Live: Floral Hall, Southport

This was The Beatles’ final appearance at Southport’s Floral Hall.

It took place on the day it was announced that The Beatles had been invited to appear on the Royal Command Performance. With press coverage reaching fever pitch after the group’s appearance on Sunday Night At The London Palladium, reporters travelled to Southport in the expectation of more riotous scenes.

Among them was Derek Taylor, then a Manchester-based reporter for the Daily Express.

The Floral Hall wasn’t full. Why would it be? Everybody knew Southport was not a ‘young’ town. And everybody on newspapers in Merseyside appeared to be in Southport to find out what was going on. Beatlemania, though not yet named as such, was nonetheless exerting a Presence. We found the dressing-room and found it barred to journalists; barred with emphasis but not with locks or fists. That left a lot of slack for sly pressmen to take up and very quickly it was confrontation between about a dozen of us and the two on the door: a slim young man whom people called ‘Nell’, and an older man, the local promoter, whom nobody called anything. ‘No press,’ said ‘Nell’, and the other man said, ‘They say they aren’t seeing anyone.’ We said we wanted to talk to them about the royal show. ‘Well, you’ll have to do it with Brian Epstein,’ said ‘Nell’. We tried very hard, though without exerting muscle; and then retired to the bar. Should we talk our way in by sheer force of argument – Freedom of the Press, Public’s Right to Know – or try a little tenderness? We tried a little whisky instead and then some more and it fell to me, as somewhat of a ‘Beatles man’ (though no more than some others from Liverpool who had watched it closely, much earlier than I, but without managing to interest their newspapers), to try first some soft talk and then some trouble and finally, if necessary, some high-vaulting techniques learned in Robin Hood and other movies.

The soft talk failed. The promoter couldn’t have us backstage; he had his orders. ‘Nell’ was even more intransigent – they were his orders. It seemed to me there was only one answer: divide and batter. I asked ‘Nell’ who was in charge and he said he was. I then went to the promoter and told him ‘Nell’ had said that he was in charge. The promoter said ‘Nell’ was not in charge; it was his show. Well, we said, we were from decent newspapers and on a proper errand and what did he have against us? ‘Nothing.’ Well, then…? ‘If it was up to me,’ he said, ‘you could go in, or a couple of you could. It is my theatre.’ Back to ‘Nell’. ‘This man says it’s his theatre, you’re not in charge and we can go in.’ ‘Nell’, momentarily provoked and distracted, turned to the man and asked what did he mean, he was in charge, it was his theatre…’ Crash. ‘Nell’ turned, too late. I was in, and behind me all the press of the North West appeared to be tumbling in a heap, Night at the Opera style.

Inside the small room were the Fab Three, no John to be seen – but who’s this? John Gregson, movie star, no less, full of cheer and a drink or two, with his old Uncle Paddy and a nephew, Arthur Johnson, a newspaperman indeed. A local freelance, with access to The Beatles! Now we had a precedent as well as possession! For a moment we stood there, confronted by the object of our visit, the keepers of the quotes, the treasured stars of these new times. Now what? I knew we must look a dreadful bunch of intruders, and the polite little boy in me cringed and wanted to be somewhere else. My other self, with the hot breath of [editor Tom] Campbell lingering in my ear, pushed onward.

Gregson’s greeting broke the spell: ‘Derek! It’s Derek Taylor, Vera’s boy. George, do you know Derek Taylor?’ Well, thank God for that. I put out my hand to George, who accepted it and said ‘Hello.’ And in the ensuing bustle of general introductions, the tension gradually fell away. I asked George if he was wondering what the fans would think about their appearing in the royal show. It was obvious, even at the point of utterance, that he was wondering no such thing. ‘Dunno,’ he replied, with a slow, lopsided smile. It was a characteristic answer – very Beatle; for, unlike most people, The Beatles never felt obliged to have an opinion. George’s reply was echoed by Paul and Ringo: they didn’t know what their fans would say. Then Ringo added something we didn’t quite catch. ‘What was that?’ a newspaperman asked him. ‘I want to play drums for the Queen Mother,’ he sort of said. That’s it, a quote! Let’s see what we can do with it… ‘I want to play me drums for the Queen Moth…’ No… ‘I wanna play me drums for the Queen Mum.’ That’s better; in fact, it’s the quote of the night.

And then the door opened and into the sweatbox squeezed John, unsmiling but not unfriendly, giving little away in such a shambles. ‘John!’ A collective cry. ‘What about the royal show?’ All of us milling around the other three, Gregson and Uncle Paddy and Arthur still in the room, ‘Nell’ and the promoter (now reconciled) also in there calling for order and ‘everybody out’. John turned to the sink, washed and dried his hands, then said: ‘I dunno about this. You’ll have to ask Brian. It’s up to him what we do. We don’t get involved with bookings.’ So now we had seen them all and we had our quotes. For my part, I had a satisfactory denial of intent to betray young fans, a large enough turn-out at the concert itself (‘despite the rain and wind on Southport’s blustery sea-front…’) and I could turn in a good report. So, with the others, I drifted away from the dressing-room and into the bar of the Floral Hall.

Derek Taylor
Fifty Years Adrift

The Beatles played at the Floral Hall on four occasions. The other dates were 20 February and 20 November 1962; and 23 April 1963.

The Floral Hall was built in the 1930s and became part of the Southport Theatre when the latter was added in 1973. It is still in use today.

Beatlemania begins: Sunday Night At The London Palladium
Radio: Easy Beat
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