ON Saturday evening, Barrie Herbert will be among the audience at Abergavenny’s Borough Theatre, watching a Beatles tribute band.
And 50 years ago, he was at the same venue, onstage and backstage, as the original Fab Four played to a frenzied crowd in the early stages of their now legendary career.
Mr Herbert, from Fairwater, Cwmbran, then just turned 19 and in the middle of A-Levels at West Mon Grammar School, was one of The Fabulous Fortunes, The Beatles’ warm-up act on Saturday June 22, 1963.
But that support slot for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr was a dream gig that lead guitarist Mr Herbert – whose bandmates were Mike Davies (singer and rhythm guitarist), Dave Lucas (bass guitarist), and Mike Thompson (drummer) – almost turned down.
“We played all over South Wales and played at Abergavenny Town Hall, as it was called then, probably once a month,” said Mr Herbert.
“We got to know the entertainments manager Eddie Tattersall, and one day he called and said: “I’ve got a gig for you.”
“I said we were already booked that day, and he said ‘it’s The Beatles.’ I said ‘I’ll unbook it’!”
By June 1963, the first heady phase of Beatlemania was under way, the band having scored hits during the previous few months with Love Me Do, Please Please Me, and From Me To You. Their Please Please Me LP had also topped the charts.
“It was really happening for them, and I don’t know how Eddie managed to land them. He was a real go-getter,” said Mr Herbert.
“We were absolutely thrilled to get the chance to play with them. You already knew they were special. I’d seen them on the television and thought they were fantastic.
“On the night the anticipation, the atmosphere, was incredible. We went on and people were screaming and shouting. I believe there were about 600 there, but I’m not sure they paid much attention to us!
“We shared a dressing room with them, and it was an unusual night, because John Lennon was recording (TV show) Jukebox Jury, and was in London. Their manager Brian Epstein arranged a helicopter (It landed in Bailey Park). It was quite late by then and we’d been chatting with Paul, George and Ringo, who were funny and friendly.
“While they were waiting they signed lots of autograph books that were taken to the dressing room by their fans, and we had our photograph taken with them.”
When they took to the stage after Lennon arrived, the hall “erupted” said Mr Herbert, who remembers Hippy Hippy Shake as the first song, followed by most of the Please Please Me LP, and the hit singles.
“They’d been contracted for two 20-minute sets, but because of John Lennon’s late arrival, they did one show of 35-40 minutes,” said Mr Herbert.
“At the end, Eddie Tattersall presented Paul McCartney with a birthday cake to celebrate his 21st birthday which was on June 18. Everyone was still screaming when the curtains were pulled.”
Fab Four made me flunk A-Levels
AFTER their brush with the band that was to set the standard for pop and rock music for the rest of the 1960s and beyond, the Fabulous Fortunes played on for a couple of years.
“The other three moved away and I carried on playing in various bands locally, until about five years ago,” said Mr Herbert. “We’d formed around 1960. Two of us were from Cwmbran, two from Usk, and we were basically a covers band, doing whatever was current at the time – Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, The Shadows, that sort of thing.”
And as for those Beatlesinterrupted A-Levels?
“I didn’t do very well. I think I managed to get one.
I’d perhaps have done better if I hadn’t been doing rock ‘n’ roll!” said Mr Herbert, who subsequently made a career in the steel industry.
“At the time, I don’t think we realised how important The Beatles would become.
I’ll always remember that night, and I’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary by watching The Cavern Beatles at the Borough Theatre.”
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