2 December 2012

Let It Be at the Prince of Wales Theatre – Beatles stream of consiciousness

Filed under: fun, healthcare, music, theatre — David Wood @ 11:03 am

“For our last number I’d like to ask your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry”

These were the words used by John Lennon, on stage for the Royal Variety Performance at the Prince of Wales theatre in central London on 4th November 1963, to introduce the last number of the set played by the Beatles. The packed audience included the British royal family. Black and white archive film of the set exists:

That moment was part of a period of a few months when the phenomenon of “Beatlemania” burst into the public consciousness. As told by Beatles historian Bruce Spizer,

By September 1963, The Beatles were gaining coverage in the British press and were receiving tremendous radio and television exposure. But their big break through was a widely-watched and well-publicized television appearance on “Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium”, which was televised throughout the U.K. during prime time Sunday evening and was the British equivalent of “The Ed Sullivan Show”. The Beatles headlined the Oct. 13, 1963, Palladium show, which was seen by more than 15 million people. The bedlam caused by the group both inside and outside the theater caught the attention of British news editors, who elevated The Beatles from a successful entertainment act to a national news phenomenon. The Daily Mirror described the hysteria as “Beatlemania!” The term stuck.

The Beatles’ triumphant Palladium appearance was quickly followed by the Oct. 31 airport reception witnessed by Sullivan and their playing before British high society at the Royal Command Performance, also known as the Royal Variety Show. Their presence on the Nov. 4, 1963, show drew more attention than the arrival of Royal Family. The Beatles, who were seventh on the bill of 19 acts, impressed the upscale crowd with “She Loves You”, “Till There Was You”, “From Me To You” and “Twist and Show”. Prior to ripping into a rousing rendition of their closing rocker, Lennon said, “For our last number I’d like to ask your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.” While [Beatles manager Brian] Epstein viewed John’s remarks as being a bit risque, he was relieved that the crowd seemed charmed by the Beatle’s cheeky humor. Before the show, John had joked to Brian that he was going to ask the Royals to rattle their “fookin’ jewelry.”

Nearly fifty years later, the show “Let It Be”, playing at the very same Prince of Wales theatre, re-created a great deal of the same music, musicianship, and mannerisms of the original act. Including the jewelry quip.

LetItBeI had the great pleasure of viewing the show last night – and it was, indeed, a great pleasure.

There’s no plot. It’s simply a group of four musicians who look and sound remarkably similar to the original Beatles, playing a series of sets of fabulous music, interspersed (allowing the band a chance to change clothing – and wigs) with archive news footage, mock advertisements conveying a wistful sense of the 1960s, and audio excerpts of retrospective interviews by the Beatles.

The show progresses through segments (each with their own clothing and hairstyles)

  • the 1963 Royal Variety Show era,
  • a set from the 1965 Shea Stadium concert – where the Beatles had played to an audience of more than 55,000
  • a Sergeant Pepper segment
  • a flower power segment featuring All You Need is Love, Magical Mystery Tour, and more
  • a quieter section, with the group members seated for evocative melodies such as Norwegian Wood and Blackbird
  • an Abbey Road segment, culminating in a powerful rendition of The End
  • a final encore – including (of course) Let It Be, as well as a fore-taste of forthcoming solitary careers: Give Peace A Chance.

I offer a few thoughts from my stream of consciousness during the performance:

  • On either side of the stage, large screens showed images to frame the main actions. The young women who were shouting and screaming with such hysteria must in many cases be grandmothers by now – I wonder if they know their images are still delighting London audiences, nearly fifty years after their rush of blood was captured on camera
  • The vibrant twanging of Get Back mentally transported me back in time to April 1969, when I remember being enthralled, as a very naive ten-year old, by that song playing on Top of The Pop: “Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman, But she was another man…”
  • The vocals to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and A Day in the Life were, if anything, even more trippy than in the original
  • Actually the audience seemed bemused and unsure about A Day in the Life, with many of them showing blank faces as the cacophony grew – I guess this song is nothing like as well known nowadays. And the clincher: half the audience started applauding the end of this song too soon, before that final apocalyptic multi-piano E Major chord rang out, woops
  • Perhaps another sign of the differentially fading memories of the Beatles music – the audience were happy to rise to its feet to sway along to Twist and Shout in the opening section, but when a similar request was made to stand up during Sgt Pepper Reprise, everyone sat stuck in their seats
  • A nice touch of fidelity in the Abbey Road segment – the “Paul McCartney” character was barefoot on stage – as on the Abbey Road album cover photo
  • For sheer musicianship, the guitar crescendo at the end of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was outstanding; that has always been one of my favourite Beatles tracks – particularly in its remastered version on the Love album remix – but it seemed particularly dramatic on stage this evening.

With such a rich music portfolio to choose from, inevitably many favourites have to be excluded from the two-hour show. Personally I would have missed out one or two of the tracks chosen, in order to find room for glorious stomping classics such as Lady Madonna, Hello Goodbye, The Walrus, or Back In the USSR.  For example, I’ve probably heard Hey Jude enough times already in my life, but its iconic status presumably meant it needed to be included.

