The Helen Shapiro Tour

February 5, 1963. Backstage at the Gaumont Cinema, Doncaster, the second stop on the Helen Shapiro tour.

This is the story of The Beatles/Helen Shapiro tour of 1963. It used to be in eight parts when we first published it in 2008, but here is the full article assembled from these bits and pieces. 1963 was when they “hit it big” in Britain, and started getting hits also in other European countries. This is the beginning. Their second single “Please Please Me” was released on January 11, and went to number one on the British charts on February 22nd. They had begun a nationwide tour with Helen Shapiro on February 2nd at the bottom of the bill.

Advertisement for the opening night in Bradford

Helen Shapiro was only 14 when she recorded the hit single, “Walkin’ Back To Happiness” in 1961. It went to number 1 on the singles charts in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Israel and South Africa. In the early 1960s Helen Shapiro was England’s top selling female artist, and this was her biggest selling single. Shapiro never wanted to record this song, as she felt it sounded too corny and old-fashioned to appeal to her fans. Shapiro says in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, “I was brought up on blues and jazz and I thought Walkin’ Back To Happiness was corny – all that ‘woop-bah-oh-yea-yeah.’ I still don’t like the song but everyone goes mad for it so I’ve been proved wrong. That kind of rhythm was not my scene and I didn’t really want to do it. I preferred the B-side, Kiss And Run, which was written by Norrie Paramour.”

Shapiro’s single also spent one week at #100​ in the Billboard top 100 US chart – Shapiro’s only chart entry there.

“Brian telephoned Arthur Howes about booking the group. The Beatles had ‘Love Me Do’ on the charts at the time but were relatively unknown. Howes, one of Britain’s leading concert promoters, offered the Beatles £30 a night for the Helen Shapiro tour and wouldn’t pay them at all for a performance with Frank Ifield beyond traveling expenses. Brian responded by giving Howes first option on all future Beatle tours.” (Lewisohn. Chronicle p. 62)

With their first prestigious British tour scheduled to start on February 2nd, The Beatles decided once more to improve the appearance of their stage equipment. Starr’s name had to be taken off the front of his drum-head. After all, the group were going to be seen by thousands of new potential fans during their first real tour. They didn’t want people walking away after the performance wondering what the band was called … or thinking it might be The Ringo Starr Band. It was time to design a Beatles logo for the front of the bass drum.

Development of the “bug logo” for the bass drum

Various drawings that McCartney made for a Beatles logo were published in his brother Mike’s 1981 book, The Macs. These interesting documents show the preliminary sketches that would eventually become the group’s “bug” logo. The ideas were taken to a local signwriter in Liverpool, Tex O’Hara, whose brother Brian was guitarist in another Epstein-managed band, The Fourmost.

Tex explains, “We played around with different ideas to find out. which ones they liked. I did about live to ten drawings – which I’ve still got – and showed them to the group. They settled on one logo, which was put on a piece of linen and stretched across the front of the drum.”
This second bass-drum head on Starr’s Premier drum set was plain while, without the Premier brandname and with the new Beatle “bug” logo. This had a script-style “Beatles”, the “B” of which was decorated with two bug-like antennae. It was simply drawn on a piece of cloth that was stretched across the drum head, and held down with the bass-drum’s mounting hoops.

At “Thank your lucky stars” on TV, February 17 during the break in the Helen Shapiro tour. Original colours.

Tex recalled in 1983: “All I can remember is they were shown to the group in a flat in Ullet Road, Toxteth, and John added a small Beetle to the top of the letter B, and Paul put one on top of the letter L.”

McCartney played his Höfner bass, Harrison and Lennon both used their Gibson J-160E acoustic-electric guitars, and Starr played his Premier drum set with the new “bug” Beatles logo displayed on the front drum head.

