One of Sam’s closest friends and allies was Terry McCann, who acted as bouncer, driver and, on 9th December 1961, drummer with The Beatles in Aldershot. According to McCann: “I started working for Sam after going to Samson and Barlow’s one night. I went up the stairs and there was Sam being threatened by these two men, and one of them had Sam by the throat. Well, crash, bang, wallop and one of them tumbled down the stairs, so Sam offered me the job as a bodyguard.” (DB interview 2015) It was through his contacts that Terry arranged the gig at Aldershot’s Palais Ballroom for Sam and The Beatles. Sam needed it to work out well but, as history has recorded, it was anything but a success.
The Palais Ballroom, Aldershot
The Beatles’ Aldershot disaster is the stuff of legend. The Palais Ballroom was situated on the corner of Queens Road and Perowne Street. The original venue had burned down and a new building was erected on the site. Sam Leach had billed the event as a “Battle of the Bands”:
Although two other bands were also billed to appear, this was a bit of advertising bluff as no groups other than the two headliners had been booked. Featuring a bar and a buffet, entrance was only five shillings. It all sounded so good.
Unfortunately, as history records, only around 18 people turned up to see The Beatles. Not even The Jaywalkers showed. According to Sam, “If you believe everyone who said they were there for The Beatles, we would have had 500 people!” The failure has been blamed on Sam’s “bad cheque” not clearing with the newspaper which led to the lack of advertising, but Sam denies that. There was no problem with the cheque, other than Sam being a new customer, so the newspaper didn’t run the advert.
A new twist in the story occurred in 2013. Sam explained: “Alan Hope from Screaming Lord Sutch’s band told me that they had a gig the same night near ours in Aldershot, and they played regularly in the same venue we were playing in. So he went round tearing my posters down, and rang the local paper and said the gig had been cancelled. That’s why the other band didn’t turn up. He was boasting to my mate Terry McCann, and I saw him here recently, and he admitted it to me in front of my cousin; then of course he tried to backtrack.”
Terry concurred that there was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the performance. “Sam went out and found that the posters I had put up a few days before had been torn down. They unloaded the equipment, and set up the gear, waiting for the crowds to flock through the doors. And they waited, and waited. Sam Leach’s answer was to head over the road to the pub and invited people to come over. He brought them bottles of beer that can be seen in Dick Matthews’ historic photographs. Leach also stopped people in the streets to come in and see what was happening, to try and make the numbers up. It didn’t work.”
To add to the merriment, Terry McCann had a brief stint as the Fourth Beatle. “Terry got up and played drums,” recalled Sam. “It might have been in the interval, because The Beatles played for three hours with only a quarter-of-an-hour break, and they were all messing around.” (DB interview 2015)
McCann laughed when he started retelling the stories surrounding that famous event. “That was a debacle,” he exclaimed. “We left Liverpool at 6am, and of course there were no motorways back then. We went through a small village on way down, and saw a traditional tea room with the ‘old dears’ (old people) in there. We went in, the lads in their leather jackets and jeans, and we got chased out! But John had a pin on him, so he scratched ‘The Beatles were here. John.’ That could be worth a few bob if that was still there!”
Shall We Dance?
Pete Best, like the other Beatles, remembered the night with some fondness due to the fun they had: “Halfway through one number, George and Paul put on their overcoats and took to the floor to dance a foxtrot together, while the rest of us struggled along, making enough music for them and the handful of spectators. We clowned our way through the whole of the second half. John and Paul deliberately played wrong chords and notes and added words to the songs that were never in the original lyrics.” (Beatle!)
Pete Best Sings
But then Pete decided it was time to sing, which meant they needed a drummer. Usually this was Paul, but not on this occasion. Terry McCann had very clear memories of the night: “Everything had gone stupidly wrong, but the lads did their usual stuff. Anyway, Pete Best had got up to sing a couple of songs, so I got on the drums and played for a couple of numbers and we just messed about a bit. That was a night to remember. I can’t remember what songs we did, just the usual chart songs from the set.”
