‘We had silver suits specially made’: performing at the Beatles Christmas shows

John Beecham on appearing with the Fab Four at Hammersmith Odeon, London, December 1964

This wasn’t the first time we’d shared a bill with the Beatles. A few years earlier, they were our warm-up band, when we headlined the Cavern in Liverpool. We really admired them.

I was the trombonist in the Mike Cotton Sound, a footnote to the 1960s music scene. On this occasion, we were their support band; we are pictured here at the press call for Another Beatles Christmas Show, a follow-up to their successful production a year earlier.

The show opened on Christmas Eve and ran until 16 January, and consisted of variety performances, with sketches and comedy that seemed anachronistic even then. Produced by a friend of Brian Epstein, it was lavish, with cascading waterfalls that flooded the stage. We started the night on a revolving podium and the leads kept getting tangled up. Jimmy Savile was compere; none of us liked him. He was an awful show-off.

At the press call, John Lennon knew all the photographers and journalists, and called out to them: “How do, Daily Express? How’s it going, Sunday Times?” So we called out, too, reflecting our lowly status: “Hello there, Willesden Chronicle!”

I’m standing next to the singer Elkie Brooks, apparently with a thatched roof on my head. We wanted to look like the Beatles, and copied their hair and wore the same boots: Cuban heels from Anello & Davide, which became known as the Beatle Boot. Mike Cotton, on my left, was keen to do something special for the show, so we had silver suits specially made. We’re both from London and had known each other since we were 18. I’m from East Ham, Mike from Tottenham.

Our job was to play incidental music and accompany Elkie; we had a spot of our own, too. At the beginning of every show, each act made a brief walk-on appearance, and we had to play a few bars of appropriate music. You couldn’t hear anything the Beatles played because of the screaming. I think I was one of the few people at that time who got to hear their live shows clearly, because I watched a few of their afternoon rehearsals at the almost-deserted Hammersmith Odeon, as it was called then.

A residency like this was rare for us; we were usually touring. At the time, we were playing about 300 gigs a year. We had a good time, behaving as a group of young men do when they’re on the road.

In 1965, our keyboard player, Dave Rowberry, was poached by the Animals. We auditioned a lot of people to replace him, including Joe Cocker and Elton John, who we knew then as Reg. We were an attractive proposition as we earned more than some bigger bands. Joe and Elton both failed their auditions – not for musical reasons, of course. Joe didn’t look right, and Elton was so shy and vulnerable, he wouldn’t have fitted in. He’s probably grateful now.

The Beatles’ Christmas shows were a hit; no one but them could pack the Hammersmith Odeon twice nightly for more than two weeks. They were full of traditional songs, as well as their own hits. It doesn’t get more Christmassy than this.


Hannah Booth

The GuardianTramp

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