by Roger Stormo
I was recently challenged with the task of finding out what The Beatles were up to on the day I was born, June 23d, 1962. I vaguely remembered reading that they had just been playing a gig somewhere. After some research, I found out a lot more about the concert, the venue, the day... and about Father McKenzie! Read on...
The Beatles in Northwich
From Mark Lewisohn's book "The Beatles Live!" (Pavilion, 1986):
"In the summer of 1962, (manager) Brian Epstein was booking the Beatles into ever-improving local venues around Merseyside, and slowly but surely - and certainly with more than a little naοvety - securing them invaluable out-of-town dates, too..."
"During the Beatles' first eight weeks back in England after their stint (at the Star Club) in Hamburg, from 6 June to 31 July, they fulfilled a staggering total of 61 live engagements, plus two recording sessions - one for EMI and one for the BBC."
(Victory) Memorial Hall opened two years earlier, in 1960, on Chester Way in the town center of Northwich, a famous Cheshire salt-mining town. The 'wich' part of Northwich is a Saxon word for salt centre. The town is 25 miles south-east of Liverpool. The Beatles' played one of those previously mentioned 61 live engagements and their very first appearance on June 23d 1962 at this up-market venue (which didn't stop it from being nicknamed "The Morgue" by the locals). This gig was in effect an "audition" for promoter Lewis Buckley, who ran "beat music" dances at various venues all around Britain, so Brian Epstein was anxious for the boys to make a good impression. They must have been successful, because they got several more bookings from Buckley, who went on to continue booking Brian's NEMS acts over the years. The Beatles went on to play the same venue 5 more times during 1962-63.
Father McKenzie of Liverpool and Northwich
The names Father McKenzie and Eleanor Rigby are fictional characters from the 1966 song by The Beatles, but they both had their counterparts in The Beatles' real lives.
The name of the song's other character was actually Father McCartney for a while, but Paul didn't want anyone to confuse this with his dad, so he got McKenzie from thumbing through a telephone directory.
There was one person who claimed to be THE Father McKenzie, though. His real name was Tommy or Tom McKenzie and he was not a priest, but he was the compθre at Northwich Memorial Hall on June 23 1962, and indeed at all The Beatles' later appearances at the venue. He may also have been responsible for getting Paul McCartney to crown the Northwich Carnival queen before The Beatles concert at the Memorial Hall in 1963, the day after the phrase "Beatlemania" was coined. In the autumn of his years, Tommy McKenzie attended a few of the Liverpool Beatles Conventions, where he shared reminiscenses about the Beatles. According to the Northwich Guardian in an article from 2000, McKenzie was the hall's first compere and was responsible for bringing many of the top acts to perform at the venue. He lived in Rudheath, but originally came from Liverpool. He knew The Beatles from his time in Liverpool, and it was McKenzie's close friendship with The Beatles that enabled Tommy to get the group to play at the Memorial Hall, according to the Northwich Guardian article.
"Tommy was a belting bloke and did loads for Northwich," remembers Tommy's friend, then 70-year-old Arthur Chesworth, from Lostock. "He arranged children's parties, dances and flower shows making life enjoyable for everyone. He was responsible for The Beatles, The Kinks and Ken Dodd coming to the town". McKenzie died in 1991. Tom McKenzie's voice can be heard on a few Beatles documentary CD's by Geoffrey Giuliano: "Dark Horse: The Secret Life of George Harrison", "John Lennon Forever", "Beatles: In Their Own Words - A Rockumentary" and "In Their Own Words: The Lost Beatles Interviews".
May and the start of June were cold, with low temperature records for early June, but by the 23d it had brightened up and not least, warmed up considarably. The Beatles, en route to The Toppermost of the Poppermost may have had a bittersweet sentiment this day, because it used to be Stuart Sutcliffe's birthday. Sadly, he had died in May, and their thoughts may have drifted. It was also exactly one year since they had been recording songs for Polydor in Hamburg, and now their single My Bonnie had been released not only in Germany, but also in the UK and in the USA.
Top Ten Albums:
In 1962 in England, LP Albums were mainly purchased by a more mature audience, as they were quite expensive. Much bigger sales were noted for the singles and EP's, as they also attracted the younger audience.
Top Five Singles:
Further down, but still in the Top 30 amongst the singles, solo-Shadow Jet Harris' Decca recording of Besame Mucho was climbing the charts. The Beatles had of course performed this very song, both at their own Decca audition on New Year's Day, and recently at EMI on June 6th for their first recording session with the company. It's very likely that they performed the song at the Memorial Hall this day. It's of course difficult to accurately decribe the set of songs The Beatles chose to play in Northwich, but I'm going to have a crack at it.
