Things certainly went with a bang when the Beatles crossed the Channel to start their 18-day residency at the Olympia Theatre, Paris, in January 1964.
But not in the way manager Brian Epstein and the Fab Four had hoped.
The electrics at the grand old Parisian concert hall couldn’t cope with the Beatles’ modern amplifiers – so the fuses blew three times in a row!
There were fireworks off stage too as a fight broke out between the Beatles’ support crew and the French press pack. Paul McCartney had to stop singing to restore order.
As if that wasn’t enough, Ringo completely missed the first day as his flight out of Liverpool’s Speke Airport was fogbound.
The Beatles were also stunned to see the sell-out Olympia audience dressed in tuxedos and evening suits as if they’d come to watch a ballet – not a rock’n’roll show!
It all conspired to be an eventful episode for the Liverpool band, dubbed Les Beatles, which the French promoter summed up as ‘magnifique – mais c’est un mess!’
The residency ran from January 16th until February 4th with the Fab Four playing two sets a day. They topped a nine-act bill including Bulgarian-French singer Sylvie Vartan and American crooner and actor Trini Lopez.
Vartan was already a major star. Touring with French rock artist Johnny Hallyday, later to become her husband, she was known as ‘the twisting schoolgirl’ and had already notched up a number of hits on Decca records.
The Olympia Theatre, founded in 1888 in the 9th arrondissement, was a prestigious venue. It hosted opera and ballet as well as many French stars, including Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour.
The audience was older than the Beatles expected; there were few screaming fans – and a distinct lack of girls. George Harrison reckoned they were all ‘kept at home’ due to the strict Catholicism in France.
After a matinee performance on the first day, the evening show saw the electrics fail. The blame fell on a French radio station conducting a live broadcast and overloading the system along with the Beatles’ amps.
Pandemonium then broke out backstage when photographers demanding pictures were confronted by Epstein and the Beatles’ press officer Brian Somerville.
Onlookers witnessed a melee which, at one point, even involved the local gendarmerie as McCartney called for quiet. It just added more spice to the completely unstructured evening!
After completing their chaotic set, the Beatles headed for the haven of the George V hotel near the Champs Elysees while armed police surrounded the theatre.
From that point on, no-one was allowed backstage. The lesson had been learned.
When they did manage to get on stage, the Beatles ran through a familiar playlist including the hits From Me To You, She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand.
Other staples included Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven, Twist And Shout by the Top Notes and Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally.
While they were in Paris, the Beatles learned that I Want To Hold Your Hand had gone to Number One in the USA – a major breakthrough for British bands.
In fact, it topped the Billboard Top 100 for no less than seven weeks before being replaced by another Beatles’ single She Loves You.
I Want To Hold Your Hand went on to become the Beatles’ best-selling single worldwide, notching up 12 million copies.
When their Paris season was over, the Beatles flew to America on February 7th. Around 4,000 fans gathered at Heathrow to see them off.
After landing at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, where a crowd of 3,000 welcomed them, the Beatles gave their first live US TV performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
An astonishing 73 million viewers tuned in – roughly 34 per cent of the American population. It was the largest audience ever recorded for a TV programme in the USA.
Sell-out concerts followed across the country, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, as the Fab Four paved the way for the British Beat invasion.
Groups like the Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, the Animals and the Rolling Stones soon followed.
At one point during April, the Beatles had no less than 12 singles in the Billboard Hot 100.
It was a long way from blowing fuses in Paris in front of an audience dressed in tuxedos!
*Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45, is now on the sale at the special pre-order price of £14.99 including UK postage and packing.
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