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October 16, 2014

Rare and Unseen Photos of The Beatles Playing to 18 People at the Palais Ballroom, Aldershot in December 1961

On Saturday December 9th, 1961 The Beatles played at the Palais Ballroom, Aldershot. This was the first time The Beatles had performed in the south of England, before giving their first show in London later in the evening.

The Palais Ballroom event was promoted by Sam Leach, who had put on The Beatles numerous times previously in the Merseyside area. His rather optimistic belief was that, since no A&R men or record label executives were willing to travel to Liverpool to see the group play, he would take them to the south east instead.

Leach’s good intentions, however, were undone by his lack of geographical knowledge. Rather than showcasing The Beatles in the Greater London area, he booked them for five consecutive Saturday nights at the Palais Ballroom. Aldershot was a military town 37 miles from London, and the Palais Ballroom was run by local resident Bob Potter.

This night was billed on posters and handbills as a “Liverpool v London Battle of the Bands” featuring The Beatles and the London group Ivor Jay and the Jaywalkers (no relation to Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers) “plus two other star groups”, their names unrecorded. Leach also claimed to have placed a sizeable advert for the event in the Aldershot News and sent a £100 cheque to cover the cost, but the newspaper refused to cash it because he was not a regular advertiser and new customers were required to pay in cash. Furthermore, he failed to give any contact details, so the newspaper couldn’t contact him to explain their rules, and the advertisement never ran.

The result was that The Beatles played to a nearly empty venue. Despite having endured a nine-hour journey from Liverpool, before taking the stage the group descended on the two coffee bars in the town offering free admission to anyone interested in seeing a rock ‘n’ roll show, but in the end only 18 people turned up. What’s more, Ivor Jay and the Jaywalkers also failed to show.

“Halfway through one number George and Paul put on their overcoats and took to the floor to dance a foxtrot together, while the rest of us struggled along, making enough music for them and the handful of spectators. We clowned our way through the whole of the second half. John and Paul deliberately played wrong chords and notes and added words to the songs that were never in the original lyrics.” – Pete Best

(Photos by Dick Matthews, via The Beatles Bible)

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