When It Was ’64- The Beatles in Australia

Table of Contents



Thank you for welcoming me to today’s meeting of Beatles Anonymous. My name is John Shortis and I’m a Beatles addict. My addiction began in June 1964 when they visited our shores. Like so many teenagers of the time, I went wild over them, and bought all their records. I also played their tunes on the piano by ear, I played them on the piano- that’s how I learned music. They were my music teachers. Their Australian tour barely makes it into many Beatles’ books coming out of America or Britain, but it was very significant. It was their first major international tour, on the brink of becoming worldwide stars. The effect it had on me, and on our country is enormous.

(To the tune of When I’m 64)
Buy me a record, drop me a line
Stating She Loves You
Indicate precisely with a yeah yeah yeah
Yours hirsutely, head full of hair
They rattled our cages
Gave us a nudge
The Mop-topped fab Fab Four
The world came asunder
When they ventured down under
When it was ’64.



Before there were Beatles, us Aussies were in the safe hands of Uncle Bob Menzies, although in ’64 he was ruling with a slender majority of two seats. The White Australia Policy was slowly starting to unwind under Immigration Minister, Harold Holt, the pill was available but not to single girls, and the controversial Oz magazine was getting off the ground.

In Britain, the Tories were also in power, led by Harold ‘you never had it so good’ MacMillan, who was brought down that year by the Profumo scandal. And the BBC had just ended its ban on mentioning politics, royalty, religion and sex in its comedy shows.

In the US, the president was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The latest craze here in Australia was surf music, direct from California, turned into an art form by groups like The Beach Boys, and thanks to our golden and vast coastline, very relevant and easily assimilated. Now peroxide was changing the colour of teenagers’ hair, there was a new social group called ‘surfies’, and a peculiarly Australian dance craze, the Stomp.

The latter was a simple affair- hands behind the back, stomp left and right, turn occasionally. We stomped to brilliant surf instrumentals like Bombora by The Atlantics, and this classic from Little Pattie:

Well I got my beach towel and I’m headed down for the sur-ur-ur-urf
Gotta see my Johnny, gonna meet him down at the sur-ur-ur-urf
We’re gonna shoot the breakers, gonna stomp in the sand
And look in his eyes a-while he holds my ha-a-a-a-and
Cause he’s my blond headed stompy wompy real gone surfer boy
Yeah yeah yeah yeah.

Our radio waves were also swamped by a plethora of heart throbs, like Del Shannon, who, in 1963, took this song to number six on the charts.

If there’s anything that you want
If there’s anything I can do
Just call on me and I’ll send it along
With love, from me to you.

Simultaneously, with Del’s version, was the same song sung by a group we’d never heard before in this country- The Beatles. We didn’t really take in that it was their song. All we knew is that they sounded different, a bit strange.

Beatlemania took a while to make the journey to Australia. In Britain, Love Me Do had made it to number 17 in the charts late in ’62, and Please Please Me became their first number one in early ’63. In a matter of months, The Beatles had gone from regional act to national heart throbs. They toured the UK widely with big stars like Helen Shapiro and Roy Orbison, at first low in the pecking order. But they were the ones attracting the screaming fans and having wild reactions, so they very quickly went from support act to star billing.

Before them, groups had lead singers out the front- Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Col Joye and the Joye Boys- and the songs came from publishing houses. The Beach Boys had paved the way for a more democratic approach with songs being written within the group, without a front man. The Beatles took that a bit further by presenting as four distinct personalities, and fans started to develop favourites- George for his cheek bones, John for his unconventional ways, Paul for his baby face, Ringo because he was simply adorable.

Then there was the hair, the suits, the boots, not to mention the fact that their music was unique. My partner, Moya, says that to her ‘the sound was fresh, the tone of the voices was unlike anything she’d heard before, harsh but melodic, in a Northern accent, and those harmonies’. They were revolutionary in so many ways.

In these early stages of British Beatlemania, Australian impresario, Kenn Brodziak, was in the UK looking for bands to bring Down Under. A few were suggested, and he picked The Beatles- just because he liked the sound of their name- a pretty brave move considering they were unheard of in Oz. And this was at a time when US acts were doing well in Australia, and UK acts not so well.

