THE BEATLES 1963: A Year In The Life By Dafydd Rees

It is a testament to the everlasting affection in which The Beatles are held that books like this exist, not to mention the effort that goes into their research and writing. The concept is simple: a precise and detailed account of their activities on every single day during the year of their UK breakthrough, the first year of Beatlemania, accompanied in the most part by first-hand reports from many of those who were around at the time, whether in the audience for a show, or in a support band, or who just happened to encounter them somewhere or other.

It is an extraordinary book and it will take me weeks to read it all, though I have already fast-forwarded to dates of greater than usual significance. It invites dipping but if I were to devote eight hours a day to reading it straight, from page one to page 544, I might finish it by Christmas. I am reliably informed by its editor that the word count is 309,000. Author Dafydd Rees actually delivered 477,000 and was asked to it cut back to save on print costs. 

        Even more so than the exhaustive books written by Mark Lewisohn, who evidently lent his support, Beatles 1963 is the ultimate Beatles’ nerd book but at the same time utterly gripping, at least for those of my generation who were smitten by them. If, like me, you occasionally drift back nostalgically to the summer of 1963, when ‘She Loves You’ topped the charts, when it seemed as if The Beatles were the answer to our prayers, a gift from the Gods, then this is the book for you. At the beginning of the year we didn’t know one from the other. By the end their names were carved on our hearts for ever. 

The book is also curiously moreish. I pick it up intending to spend half an hour with it, or read the entries for two or three days, and end up spending an hour or more reading the entries for a whole week. Mark Lewisohn’s books have more insight, context and comment and are written from a more scholarly perspective, but the detail that Dafydd Rees has brought to his book is mind-boggling. 

Let’s look at a random entry. I open the book at page 208, June 9. At the top is the second half of a lengthy description of the June 8 show in Newcastle, carried over from the previous page, by Heather Page, a housewife from Tyne And Wear. In a nutshell, Heather says it wasn’t a sell-out and fans weren’t screaming. But when she tried to get tickets for the Beatles’ next appearance at the same venue there were queues around the block and she couldn’t get in. 

Next up we learn that the drive from Newcastle to Blackburn took three hours, and that there were two shows at the 3,500-seater King’s Hall, their last on a 21-date UK tour with Roy Orbison. “During the second house, a group of girls got past the police cordon and rushed the stage,” writes Rees. “Eileen Tripper, a pupil at Rhyddings Secondary School, was intercepted before she could reach her favourite Beatle, John. One male teen climbed on to the ledge of the balcony. Another teen shouted ‘Up the Rolling Stones’ and was duly thumped with an umbrella by a girl nearby.”

The Blackburn Times reported: “A seething mass of fans made it to the stage at the end of the first house, but their passions had nothing on the second. Then, even a barrier of policemen failed to quench their enthusiasm, and a few succeeded in mounting the stage – almost delirious when they had actually touched a Beatle! But many more were dragged unceremoniously away, to be pitched back into the rabble.”

There’s follows an account of the show by Carole Donnelley, a solicitor’s legal assistant, who lives in Darwen. According to her, one fan jumped on stage and nicked Roy Orbison’s glasses. 

It helps the book that during 1963 The Beatles worked as if their lives depending on it. On nights off during tours they played one-nighters here there and everywhere, and when they weren’t performing they were recording, or taping shows for BBC radio or TV, or doing interviews or having their photographs taken. The only let up occurred during the second half of September when they all took a holiday, George famously visiting the USA, the first Beatle to do so, to spend time with his sister Louise, his travelling companion his elder brother Peter. Included among precise details of this trip is an account of the night George, completely unknown in the USA, played with a local band in Eldorado, Missouri. “It was like someone threw a switch in that room,” says an onlooker. “The difference was dramatic.” Louise remembers people banging their fists on tables and stamping their feet, and someone else later saying to a member of the group: “That new kid that’s trying out for your band. You’d be crazy not to take him on.”

These two extracts represent less than a quarter of a percent of the entire book. It is clear from the entries that Dafydd Rees has spent years poring through old editions local newspapers to gather his information and seeking out fans through correspondence. It’s the fans’ recollections that carry the most weight. Their memories are vivid and somehow more authentic, more personal, for their matter-of-factness. The miracle is that all these boys and girls, as they were then, remember their encounters so clearly. They are memories they will take to their graves, and they prove beyond doubt that there was far more to The Beatles than simply the music they made. Exactly what is was that caused so many of the post war generation in this country – and later the world – to accept John, Paul, George and Ringo with such passion has always been somehow inexplicable, though many have tried. Beatles 1963 might not provide the answer but it takes you there and leaves you with a sense of wonder that this really did happen. 

The book is illustrated throughout, with many photos unseen, or rarely seen, before, and all quoted contributors have supplied contemporary pictures of themselves. There is also an eight-page colour section, eight pages that seek to answer myths, and detailed source notes. RRP is £25, £18.75 on Amazon. 

1 comment:

Colin Harper said...

What a lovely review, Chris - I will very likely buy the book as a result of it. There was undoubtedly, and there remains, something completely unique about the Beatles, much greater than the sum of the parts and not shared by any other musical act of the 'rock era'. I don't think anyone will really get to the bottom of it. I'm not a diehard Beatles fan - I wasn't born until the late 60s so I didn't live through it - but I do enjoy some of the later albums ('Revolver' and 'Abbey Road' [minus the ghastly 'Maxwell...'] mainly, and many of the singles). My only way to connect with the first half of their career is from the perspective of historical interest rather than passion, but it's enough. Is there much in the book about the late, great Duffy Power, whose path crossed the Beatles' a few times in 1963?