Author To Speak On The Beatles’ Most Formative Year: ‘The Beatles 1963’ Talk At Eldredge Library Feb. 8

by Tim Wood
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What were The Beatles doing on Jan. 4, 1963? What about Feb. 11? Nov. 4?

The answers are, in order: performing before about two dozen people in Elgin, Scotland; recording their first album in one day at London’s Abbey Road studios; and entertaining the queen at the Royal Command Performance, where John Lennon famously asked those in the cheaper seats to clap along while asking the royals to “just rattle your jewelry.”

These and other details about the band’s journey to stardom during 1963 are contained in “The Beatles 1963: A Year In The Life,” a day-by-day record of what author Dafydd Rees says was the Fab Four’s most important year.

“It was really the idea that they start the year flying in from Hamburg in the snow, and ‘Love Me Do’ was in the charts but they weren’t known outside the northwest, really,” said Rees, a Barnstable resident who will speak about the book at the Eldredge Public Library on Thursday, Feb. 8. “By the end of the year they were six weeks away from Ed Sullivan.”

The meticulously researched, 527-page book tracks everything The Beatles were doing each and every day during 1963: where they stayed, where they performed, who they performed with, how they traveled, sometimes even what they ate. Rees, a longtime music writer, spent a decade compiling the information, combing through local newspapers and tracking down people who were at the performances or interacted with the band members in one way or another. He traveled to the UK three times, spending two months each time researching, driving where the band had driven, visiting the venues where they played (that still exist), and meeting people with stories to tell.

“It took me about 10 years to research, because I was determined to get it as right as I could,” he said during a recent interview. “I just went through all the local newspapers wherever they went,” as well as combing through the four weekly music magazines published in the UK at the time.

By 1963, Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison had been playing together for six years (Ringo joined the band the previous August), and would break up less than eight years later. They started the year by touring Scotland during one of the worst winters in UK history, playing small venues before small audiences, driving in a shabby van through snow storms from gig to gig. Even though they had a single in the charts, they honored that tour, as well as others that year that manager Brian Epstein had previously arranged. They were paid as little as 40 pounds per gig.

The relentless touring that year forged a tight bond between the band members and also helped hone their skills, which had been sharpened during marathon performances in Hamburg, Germany, the previous year. They toured with famous American musicians like Roy Orbison and Tommy Roe as well as well-known British singers like Helen Shapiro, played dozens of radio and TV shows and recorded two number one albums and several top singles, including much of their most famous early music.

“They just never stopped,” Rees said.

What makes “The Beatles 1963” different from other books that chronicle the Fab Four’s career is the inclusion of recollections from people who were there. For each day, Rees found someone who somehow interacted with the band, either as a fan at a show, a musician who played on the same bill, and even the assistant engineer on their first LP.

Rees wrote to local newspapers in the towns where The Beatles performed and asked them to publish a request for anyone who saw the band at the time to get in touch. “I got quite a good response,” he said. He enlisted a colleague to phone many of the respondents and collect their memories; others sent in emails or essays. These recollections provide a deeper understanding of the times as well as interesting details about both the band and the UK.

“People ask me what I’d say if Paul McCartney asked to write something,” Rees said. “I’d say no. It’s really about the people around them. The book is really the fans, the people who were on the bills with them or the support acts when they did smaller gigs, the second engineer of the ‘Please Please Me’ album.”

By the end of 1963, Beatlemania had overtaken the UK and was about to break in America. The band’s arc that year was “unprecedented,” Rees said. “Decisions made at the time that you don’t think much of were incredibly important.” An example: Producer George Martin originally intended to record the band’s first album live at the (now famous) Cavern Club in their hometown of Liverpool. But the acoustics at the basement venue were awful, so Martin suggested doing their live show in the studio. They spent the entire day of Feb. 11 recording what became the ‘Please Please Me’ album at Abbey Road.

“Had George Martin not decided on the concept of a live album, that first album would be very different,” Rees said. “And that first album was their live act.”

Rees’ Feb. 8 talk will include slides of maps, photos of the band from 1963 and ticket stubs from shows. “I’ll work my way through the year,” he said. The timing of the 5 p.m. talk is not random; it’s one day shy of the 60th anniversary of The Beatles first performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, which kicked off Beatlemania on this side of the pond.

“I cannot conceive of what they must have been going through” during 1963, as The Beatles went from a local band who would casually chat with fans before and after gigs to international superstars who couldn’t go out in public in just 12 months. “They’re working class lads from Liverpool, and by the end of the year they’d met the queen mother, they’d met Princess Margaret. I can’t even get my head around what that must have been like.”