The deal with their manager Brian Epstein was £1,000 a week for two weeks in June 1964, two shows a day, No contract was signed. Instead it was sealed with a handshake.

I’ve got arms that long to hold you
And keep you by my side
I’ve got lips that long to kiss you
And keep you satisfied (ooh).

Please Please Me was the first Beatles’ single to be released here, in February 1963, but it didn’t raise a flicker of interest, and it wasn’t till From Me To You that the band had any airplay, and that was in the wake of that Del Shannon version. They were too weird for our radio stations.



She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

You think you lost your love,
Well I saw her yesterday.
It’s you she’s thinking of
And she told me what to say.
She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad.
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad. ooh!

This was the song that changed it all in Australia When it hit the airwaves, it stood out and instantly had an impact. Strangely, it never made it to number one, only to third position, but it entered our charts in September ’63 and was there for a record breaking 42 weeks. Australia would never be lukewarm about a Beatles’ track ever again. As well as the landmark ‘yeah’ repetition, the song was notable for the Little Richard inspired ‘Ooh’, complete with head shake. (Not to mention the delightful final chord, reminiscent of Glenn Miller’s In the Mood.) These were novelty additions that enhanced what was essentially a fantastically original song.

Back in Britain the pinnacle of success was getting on the bill of a massively popular TV show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, and The Beatles did just that in October that year. The crowds outside the illustrious venue were so big and so loud they could be heard by the 15 million viewers who’d tuned in.

Compére Bruce Forsyth introduced them. ‘Are you ready? Are you steady? 5-4-3-2-1 zero- It’s The Beatles’. In the papers the next day, one Fleet Street journalist coined the name ‘Beatlemania’, and it stuck.

A month later came the news that shocked the world- President John F Kennedy had been assassinated as he drove through the streets of Dallas, Texas. In the midst of national mourning in the USA, The Beatles, previously ignored there, released their next single, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and something about its energy and positivism struck a chord. It went straight to number one on the Billboard charts, and The Beatles, who only months earlier had been signed for Australia at £1,000 a week, were now commanding $50,000 a show in the US.

Kenn Brodziak was thinking that his handshake deal might now be useless, but Brian Epstein, to his credit, only raised the fee for the Australia tour minimally, to £1,500. This time the deal was signed.

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something
I think you’ll understand
When I’ll say that something
I wanna sign your band
I wanna sign your ba-a-a-a-and
I wanna sign your band.

That Christmas, The Beatles recorded a message for Australia.

We’re hoping to come over soon and visit you in Australia, that’s if you move it a few thousand miles nearer.

And that year in Britain, this Xmas novelty song was released.

All I want for Christmas is a Beatle
Not a teddy bear, just a Beatle
I told Mum nothing else would do
There are four, so she can have one too
I don’t care which ever one she gets me
Ringo, Paul, John, George, they’re all the same
I can’t wait for Christmas day to come
Cause all I want for Christmas is a Beatle.

In Australia, our Christmas present that year was more of Bob Menzies- this time in a landslide election win.

As ’63 became ’64, we waited with anticipation for a tour by what was now the most successful group in pop music history. But not everyone was excited- the Headmistress of Ravenswood Girls’ School had this warning for her pupils.

I don’t want my girls to be involved in those screaming teenage mobs. I want to safeguard them from something they do not understand.

For some perverse reason, I refused to be taken in by the Beatles. Maybe because everyone else was fawning over them, I wanted to be different. I appeared unimpressed. And it took a while for the rest of the world to get aboard too.

Moya tells the story of going to Germany to stay for five weeks with her very incompatible pen-friend, Irene Muller, a 17-year old vicar’s daughter who’d never been kissed. Moya was a 15 year-old raver who took her copy of She Loves You with her. It sounded a bit odd played in the village vicarage while Mutti bottled fruit and Vati prayed. Their dog was the only one who approved of The Beatles. Maybe he liked the fact that they had just recorded their latest song in German.

Sie liebt dich, ja ja ja.

