The night The Beatles hit Shrewsbury – never to return
Yeah, yeah, yeah... Sixty years ago they came, they conquered, and then departed never to return as a music revolution gripped Britain.
The Beatles’ last ever concert in Shropshire, at the Music Hall in Shrewsbury on April 26, 1963, is now the stuff of local folklore.
They had played in the county town twice before, at the Music Hall on December 14, 1962, and at the Granada on February 28, 1963, as a support act to Helen Shapiro.
By the time of their April concert they had had a monster hit with Please Please Me, while From Me To You was climbing the charts and would reach the top spot. Beatlemania was bursting upon Britain.
As it happens, From Me To You was written by Lennon and McCartney on the tour bus on the way to the Granada gig.
John Lennon wrote: “That night Paul and I wrote From Me To You, we were on the Helen Shapiro tour, on the coach, travelling from York to Shrewsbury. We weren’t taking ourselves seriously – just fooling around on the guitar – when we began to get a good melody line, and we really started to work at it.
“Before that journey was over, we’d completed the lyric, everything. I think the first line was mine and we took it from there.”
But back to that last gig, in which a local group was also on the bill, Andre and the Electrons, led by 20-year-old lead singer and guitarist Andre Wheeldon from Shrewsbury.
A series of fascinating photos was taken in what passed for the dressing room that night at the Music Hall by an unknown photographer, showing The Beatles relaxing.
Ringo Starr is sipping from a glass of wine, Lennon is looking decidedly weary, his trademark Beatle suit dishevelled, his skinny black tie skew-whiff. Empty cups and plates litter the tiny table around which they sit as Paul McCartney, stripped to the waist, towels himself down following the performance.
Sadly Andre is no longer with us, but he was there, sitting next to Lennon who was strumming on his famous Rickenbacker guitar and cracking gags.
And another who was there with the Fab Four was Roger Francis, rhythm guitarist and singer with local band The Deltas, who had first met The Beatles when they were on the same bill at the first concert in December when Ringo Starr was so new to the band that it was his own name on his drumkit, rather than that of The Beatles.
Roger, who lived back then in Belle Vue, Shrewsbury, but now lives in Arleston, said: “Andre Wheeldon’s band was playing and I did a ‘foreigner’ for him – I played with his band even though I wasn’t supposed to because I was with The Deltas.
“Whether there was someone missing from his band I don’t know, but he knew me and there was some reason that I was asked if I could help.
“I had got on well with George Harrison the previous time, we had hit it off, so I asked Andre if there was any chance he could get me in to the dressing room and he said yes, I can get you in. The dressing room was a big communal room and there are three pictures of me with them.
“John and Paul were leading the line really and playing pranks and stuff like that. Ringo was very quiet, but nonetheless a good drummer.”
Roger had already struck up a good relationship in December with George, playing together on their guitars and nattering about chords and so on. During the concert George had spotted Roger in the audience and held up his guitar so he could see the chords he was playing.
“In April they were popular by then and it was a lot busier. I was in the balcony as I could hear more upstairs, the sound somehow carried back further. I was up there with a few people, but they were mainly on the floor downstairs. It was so packed that I stayed upstairs to watch.
“George was down to earth and a nice guy.”
He recalls a rather cruel prank instigated by Lennon in the dressing room at the expense of one female fan.
“One of the stewards said: ‘Somebody wants to come up and see you.’ John said: ‘Everybody – don’t say a word.’
“This poor girl came in all excited and nobody said anything. The only person who spoke was George who said (here Roger adopts a broad Liverpudlian accent): ‘I believe rumour has it that you are madly in love with me.’ The poor kid went running out of the room.”
Roger points out the contrast between The Beatles’ 1962 Music Hall concert when they were relatively unknown and that at the venue just a few months later.
“We heard everything in 1962. We could hear their harmonies. When they came back in 1963 you couldn’t hear anything because of the girls screaming the place down. You really couldn’t hear the music. So I was lucky enough to see them and hear them properly.”
Andre was to recall: “They wrote a song that night. Paul said something to John about a lyric and it was written down on the back of a cigarette packet.
“They were all very personable. Some acts we played with, they had one hit and they would ignore you. The Beatles weren’t like that at all – and they were number one in the charts.
“I remember singing and Paul McCartney coming over to say: ‘You write your own songs as well then?’ He showed an interest and there was no edge to them at all.”
Lennon and McCartney were like a double act who ended each other’s sentences.
“Ringo was nice too, but quiet. On one side of the room there is a window that looks out onto the Square. There is a window seat and Ringo sat in there listening to Radio Luxembourg as it faded in and out, cocking his ear to the radio to hear a particular song.”
Andre watched The Beatles’ performance that night including Please Please Me and their version of Roll Over Beethoven.
“What bits you could hear were great – the screams were drowning the music out and it absolutely packed, totally sold out.
“They were too big to play the Music Hall again. I felt a little sheepish going onstage after The Beatles. They were a bit of an act to follow. But it went okay. Audiences liked anybody with a guitar in those days.”
Andre and the Electrons were paid six guineas – £6 6s.
Lennon, he observed, was definitely the leader of the pack and the one liners for which he would become famous were already evident.
And he gave Andre a bit of sartorial advice.
“I turned up in odd socks. One was a horrible green and the other was maroon. I was probably having a bit of a nervous breakdown because we were playing with The Beatles.
“Lennon grabbed me by the arm and said: ‘Always buy black socks and you will always have a pair.’ I always wear black socks now.”
A second photographer, a young woman believed to have been living in Shrewsbury at the time, was also snapping away in the dressing room and took pictures of Andre with George and Paul, and Andre did make attempts to track them down, but so far as we know they never came to light.
There are other stories about The Beatles in Shropshire, including that Ringo went for a coffee at the top of Wyle Cop with a young lady he had met at Butlin’s in Pwllheli; that George Harrison had paid a visit to a gents’ outfitter in Shrewsbury High Street; and after the Fab Four played at Whitchurch Town Hall Ballroom on January 19, 1963, they enjoyed a drink at the Anchor Inn pub in Pepper Street before heading back to their tour bus.
The general opinion of young Salopians who met them was that they were ordinary and approachable Liverpool lads. Yet in the months that followed they changed the pop music world.