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Monday, 21 July 2008

The Beatles at the Azena Sheffield

Azena newspaper ad

During research for the Helen Shapiro Tour, I obtained some information about a gig performed during the tour's break. Amazingly, I was also sent a scan of the actual set list from this concert, in Lennon's handwriting. The original set list was written on the back of a Beatles promo post card from Parlophone Records, and the scan is off a photo copy of that card. Here's a Sheffield newspaper item about the concert:

In 1963 Beatlemania came to Sheffield

Peter Stringfellow, founder and owner of The Mojo Club, booked the Beatles - a band creating a stir on the music scene in Liverpool - originally to play his first music club and forerunner to The Mojo, The Black Cat Club (St. Aiden's Church Hall). In between Stringfellow booking the band and the night of the concert, The Beatles had their first number one with 'Please Please Me', and screaming, shouting, hair-pulling Beatlemania swept the country. The police suggested Stringfellow move the gig to accommodate the demand for tickets, so he booked the Azena Ballroom on the outskirts of Sheffield. Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager, also upped the price from the first agreed price of £65 to £90, as, he said, they had a record in the charts now. (Stringfellow later managed to haggle him down to £85).

On February the 11th, the day before the Azena Ballroom gig, The Beatles recorded the remaining 10 tracks that would make up their debut album - all in one day. On the 12th they were in Sheffield for the gig. Stringfellow had sold 2000 tickets for the show - the Azena's capacity was 500, and a further estimated 1000 people turned up on the night to try their luck. It was bedlam. Amazingly, The Beatles also played another gig in Oldham that same day.

The poster

The Beatles also autographed the wall backstage at The Azena Ballroom. When the ballroom was converted into a supermarket years later (first Kwik Save, later on a Somerfield), it was rumoured that The Beatles' signatures still remained on a wall in the back of the supermarket.
Clearly and unmistakably the concert poster shows The Beatles famous dropped T logo - but The Beatles didn't start using this logo officially until May 1963 - a good few months after this posters design. At the time of the gig The Beatles were using their 'Bug' logo. Stories of the origin of the "dropped T" logo date it to Ivor Arbitor who allegedly designed the logo for Ringo Starr's new Ludwig drum kit - but this was in April 1963! Other rumours says that "a man in Hamburg" designed the famous logo. Well, this poster still seems to be the first appearance of that logo. The poster was made by Colin Duffield, who hand printed the poster on a bench screen using pro-film stencils. The original measures 80cm x 54.5cm and was sold by auction company Cooper Owens at a Rock'n'Roll Memorabilia auction, accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Duffield.
UPDATE JAN. 19-2009: This poster was eventually revealed as a fake in one of our later blogs, and the date for the concert has also been corrected.

Set list

  • I Saw Her Standing There

  • Sweet Little Sixteen

  • Chains

  • Beautiful Dreamer

  • Misery

  • Hey Good Looking

  • Love Me Do

  • Baby It's You

  • Three Cool Cats

  • Please Please Me


  • Some Other Guy

  • Ask Me Why

  • Roll Over Beethoven

  • A Taste of Honey

  • Boys

  • Keep Your Hands Off My Baby

  • Do You Want To Know A Secret

  • From Me To You

  • Please Please Me (possible encore)

  • Long Tall Sally

Azena set list

Many thanks to Peter Gray and John Hodge for providing the set list!

The actual card was picked up by the drummer with the local support group The Aidens (sometimes referred to as Mike or Mark Jones and The Aidens). He remembered being sat backstage with John Lennon as he just discarded a Beatles Parlophone postcard on which he had written down the evenings setlist. Luckily, the drummer picked up the card and kept it. The set list shows that the cold-suffering Lennon avoided going through the throat-shredding "Twist and Shout", which he had recorded as a closer for their debut album the day before.

Britain wouldn't be Britain unless someone saw a business opportunity here, so here's a T-shirt (!) featuring the design from the Sheffield Azena poster.