The tour acts (from the printed programme)

Tour map

THE BEATLES / HELEN SHAPIRO TOUR 1963

  • 2 February Gaumont, Bradford
  • 5 February Gaumont, Doncaster
  • 6 February Granada, Bedford
  • 7 February Regal, Kirkgate
  • 8 February ABC, Carlisle
  • 9 February Empire, Sunderland

BREAK

  • 23 February Granada, Mansfield
  • 24 February Coventry Theatre, Coventry
  • 26 February Gaumont, Taunton
  • 27 February Rialto, York
  • 28 February Granada, Shrewsbury
  • 1 March Odeon, Southport
  • 2 March City Hall, Sheffield
  • 3 March Gaumont, Hanley

The Shapiro tour carried on after the break, and the group continued to use their familiar equipment. But Lennon was again having problems with his Rickenbacker. The Homer volume knobs that he had put on the guitar when it was painted black started to fall off: first one, then another. Lennon used the Rickenbacker with two knobs missing for a while before he once again replaced them all with a new set of Burns knobs.

Handbill for the Sheffield concerts

With the immediate radio success of the new song, coupled with their second appearance on the Thank Your Lucky Stars television program on February 17th, they quickly moved to second only to Shapiro on the tour bill. The Shapiro tour ended on March 3rd, the day after this Sheffield date, which was two days after John and Paul wrote “From Me To You” on the tour bus, the song quickly recorded as the Beatles’ third single on March 5th. The three famous package tours with the Beatles started with this Helen Shapiro tour, continued with the Chris Montez/Tommy Roe tour and ended with the Roy Orbison tour. After that, the Beatles were on their own and had their first tour of another country, Sweden.

Would Bill Berry have acted differently if he’d known who the four young men in leather jackets were, and what they would become?

Mr Berry took great pride in his position as chairman of Carlisle Golf Club. And when he saw four rather scruffy young chaps stroll into the club’s annual dinner-dance and start tucking into the buffet, he decided that their behaviour simply wasn’t acceptable. This was the ballroom of the Crown and Mitre Hotel, for heaven’s sake!

Berry approached them, had a quiet word, and the four leather jackets slipped away into obscurity. Well, not quite. John, Paul, George and Ringo managed to bounce back from the snub they suffered in Cumberland in 1963. More than one billion records sold and a legacy as the greatest act in popular music are testament to that.

The night the Beatles were asked to leave the Crown and Mitre ballroom has long been a part of Fab Four and Carlisle legend. And the story has now been told for the first time by one of the stars who was there. Not one of the Beatles, but the singer who topped the bill on their first nationwide tour. Helen Shapiro was only 16 when she arrived in Carlisle with the Beatles on Friday February 8, 1963. Shapiro had already had two number one singles while Beatlemania was on the verge of exploding.

Recalling this tour years later, Ringo Starr said: “Helen was the star. She had the telly in her dressing room and we didn’t have one. We had to ask her if we could watch hers.” The soon-to-be-Fab Four’s second single, Please Please Me, was riding high when they played the ABC Cinema – later to become the Lonsdale – on Warwick Road.

The Beatles played two sets of four songs that night. Three of the songs – “Chains”, “A Taste Of Honey” and “Please Please Me” – were favourites from their Cavern set list and would soon appear on their debut album. The fourth was “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby”, a song they only ever recorded for the radio.

John and Helen in Southport, March 1 (newspaper clipping)

After the show the Beatles, Helen Shapiro and entertainer Kenny Lynch travelled a few hundred yards through Carlisle city centre to the Crown and Mitre. In the book – Legends On Tour: The Pop Package Tours Of The 1960s – Shapiro describes what happened next: “We were in the lobby area. Kenny and the Beatles were having a drink and I was having a cup of tea. This fellow was going into the banqueting suite when he saw us. He was really chuffed and asked us to go in. We weren’t interested. They were all dressed up and it wasn’t our kind of thing. We were just having a quiet drink, but he was really insistent. They had a buffet in there and that probably swung it. We never seemed to get much to eat on tour. We went to the buffet table and had something to eat. Ringo was particularly enjoying the food. Then we went on the dance floor – we may have still been eating.”

