Interview: Harrogate musicians who ‘impressed The Beatles’ in 1963 on famous night they played Royal Hall
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Published by Omnibus Press, “Beatlemania – A Year In The Life 1963” includes two pages on the night young Harrogate bands played with John, Paul, George and Ringo on Friday, March 8, 1963.
That day was the only visit to the town by the world's greatest band.
The poster of the concert still hangs in the magnificent Edwardian venue.
The story of the momentous year of 1963 could not be told by the new book’s author Dafydd ap Rees without talking to veteran Harrogate musicians George McCormick and Bob Mason
Both were teenage members of local band Ricky Fenton and The Apaches; George being lead singer and rhythm guitarist and Bob lead guitarist.
On the 60th anniversary of that unforgettable night, the veteran twosome talked to the Harrogate Advertiser and revealed:
The Beatles were not yet superstars and were just “ordinary guys”.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney carried their own gear in and out of the Royal Hall like any other aspiring musicians.
The Beatles took time to say at the time they were impressed by all the local support bands that night.
“Nobody knew The Beatles in March 1963,” says George McCormick. “We’d heard Love Me Do and Please, Please Me and they’d had just recorded From Me To You a few days earlier but that hadn’t been released yet.
"When they pulled up in a small yellow van, we asked “which one’s Paul?”
"There was no security, no Beatlemania.
"Mal Evans, their roadie, was helping the four of them bring their equipment into the Royal Hall.
"At one point, Paul accidentally bumped into our gear. My dad, who was also our manager, said “you clumsy bugger.”
"Paul immediately said sorry. They were just ordinary guys.”
One thing that wasn’t ordinary, however, even at that early stage in their career, was their music.
"They were rockier than us and wrote a lot of their own songs.
"We were impressed with The Beatles sound. It didn’t sound like anyone else.
"John had a Rickenbacker guitar which he’d got in Hamburg.
"We’d never seen one before."
The Beatles also took the time to check out the three Harrogate bands – including local female vocal group The Chinchillas - on the bill the only night they came to town.
Bob Mason remembers: “The Beatles watched the support acts from the side of the stage and said nice things about us.
“We played two sets that night and we opened and closed for them.
“Barry Corbett and the Mustangs were having a bit of trouble with their PA and The Beatles offered to use their’s but they got it fixed.
"John Lennon said to Barry “these guys are good”, meaning us.”
George McCormick said The Beatles appreciated what Ricky Fenton and the Apaches were doing.
"We were a six-piece and had an organist with a primitive synthesizer so we could make the strange noises in The Tornado’s hit Telstar.
"We were using an echo chamber with it which The Beatles seemed very interested in.
"The Beatles had a go at my guitar back stage in the dressing room.
"I had a Hagstrom, which was a copy of a Gibson but a third of the price.”
The now veteran musicians – Bob still plays as part of a duo with his wife Denise, George has retired – remain grateful to this day for promoter Derek Arnold who took a punt on The Beatles after Love Me Do was a minor hit and brought them unknowningly to Harrogate’s Royal Hall just as Beatlemania beckoned.
"Derek ran a record shop in Halifax but booked gigs across Yorkshire,” said George.
"At the time we were playing youth clubs and parties.
"Barry Corbett and the Mustangs were Harrogate’s biggest band at the time and Derek got them loads of dates at town halls.
"They couldn’t cover everything so our band would fill in for them.
"Derek made a lot of money as a promoter but none of it would have happened without him.”
This isn’t the first time George and Bob have shared their memories of the night The Beatles came to town.
Not only with the Harrogate Advertiser but TV shows.
On the 50th anniversary of the date in 2013, they appeared on BBC’s Look North.
They say they would change only one thing, if they could.
"My biggest regret is we could have asked John and Paul to write us a song,” said George.
"Imagine how that might have changed our lives.”
But times have changed and 60 years is a long time ago even if the memories remain fresh.
Both George and Bob are proud that Ricky Fenton and the Apaches have become a significant footnote in musical history, a status amplified by the publication of new book Beatlemania – A Year In The Life 1963.
But they haven’t forgotten those no longer with us from Harrogate’s music scene.
"We miss the Apaches’ bass player Dennis Wardman, who died aged 75 in 2017,” said George.
"And the great Barry Corbett sadly left us recently this year aged 81,” added Bob.
"They will both live on as long as the Royal Hall has the poster of the 1963 concert hanging in the venue.”