Commentary

Tim Williams: I saw the Beatles

February 16, 2014 

I saw The Beatles, live.

It was 1963 and in England they were already huge. They were turning out hit after hit and even in the little town where, at age 20, I was a reporter on the local newspaper, some of the kids sported Beatle haircuts and jackets.

That fall it was announced that they would do a Christmas show, for a month at a theater in London. The newspaper music columnist and I decided we’d like to witness this phenomenon, and somehow we got tickets.

The day of the show we left work mid-afternoon and made the two-hour drive to London. Entering the theater, we realized we were among a tiny handful of males. Otherwise the place was jam-packed with early-teenage girls, abuzz with excitement at what was to come.

When the lights went down we first heard The Noise. It wasn’t like the sound of many voices screaming; it was one shrill note – imagine a very high-pitched, very loud electric drill. It burrowed into your ear drums and drowned out everything else – everything.

The show format was this: a series of other pop acts, many also from Liverpool, did two or three numbers each. I remember Cilla Black, can only guess at perhaps Freddie and The Dreamers, Billy J. Kramer. In between their performances The Beatles did brief, silent skits. I only remember the first. The curtain went up to show a hospital bed on an empty stage. Three white-coated doctors bent around it. They straightened up to reveal themselves as John, Paul and George. Ringo, in bed, was the patient. Again, The Noise.

At last The Beatles came out in their Beatle outfits, with their instruments. They performed for about a half hour or so, but I can’t tell you what they sang or what they said between numbers. The Noise continued without pause until they had left the stage and the lights had come up. You had a vague sense that music was being played, but what it was and how it sounded there was no possibility of telling.

Over the years I saw numbers of musical greats: Elvis (Buffalo, N.Y., 1972), Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones (twice), The Who, Bowie, Clapton; older stars like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Sinatra, even Pavarotti. But my proudest boast remains – I saw The Beatles, live. Sadly, I can’t say I heard them.

Tim Williams, now 70, is a retired social worker. He came to the United States in 1969 and has lived in Chapel Hill since 1977.

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