The early days of The Beatles, when they were still wearing the leather gear that made them stand out during the time they spent playing in Hamburg, Germany. This is among the first of the publicity photos ever taken of The Beatles and Pete Best (second left) was still the drummer for the band.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 Aldershot’s nightlife.

Irene said: “They were laughing about The Palais and then one of them, probably John, but I couldn’t be sure, said something about the wallpaper - something like ’nice wallpaper, it looks like my grandmother’s 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 didn’t have far to go, as Pat also lived in Perowne Street. We always used to say ‘if it’s not very good at the Palais then we’ll go down the Central Club.’ When we got to The Palais, The Beatles were already there, but they weren’t playing that much. It was probably quite early and there weren’t 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 it’s 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 didn’t 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 can’t 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 won’t last very long!!!

“Then I forgot all about them really. They didn’t have any effect on me and I don’t 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.

“It’s a funny thing, whenever I’ve 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 wouldn’t have played here. But when the article came out in the Daily Mail my daughter rang me and said ‘Mum, it’s 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 couldn’t turn around and say it was a troublesome place. I never saw any trouble there and I went there for a few years.“

Irene’s 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 ’It’s no good you girls queueing there, he’s 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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