their own styles.
"I remember Paul McCartney saying it was like a divorce, they had been together for such a long time," says Phil.
"To keep all the Beatles together, they each had to compromise, and the four individuals were beginning to flex their muscles, meaning they often faced difficult decisions."
And Phil's favourite Beatles song?
He finds it hard to give a definitive answer.
"I go through phases," he says. "I listen a lot to the early stuff. It's very easy for later generations to look back and say 'Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road were fantastically crafted albums', and dismiss the earlier stuff, but you have to recognise what excellent pop songs they were.