That was put to tape in Paris, during a season of shows in February 1964. For some reason they attracted the cream of Paris society in full evening dress, who were not impressed with The Beatles at all.

It was a different story a week later when they made a brief visit to the USA- shows in Washington and New York, and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, watched by an audience of 70 million.

It was on a Sunday, and even Billy Graham broke his life-long rule to never watch TV on the Lord’s Day. That night the US crime rate was lower than it had been for 50 years, and throughout whole of New York not one single hubcap was stolen. The USA had finally embraced The Beatles.

We wanna steal your ba-a-a-a-a-and.

Now Beatlemania was a worldwide phenomenon.



Back here in Oz, as the summer of ’64 turned into the autumn, the tide was almost out on our surf music. But there was one last hurrah for Digger Revell and the Denvermen, written by a rocker who was now a big wheel in the local music industry- writer, producer, agent, Johnny Devlin.

My little rocker’s turned surfie
Oh what’s she done to her hair?
My little rocker’s turned surfie
But as long as she’s mine
I don’t care.

(Interestingly, the B-side was a cover of a minor Lennon/McCartney composition Tip Of My Tongue).

When it left the charts, the way was clear for complete Beatle domination. At my school, the same teachers who’d sent us home for bleaching our surfie hair, now measured it, to make sure it didn’t touch the collar.

My little Surfie’s gone Beatles
But as long as she’s mine
I don’t care.

In those days, big international music tours shows had a number of acts and a compére. Knowing this, Devlin tried to get one of his protégés on the bill. But instead he was offered a spot.

Other support acts chosen were locals, The Phantoms, Johnny Chester, and, from England, Sounds Incorporated. The emcee duties were given to Alan Field, a comedian who made his living telling bad jokes on the Workingmen’s Club circuit in Britain.

I never forget a face, but in my mother-in-law’s case I’m prepare to make an exception.

My wife ran away with my best friend. Gee I miss him.

While we waited in anticipation for the arrival of our heartthrobs, their records were selling like hotcakes. In April, the 2SM Top 100 chart read like this:

1.All My Loving
2 Love Me Do
3.Roll Over Beethoven
4.I Saw Her Standing There
5.She Loves You
6.I Want To Hold Your Hand.

We were now officially in the grip of Beatlemania, and the Far East Tour, as it was amusingly called, was ready to roll- Denmark, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand.

At first, the Aussie cities to be visited were Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. But Adelaide was not happy about being left out, so a local DJ, Bob Francis, started a petition- signatures were sought at dances and beaches, sporting events and workplaces, and on a large piece of butcher’s paper that was displayed in Rundle Street. In two weeks, the DJ collected 80,000 signatures, and Brian Epstein was impressed enough to add the city to the itinerary, but at the new price- £12,000.

Tell me that you want no diamond ring
And I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing
That money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money
Money can’t buy me love.

Tickets went on sale- £1/17/6 ($3.75) for the dearest seats, 15/6 ($1.55) for the cheapest, at a time when the average wage was £15 ($30) a week. The price didn’t deter fans who camped out at ticket outlets to make sure they didn’t miss out. And the promoter had signed up a sponsor- Surf washing powder.

Money can’t buy me love.

All was ready for the arrival of the Fab Four.

We love you, Beatles
Oh, yes, we do
We love you, Beatles
And we’ll be true
When you’re not near to us
We’re blue
Oh, Beatles, we love you.

The day before they were to depart, disaster struck. The much-loved Ringo was rushed to hospital with tonsillitis and pharyngitis, and wouldn’t make it to the early stages of the tour. Manager Brian Epstein, in a panic, sent the group’s road manager on a reccy around London clubs to find a replacement. The job was offered to two different drummers who turned down the offer. The third option was Jimmy Nicol, a member of Georgie Fame’s band, The Blue Flames.

He agreed and was summoned to a hasty rehearsal at the Abbey Road studios where he was sat down at Ringo’s drum kit and asked to play through a batch of Beatles’ songs. Looking like a rabbit in the headlights, he posed for a couple of photos, was given the requisite Beatles’ hairdo, and it became official- Jimmy Nicol had the job.