Is this the show with the best set of music ever? Seeing that the competition includes Mamma Mia (with its feast of Abba hits), Westside Story (with its feast of Bernstein), and Amadeus (with its feast of Mozart), the answer is perhaps not – but it was still a tremendous occasion, providing a welcome break from thoughts about futurism, existential risk, free markets, and mobile phone technology!

Footnote: But I could not forget about mobile phone technology altogether that evening. On the way home, my companion found that her London Travel Card was being systematically rejected by tube turnstiles – again. That’s despite having bought the ticket only a few hours earlier. It’s by no means the first occurrence for her. “Is it OK to carry my travel card here, right next to my mobile phone, in this small section of my handbag?” she asked. “That is exactly the problem”, I answered – and there seems to be plenty of knowledge of this problem online. And the Beatles music faded out of my mind, to be replaced by thoughts on the health implications of proximity of mobile phones to the human body.


  1. David, great insights here!

    makes me think of two words I’ve been working on — cultural afferents

    … my daughters raved about a youtube that is IMHO a representation of a next “level” up of the importance of cultural referentiality in society — much in the same way as this beatles nostos-algia (it does make me a little sick to have not seen the beatles live:( Did they really wear those costumes live in concert? seems wonderfully kamp [sic] now)

    search pop danthology 2012 for a taste of recombinant music and the impact on society (at least my daughters’ society!) in the future.

    ultimately AGI will be “fed in” all of all the pop music and all the brain scannings of good-hearted-advertising-researchers to find the meaning in it all and then — VOILA .. AGI that can do perferct pop songs

    — as humans we won’t stand a chance against our new TRANSCENDENT-ABBA overlords

    … it might even be our … um … um …. our Waterloo!

    Ahh, how convenient of our already-present AGI overlords to arrange for someone to have already done a good simulation of that extact future in music and video! — >

    (btw the song does get a little “normal” at 3:30 if you aren’t “transcendent enough” to watch, er, enjoy, I mean Relish the whole seven minutes and forty three seconds of obviously the result of hyper computation of millions of “ems” to recombine everything into the perfrect mind control for any whole grain emulation ! –> however this second one here obviously involves a much higher-order AGI where it’s two-dimensional music topology (like Anders’ next paper is about) is beyond my little old brains’ ability do hyperdimensionality so for this I’ll just have to encourage them AGI KIDS TO GET OFF MY LAWN! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVoYDlz-1dA … fortunately there’s insurance now! http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/81303587/ & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBOMYdu7b64 )

    David maybe I can do a talk on AGI pop music? I can guarantee it’ll be far far (far!) more contentious than Jaan or Robin’s! haha

    And finally … Merry Solstice to all and to all a shorter night!


    p.s. sent from my cracked-screen nexus 7 :< so poetic misrecognitions and typoes at a extra "elevated risk" … the words you read may not be the words I intented — caveat lector!!! :^)

    p.p.s. suggestions for the next android, 10-31 biz days for repair is a bit tooooooo long to be without my R2, DW2 🙂

    Comment by Brian Hall/HHACK.org (@HHACKlub) — 21 December 2012 @ 3:01 pm

    • Hi Brian – many thanks for the links; I’ll check them out once I’m back with a good strong connection (and I’m no longer in the midst of stunning natural sights that distract me…)

      >maybe I can do a talk on AGI pop music? I can guarantee it’ll be far far (far!) more contentious than Jaan or Robin’s! haha

      Sounds interesting 🙂
      Can you drop me a couple of paragraphs description about it?

      Comment by David Wood — 22 December 2012 @ 11:14 am

      • Naturally stunning sights?! Where be ye?!


        BTW is the Note series actually something useful for your research and writing the book?

        I saw a Galaxy Note 10.1 yesterday and it seems to really be a lot more useful than even the Nexus/Jellybean which sadly does not seem to have that magical ability to have 2 tasks (and I’ll just take note-taking, though the Galaxy Note 10.1 seemed to be many if not all)

        … Tesco on sale for £318

        Simple decision if I only needed to use it for the next 5 _weeks_ … 5 months seems like its use-by-date … remember when we could actually imagine having our devices for 5 _years_?! ahhh the good old days. Those hyper-ems could expect their hardware to be buyers-remorseful in just a few microseconds! oich!

        so where is your beauty vista again?
        Cheers, BHHACK

        Comment by Brian Hall/HHACK.org (@HHACKlub) — 22 December 2012 @ 4:00 pm

        • I really enjoy using my Galaxy Note, but I can’t personally endorse it for the requirements that you list:

          (1) I continue to use my Dell laptop as my main research tool (when searching online, and for writing); my Note does lots of things well, but I couldn’t use it to write an entire book

          (2) I haven’t used the feature of displaying two apps at the same time, but I hear from others who tried that, that the experience still leaves something to be desired

          // from the Galapagos – about to disembark to follow in Darwin’s footsteps 🙂

          Comment by David Wood — 22 December 2012 @ 8:37 pm

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