The First Time: Alan Fitter – The Beatles, Finsbury Park Astoria, 8th January 1964

I guess that before you go to your first gig, you have get into music and find out what you like and what your tastes are, which in my day wasn’t very easy because I’m older than I think I am and I pre-date rock and roll!

I’m presuming that the majority of readers of this website (and this article) are younger than me – you’ll be able to work out what my age is later in the article. I was born at a time when the world was in black and white and covered in fog, smog and cigarette smoke which almost obliterated any colour there was. Clothes were mainly grey and white and television was of course in black and white until 1967 but not many peole could afford a colour TV then anyway. Even the music was black and white – well kind of. As I was growing up, there wasn’t any music aimed at teenagers – in fact there weren’t teenagers as we know the word today – they weren’t seen as a separate demographic – you went from childhood to adulthood with nothing much in-between. The music heard on the BBC Light programme was aimed at adults and featured Mantovani, The Stargazers and Friday Night Is Music Night etc. with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat “King” Cole making the odd appearance – all music for my parents’ generation and not for mine.

Across the pond in the USA, rock and roll was starting to happen but there wasn’t any way of hearing it here as the BBC just didn’t have an outlet for it or the will to sully the airwaves with the likes of Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis. However, there was a way that for people interested in that kind of music could hear a little of it although under odd and sometimes difficult circumstances – and that was Radio Luxembourg on 208 medium wave. Here there were a number of programmes sponsored by record companies such as EMI and Decca who were promoting their singles on the station as they weren’t getting played on the BBC. One of the problems was most of those shows were on late at night and it meant hiding under the bedcovers and keeping the volume down so your parents couldn’t hear you were still awake. I was lucky that in 1958 my grandmother went to New York to visit family and brought me back a state-of-the-art transistor radio the size of a packet of cigarettes which had an earphone (just one as nothing was broadcast in stereo) so I was able to listen surreptitiously without my parents knowing. There was another big problem though – the reception was incredibly bad and the sound kept fading in and out but we wanted to hear this new music so badly that we persevered.

As time went on the BBC started to play some ‘beat’ music with Saturday Club playing skiffle in the late 50s and then giving exposure to the British rock and rollers such as Cliff Richard, Adam Faith. Marty Wilde and Johnny Kidd none of whom really appealed to me. I had started to buy the odd record – the first one being an EP (extended play 45 rpm) by Buddy Holly featuring ‘Rave On’, ‘Take Your Time’, ‘Early In The Morning’ and ‘Now We’re Gone’. which I still have.

Then in October 1962, my world changed as it burst into colour even if it was not quite technicolour, with the release of ‘Love Me Do’ the first single by The Beatles and my music world was never to be the same. I’m not sure if I would have heard the record on Radio Luxembourg or on the aforementioned Saturday Club where they made their BBC radio debut. I realised that I no longer had to listen to my parents music or insipid British rock and rollers – music aimed directly at me had arrived and I couldn’t get enough of it as I raced down to my local record shop to buy this amazing 45 and I continued buying records by The Beatles as soon as they were released.

However, this article is about my first gig and although there lots of groups (as they were called then) touring the country, there weren’t the small venues there are today so I had to wait until I was old enough and had saved up enough pocket money to buy a ticket. The other band I had fallen in love with was The Rolling Stones who, as I lived in Surrey, were seen as a local band and I really couldn’t decide which of the two groups were my favourites. I bought the  Stones debut single ‘Come On’ the day it was released and bought the Record Mirror to see if it had made the charts. That record also introduced me to the great Chuck Berry who became another big favourite of mine.

Then in 1963 The Beatles announced they were going to do a Christmas show at the Finsbury Park Astoria (later the Rainbow and now a Brazilian church) for sixteen nights starting on December 24th 1963 and ending on January 11th 1964. It was ironic that the show was in north London as in 1962 we had gone transpontine moving from Clapton, a fifteen-minute bus ride from Finsbury Park to Wimbledon in south London. So even if I got a ticket, getting there would be a problem as transport links weren’t as good then as they are now. Now I can’t remember if I used birthday and Christmas money to get the ticket although it’s quite possible my Dad gave me the money as my sister who was thirteen, two years younger than me (now you know how old I am) had to go too. I have no idea how you bought the tickets back then. I guess you had to go to the box office and queue as according to the website Beatles Bible, all 100,000 tickets sold out within a few weeks – nothing compared to the way tickets sell out in minutes these days but quite something back then before the internet and modern technology.