That was on June 3, and the next day he was in Denmark as a Beatle. There was no time for a suit fitting so he had no choice other than to squeeze into Ringo’s stage outfit.

June 6 was Amsterdam, June 9 Hong Kong, then Australia.



After a brief refuelling stop in Darwin, John, Paul, George and Jimmy arrived at Sydney’s Mascot Airport, on the morning of Thursday June 11, met by 1,000 shrieking fans.

I remember the day well- even though I was publicly not a Beatles fan, privately I closely followed their music and the lead-up to the tour. I was in the library at my school, De La Salle Kingsgrove. It was pouring with rain in a typical Sydney torrential storm. I said to the librarian- ‘The Beatles are here.’ He was singularly unimpressed.

I couldn’t wait to get home that night and watch the coverage on TV.

The airport scenes I remember well- the hysterical young girls, and The Beatles themselves on the back of a truck, wearing matching black capes, waving with one hand, and grimly clinging on to TAA umbrellas with the other.

There were pictures of the Sheraton Hotel in Kings Cross, with more screaming fans outside, while inside the boys slept off their jet lag. Well, the three real Beatles did. Jimmy Nicol was picked up by a distant relative and taken to Arncliffe to meet his cousins. When he got back to the hotel, the security guards didn’t want to let him in.

But I’m with The Beatles

Yeah and I’m with the Kelly gang. Now bugger off, son.

(The other family connection was that John’s Aunt Mimi travelled with hem for some of the tour).

But it was their first press conference that won me over. Our local journalists lived up to their reputation for their cutting-edge, take no-prisoners style of questioning, but The Beatles broke through the crap with quick-witted humour and intelligence.

What do you expect to see in Australia?

Are you millionaires yet?
That’s a filthy rumour. I wish it was true.

Where does the money go?
A lot of it goes to Her Majesty. Now she’s a millionaire.

That was it. It was no longer a secret. I was out of the closet as The Beatles’ number one fan.

*   *   *

The first Australian performance was at the Centennial Hall in Adelaide- two nights, June 12 and 13- two shows per night. It was here they received the biggest reception of all – thousands of fans lined the route from the airport to the hotel, and stood in the street while they appeared on the balcony of Adelaide Town Hall for a civic reception- something like 300,000 all up, at a time when the entire population of the state was one million.

Meanwhile Ringo’s health issues were resolved and on June 14, he and Brian Epstein arrived in Australia. The next day, early in the morning, before The Beatles were up and about, Jimmy Nicol was escorted to Essendon Airport by Brian Epstein, with no chance for the stand-in drummer to say goodbye.

In the departure lounge, a photographer captured Nicol sitting alone, looking abandoned, with empty chairs all around him, a stark contrast to the crowds at the shows he’d played as a Beatle.

Epstein presented him with £500, and a gold watch inscribed with the words ‘To Jimmy, with appreciation and gratitude, Brian Epstein and The Beatles.’ I wrote a song for the show, inspired by that famous photo.

There he sits in an empty hall
He isn’t George, and he isn’t Paul
He isn’t Ringo, isn’t John
But he has money in his pocket, and a gold watch on

It only seems like yesterday
When three hundred thousand screamers paved the way
With such adulation, who needs friends?
When you can see your lone reflection in a camera lens

And he recalls from his lonely airport chair
How they loved him
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

Only thing his golden watch can claim
Is fifteen minutes of sweet Beatle fame
Caught in the headlight, starry-eyed
A thrill a minute on a magic roller coaster ride

And the whirlwind that’s still hanging in the air
Shows how they loved him
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

His eyes were filled with wonder
That’s what carried him along
His ears were filled with music
But he never heard the song

There he sits in an empty hall
He hears the ringing of the final call
The party’s over, the day is gone
But he has money in his pocket, and a gold watch on

Climbs the gangway, holding back his tears
Golden silence is the sound he hears
He’s used to thousands, but no one came
And now on TAA they welcome Jimmy what’s-his-name

And as the last jelly baby falls from his hair
He knows they loved him
Yeah yeah yeah yeah.

