Credit: Bent Rej

Only 18 people watched The Beatles’ first show in the South of England

When The Beatles decided to make their mark on the south of England performing in Aldershot on December 9th 1961, it’s safe to say that they didn’t quite make the splash that they will have originally envisaged. Whether it was the bizarre location or the lack of an audience, rock and roll weren’t all it was cracked up to be.

The Beatles’ friend Jack Leach had come up with the intuitive plan to spread the word of The Fab Four into new territories outside of the north west and the band, which consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best, were more than happy to go along with it. Leach promised the show would get eyes on them from all the top London based label executives.

What Leach didn’t account for, however, was Aldershot not being a hip part of London with a thriving music scene. Instead of finding a scene of swinging hip cats he and the band found a military town that is situated 37 miles away from the capital. It meant no execs, no screaming girls and no chance of enjoying their night very much.

Former Beatle Pete Best remembered the gig in question a few years ago and revealed more details about the strange night: “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.”

In an attempt to gather more press, Leach tried to promote the show in the local newspaper but the advertisement was never published. Paying with a cheque instead of cash, Leach’s advert fell on the cutting room floor. The gig was originally billed as a battle of the bands between Liverpool’s Beatles and London’s Ivor Jay and the Jaywalkers. The Beatles would end the night as victors but considering Ivor Jay and his group didn’t show up, it was a hollow victory.

They were driven nine hours from Liverpool by Leach’s friend Terry McCann and once they arrived in Aldershot, they not only had to wait to be allowed entry into the venue but their posters were nowhere to be found.

That night, the Beatles played their usual set which at that time consisted largely of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis covers to a bemused half-empty room of 18 people. It’s a situation the band would hardly have to endure for very long, of course.

Organiser Sam Leach remarked this to Mashable in 2016 about the disastrous evening: “I often wonder what happens when those youngsters now talk about the night the Beatles came to Aldershot and hardly anyone turned up to see them. I can just hear it. ‘Oh, there we were, all 18 of us, watching the Beatles on stage… and they did an encore.”

That show is certainly one that the members of The Beatles will never have forgotten even if it was for all the wrong reasons and no doubt there are more than 18 people in Aldershot who claimed to have been in the audience that night.

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