The Beatles live: Olympia Theatre, Paris

From this day until Thursday 4 February 1964, The Beatles performed 18 days of concerts at Paris’ Olympia Theatre, on a nine-act bill, playing two and sometimes three sets each day.

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The Beatles closed each performance, but shared top billing at various times with French singer Sylvie Vartan or America’s Trini Lopez. They had just two days off in the run, on 21 and 28 January.

The songs in The Beatles’ set were ‘From Me To You’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘This Boy’, ‘Boys’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Twist And Shout’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’, although for some shows, particularly the matinée performances, they played for less time.

On 16 January The Beatles firstly performed a matinee show at the Olympia in front of an enthusiastic sell-out crowd. In the evening they performed before an older audience. The Olympia was an impressive music hall, with a guaranteed audience in evening dress eager to experience the best entertainment Paris had to offer.

It was, however, somewhat ill-equipped for Beatlemania. Although the group’s second performance was politely received, the venue’s fuses blew three times due to its electricity system not being equipped for modern amplifiers.

On the first night, we had a bit of trouble because we suddenly found out that there was a radio programme just sort of plugging into everything. They had overloaded all the amps, and they all went ‘Bomf!’ They like the wilder stuff over there, so we stuck in a wilder number to finish off with.
Paul McCartney

Backstage there was a mob of French photographers eager for pictures of The Beatles. At one stage a fight broke out after one of them was disallowed from taking exclusive pictures. The trouble spilled onto the stage, and Paul McCartney was forced to stop singing to call for order. George Harrison narrowly avoided having his guitar damaged by the mob.

With the tensions mounting, there was bound to be an explosion and eventually it came, in two loud bangs: one at the Olympia Theatre, where photographers demanding pictures were confronted with the huge bulk of [press officer Brian] Sommerville’s jaw and collectively laid one on it; and the other at the hotel, when a [Daily Mail journalist Vincent] Mulchrone-led press deputation loudly demanded and ultimately gained brief access to the group. Backstage at the Olympia concert, onlookers had a fabulous time witnessing the fight between French photographers, Sommerville, Epstein, the gendarmerie and anyone else who got in the way of fists, cameras and batons. That was only one part of a shambles of an evening. The great Bruno Coquatrix (who put on all the Olympia shows) came backstage after the performance and told an unsmiling entourage that he was proud – ‘C’est magnifique!’ – to have had such a satisfactory evening. Vraiment? C’est un mess. The electricals broke down twice; though the whole evening’s entertainment was so shapeless anyway, and running so late, that it hardly mattered. Les Beatles were privileged to tread the Olympia’s hallowed boards in the wake of such performers as Chevalier, Piaf, Aznavour; but there was little awe in The Four’s own perception of the event.
Derek Taylor
Fifty Years Adrift

The police were called and the group resolved to allow no-one backstage for the remaining dates. Armed Parisian gendarmes ringed the theatre, and The Beatles left the stage amid an air of chaos.

The audience at the Olympia was nothing like any audience we’d had before. They were much older people wearing tuxedos, as though they’d come to see a film premiere or watch a ballet. Even the ‘fans’ out in the street were just a few little gay boys running after the limousines, shouting, ‘Ringo, Ringo!’ We were disappointed that there weren’t any of the nice French girls we’d heard so much about. They were all kept at home in those days, because of the strict Catholicism in France.

The show at the Olympia was also being broadcast on the radio. The people from the radio had the microphones set up and fused all the PA system so we did one bar and everything blew out. It took them ages to get it back on again.

The highlights of the Paris trip were that we discovered Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album and sat around playing it all the time, and that ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ went to No. 1 in the USA.

George Harrison
Fifty Years Adrift, Derek Taylor
Last updated: 24 January 2024
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