With the release of a new movie about The Beatles’ touring days, Anthony Mason has sat down with the two surviving Beatles for some Questions and Answers:
The Beatles’ ascent was like a space shot. And when Ringo Starr joined John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison in 1962, all the astronauts were aboard.
“When Ringo joined, then it was like a real rocketship,” McCartney said. “Then it was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. This it!’”
“We became a band then.” Starr added.
The new documentary “Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years” follows The Beatles on the road from 1963 to 1966 in their heady climb into the pop culture heavens.
Ron Howard, brought in to direct the film, says many of the performances include newly-restored footage. He showed Mason 35mm footage from Manchester -- and some newly-discovered film of their last live performance, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
“There was actually no official footage of Candlestick?” Mason asked.
“No, no, that footage was found under a lady’s bed, most of it,” Howard said. “This lady called in and basically said, ‘You know, I went to that Candlestick and I took some movies. I never developed ‘em. Do you guys wanta look?’ !!!!!”
“I loved it, being under her bed!” Ringo said.
“I didn’t realize she had never looked at it!’ McCartney said.
Holding up an imaginary canvas, Starr said, “It’s like, ‘Oh, who’s this? Picasso?’”
Mason talked with Howard and the two surviving Beatles, Paul and Ringo, this past week at Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles used to make pit stops between tour dates to record with producer George Martin.
“We’d come in here, and it was only me and John knew what we were gonna do that day, ‘cause we’d just written it,” McCartney said. “George Martin would come down from the sort of grown up’s box, and he’d sorta say, ‘What are we gonna do, chaps?’ So we’d go, (sings) ‘If there’s anything that you want…’ And in the next one-and-a-half hours we’d make that song.”
As Beatlemania built, the flood of fans forced them to invent arena rock.
“And then when we end up at Shea,” Starr said, “’cause that is the biggest thing we’d ever done, it was like, far out.”
At Shea Stadium in New York City, in August of 1965, they played before 56,000 fans.
Mason asked, “When you started playing stadiums, arenas, did you plan for that in any way?”
“No, not really. I don’t think we planned for anything,” McCartney replied.
“We just went on with what we had,” Starr said.
There were only two roadies. Mal Evans was one of them. “All our equipment had to be [small] enough so Mal could carry it,” Star said.
Of the noise during the concerts, McCartney said, “I mean, at first the screaming was great, ‘cause it meant we were a success. It was just like, ‘She loves (screams)‘! It was just like, ‘Hey, whoa.’ And after a while, it was like, “I can’t hear you.’”
“And we did diminish a little as musicians,” Starr added, “though it sounds good.”
“But why does it sound good? How could it sound so good when you couldn’t hear them?”
“We played our best, no matter what. And I couldn’t hear them! I was playing, you know, to his foot tapping, to John’s bouncing. You know, and they went (shakes head mimicking Whooooooo!) I couldn’t hear that. I just saw the head and always the whoo.”
“And the thing is, because we put in some many hours as kids, we instinctively knew what to do as a band,” McCartney said. “We were making a pretty good noise, most of the time. Not always!”
On their first trip in the American South, The Beatles unwittingly waded into dangerous political waters. Before a concert at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, the band was told the audience would be segregated.
Mason asked, “How did that get brought up to you at the time?”
“Brian Epstein, our manager, would have just said, ‘Oh, you know, and this show is segregated. There will be black people over here, and there’ll be white people over here,’” McCartney said. “We though they were joking. ‘What do you mean?’ You know we were from Liverpool. We played black, white, all the bands, we just played together. And we actually put it in the contract. [It specified that group would not perform in front of a segregated audience.] It wasn’t a big political gesture, it was just instinct.”
Starr said of segregation, “We didn’t understand it.”
McCartney said it wasn’t a political act: “It was just like, ‘No, we’re not doin’ it.’”
The Gator Bowl relented, and the audience was desegregated. But the crowds and the commotion around their appearances grew.
Mason asked, “Was there a specific point you remember when you really started getting tired of it?”
“I felt personally I was not playing the best I could,” Starr said.
“It came to the final concert in Candlestick Park -- we were all getting a bit fed up, but I was still resisting -- ’Oh yeah, it’s good. We oughta keep going,’” McCartney said. “And then we got put in this van, which was like chrome interior. And we were just sliding around in there. And we all looked at each other. And I said, ‘Well, you’re right, this is it. Forget it. This is just stupid.’ ‘Cause the conditions were just brutal.”
After that concert in August 1966, The Beatles retreated to the studio. That November at Abbey Road, they began recording “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
They never toured again, and broke up three years later.
As McCartney says in “Eight Days a Week,” “By the end it became quite complicated, but at the beginning things were really simple.”
“That was the thing about The Beatles,” he told Mason. “We were a great little band. Really.”
To watch a trailer for “Eight Days a Week” click on the video player below.
For more info:
- “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years” (Official site) - Exclusive theatrical release featuring restored Shea Stadium concert footage begins September 16
- On September 17 a streaming version of the film will be available exclusively on Hulu