This wasn’t the first time that Terry had sat in as a drummer, though he never considered himself a drummer or played in a group. “I lived in the Isle Of Man with my auntie when I was evacuated,” Terry said. “I got stuck in the Scout Cubs, and they had a full kit there, so I played drums. When I was in the army, I used to box for the Battalion. Upstairs, over the gym, was where the band practiced, so I was shown how to play drums; four to the bar with the right hand, one with the left, and so I used to go up and play there.
“I knew how to keep a simple beat, but I wouldn’t class myself as a drummer. When the drums were set up and the place was empty, I would get behind the kit and have a good old bash. I could do a great solo and could give it some stick when I was on my own! I played at a couple of weddings, but never regularly in a group. I got the nod to sit in for the odd 20 minutes or something, like with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. I played at the Tower Ballroom when Ringo was the drummer. His girlfriend was there and he fancied a break, so I jumped up and drummed for around 20 minutes or so to give him a break.”
After the gig and Terry’s brief appearance as The Beatles’ drummer, there was a football match with ping-pong balls. “Lennon kept kicking me,” said Sam, “and I was on his side! One girl said to me ‘I’ve never seen a band like this before’. I think word got out for the next week.”
There were a few locals who turned up and were less than impressed. Irene Stoker was a regular at The Palais in those days, but didn’t stay for long that night. “It was probably quite early and there weren’t many people there,” she recalled. “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.”
That was the last she expected to ever hear of The Beatles, but of course they would soon appear in the national and international media. “The next time I heard about The Beatles was when I saw a magazine or newspaper article about them,” she said. “I suppose it must have been 1963. At first I thought it can’t be that group that played up The Palais, but I recognised them from the picture.” She did notice that there had been some changes from the group that had played at the Palais. “Paul McCartney had hardly changed,” she observed. “I remember thinking, well they won’t last very long!” Obviously not a good judge, because she walked out of the concert in Aldershot, and then wrote them off in 1963. However, at least, along with only a few people, she could claim to have been there. “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.” They did, but maybe they shouldn’t have played there. (GetHampshire 9th December 2016)
The Last Throw
But Lennon wasn’t finished and wanted to leave his mark on Aldershot. Sam recalled: “John was going to throw a brick through the window and I stopped him, and I said, ‘I’ll do it’, and took the brick off him, but then Paul stopped me from throwing it!” By anyone’s standards, it was a disaster and they were rightly frustrated. However, as a testament to their professional attitude, the Beatles played their whole set and entertained the few people who had turned up.
The Blue Gardenia?
Terry McCann had made friends in London, one being Liverpool star Brian “Cass” Casser (also known as Casey Jones), who now lived in the capital city. “We went on to see Cass,” said Terry, “and I got us all some fish and chips from a van, then we went to Casser’s club.” Casser, who had left Liverpool under a cloud of “woman troubles”, had started running rock ‘n’ roll nights at the Blue Gardenia club, which became the All-Nighter after midnight. Although it has been claimed that all of The Beatles got up on stage that night, Terry remembers it clearly: “George was the only one who got up and jammed that night, because he was a talented guitarist who could play with anyone.”
The Beatles Return to Liverpool
After a long night, it was time to head back to Liverpool. “Sam had hired this car with a driver, and I had the rented van,” recalled Terry. “John and Paul sat up front with me, with George in the back and poor Pete on the floor of the van! Then we ran out of petrol; it sort of ‘filled up again on its own’ at 3 o’clock in the morning!” It wasn’t quite a miracle, though, as Terry explained. “In the old petrol pumps, there was a little round piece of tin with one screw in it at the front of the pump. If the electrics went wrong, you could loosen the screw, and then, using the winding handle from car, you could manually get the petrol. So John Lennon got the handle and we filled the van again. I said that I had a fiver left and put it through the door; at least that is how I tell it!” It was an eventful day. (DB Interview 2015)
Read the full interview and more about The Beatles in Aldershot in Finding the Fourth Beatle
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The full story of what really happened when the Beatles appeared in Aldershot on 9th Dec 1961 in front of only 18 people is told in detail in Alan Hope’s autobiography “ The Great White Hope “ which was published in 2020 and is available from Amazon. Alan Hope was actually there and his book provides a lot of additional information and insights to this unique story, none of which have been in the public domain before. I would recommend Alan Hope’s autobiography as a must read for all fans of The Beatles and for anybody interested in the 1960s music scene.