“I think I was twisting with Ringo. There were these ladies with their long gowns who made a beeline for the Beatles in their leather gear. Then suddenly this guy came over, a much older man, and he was huffing and puffing, getting red in the face. He ordered us to leave. ‘Who invited you?’ he asked. It was a shame really because nobody seemed to have a problem with us, apart from the one bloke.”

Helen was mortified when a national newspaper picked up the story. “The Daily Express headline was something like ‘Helen Shapiro Asked To Leave Golf Club Dance’. It referred to Helen Shapiro and ‘The instrumental group the Four Beatles’ being asked to leave. I was mortified. I thought that would be the end of me. I was only 16 and that sort of thing was not something to be proud of then. I never found out for certain who tipped off the press.”

Helen Shapiro with John and Ringo in Southport, March 1.

Dr George Jolly, who was a GP in Carlisle for many years and a long-time member of Carlisle Golf Club, was at the Crown and Mitre that night. Dr Jolly died in 2006 at the age of 91. Speaking to the News & Star several years ago, his memory of the evening was still clear: “The annual dance was a dinner-jacket affair in those days. I was the golf club’s vice-captain that year. The captain was a bluff Yorkshireman called Bill Berry. I was having a meal with Bill and his wife and my wife. Somebody had introduced four rather scruffy young men into the dance. They were leather-jacketed and all the rest. We saw them across the room and Bill said to me ‘I think we should ask them to leave. What do you think?’ I said ‘Yes, I think maybe we should.’ I didn’t recognise them and neither did Bill. They were just coming into their fame. Bill went across to have a word with them. They left without any ill-feeling. I suppose it is something to say you were involved in asking The Beatles to leave.”

Music promoter Andy Park saw the Beatles at the ABC that night, although he heard very little because of the fans’ screaming. He did hear about the Crown and Mitre incident though, soon after it happened. “I was in the 101 Club on Botchergate a couple of hours afterwards and people were talking about it. At the time I had no idea that The Beatles were going to be so big or last so long. Nobody knew. We thought pop music was only going to last six months. You had to be there at shows like this or you’d miss it.”

Helen Shapiro met the Beatles again on the TV Show “Ready Steady Go”.

Two days after leaving the Crown and Mitre the Beatles were at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in London where they recorded the bulk of their first album, “Please Please Me”, in just 10 hours. This album propelled them to the stardom which has never waned.

It seems the Beatles did not hold a grudge over their treatment in Carlisle. Nine months later they played the ABC again – and stayed at the Crown and Mitre again. In 2001, Paul McCartney proposed to Heather Mills at Ullswater’s Sharrow Bay Hotel. And the following year McCartney revealed that he likes to shop in Carlisle – because he is rarely recognised in the city.

February 7. at the Regal in Kirkgate (Colourised)

Support act The Honeys was a British group, consisting of three sisters in close harmony. Their true surname was Liddell and they began ca. 1952 as the Liddell Triplets. By 1963 two had married so their names were Pearl Liddell, Anita Lockhart and Vilma Harvey.

After the break in the tour, The Beatles got second billing on the tour’s advertisements.

They also got a full page in the concert programme.

This is the Beatles’ page from the official programme of the Helen Shapiro Tour. It reads:

THE BEATLES

The Beatles hit recorders of “Love Me Do” are no newcomers to show business, the group was formed way back in 1956 when the grind and scratch of skiffle was just starting to graze the pop horizon. So their breakthrough on records is backed by six years of maturing musical notions and practical experience which has taken them from Liverpool ballrooms to Hamburg night clubs, from church hall hops to colourful strip club stints in Liverpool’s China town.

Now the boys have outgrown their rock and skiffle phases to explode onto the highly competitive musical scene as a thoroughly groomed super-charged quartet.

