Looking back: The Beatles in Taunton

“THEY gave their usual excellent performance which, however, was somewhat marred by screaming and whistling from the audience.”

These were the thoughts of one reviewer working for the County Gazette, writing in September 1963, who had the opportunity to watch John, Paul, George and Ringo live in concert at the Gaumont Palace Theatre.

The review said: “It was, as usual, almost impossible to hear much of the dynamic music from the various groups at Thursday’s show, ‘The Beatles,’ at the Gaumont, Taunton.

“This was, of course, because of young females screaming at every opportunity.”

The Beatles were supported by Ian Crawford and The Boomerangs, Mike Berry and The Innocents, The Fourmost and Rockin’ Henri and The Hayseeds – with Henri’s performance taking the reviewer by surprise.

“I personally wondered what we were having!”, the review remarked.

Despite the writer’s reservations, they concluded that, “With the able accompaniment of ‘The Hayseeds,’ a Plymouth-based group, his performance wasn’t too much of a fiasco”.

Finally, The Beatles took to the stage and delivered “one of the best ‘pop’ shows I have seen for a long time” – even if the reviewer was left unimpressed by the behaviour of the crowd.

“Indeed, one girl was so moved that she dashed up on to the stage and began dancing with the group, until she was forcibly removed.

“This was not part of the act as many people suspected.”

This was the second time in a year that The Beatles played at the Gaumont (which is now a branch of Mecca Bingo).

The Fab Four also performed there on February 26, 1963 as guests of ‘Britain’s international teenage star’ Helen Shapiro – though the headline act was unable to appear because of a cold.

Billie Davies was added to fill the bill and Danny Williams headlined.

Away from the stage, one lucky autograph collector made the most of The Beatles’ visits.

The head waiter at Taunton’s Castle Hotel obtained the band members’ autographs in 1963 on behalf of a family friend.

Their signatures were scribbled on a postcard of Gloucester Cathedral, which sold for £1,235 at a Greenslade Taylor Hunt collectors’ sale last year.

Somerset County Gazette:

A Castle Hotel menu from the night The Beatles dined there was included in the lot, which sold at The Octagan Salerooms, East Reach, Taunton.

In June of the same year, The Beatles played at the Pavilion in Bath before putting on a week of concerts supporting Shapiro at Odeon Cinema in Weston-super-Mare in July.

Beatlemania did not sweep Taunton again until 1967, but they did visit the West Somerset Railway in Crowcombe in 1964 to film scenes for A Hard Day’s Night, a film showing 36 hours in the group members’ lives.

1967 saw The Beatles set off in a yellow bus on their Magical Mystery Tour to create another film, which saw them return to Somerset’s county town under unique circumstances.

The group, their friends and actors took a bus to Newquay, Cornwall, where they ran into Amy and James Smedley.

Mrs Smedley took the opportunity to invite them to visit their fish and chip shop on Roman Road, Taunton, and – much to her surprise – they actually came.

“They got here at lunch time and shot some film outside our shop,” said Mrs Smedley.

“Then all four of them came inside to have some fish and chips, which they ate in the shop.

“It was marvellous. The Beatles are really very nice people. They chatted away to my husband and I like old friends.

“I still can’t really believe that they actually ate my fish and chips.”

Somerset County Gazette:

The Magical Mystery Tour film was The Beatles’ third after A Hard Day’s Night and Help! and, although it was met with an overwhelmingly negative response at the time amongst its 15 million viewers, the film and the group’s visit to Somerset has become a small part of Beatles folklore.

Anthony Wall, who edited the BBC arts programme Arena from 1985, was 16 years old when he first watched the film.

Under his editorship, Arena produced Magical Mystery Tour Revisited – including never-before-seen footage from the film – which aired in 2012.

Wall said before its release: “Few people have seen Magical Mystery Tour in its entirety and the material in the chip shop has never been shown anywhere. It captures perfectly the fabulous world of The Beatles at this time.

“They’re happily sharing a simple meal with the other passengers on the coach as the astonished residents of Taunton gather outside, and at the same time creating an extraordinarily avant-garde film, which of course would soon be broadcast by the BBC to a dumbstruck nation.”

In 2012, ahead of the release of the revisited version of the film, the Gazette published photographs of the Beatles and their entourage ordering food over the stainless steel counter at Smedley’s.

Somerset County Gazette:

The fish and chip shop has since been replaced by The Phoenix, a Chinese takeaway located at the same Roman Road site.

The Pheonix sells fish and chips, giving fans of The Beatles the chance to eat the same dish at the very same spot that the Fab Four did back in 1967.

Somerset County Gazette:

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Looking back: The Beatles in Taunton