FROM A STEEL tower out in the middle of Richmond Athletic Ground the anxious voice of an American cameraman crackled through a walkie-talkie set held by a security official backstage.
“Howard — this is ‘Easy Baker.’ I got trouble out here. The kids are dismantling my scaffolding. Now they’re storming the fence to my right. Hold it… tell … the Beatles have arrived! Yeah, the Beatles!”
Last Sunday night, the fifth Richmond Jazz Festival had the final accolade of popdom bestowed upon it when his Beatleship John Lennon arrived with wife Cynthia, George Harrison and Patti Boyd.
Everyone who was someone (and those that weren’t had badges to say they were!) was there, from Lionel Bart to comedian Arthur English. I found Rocking Berries’ Bobby Thomson and Terry Bond languishing in a pub across the road after an unsuccessful attempt to buy their way in at the main gate.
After a brief encounter with “Security,” they were finally decorated with blue badges and admitted gratis.
On stage that extremely talented beat bundle, the Steam Packet — comprising of Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart and Julio Driscoll — were getting a fantastic reaction from thousands of jazz and blues fans.
They finished and up on stage went the Animal’s favourite group, Spencer Davis — and in swept John and George accompanied by a gaggle of officials, all talking into their two-way radio sets.
The harassed, but highly efficient, publicity officer, Audrey Barber (sister of Chris Barber), organised a tray of cokes and scotch to be offered the distinguished guests in the corner.
With Eric Burdon, who had invited the Beatles down, I talked to George: “We just came to see the Animals with the big band,” he told me. “Unfortunately, Ringo couldn’t make it because Maureen’s father is home from the sea and naturally they wanted to chat.”
Those wishing to mingle with the mighty began pouring into the big marquee and two young ladies leapt at John to pin a badge to his coat labelled “Guest.”
“Thanks luv — does this get me in to Saturday morning pictures free?” smiled John.
Crush barriers of steel wire were hastily erected around our table and later our party was moved off to a smaller tent.
“They tried to put me in a caravan when I got here,” grinned John. “I wouldn’t have been able to see a flippin’ thing.” He turned to George: “Hey, did you know Super films are covering this?” he asked.
“Don’t we own that?” enquired George earnestly.
“Yeah,” replied John. “We could go out in our underpants and be filmed and they’d have to cut it out, so there’s no worry here!” he quipped.
Jazzman Chris Barber came over, beamed and shook hands with John: “Welcome to MY Festival,” he said.
“Oh, you must be Doctor Beaulieu,” cracked John. “All these tents — this must be the place. Where are your antique cars?”
Chris beamed and, after shaking hands with Cynthia, went away.
“That’s very good that,” said John. “I’ve never seen you shake hands before, Cyn. You do it very well, dear. She never shakes hands with me.”
A warning glance from the wife cut short the tease and then John produced a bottle of scotch to replenish all the glasses.
Denny Laine, of the Moody Blues, moved up behind us and began setting up the microphones as if he were about to entertain. The crowds outside the tent were building up to mob proportions and he suggested that John and George might be better off at his flat nearby. The Beatles left.
The crowds drifted after them. Standing in a corner Animal John Steel spoke for many when he said: “Sometimes I feel really sorry for them in spite of their success. They never get a moment’s peace.”
The top act of the final evening was the Animals, augmented by a big band consisting of modern jazz musicians — Ian Carr, Greg Bowen, Ken Wheeler on trumpets; Stan Robinson, Dick Morrissey, Al Gay on tenor saxes; and Paul Carroll, baritone sax.
The Animals rehearsed for several hours with these musicians in London’s Marquee Club last week and when ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ came blasting out across the stage it sounded as if they had been playing together for years! ‘Talking About You’, ‘Outskirts Of Town’ and ‘Rolling Pete’ followed.
You may be able to hear this big new sound from the Animals on a BBC Jazz Club shortly. Five hundred Animal fans heard it while standing outside the main gates. They burst into the ground suddenly.
The men with the walkie talkies were busy again and heard a familiar voice: “Howard, get out — here with some guys, will yer… we got a punch up. This scaffolding isn’t going to…” There was noise like a falling tree and a crackling silence.
“Come in Easy Baker,” screamed the radio operator. “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” sang the Animals. “More, More, More,” screamed the fans.
I hope nothing happened to that little man on his steel derrick. He was such a nice little man. Perhaps he’ll be there next year!
© Keith Altham, New Musical Express, 13 August 1965