There were two shows a day at 6:40 and 9:00pm with no performances on Sundays due to the laws back then. Tickets were 15 shillings (75p), 12 shillings and sixpence (63p), ten shillings (50p), seven shillings and six pence (38p) and five shillings (25p). To put it in context, the top price tickets at today’s money would be around £13! We got two tickets for the 9:00pm show on Wednesday January 8th in row FF which cost 15 shillings and I think because of the seat numbering system back then, we were six rows from the front! How do I know all this you’re probably asking – well even back then I was a hoarder and still have the ticket stub (see photo)!

As for the day itself, I really don’t remember much although I’m sure I would have been pretty excited. I can only think Dad drove my sister and I there as 9:00pm was pretty late for two young teenagers and on a school night too. They probably went and visited relatives who lived nearby, and having dropped us off he went back to the relatives house and then came and picked us up when it was over and then drove home.

The concert itself I’m afraid isn’t burned in my memory nearly sixty years later so I’ve had to refer to various websites to jog it. Also on the bill were Rolf Harris (who introduced the acts), Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas, The Fourmost, Cilla Black, Tommy Quickly and The Barron Knights all of whom apart from The Barron Knights were managed by Brian Epstein. According to the Beatle Bible website: The first act, with five minutes on stage, were the Barron Knights and Duke D’Mond. Next came short sets from Tommy Quickly and The Fourmost, and Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas closed the first half. Following the interval there was a return from the Barron Knights and Duke D’Mond, then Cilla Black, and Rolf Harris. The Beatles were each evening’s final act. I’m pretty sure The Beatles made their first appearance coming out from a mocked-up helicopter with Harris introducing them. They also appeared in various comic sketches throughout the show including one where they dressed up as doctors although thankfully, I can’t remember any of them!

At the end the band played a twenty-five-minute set and according to Setlist FM it consisted of:

  1. Roll Over Beethoven
  2. All My Loving
  3. This Boy
  4. I Wanna Be Your Man
  5. She Loves You
  6. Till there Was You
  7. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  8. Money (That’s What I want)
  9. Twist And Shout

However, I heard none of it as the sound of nearly three thousand screaming teenage girls (and the few boys) drowned everything out. I kept asking my sister to shut up but I was fighting a losing battle so whilst I can say I got to see The Beatles live, I can’t say I ever heard them!

So that was my first ever gig and you could say it’s been downhill since then although I’d disagree and I’ve gone on to see some wonderful gigs over the years and since I’m very old, I’ve seen most of the acts on my bucket list with only two left now – Tom Waits and Dion – but I’m not sure I’ll get to see either of them in my lifetime. However, I’m still seeing new people all the time and in February I’m seeing Bonny Light Horseman, so there are still loads of people to see.

As a footnote, my second gig was just four days later at the much closer to home, Granada Tooting when I saw my other favourite band, The Rolling Stones with The Ronettes paying eight shillings and sixpence (42p) to sit in row E and drool at Ronnie Spector (well I was only fifteen) but that’s a story for another day!

2 Comments

  1. Well…that’s the bar set high for the rest of us. So Cool.

    What a time that was (it was) when the biggest bands could be seen in what would be regarded today as mid-size or even small venues (Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks or Bob Dylan at the 100 Club anyone?).

  2. I love this series. Music is what we come here for, but these pieces give us so much more.

    Per Jonathon’s comment, what was it that made that talent available to smaller venues –

    – record company support?
    – limited knowledge that events were happening ?
    – even if advertised in national press, limited ability to travel due to school / work / available funds?
    – that hindsight is 20/20 and the artists were seen as good but not necessarily iconic?

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