Pop CultureJune 22, 2024

‘I couldn’t really hear anything’: The Beatles in Wellington, reviewed 60 years later


It was 60 years ago today… that The Beatles played to a roaring crowd in Wellington’s town hall. Alex Casey’s dad was there, straining to hear a single note. 

Normally my Dad answers my calls with a cheery “Sunny Takeaways” – a reference to the local fish and chip shop that hasn’t been called that for about two decades. But this week, he was trying something new. “Cavern Club”, he answered, referring to the iconic Liverpool bar that played host to hundreds of early Beatles gigs. Given that today marks 60 years since my dear old Dad went to see the fab four live in Wellington, it was a fitting way to start our interview.

As he fussed about the kitchen, I asked what his pop consumption was like prior to Beatlemania. Having moved to Petone in the early 1960s, he recalled weekends at the roller rink listening to The Yardbirds and The Animals. “Strap on”, he said. Pardon? “Strap-on roller skates.” His first movie was Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, first record was Doris Day’s ‘Everybody Loves a Lover’ and he watched TV through the window of Hanlon’s radio shop. 

I told him it sounded like he grew up on a different planet. “It sort of was, really,” he said. 

Born in 1950, Dad was a bit young for the trendy teenage gangs of Bodgies, Widgies and Bikies, but he did have an early passion for music. He funded his habit through a paper round, delivering the Sports Post around Petone at six o’clock every Saturday night. “You always took it right up to the door, and because it was six o’clock closing back then, quite a lot of them would be pissed,” he laughed. “So they’d give you extra money, really good tips.” 

Dad in the early 1960s, probably logging all his tips. (Photo: Supplied)

He used those tips to buy a homemade Fender Stratocaster and a subscription to the UK music magazine Beat Instrumental, which arrived every month into his special file at the local shop. It may have been in those pages where he first encountered The Beatles, or maybe it was on the Saturday night radio countdown. To be honest, he was getting distracted during the interview by his loaf of bread in the oven (“seeds in it and rock salt on the top, gives it a little bit of edge.”)

“I do remember when the new tunes came out,” said Dad. “I think the first one was ‘She Loves You’ and it just totally exploded.” He was 13 at the time, the ideal age for a severe case of Beatlemania, but Dad remained relatively aloof about his relationship with the band as a youngster. “It was just sort of a fad that you got caught up in and went along with,” he recalled. “I don’t remember harping on about them or anything, it all just sort of happened to me.” 

What also “happened” to my dad was the purchase of a giant plastic Beatle wig. “They came like a big black plastic helmet, and you had to get a Stanley knife and cut out the face so there was just the hair left,” he recalled. “I don’t think I ever wore it in public, a bit naff really.” Still, there was enough enthusiasm there that his then 50-year-old mother, who had never been to a concert before, sought out tickets to the much-anticipated Wellington show. 

Fans at the Beatles concert, Wellington Town Hall. (Image: Hill, Morris James, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington)

“I must have asked for them, but I don’t remember nagging or saying please, please me,” he said, slipping in an annoying joke I would only catch when listening back through the interview. “I have no idea how Mum got the tickets, you must have had to buy them in person because it was all cash and cheques back then.” With The Beatles scheduled to play two shows a night in Wellington over two nights, his mum nabbed tickets to the very first show. 

Miraculously, Dad can still remember what he wore that night: “A dark brown Beatle jacket with a black check through it, a shirt, trousers and my pointy winklepicker shoes.” His pride and joy was a studded belt that his mum had found for him during her weekly shift at the City Mission Jumble Sale. “Very flash belt, not pointy studs, more like little rosettes,” Dad explained, the bread fumes momentarily allowing him to recall the most minute of details from six decades ago.

Accompanied by his mother, he caught two buses from Petone to the Wellington Town Hall on Monday June 22, 1964. They had seats high up in the organ loft behind the stage, and Dad remembers a line of policemen facing the throng of screaming young women. “It was really, really noisy,” he said. “You couldn’t really hear anything because of all the screaming. If you put your fingers in your ears, it sort of filtered out the screaming and you could hear the singing.”

Beatles Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison singing during their Wellington concert. (Image: Dominion Post, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington)

The stage set up was relatively simple – no fancy lighting or set pieces. But when The Beatles walked out in their matching suits and their bowl hair cuts, Dad recalled complete chaos throughout the town hall. “I later found out that somebody fell off the balcony, right over the edge onto the stage. People were standing on their seats and puncturing them with their heels, the whole town hall was just in uproar,” he said. 

There was a technical issue with the sound that saw John Lennon storm off stage. “Probably wouldn’t have mattered with all the noise going on anyway,” said Dad. They played 10 or so songs back to back, and didn’t have time for idle chit chat. “There wasn’t any banter there, I don’t remember them being on stage for very long at all. It was almost quite clinical, in a way, but I still felt very privileged to be there and grateful to my mother for enduring it.” 

Dad remained a fan of The Beatles throughout his teens, but also moved on to the likes of The Kinks and The Rolling Stones, embracing the velvet suits and shaggy hair. “I definitely remember the Sgt Peppers era and ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’,” he paused. “… And the other experiences that go with that era.” I asked what he meant by “other experiences”. “… And the other experiences that go with that era,” he repeated slowly. 

His only souvenir from the Beatles concert was a Parlophone Records postcard promoting Teal Airlines. And, as someone who has never discarded a single margarine container in his entire life, of course he still has it 60 years later. On the front, the lads are all smiling behind their reproduced signatures. “You don’t need a Prominent Musician’s income to beatle off to FARAWAY PLACES”, the back reads. “Ask TEAL about it!” 

Six decades on, Dad draws parallels between Beatlemania and Taylor Swift’s Eras tour. “What’s so different now is the scale of it all,” he said. “I was listening to the radio the other day talking about when Taylor Swift goes to a country, and the GDP actually increases just because of the money she generates.” Could he be bothered waiting in a virtual online ticket queue for hours? “Back then I would have, but not today.” 

While he is grateful for the experience of seeing all four Beatles live in the flesh, Dad wouldn’t be interested in seeing the surviving band members should they ever return to Aotearoa – in fact, he didn’t even realise Ringo Starr was still alive. “No, I don’t think so. They are sort of superannuation tours aren’t they? Just the hassle of getting there… no, no, no,” he said, admiring his freshly baked loaf. “I’m old, I’d much rather stay home.”

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