Azena photo

Peter Stringfellow announces The Beatles at the Azena Ballroom

Here are some more recollections of the Azena gig in Sheffield, as posted on a discussion board:

David Bowler: I was at the Azena for the beatles concert and I remember paying 6s 6d for a ticket on the black market outside, the original price was 5s 6d and someone opened the firedoor and hundreds poured in till the police restored order, I recall standing on a chair on a table. The Azena was called after the owners Arnold & Zena Fidler, Zena died this year (2003).

Timbuck: Yes the beatles did play at the azena, co's i was there, the gig was moved there after the Stringfellow Bro's found they were selling to many tickets and their place wasn't big enough...I think they got the Fab Four because they booked them just before they became famous, and the beatles honoured all bookings taken, and The Stringfellows got them for about £65 Quid.
My mate "John Bealy" was the singer in the support band at this gig and Paul Macartney borrowed his Bass players gear that night
later on that bass amp and speaker became mine.
From what i remember all the songs were "Chuck Berries" except for "Love me do".
But the Azena will always be the place for "Dave berry and the Cruisers" for me.

mojoworking: The Beatles played in Sheffield a total of seven times.

The first Sheffield concert was at the Azena Ballroom, White Lane, Gleadless on 12 February 1963. Peter Stringfellow paid £85 to book them. Although Peter had originally been quoted £65, Brian Epstein put the price up to £90 "because they've got a record in the charts", which was then haggled down by a fiver.

Stringfellow originally planned to book them to play at his Black Cat Club (St. Aiden's Church Hall), but because he couldn't fit enough people in to cover the huge booking fee of £85 (most "name" bands charged between £35 - £50 back then), he hired the Azena for the night, which cost him £29.

The Azena normally held 500 people, but Stringfellow sold 2,000 tickets and it's estimated another 1,000 showed up on the night. Tickets were four shillings (20p) rising to five shillings (25p) when demand took off.

Just pause and think about that: 25p to see the Beatles!

God knows how they did it, but the Beatles also played another gig on the same day in Oldham, Lancs.

The exact set list for the Azena show is lost in the mists of time, but they were only playing one Chuck Berry song live around that time (Too Much Monkey Business). The rest of the set would have been songs from their first LP including: Chains, Keep Your Hands Off My Baby, Please Please Me, Love Me Do, A Taste Of Honey, Do You Want To Know A Secret, I Saw Her Standing There.

By an amazing coincidence the Beatles had just recorded the remaining 10 tracks which would make up their debut LP on 11th Feb - the day before the Azena gig! All ten tracks were recorded in the one day, the remaining 4 tracks (it was a 14 track LP) being the A & B sides of their first two singles (Love Me Do & Please Please Me), which were already released.

Interestingly, The Beatles were back in Sheffield only a few weeks later on 2 March and then again on 16 March. Both concerts took place at the City Hall during the first wave of Beatlemania.

Tofty: I had the pleasure of being at their first performance at the Azena in Gleadless and I must say it was total chaos. People that had paid for tickets just couldn't get through the door. At the time I was working at Wilson Pecks who were the booking agents for the City Hall and I was fortunate enough to get a job as a programme seller when they appeared at the City Hall on the Roy Orbison concert the same year. I even got backstage and met them and Roy Orbison and still have the autographed progamme to this day.

crucible77: Despite the last posts on here being a few years ago I found them whilst searching for information on the first ever Beatles concert to be played in Sheffield which was at The Azena Ballroom,white Lane Gleadless on Saturday 12th February 1963.

I used to work with a man nearly 20 years ago who was the drummer in the support band at this show "Mike Stone and the Aidens". He told me the story of how he remembered being sat backstage with John Lennon as he just discarded a Beatles Parlophone postcard on which he had written down the evenings setlist.
Luckily he picked up the card and kept it.

He told me he had played with a lot of bands in the 60s and kept the odd item.
As I collected anything Beatle related at the time I asked him to go through his box of stuff and sure enough one morning he brought it into work for me to see. Thankfully I got a photo copy of it (front and back) as well as a cutting from a newspaper for the show.

I remember him saying it was the first time it had been out for years and he was putting it back, so I guess he will have never have let it go. I don't know if he ever thought of it being valuable really.

Anyway I am sure that someone somewhere would love to know that this exists, and the tracklisting is there clearly in Lennons own handwriting with a line between the first and second sets.