In Jimmy’s words:

The boys were very kind, but I felt like an intruder. It’s a little clique and outsiders just can’t break in.

Once home, Nicol released singles to try and cash in on his Beatles fame, and made TV appearances. He even contemplated flying back to Australia to join the band of American singer, Frances Faye, who was touring Oz at the same time as The Beatles. He’d stood in with her band one night while she was at Chequers night club and she was impressed. Maybe he should have taken that option because his career as a famous drummer didn’t exactly take off. Nowadays no one’s sure exactly what happened to Jimmy, whether he’s still alive, and if so, where? He’s vanished.



On June 15, 16, 17, now with Ringo back, they played Festival Hall, Melbourne, where the security guards were told to evict any audience members who got too carried away with screams, Among those who spent some time outside the venue was Ian (Molly) Meldrum.

There was no rest for the wicked, and next day they were performing at Sydney Stadium, a boxing arena where the stage revolved, one way then the other, operated manually by a man at the side of the stage. The audience spent part of the show watching the performers’ backs in a cavernous tin shed that had been doubling as a makeshift concert hall since the fifties. Bob Hope had once been heard to describe it as ‘Texas with a roof.’

Everyone I know who went to the Beatles’ concerts says the same thing- the screaming drowned out the music to the point that the Fab Four couldn’t hear themselves, and didn’t sound that fab. There were no foldback speakers, the PA systems they played through were 100 watts, and their amps were 60 watts. These days PAs powered by tens of thousands of watts are used for such an event.

The sound level emanating from the shows- Beatles plus audience- was measured at 114 decibels, more than a Boeing 707 at 2,000 feet.

Because of my feigned lack of interest in The Beatles, I didn’t get around to booking a seat, so instead I got to listen to it on my little red transistor in my bedroom as it was beamed live via radio station 2SM. My memory is that they sounded a bit ropy, but a hell of a lot better than I had been led to believe.

They were in Sydney for three nights (June 18, 19, 20), during which Paul celebrated his 22nd birthday, marked by fans who sent him hundreds of gifts, including a giant stuffed kangaroo.

After 13 shows in just over a week, they were off to New Zealand, then back on June 29 and 30 at Festival Hall, Brisbane. One of these shows in the northern capital was televised and I was amazed to see Paul sing a whole verse of Money Can’t Buy Me Love in a different key to the band. This was a good indication of how little they could hear themselves.

*   *   *

It’s been a hard day’s night
And I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night
And I’ve been sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you
I find the things that you do
Will make me feel all right.

Just before they embarked on this tour they had made their first film, A Hard Day’s Night, about the craziness of Beatlemania- craziness that they were now experiencing in Australia, and that made them virtual prisoners, unable to leave their hotel rooms. Instead they had to make their own fun.

When I’m home
Everything seems to be right
When I’m home
Feelin’ you holdin’ me tight, tight yeah.

The loyalty to the woman at home wasn’t quite the reality though, as girls were picked from hotel foyers by road managers to keep the boys happy till the next hotel room.

And when I get home to you
I find the things that you do
Will make me feel all right.

The Sydney papers reported on another annoyance- jelly babies. Sydney DJ, Mike Walsh, had stirred this up by announcing that these were The Beatles’ favourite sweets, and soon Aussie fans were flinging them by the handful. In the words of Paul McCartney:

How can we concentrate on our jobs on the stage when we are having to keep ducking?

And John Lennon:

They even throw miniature koala bears and gift wrapped packages while we are going around on the revolving stage. We haven’t got a chance to get out of the way.

There was, of course, Beatle merchandise, but either the companies producing them over-supplied, or Aussies weren’t so keen. Wigs and figurines were going for a song by the end of the group’s time in Australia.



Like all good concerts of 50 years ago, the noisy crowd hushed down, and stood up, as God Save the Queen was played through the inadequate speakers. Then the screaming began, and on came the compére. His material was completely outdated, and they couldn’t understand his thick northern English accent anyhow. As the tour grew longer, his act was cut shorter.