They have played package shows alongside such top line artistes as Bruce Channel, Little Richard, Joe Brown (who thought they were fabulous), Mike Berry, Gene Vincent, Mr. Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball on their respective tours.

Their latest recording “Please Please Me” looks destined for parade honours.

In an earlier version of the programme, they didn’t have that much space and were sandwiched between some of the other acts on the tour.

Earlier version of the programme

The front page of the programme

A story from the final night of the tour, the concerts were held at the Gaumont Cinema, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent

My fish and chip supper with The Beatles

John, dancing with Helen on the Ready Steady Go TV Show

This story was published 19 February 2000 at Regional press news – now gone to internet heaven, but preserved here.

Derek Adams, a former journalist on The Sentinel, Stoke, and the Derby Evening Telegraph, recalls the night in 1963 when he shared a fish and chip supper with the Fab Four ….and the prediction he made about their futures.

“Were you part of Beatlemania in the Swinging Sixties?”

– Part of them! I actually shared a fish and chips supper with the four lads in 1963 and recall John Lennon making chip sandwiches, Paul McCartney pouring tomato sauce over everything he ate, George Harrison drinking his hot tea direct from a saucer and Ringo Starr mistakenly shaking sugar on his chips instead of salt.

The Fab Four had earlier appeared for a one night two-house gig at the Gaumont Cinema, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, and as a junior reporter with the Stoke-on-Trent Evening Sentinel (a sister paper of the Derby Evening Telegraph for whom I later worked) I was sent along to review the whole programme for the paper’s Out and About section. Helen Shapiro was billed as the star of the show. The Beatles were the third act down on the official programme.

– I had certainly heard of Helen Shapiro. The name The Beatles was somewhat vague to me.I watched both ‘houses’ from the wings adjoining the stage at the Gaumont and recall The Beatles larking around and pushing each other before they actually appeared before the screaming hordes that had solidly packed the venue. When they finished their act they were all bathed in perspiration and both John and Paul dunked their heads beneath the dressing room’s cold water tap.

– We chatted in the dressing room for about three-quarters-of-an-hour, which included the official interval, while girls screamed at the dressing room window from the outside pavement below us. Ringo actually chucked a glass of water through the open dressing room window to the delight of the screamers.

– Following the second ‘house’ I was just about to leave the Gaumont at 11.30pm when John Lennon said to me: “Hey Wack, where can we get some fish and chips at this time of night and without the fans leering and screaming at us?” I knew of a fish and chip shop in an area known as Etruria, near Hanley, where you could sit at tables in the back of the shop. It also served bread and butter and tea. It was arranged that The Beatles follow my car in their Transit van and that we all dine together. I too had not eaten throughout that eventful evening. The meal lasted about an hour amid much laughter and joking and the occasional chip being rescued from someone’s cup of tea.

– The overnight digs for The Beatles was with a theatrical landlady who lived at 6 Adventure Place, Hanley. When the bill arrived for the meal there was much arguing among The Beatles on who would foot the bill. John said he had paid for a meal for all of them the night before and Paul and George said something similar about other evenings. Ringo eventually coughed up.

– We eventually said our good nights and off trundled The Beatles in their van. I returned to my lonely bed-sitter in an area known as Basford.

– Oh yes, that review …

– My piece that appeared in the Out and About section of the Evening Sentinel read along these lines: “A pleasant boy band typical of many others of this time but who could just make the very competitive pop scene if only they could make another hit record”.

‘Tis true, I tell you!

Helen Shapiro in the EMI Studio in Abbey Road, recording her hit single, “Walkin’ Back To Happiness”:

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2 Responses

  1. walrus gumboot says:

    Hey that’s right,
    I saw the Beatles at the Regal in Wakefield, but the number of times in Books and on the net you see it as ABC or even Odeon is unbelivable !!

  2. I was introduced to Helen via reading about this tour. IMO Helen is the greatest female vocalist of our times.

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