When you look around New Brighton these days, the enduring interest in the history and heritage of the town is only too clear — evidenced by so many of our local businesses that display old photos. But there’s one piece of our town history that seems to get neglected and that’s our connection with The Beatles !. There’s a commemorative stone on Tower Promenade which celebrates the fact that they played at the Tower Ballroom on 27 occasions in the early 1960’s but it’s not prominently placed and often gets completely overlooked by visitors and locals alike. The Tower Ballroom was the fourth most played venue by the Fab Four during a time when they were learning their stage-craft, beginning to write their own songs and where they were still playing as the first rumblings of “Beatle-mania” began to reverberate across the United Kingdom and into the rest of Europe.
All of them of course had a pre-Beatles familiarity with the town. Like tens of thousands of other Liverpool day trippers each of them made their way over here with either friends or family:— in the 50’s catching the iconic New Brighton summer-cruise Ferry The Royal Iris. The Beatles would later play on The Iris four times and supported Acker Bilk on one occasion and Johnny Kidd and The Pirates on another. There are photos of the McCartney family on New Brighton beach, Jim pulling faces for the camera, Mary smiling shyly and Paul and Mike laughing happily – an ordinary Liverpool family on a day trip to the seaside. Later, John and Cynthia made their way over from Liverpool when their relationship first began and Cynthia name—checks New Brighton in her book “John”.
But it was a Liverpool promoter called Sam Leach who first brought the group “The Beatles” to New Brighton, when he decided to hire the Tower Ballroom and put on a Rock n Roll Show, like the ones he’d read about that were taking place in America. The hire cost was £50 and the idea was to have a big venue with lots of acts, where the youngsters could be packed in to indulge their passion for the sort of music that was driving their Mums and Dads to distraction. Sam called it “Operation Big Beat” and on November 10th 1961 over four thousand people turned up, which made it all a bit of a runaway success. So much so in fact that – against Paul McCartney’s advice – Sam decided to do it all over again two weeks later. On the night of 24th November 1961 though, The Beatles played to an audience in excess of four and a half thousand, which gives New Brighton an unparalleled role in The Beatles story, because this was the largest crowd that they ever played to on the mainland of the UK !.
In Sam Leach’s biographical account of his involvement with the band in his book “Rocking City” he says of those first Beatles bookings at The Tower and the reaction of the crowd:- “I had never seen anything like it before in my life… .. this was when Beatle-mania broke out… .”. Rory Storm was there, Gerry and The Pacemakers were there, The Remo Four, Lee Curtis and The All Stars – it was a who’s who of what was going on in the burgeoning Merseybeat scene. On the first occasion Ringo – who was still playing with Rory Storm at the time – arrived at The Tower carrying his drum kit, having had to dump his car streets away when
the Wallasey police closed the roads to The Tower Car Park due to the volume of traffic. Gerry Marsden similarly had to walk the last few hundred yards and laughingly said to Sam “It’s like Anﬁeld on match day 2!”.
And they came back to New Brighton again and again. You can tell they were comfortable here from some of the stories that are told about their appearances and just as much so from the few surviving photos that show them both onstage and backstage. One of the classic photos from their time there catches them in the dressing room with Little Richard to whom that night they played support. Four young men in their recently acquired suits, crowded around one of their rock and roll
heroes, the pleasure evident on each of their faces.
On 6th April 1962 The Beatles were here once again and before going on stage Paul noticed Iris Caldwell (Rory Storm’s sister) dancing with the professional dance group she’d joined “The Original King Twisters”. He already knew the seventeen year old lris well, but that night he was so impressed he went home and started to write a song, that was mostly complete when John called at his house the following morning. He was calling it “Seventeen”… . and it was one of the songs – now called “I Saw Her Standing There” – that less than two years later virtually brought America to a standstill when they played on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was also the last song that John Lennon ever performed live, when in 1974 he appeared at Madison Square Garden in New York with Elton John. It was a song that came from New Brighton !!
There’s a letter from John Lennon written in September 1962 that thanks “Joan” for her fan letter, then goes on to say a (broken) plectrum is enclosed, also an autographed cigarette packet, and then it chattily states:- “I hope you enjoyed The Tower performance on Friday – I hope next week’s is better” (ll). Hard to think that such personal correspondence to an unknown fan was once so part of their lives.
The Beatles “farewell ball” to mark one of their trips to Hamburg, was held here in New Brighton. Brian Epstein arrived on the scene and negotiated with Sam Leach to use The Tower to continue promoting The Beatles (a long story that didn’t end well for Sam… ). Their appearance fee for the Tower shows catapulted, from £10 a show at the start, to a massive £40 a year later (and seven years after that of course they were offered $1,000,000 to play one booking in New York l1).
Frankly, New Brighton has its important place in Beatles folklore and we really should make a little more of it – it could be the place where Beatles Wirral history gets the proper recognition it deserves. The first official promotional photos of them were taken in Wallasey Village, their first stage suits were bought in Birkenhead, they were first worn at a public booking in Heswall, Ringo’s first appearance as a fully fledged Beatle was in Ellesmere Port….. New Brighton would be a great place to celebrate not just its own connections with those four lads who went on to shake the world, but with that rich wider Wirral Beatles history that hides itself away so well. Wouldn’t it be something if we could have some sort of permanent exhibition place that would capture the imaginations of Beatles fans who still come from all over the world to marvel at all things fab?!!.