Sixties reunion at major Norwich music exhibition

Shaun LowthorpeThey were two iconic moments of the 1960s - the death of John F Kennedy and the birth of Beatlemania. And last night two men came together in Norwich who had a unique insight into each, being backstage with the Fab Four on the night the US president was assassinated.Shaun Lowthorpe

They were two iconic moments of the 1960s - the death of John F Kennedy and the birth of Beatlemania.

Many of those living through that decade will recall both - but last night two men came together in Norwich who had a unique insight into each, being backstage with the Fab Four on the night the US president was assassinated.

In 1963 Great Yarmouth impresario Peter Jay was a drummer in a support band to the Beatles in a tour which saw his group, Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers playing venues in the North of England and Ireland.

Watching many of those performance through his camera lens, was Ian Wright, then a 16-year-old photographer working for the Northern Echo under its legendary editor Harold Evans, who had tasked him to go out and take as many pictures of upcoming bands as possible.


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On November 22 1963 the pair were backstage at the Globe Theatre in Stockton in the North East after the first of two shows had ended. As the news came in the Beatles, tour manager Joe Collins (father to Joan and Jackie) and the theatre staff huddled together and decided that the show must go on.

Last night both men recalled that moment as they met again for the first time since that night at the launch event of the Beatles to Bowie exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

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Looking at an original print of the Beatles taken that night and brought along by the photographer, Mr Jay also recalled the Liverpool band were using his amps.

'It was amazing,' he said. 'We did the big tour with them in 1963/64 and arrived back with them at Heathrow where all these people were screaming. We closed the first half of the show and they did the second. In our act we also did some comedy and we would put on wigs and do big drum roll and announce ourselves as the Beatles. I went to a shop in Oxford Street and bought the wigs! They used to stand at the side of the stage and take the mickey. They were fantastic guys. We were with them every day sometimes we would jam together or we would go around and play cards

'I had known Ringo before, but everything changed. They were the same guys, but they got an amazing reaction.'

But Mr Wright, who later followed his editor to the Sunday Times and now lives in Las Vegas, also recalled it was Peter Jay who told them of Kennedy's death.

'Peter Jay had this tacky radio held together with sticky tape around it, he was listening to it and broke the news that Kennedy had died,' he said. 'The Beatles were there and there was a meeting backstage about what to do and they talked about the time difference between Stockton and Dallas. The first show had finished but the second house was already coming in and they decided they had to go on.

'Everybody remembers where they were when Kennedy was shot,' he added. 'I've asked everybody I've interviewed about it. The Searchers were in Perth, The Rolling Stones were playing in Greenwich Town Hall, and Roy Orbison had just got home and was having his lunch in Canada.

'I haven't seen Peter for 47 years since the night Kennedy was shot. I was the only photographer there that night and took the picture of the Beatles.

'Harold Evans was heading to a black tie dinner in Redcar when he heard the news on the radio. He turned the car around and went back to the Northern Echo and produced a four page pullout supplement on the assassination of Kennedy. I went straight to the darkroom and developed the prints and went to the subs' room.

'Nobody was the remote bit interested in the Beatles! They couldn't care less. Harold had his sleeves rolled up and his tie was down. He was moving!'

Now many of the bands of the sixties are being celebrated in the exhibition which is being organised by the National Portrait Gallery and included photographs of a number of musical icons including David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones.

But for the two men who lived through it, there is no doubting the significance of the era.

'We had just witnessed a revolution in 20th century music,' Mr Wright said. 'I saw them for the first time in Sunderland in 1963. Exactly one year later they were on the Ed Sullivan show watched by 74.5m people. If it hadn't been for those four guys, we wouldn't be sitting here talking as we are, from clothes to music to ideas.'

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