Memories of the day The Beatles came to town
Last updated Dec 23, 2023

Readers of The Stray Ferret have been sharing their memories after we reported that an original poster for The Beatles’ only Harrogate show fetched £3,000 at auction.

Among several comments from people who had been in the audience that evening were: “Didn’t pay much attention to the Beatles, just dancing to their music” and “you couldn’t hear anything but screaming”.

Sandra Reed told us her memory of the night is rather hazy, although she does remember the “lovely atmosphere” and the dancing which was “such good fun”. She added:

“And the noise! The Beatles were so much louder than any performer. Girls were screaming … they were the start of boy bands.”

‘The Sensational Beatles’

The Beatles played their only Harrogate gig, billed as ‘Dancing for Teens and Twenties’, at The Royal Hall on March 8, 1963. They had been booked the previous year by Derek Arnold, an astute music shop owner from Halifax who also acted as a promoter for some of the Harrogate bands. Derek organised many of the shows that took place in the town around that time, and bagged a date from The Beatles after seeing their first UK single, Love Me Do, sell like hot cakes in his record shop on its release in October 1962.

By the time John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr came to Harrogate just a few months later, The Beatles were beginning to make a name for themselves. Their second single, Please Please Me, had reached number 2 in the charts in January 1963. Their first number 1 would come just a month after their Royal Hall show with their April 1963 single From Me To You.

So when they came to Harrogate as part of a series of promotional dates across the UK in advance of their USA tour, the poster for the show described them as ‘The Sensational Beatles… The recording stars of Please Please Me’. They were supported by two of Harrogate’s biggest local bands of the time, Barry Corbett and The Mustangs with their backing singers The Chinchillas, and Ricky Fenton and The Apaches.

Mustangs memories

Lead guitarist John Whitley is the only surviving member of The Mustangs who performed with The Beatles in Harrogate.

Now 82 and living in West Yorkshire, John recalls how ordinary the soon-to-be megastars were. They were even paid the same amount for the show – £75 – as their support acts. Travelling to Harrogate by train – deemed the most reliable mode of transport during the famous Big Freeze of 1962/3 – The Beatles arrived at the afternoon soundcheck about ten minutes after John and his bandmates. John said:

“We were all backstage together with The Beatles and we just talked to them. We did look up to them a bit for getting successful, but we weren’t starstruck. We’d played The Royal Hall before with people like The Searchers and Freddie and the Dreamers, so it wasn’t such as big deal to us. Personally, I’d been more impressed with Freddie because he was very funny. But I have to say The Beatles were very good on the night.”

John remembers the crowd being similarly nonplussed by this up-and-coming foursome whose longer hair, Beatnik ‘art student’ appearance and different, less polished sound was in stark contrast to the groomed image and cleaner sound of their support bands. But it didn’t really matter too much who was playing anyway, he said:

“Most people were there because it was a show at the Royal Hall, which were always popular. There weren’t that many shows in Harrogate for kids so when one came along, everybody went.”

“We want Barry”

The Apaches were up first, followed by The Mustangs with The Chinchillas. The Mustangs had formed in 1960 and were made up of John, Barrie (stage name was Barry) Corbett, bassist John ‘Billy’ Bolton and drummer Johnny Lockhead. The Chinchillas were Barrie’s wife Eileen and John’s fiancee at the time, Gill Evans.

The Beatles Harrogate Show support group The Mustangs with The Chinchillas

The Mustangs with The Chinchillas in the original programme for The Beatles concert at The Royal Hall. Top row from left: John Bolton, Johnny Lockhead, John Whitley and Eileen Corbett. Front: Gill Evans and Barrie Corbett.

In 1963, Barry and The Mustangs were top of the pile among a multitude of young local bands including The Crestas, The Escorts from Bradford and The Ensigns from York. Mainly performing covers of songs from the Top 20, The Mustangs were playing gigs two to three times a week in pubs, clubs and youth clubs around the area. Some of the local venues they appeared at were the Lounge Hall and the Connaught Rooms in Harrogate, where there were dances every Friday night, and the Assembly Rooms in Ripon. As lead singer of The Mustangs, therefore, Barrie had quite a following. John said:

“Barrie was Harrogate’s pop star. He was very well known in the town. He was a good singer as well as being one of life’s gentlemen.”

So it’s quite possible that John’s memory isn’t playing tricks on him when he recalls that after The Mustangs had finished their set, The Beatles took to the stage to chants of “We want Barry” from the audience.

John left The Mustangs in 1965 when he moved to Australia. He returned to Harrogate in the late 1970s, and teamed up again with Barry from 1980 to 2000, performing The Smurfs songs with him under the name of Evergreen.

In 2013, the four members of The Mustangs reformed for a special concert at the Royal Hall to mark the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ appearance in Harrogate.

The Mustangs reunited at a 2013 concert at the Royal Hall Harrogate to mark the 50th anniversary of The Beatles showPhoto ...left to right,John Bolton bass, John Lockhead drums John Whitley lead guitar, Barrie Corbett rhythm guitar,vocals

The Mustangs reunited for the 50th anniversary in 2013. Pictured from left are John Bolton, John Lockhead, John Whitley and Barrie Corbett.

John has fond memories not just of that one night at The Royal Hall which has gone down in Harrogate history, but of the whole music scene in the town during the 1960s that he, Barrie and The Mustangs were privileged to be a big part of. He said:

“In hindsight, it would have been an even better story if we’d gone for a drink with The Beatles after the show or something, but at that time they were just another group so we’d probably have declined anyway… Who knew! But even so, that era of pop music was a very special time for everyone.”

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