Friday, 23 September 2016

Why did the Beatles stop performing live?

The Beatles play Shea Stadium in biggest concert ever, 1965
We were the best live band in the world before we were famous. Nobody could touch us  John Lennon. 

In the cinema, we’re actually going to hear ourselves for the first time. We couldn’t hear ourselves when we were live, as there was so much screaming going on.  Paul McCartney before the premiere of Eight Days A Week, September 2016

When The Beatles first met George Martin in the summer of 1962 they were an accomplished live act but poor recording musicians. Four years later this had reversed to the point where they stopped touring altogether.

Giles Martin (son of George) has done heroic work in producing a soundtrack for the new documentary 'Eight Days a Week' that is far superior to that heard by fans at the time - or indeed The Beatles themselves.

It is generally agreed that The Beatles were a much better live act in 1962 than at the height of Beatlemania. What went wrong?

The success of The Beatles led to an precedented demand for tickets, particularly in the US. The only venues physically capable of accommodating tens of thousands of fans were sports stadiums - but amplification technology was not yet ready to fill these vast spaces or drown out the incessant screaming. 

On stage The Beatles were reliant on the sound from their own puny amplifiers - it was as if they were all wearing earplugs. Crucially they could not hear each other - Ringo Starr struggled to keep the beat by watching the gyrating rear ends of his fellow band mates. John Lennon describes the frustration this created:

The impact of Beatlemania

Perhaps more important than these technical issues was the general malaise that set in after three years of relentless Beatlemania. Night after night of yelling 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' over the screams of teenage fans crystallised a growing disillusionment with the experience - particularly for John and George. 

Increasing, playing live became a chore rather than a challenge. Little thought was given to preparation and they hated rehearsing ('we were grown men!' as Lennon would grandly complain later). They were self conscious about their sloppy playing - aware that their famous performance on the Ed Sullivan was pretty dreadful, for example. But there was little incentive for them to put in the work necessary to improve.

Live concerts were also becoming more dangerous. Security at the big concerts was often chaotic and the 'bigger than Jesus' controversy made touring the US tense increasingly tense.  A particularly unpleasant experience in the Philippines heightened this sense of vulnerability. 

Back to Abbey Road

In 1966 The Beatles retreated to the recording studio. Their retirement was reflected in new material which was beyond what it was then possible to perform live. For 'She's Leaving Home' they would have needed an orchestra for 'Tomorrow Never Knows' tape machines and engineers to work them.

So those famous final concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and Shea Stadium were not very good?

Giles Martin (son of George) has done heroic work restoring the sound and toning down the screaming for the new documentary Eight Days a Week. But The Beatles who helicoptered in for the stadium concerts (with their twenty minute sets) were a pale shadow of the band that had thrilled audiences at the Star Club and the Cavern.

The Beatles Digital Teaching Teaching Pack  (3.99)

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