December 9th 1961 – The Beatles Play in Front of 18 People.
The Beatles ‘came South’ on December 9th 1961 – to play a gig at the Aldershot Palais!
Agent Sam Leach had booked the Beatles in many venues in the Liverpool area, and was looking to be their full – time manager. However, he had to move quick, as word had got around that someone else was keen to manage them too. He sent his assistant, Terry McCann to London in search of a suitable venue for the Beatles to make their debut in the Capital. Sam would invite the top agents and record companies to the gig, which make a big impression on the Beatles, and secure his role as their manager. However, when Terry returned to Liverpool, he told Sam that he couldn’t find anywhere in London, but instead found a ballroom in Aldershot, some 40 miles outside of London. Sam travelled down to London to tout the Beatles around the major agents, but no-one was interested in even coming to Aldershot to see them.
Sam sent an advert for the gig to the Aldershot News newspaper – but they refused to print the ad before the gig, as it has been paid for by cheque, and hadn’t cleared yet.
Sam Leach had billed the event as a “Battle of the Bands”: London v Liverpool.
However, the London band Ivor Jay and the Jay Walkers, failed to turn up at all, and no other groups had been booked to play.
The Beatles weren’t happy, so Sam Leach went over to the pub opposite and bought two crates of beer. The Beatles cheered up after drinking that!
The Beatles played for about 3 hours, in front of 18 people! and after their performance, had a party with some girls they befriended. About one o’clock in the morning, there was a loud knock on the Palais’ door. When he opened it, Leach was confronted by the local police, who told him everyone had 15 minutes to get out of Aldershot – or else!
It was already well past midnight when the Beatles left Aldershot, and they didn’t fancy the long drive back to Liverpool in the middle of the night, so they decided to go to London instead.
The details of what happened next have been lost in the mist of time, and the alcoholic haze that those involved were undoubtedly in by then. According to Sam Leach, they remembered that an old friend of theirs, Brian Cassar, of Cass and the Cassanovas, had moved from Liverpool to London and was involved in a club called the Blue Gardenia. The club was in Wardour Mews, a very grubby back street, alongside many other illegal, unregistered establishments. The owner of the club was Harry Bidney. Bidney was a leader of an anti-fascist group and was gay. The club, and the street, was a meeting place for gay people, the local prostitutes and gangsters. It was the sort of club Brian Epstein used to frequent on his many trips to London. On February 11th 1961, a big hole was blown in the door of the club by a cocoa-tin bomb, thrown by a customer who was refused entry. The club must have seen just like Hamburg to the Beatles!
It was also a musician’s hangout. Guitar hero Albert Lee was in the house band of the 2 Is coffee bar, and remembers that when the 2 Is closed for the night, he and the band’s drummer, Jimmie Nicol would go to The Blue Gardenia, which was a “late, late, club and play until the early hours”. Jimmie Nicol would tour with the Beatles in 1964, replacing Ringo Starr who was too ill to go on the road
Luckily, the Blue Gardenia stayed open all night, and so the Beatles headed straight there. Memories are very vague to what happened at the Blue Gardenia, though it is believe that at least some of the Beatles got onstage with the house band and sang a few songs. However, Sam’s account of John Lennon singing ‘Twist and Shout’ that night, are rather wide of the mark, as the Isley Brothers version of the song the Beatles based theirs on hadn’t been released yet!
The exact address of the Blue Gardenia is still elusive, In the early 60s, there were many clubs that didn’t have licenses to serve alcohol in the Soho area and didn’t register with the local authorities, and are therefore hard to trace. Many of these were gay clubs, in the days when homosexuality was still illegal, and it’s possible that the Blue Gardenia was one of these, in a later incarnation.
Hear more of the Beatles In London on my London Beatles Walks www.beatlesinlondon.com