The Sixties … My best memory
When I started writing YESTERDAY, my new novel set in the 1960s, the memories of my own teenage years during that era quickly came flooding back to me. Memories of ordinary things, like listening to the first few records I’d bought with my pocket money, and going out to coffee bars with my friends.
But without a doubt, my best memory from the Sixties has to be the first time I saw the Beatles playing live, in Romford. It was during the summer of 1963 (and in fact I’ve allowed the heroine of YESTERDAY, Cathy, to share the same experience in the book!).
In those days, of course, pop music concerts were held in local cinemas rather than vast stadiums – and there was no internet or mobile phones for buying concert tickets. You could order them by post, but to be sure of getting good tickets, you’d go to the cinema on the day they were being released, and queue up before the ticket office opened. Some people actually queued all night, in sleeping bags on the pavement with thermos flasks of tea – but my friends and I were only fourteen and our parents would never have allowed it! Still, we got the earliest bus possible into town and were pretty near the front of the queue, hours before the tickets went on sale. As a result our seats were only a few rows back from the front of the cinema. So close! We were almost incoherent with excitement during the following weeks, waiting for the date of the concert to come around.
Supporting the Beatles on that tour were Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas – both Merseyside group like the Beatles, who were doing well in the charts too. In fact, at the time of the Romford concert, those three groups were occupying the top three positions in the UK Top Ten. The excitement in the Odeon was almost tangible as my friends and I took our seats. The two supporting acts were brilliant – but when the Beatles came on stage, the whole place erupted!
It’s been said that there had never been anything like it before – girls screaming themselves hoarse, fainting and having hysterics – this was the start of ‘Beatlemania’, and it was bedlam. By the time the Beatles were touring the USA the following year and had become worldwide superstars, the situation was completely out of control – partly because the venues were so huge, the audiences enormous. But in 1963 in Romford, despite the screaming, we could still hear them perform our favourite songs – Love Me Do, Please Please Me, and their new record, From Me To You.
Most Beatles’ fans had a favourite, and mine was Paul. I considered myself a little bit ahead of my friends, in that I was already a member of the Beatles’ fan club, and from their information pack I knew just about everything about my idol, including his birthday. It happened to be the same week as the concert, and of course, I’d sent him a birthday card, care of the fan club. When Paul made an announcement, between two numbers, that he wanted to thank the fans who’d sent cards for his birthday, I felt sure he was speaking directly to me!
Nobody went straight home after the concert. We hung around in a crowd outside, hoping for a glimpse of ‘the boys’ leaving the cinema. After a while, my friends and I were considering leaving, in case we got into trouble for staying out late – when a fairly ordinary-looking green car suddenly came out from the side of the cinema at speed – with those distinctive mop-head haircuts very evident inside! I sometimes wonder now whether we imagined it. Could that really have been Paul McCartney actually at the wheel of the car, with the other Beatles as his passengers? That’s what everybody believed they saw, anyway – and when the car had to pause before turning onto the main road, we all surged forward, carried by the crowd. I reached out – and touched the car. And I was certain: it was Paul’s face looking out of that window.
‘I touched his car!’ I crooned all the way home on the bus, to the irritation of my friends, (who were probably jealous!). For a day or two, I was a minor celebrity at school. Other girls wanted me to recount, over and over, how Paul had thanked me (yes – me! Never mind all the others!) for the birthday card, and how close I’d got to him when I touched the car.
I saw the Beatles perform live again at Hammersmith Odeon in December 1964, and bought all their records for several years after that. But I never forgot the excitement of the gig at Romford. I’m glad I had the experience of seeing them – the group who changed British pop music for ever – in the comparatively intimate location of my local cinema. It was a happy experience for Cathy, in YESTERDAY, too – before everything started to go wrong for her. But I’ll leave you to read about that for yourselves!
YESTERDAY by Sheila Norton is available as a Kindle e-book from Amazon from 17 April 2014, price £1.99.
Sheila lives near Chelmsford, Essex, and has been a full-time author since retiring from her previous work as a medical secretary.
She has been writing all her life, her first publications being short stories for children. After twice winning first prize in the Writers’ News short story competitions in the 1990s, her stories were regularly published in women’s magazines.
Her first novel, The Trouble With Ally was published in 2003, and she went on to have a further seven books published, including three under the pseudonym of Olivia Ryan, before beginning to self-publish her novels on Amazon.
Her latest book YESTERDAY is a novel set in the 1960s, being published in 2014 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the ‘Mods and Rockers’ riots in 1964, which form the background of the book.
For more information please go to www.sheilanorton.co.uk.