WHEN WE WAS FAB: INSIDE THE BEATLES AUSTRALASIAN TOUR 1964 by ANDY NEILL and GREG ARMSTRONG

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Yeah Yeah We Love Them All, by Dinah Lee (1964)
WHEN WE WAS FAB: INSIDE THE BEATLES AUSTRALASIAN TOUR 1964 by ANDY NEILL and GREG ARMSTRONG

The Beatles' story never seems to tire in the telling and retelling. Even small events can be illuminated by new information or previously unheard recordings, once marginal characters can suddenly appear in the spotlight.

The debate to name The Fifth Beatle will probably carry on long after we're all gone.

The events of the Beatles' 1964 tour in New Zealand – 60 years ago this month at the height of Beatlemania – have been told in newspaper and magazine articles, by those who were there and in Graham Hutchins' slim but interesting book Eight Days A Week.

That Australasian tour began in Scandinavia with Jimmie Nicol standing in for drummer Ringo Starr and came to New Zealand via Scandinavia, Amsterdam, Karachi, Bangkok, Hong Kong (where one of the support acts was the Maori Hi-Five) and pandemonium in Australia. They arrived in Sydney during a tropical downpour, it is estimated half the population of Adelaide (300,000) lined the streets to welcome them.

This was a time when the band were in high spirits, they'd reached the “toppermost of the poppermost” and their many press conferences and interviews – some subsequently available on record – were full of laughter, in-jokes and jibes.

By year's end they would be more jaded – their Christmas album was the aptly titled Beatles For Sale – and in a year John Lennon would be singing “Help me get my feet back on the ground”.

But in mid 1964 – before A Hard Day's Night and with the world at their feet – they flew to the other side of the world for the first and only time in their short career as touring pop stars.

The long arc of that 25 day tour is told in scrupulous detail in When We Was Fab by Andy Neill and Greg Armstrong, from the initial negotiations, telegrams and contracts through to the homeward journey via Indonesia, Singapore, Calcutta, Cairo and Frankfurt.

beatles_programme_1964Travel was long – 35,000 miles – and arduous in 1964.

With pages of annotations, period memorabilia, posters, pictures of Beatle cash-in wigs and toys, concert and crowd photos, and images of the Beatles' Australian and New Zealand discography, this 300 page album-sized hardback would seem to be the final word on that period.

Until some new marginal character steps into the spotlight?

Naturally our immediate attention turns to the generous 56 pages given over to their time in this country.

With scores of photos – many previously unpublished – and comments from fans, those assigned to look after them, interviewers, the Beatles themselves from media reports and interviews, promoters and others, we get as close as is possible in print to what those few days in New Zealand were like.

With some of the conservative social background sketched in (“The Beatles were bound to experience culture shock in the New Zealand of 1964”) we are taken into the tour with comment from Donas Nathan of the Te Pataka Concert Party who welcomed them with tiki and stuffed kiwi as they got off the plane.

Then there are discussions of the waves to the fans from the back of the Holden ute (Lennon blessing the crowd like the Pope) and the motorcade into central Wellington where apparently a pro-Elvis march caused a bit of minor trouble.

S4QWUXYSUTIW5RKZWOUR7PWXJE“I've never seen anything like it,” said Norm Glover of the Kerridge organisation later.

And nor had the country.

It was the group's humour as much as anything that won over the press, although Lennon could be tart as when asked if he'd heard Howard Morrison's I Want to Cut Your Hair.

“No. I've given up listening to the satires. They're not funny anymore. There's about 18,000 of them and once you've heard one you've heard 'em all, as they say in France.”

Howard Morrison and the Huhu's: I Wanna Cut Your Hair
 

But there was seriousness too, notably from Emeritus Professor of Psychology Tony Taylor of Victoria University who was studying the phenomena and interviewed John Lennon about it.

And the incident when a young woman slashed her wrists in Mal Evans' hotel room when she was told she wouldn't be introduced to the Beatles.

There's an interesting sidebar about Lennon's Aunt Mimi being in the country at the same time visiting relatives in Eketāhuna.

beatles_st_georgeWhen asked if she would be seeing the Beatles she replied, “Heavens no . . . I can see them anytime but it's not every day that I travel 12,000 miles to see relatives I've never seen before”.

Such is the accumulation of detail, voices, images and small events in those tumultuous days which sing off the pages with Beatle wit and energy, the outpouring of emotion from fans and . . .

The pages on the New Zealand leg also address the controversy over a civic welcome in Auckland (population a newly announced half million) and journalist Bob Rogers even managed to ask a variation of the infamous “what do you think of New Zealand?”.

He got it in when they were still in the air on their way across to South Island to land in Wellington.

“The mountains look alright,” says Ringo.

Despite their good-natured appearance to New Zealand audiences and the media, the band were less than enchanted by us.

“New Zealand is a drag,” Lennon would say a short time later at the premier of A Hard Day's Night in London when the opening feature was the 15-minute Amazing New Zealand travel documentary.

9781922800688_1“They are so old fashioned. Nothing is up to date. The way of life is slow and funny. It's like I imagine England must have been in the 18th century,” said Harrison.

It wouldn't stay that way for long after their brief visit.

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WHEN WE WAS FAB: INSIDE THE BEATLES AUSTRALASIAN TOUR 1964 by ANDY NEILL and GREG ARMSTRONG. $99 signed by the authors.

From Hedley's Books here

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