Peter C said...

'From Me To You' wasn't even written at this point, so cannot have been performed...

wogew said...

A valid point. It's generally presumed that Lennon and McCartney began writing "From Me to You" while on a coach heading to Shrewsbury as part of the Helen Shapiro Tour. This would date the composition to around the 27-28th, whereas the Azena gig was the 12th. Something is clearly wrong here. "From Me To You" may have been wrongly dated and was really written during the earlier stint of the Helen Shapiro tour. Somewhat unlikely, as they would probably have tried to record it for the album. OR this set list stems from another Sheffield appearance, where The Aidens also were support act. Also unlikely, because the set lists of all the later Sheffield gigs are known. Still, the rest of the set list makes sense, as it encorporates the 4-song set list from the Shapiro tour. As you can see from the Azena poster with the Beatles "dropped T"-logo, this is not the only chronological inconsistency in this story.

Devorah Dumes said...

Another curious chronological hiccup: in "Record Retailer" (the official source for chart activity in the British charts) "Please Please Me" never reached number one. A rival publication, "New Musical Express", listed the song at number one on February 22...ten days before the poster claims it was a number-one song.

Have the poster and set list been critically authenticated by any experts? I would particularly be interested in Lennon's handwriting. Most Beatles set lists used upper and lower case, not all caps.

Just curious.

Devorah Dumes said...

Sorry...I meant that February 22 is ten days *after* February 12.

wogew said...

Yes, it has been established now that the poster is indeed a "mock-up", which has been sold as a genuine concert item. The handwritten set list is now attributed to McCartney (it's his handwriting) and not Lennon.
Here's another, autograhed set list from 1963 in caps.

Stacia said...

What's getting cut off on the bottom of the tracklist scan? It looks like there's writing that got cut off.

wogew said...

The original scan is an b/w photocopied A4 page consisting of the postcard's front face, the back face with the set list and a newspaper ad for the concert. What looks like extra pencil marks at the bottom of the set list is, I think, just the shadow of the edge of the post card.

Bushbaby387 said...

It has long been established that The Beatles played a gig at The Azena Ballroom, White Lane, Gleadless, (now a Somerfields Supermarket) on Feb 12th 1963. The pin-pointing of this date seems to come from Mark Lewisohn’s 1986 book, The Beatles Live. Mark got the date directly from Pete Stringfellow and never saw fit to question it at the time. All web sites quoting this date name Mark as the source.

A few things have come to light recently however, which put this date in doubt

Firstly, the band also played a gig in Oldham that evening. The logistics of two performances, 50 miles apart, in the same evening, are very difficult to equate. A quick glance at the live performance schedule for that year, shows that the group weren’t in the habit of playing two shows per night, at least not since their stint on The Reeperbahn.

Secondly, a written set list, authenticated as being in Paul’s hand, was recently unearthed, which shows at least one song, “From Me To You” which wouldn’t be written until two weeks after this night.

A poster for the concert, showing the February date, is a known fake, which appeared only after Mark’s book had been published. It features the famous Dropped “T” Logo, which didn’t arrive on the scene until the following April when it was designed by Ivor Arbiter of DrumCity

There are one or two other mitigating issues, which point towards April 2nd of that year being the actual date. Mark himself now favours that date

Any comments? We need to try and pin this down for sure.

wogew said...

I corrected the date in a later blog post here:
The correction was made after correspondance with Lewisohn. And I agree with him, as I believe he has researched it. Still, he's puzzled by the absence of "Thank You Girl" and "Twist And Shout" on the set list. Maybe John had another cold?

Bushbaby387 said...

On my Flickr site I have published documentary evidence that the concert took place on April 2nd 1963. An extract from "The Sheffield Star" of that day, advertising the concert that evening. I can only think that Stringfellow wanted to be remembered as having staged the first Beatles concert in Sheffield, as opposed to the reality, third.

Sad Claude said...

My mum has a clipping from a local newspaper with a brief article about moving the venue to the Azena. It mentions the date of the gig being 2nd of April - so it seems clear this is indeed the date and not 12th February.

Unknown said...

The april date is correct,i was there,the 12th feb 1963 was a tuesday not a saturday.