10 months ago


52 EVERGREEN Autumn The

52 EVERGREEN Autumn The line-up that the world came to know, with Ringo Starr joining from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. parquet dance floor. Drinks were sold from an oak, hotel-like bar, while a rotating glitter ball cast its thrilling beams of light onto the assembled throng. The stage, though commodious, was only a foot or so above floor level. As well as many local groups, the likes of Joe Brown, Shane Fenton (aka Alvin Stardust) and Gene Vincent all experienced its dizzying lack of height. Thursday nights at Mac’s were all about jazz and many top acts like Kenny Ball, Humphrey Lyttelton and Acker Bilk appeared there. Tuesdays, on the other hand, were reserved for “beat groups”. But while the band may have been billed as “The Most Popular Group in the North”, most local youngsters treated The Beatles’ gig as “just another Tuesday”. That said, 360 people are believed to have turned up — which was certainly an improvement on their Aldershot gig! Imagine yourself, then, in winklepickers, drainpipes or your best chiffon, as loud guitars ring and the drums thump a beat that would become so familiar to so many. You’ve just got a shot of R. White’s from the bar and you’re up for a shot of rhythm and blues. The MC for that night, Don Hedges, recalls that the boys had no stage clothes: “They just got out of an old banger of a van and played as they were.”

2017 EVERGREEN 53 Sadly, other details are sketchy, though we do know the band played two 60-minute sessions between 8 and 11, taking the first and last hours while background music played during an extended interval from 9 till 10. For this they were paid the princely sum of £27.10s. Chuck Berry numbers probably featured heavily, though the band’s quest for originality means the audience would also have been treated to a range of obscure tracks from records supplied by merchant seamen (known as “Cunard Yanks” on Merseyside). This would have introduced them to songs like Bobby Freeman’s “Shimmy Shimmy” or Little Willie John’s “Leave My Kitten Alone”, which they would record in 1964 (but which wouldn’t be released for over 30 years). Of course, there’s also the intriguing possibility that the boys might have tried out some of their own material, like “One After 909” or “Hello Little Girl”, both of which had been written by this time. John Lennon once commented that much of their best work was done during this “pre-theatre” period, so the audience would have been treated to a show packed with energy and excitement, whatever was played. Clearly, the Swindon gig came at a very interesting time in The Beatles’ career. It was, after all, one of Pete Best’s final concerts with the band and, though they’d signed a contract with EMI and had recorded sessions for BBC Radio, the big time was still just out of reach. The months ahead would see them edge closer with yet more live dates and the release of their first single, “Love Me Do”, on 5th October, its climb to number 17 in the hit parade doubtless aided by a live appearance on Granada Television’s People and Places. Three more television appearances came in December, along with a run at the Star Club in Hamburg. Then came 1963, the year it all went mad... The Beatles never returned to North Wiltshire, but many other bands — like The Who and The Yardbirds — did play at Mac’s before it closed when the whole building was modernised in the late 1960s. The department store survived until 1998, when the land was sold for development. The site is now occupied by a sports shop, but it will always have a tiny place in rock history. GREG MORSE

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