|Before They Were Fab?
A Brief Encounter with The Beatles
at the Aldershot Palais
by Martin Creasy
Historically known as perhaps
the worst performance night in
The Beatles career, their infamous evening in Aldershot is described
in a personal recollection by someone
who was actually there!
It may have been around 40 years ago, but Irene Stoker still remembers her brief encounter with John, Paul, George and Pete on the night they struggled to entertain the few at the Palais Ballroom in Aldershot in December 1961.
Irene, who lived in Perowne Street just yards away, was a regular at The Palais in those days, but the four scruffy musicians and their pals were distinctly unimpressed with Aldershots nightlife.
Irene said: They were laughing about The Palais and then one of them, probably John, but I couldnt be sure, said something about the wallpaper - something like nice wallpaper, it looks like my grandmothers front room! Paul McCartney had sort of dozey eyes and I remember jokingly saying to my friend Pat Hawten that I wondered what he was on.
Irene recalls turning up fairly early that night, but leaving after about two or three dances. She said: My friend Pat was down in the dumps over her boyfriend so we went down the Palais to see who was on. We didnt have far to go, as Pat also lived in Perowne Street. We always used to say if its not very good at the Palais then well go down the Central Club. When we got to The Palais, The Beatles were already there, but they werent playing that much. It was probably quite early and there werent many people there. The Beatles were sort of strumming on their guitars. They were on the edge of the stage and one of them even got off at one point. One of them called The Palais a village hall and we said its not a village hall and that we had some good groups up here.
We stayed for two or three dances, but got fed up with them and left. We didnt think they were very good - I just thought they were showing off. So we went to the nearby Havelock pub for a drink and then on to the Central Club and ended up having a good night.
The next time I heard about The Beatles was when I saw a magazine or newspaper article about them - I suppose it must have been 1963. But by then I was married and settled down. At first I thought it cant be that group that played up The Palais, but I recognised them from the picture. Paul McCartney had hardly changed. I remember thinking, well they wont last very long!!!
Then I forgot all about them really. They didnt have any effect on me and I dont think I ever bought a Beatles record. I liked Roy Orbison and Johnny Mathis, but I was more for a song than any particular artist. The only song of The Beatles I ever really liked was Yesterday. That was a lovely song and I used to sing along when it was on the radio. I still know all the words.
Its a funny thing, whenever Ive told people that I saw The Beatles play in Aldershot before they were famous, they have always looked at me as if to say The Beatles wouldnt have played here. But when the article came out in the Daily Mail my daughter rang me and said Mum, its in the paper!
Irene, who still lives in Aldershot, maintains that The Palais was anything but a dive. People used to come down from London for a night there, she said.
But by December 1961, The Beatles were already big news in Liverpool and were used to getting an excited reaction just about everywhere they played, so they were clearly upset about the less than rousing reception they got in Aldershot.
I even walked off the dance floor at one point because of the way they were mucking about and not playing properly, recalls Irene. I would never have realised at that time that they were big news back in Liverpool. They kept going on about how great Liverpool was, she added.
But The Palais was big news, too. Bands came from all over to play here. There probably was the odd punch-up, but you couldnt turn around and say it was a troublesome place. I never saw any trouble there and I went there for a few years.
Irenes brief Beatle night at The Palais, was not her only brush with pop stars in the town. She recalled the visit of skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan to The Hippodrome in Aldershot (probably around 1959).
She said: The Hippodrome was huge. It was on the corner of Station Road and Birchett Road and some big stars played there over the years. I went there with my friend Jill to see Lonnie Donegan and we all queued up outside the stage door for his autograph. A stage hand said Its no good you girls queueing there, hes already gone over to the railway station - he must have been getting the train home! So we all rushed over to the railway station and my friend Jill jumped on the train. And it took off with her on it. They put her off at the next stop at Ash Vale and she had to walk home!
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