What we do know, is that they had been told by Epstein to impress the promoter, Lewis Buckley. We also know that The Beatles were about to record their first single, and we know that The Beatles had appeared with Bruce Channell at the Tower Ballroom two days before, on the 21st, and Delbert McClinton had shown Lennon some interesting techniques on the harmonica. This led to Lennon changing his approach to Love Me Do, by adding to his harmonica sections. In the intervening days, and perhaps at the soundcheck this day, The Beatles may have rehearsed the song - and probably played it during the concert. We also know that The Beatles had appeared twice on BBC radio recently. On Teenager's Turn in March, they played "Hello Little Girl", "Memphis, Tenessee", "Dream Baby" and "Please Mr Postman". On Here We Go just a week before the Northwich gig, they performed "Ask Me Why", the afore mentioned "Besame Mucho" and Joe Brown's current no. 3 single hit "Picture Of You". I think it's likely that all these were played in Northwich. A setlist from The Beatles' performance at the Oasis Club in Manchester in April has survived, probably typewritten by Brian Epstein. It showed that the songs from their Decca audition seemed to be the core of their repertoir, augmented by Rock'n'Roll oldies, new self-written songs and recent chart singles hits. Based on all these facts, I have compiled this tentative set list:
I presented this set list to Sam Leach, who was the then manager of the Tower Ballrom where their June 21 gig was held, and he agreed that it looked reasonable, but told me to include "Slow Down", which I then added.
The very same day, Eppy registered the company NEMS Enterprises Limited to deal with Beatles affairs.
The next day The Beatles performed their last ever concert at the Casbah Club in Liverpool, which was closed down shortly afterwards, following a death in the Best family - or perhaps an imminent birth?
The Beatles returned to the Victory Memorial Hall in Northwich with new drummer Ringo Starr at these dates
Eleanor Rigby is a person buried in the cemetary at St. Peter's Church in Woolton, Liverpool, the very place where John Lennon and Paul McCartney first got acquainted. She died on 10 October 1939 at age 44, which, because 1940 was a leap year, was exactly one year to the day before Lennon was born. The first person to put both her story and photo into print was Sam Leach in his "Follow The Merseybeat Road" book in 1982. Sam received a letter from Paul and his then manager Steve Shrimpton saying about the book: "It's a thumbs up from us, but Paul can't quite agree with the Eleanor Rigby piece. We trust the book is selling well."
McCartney's own explanation is that he was unhappy with the original name in the song, "Miss Daisy Hawkins", and got the name Eleanor from "Help!" actress Eleanor Bron and Rigby from a store (Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers) in Bristol he happened to pass. With the grave of Eleanor Rigby being dicovered at St Peter's in 1980, a couple of years later McCartney stated his absolute astonishment at the eerie coincidence. It was in this graveyard, that McCartney and Lennon sunbathed for many years as teenagers, on top of some of the older graves that had fallen. McCartney stated that the strange coincidence between reality and lyric could be a product of his subconsciousness, rather than being a meaningless fluke. As far as this writer knows, Sir Paul McCartney has never acknowledged a real-life Father McKenzie inspiration. And no one has asked him about it, either.
Melody Maker TOP THIRTY SINGLES June 23, 1962 1 Elvis Presley - Good Luck Charm (RCA) 2 Cliff Richard - I'm Looking Out Of The Window / Do You Want To Dance (Columbia) 3 Mike Sarne - Come Outside (Parlophone) 4 Joe Brown - A Picture Of You (Piccadilly) 5 Billy Fury - Last Night Was Made For Love (Decca) 6 Brian Hyland - Ginny Come Lately (HMV) 7 Adam Faith - As You Like It (Parlophone) 8 Eden Kane - I Don't Know Why (Decca) 9 B. Bumble - Nut Rocker (Top Rank) 10 Kenny Ball - Green Leaves Of Summer (Pye) 11 Acker Bilk - Stranger On The Shore (Columbia) 12 Richard Chamberlain - Theme From "Doctor Kildare" (MGM) 13 Dave Brubeck - Unsquare Dance (CBS) 14 John Leyton - Lonely City (HMV) 15 Everly Brothers - How Can I Meet Her (Warner Bros.) 16 Ketty Lester - Love Letters (London) 17 Ray Charles - I Can't Stop Loving You (HMV) 18 Marty Wilde Jezebel (Philips) 19 Shadows - Wonderful Land (Columbia) 20 Karl Denver - A Little Love, A Little Kiss (Decca) 21 Bobby Vee - Sharing You (Liberty) 22 Jimmie Rodgers - English Country Garden (Columbia) 23 Jimmy Justice - Ain't That Funny (Pye) 24 Maureen and the Vernons Girls - Lover Please (Decca) 25 Shirelles - Soldier Boy (HMV) 26 Danny Williams - The Wonderful World Of The Young (HMV) 27 Eydie Gorme - Yes My Darling Daughter (CBS) 28 Jet Harris - Besame Mucho (Decca) 29 Brenda Lee - Speak to Me Pretty (Brunswick) 30 Duane Eddy - Deep In The Heart Of Texas (RCA)