Beatles’ music was so new and fresh, that no Australian acts had caught up with their sound. So they all performed pop songs from an era that was fading. But they did it well. The Phantoms, clad in electric blue, did good impersonations of The Shadows and The Ventures. Johnny Devlin, dressed in a black leather suit that he’d bought specially for the gigs, at the cost of 150 guineas, rocked his way through a set of 50s rock ‘n’ roll hits that went down well. The screaming reached fever pitch as the lights went out and a single red spotlight shone on Johnny Chester, singing well-known hits like Fever.

The first half ended with an exciting bracket of instrumentals by an English group that was part of Brian Epstein’s stable of stars- Sounds Incorporated. They would go on to be bigger here in Australia than anywhere else in the world, their rocking adaptation of Rossini’s William Tell Overture going to number two later that year.

Then, as the screaming increased, on they came. Paul did his count into I Saw Her Standing There, and without much said, what followed was a non-stop half-hour cavalcade of hits.




The day after the Brisbane gig, on July 1, after something like 19 shows in 26 days, played to 200,000 punters, their long haul through Denmark, Holland, Australia and NZ was over.

One account describes the tour as a manic occasion, with the group feeling like caged animals, in an endless round of civic receptions, balcony appearances, and press conferences. There’s live footage online, which sounds surprisingly good, but understandably they look like they’re just going through the paces.

The madness continued when they were back in England- the release of their movie, and accompanying LP and single, a tour of British seaside towns, and a short trip to Sweden thrown in for good measure. Then they were off to America for the tour that would cement the group as an international phenomenon, and send their level of success into the stratosphere.

Their next album, Beatles For Sale, sported a cover that was different here than anywhere else- ours featured photos of the band’s Sydney performances.

Australia, like so much of the world, was now caught up in Beatlemania. The music on the charts changed. Surf music was off the menu, replaced by the British Invasion- The Searchers, The Animals, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones, to name but a few.

As the surf era was swamped by Beatlemania, Aussie groups started to grow their hair and dress in matching suits and Beatle boots. There was even a group called The Cicadas who had a moderate local hit in 1964. But it wasn’t until the next year, when a home-grown band, (made up of migrants from Britain and Holland), conquered the charts with a Beatles flavour, and brilliant original songs. They were The Easybeats.

Post-tour, something shifted. We were buoyed by the excitement and thrills of this adventure, and we experienced it at a turning point, just as The Beatles were conquering the world. The generation that was saying goodbye to the old ways and ushering in the modern, had a new confidence. It was now official- we were on the verge of a society with changing values. Screaming at Beatles’ concerts, missing school to welcome them at airports- it all had a rebellious flavour about it- everything that principal at Ravenswood feared. Hair, clothes and music were the outer signs, but the changes that were coming were deep.

To paraphrase the words of another music star of the time:

The times they were a-changing.

When It Was ’64 was performed on Friday 13 June, 2014, at the Canberra Southern Cross Club, by Shortis and Simpson with band (Dave O’Neill-guitar, Bob Rodgers- rhythm guitar and vocals, Kate Hosking- bass guitar and vocals), Jon Jones- drums). The first half was the story with songs, the second half a dance bracket, starting with God Save the Queen, followed by a medley of songs that were performed by the support acts, then straight through the exact Beatles’ Oz Tour set list.

Essay written April 2021



Songs, YouTubes, Credits
When I’m Sixty Four, From Me To You, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, A Hard Day’s Night, Money Can’t Buy Me Love by Lennon and McCartney
Sie Liebt Dich by Lennon/McCartney, German lyrics by Camillo Fleglen
Blond Headed Stompy Wompy Real Gone Surfer Boy by Jay Justin and Joe Halford
All I Want For Christmas Is a Beatle by Gladys Benton
We Love You Beatles by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse
My Little Rocker’s Turned Surfie by Johnny Devlin
They Loved Him by John Shortis
The tour on YouTube-
Beatles 1964 Highlights Reel
The Beatles’ Melbourne concert
Beatles’ Australian tour.

The Beatles Down Under by Glenn A Baker
The Book by Jim Barnes, Fred Dyer and Stephen Scanes
The Beatles Live! by Mark Lewisohn
The Beatle Who Vanished by Jim Berkenstadt
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn.