DES HENLY “ON THE ROAD”
DES HENLY “ON THE ROAD (LITERALLY!)” – WITH THE BEATLES
I shall always remember the time I met The Beatles; it was a hot summers night, 22nd July 1963. At the time Mario and I from Fumble, along with Mario’s brother Remo and drummer Bob Davies had formed a band known as The Iveys. That night we had been playing a gig a few miles out of town at Rossholm School for Girls at Brent Knoll. After our gig, we made our way back to Weston. I was on my Triumph Tiger Cub motor bike with Bob on the back, Remo was on his Vespa scooter with his brother. Mario’s Dad had managed to get all of our gear on the back seat of his Rover 90, we were just starting out then! Riding into Weston, we were astonished to see thousands of highly excited people surrounding the Odeon cinema. Then it clicked, The Beatles were in town and had just performed their first night of a week long series of concerts at the Odeon. Although they were the biggest band around in 1963, they had not yet reached the extraordinary heights for which they were destined - hence their week of concerts in Weston-Super-Mare!
It was obvious from the crowds The Beatles hadn’t yet left the Odeon, so we parked up, (easier then than now!), to savour the moment. After five minutes, the hub-bub from the crowd turned into a roar as a white 15cwt Thames van backed up to the exit opposite the Bristol & Exeter pub (known today as the Town Crier). The Beatles were about to exit the building! Their long time friend and driver, Neil Aspinall was at the wheel and was gingerly reversing the vehicle through the crowd trying to position it so The Beatles could jump straight into the back from the stage door. Not an easy manoeuvre given the frantic crowd. The “Fab Four” burst through the exit, and dived into the van, still finding time for a smile and a wave to their fans. The back door slammed shut, and they were away. We jumped on our bikes, following in hot pursuit, and soon realized they were hopelessly lost, going around in circles and getting nowhere. On their second excursion to Wadham Street (near Grove Park), the van stopped, they must have seen us following them, as one of the back doors opened, George Harrison’s head appeared, and asked me in his unmistakable Liverpool accent “Can you tell us the way to the Royal Pier Hotel please?”. Trying not to show my excitement at this unexpected encounter, I said “sure, follow us.” We headed off with The Beatles in tow, reached the hotel, and still grasping the moment, followed them inside. However, we felt a little awkward standing in the reception with them, not knowing what to do, we turned and said goodnight. John Lennon looked at us… “Thanks very much lads - Goodnight!” Still excited, I thought that was the end of our “Beatles Experience”, but it was only the beginning!
We had booked our tickets for the second night’s concert months before, and enjoyed every second of it – they were a great great band. I knew one of the Odeon’s mangers, and that night he asked me “was that you on the motor bike last night?”, I said yes, he said we just can’t get the Beatles away after the show, the crowds are far too big, so we’ve made a plan. We are going to use decoy vans at one of the other exits, if you can be backstage each night, we will decide which one we intend to use at the last minute, you can be there waiting with your bikes to guide them to their hotel. We jumped at the offer, and for the rest of the week became the Beatles official “outriders”!
One night the Beatles spilled out of the designated exit, we were waiting for them, but the van didn’t appear. There we were on the pavement with the “Fab Four”, with thousands of screaming fans just around the corner looking for them! Any second we expected someone to shout “THERE THEY ARE!”, and to be engulfed. George said what I thought was “let’s get the car”. It so happened that week George had put his Mark 10 Jag in for a service at Victoria Garage, which at that time, had an entrance directly opposite the exit being used that evening. One of my team, Mike Millington (Millie) held the keys to Victoria Garage, he was a mechanic there. We all ran across the raised grass plantation to get to the garage’s entrance on Alexandra Parade. On the way John Lennon fell over with a curse, I helped him up and we carried on running, genuinely frightened we would be spotted by the mob at any moment. We entered the garage, Mike took the band to George’s car, they all looked bemused; George said “what the hell are we doing here?” I replied “you said let’s get the car” George - “I said cab not car!” OOPS! There we were with the four Beatles, still in their classic stage gear, (Beatle jackets and Cuban heeled shoes, with their ties still firmly in place), stood in a dimly lit garage in Weston-Super-Mare at 10:30 pm. – it was surreal! They all jumped in George’s car, and we escorted them home safe and sound.
Being backstage with them for the next four nights, we had many conversations and were on first name terms. When some of my friends realised we were in such a privileged position, they naturally tried to take advantage of this and get closer themselves. We delivered many love letters, along with fluffy toys and other presents. On one occasion as I handed Paul McCartney a love letter with hearts all over it, the sender had asked me to tell him exactly which seat she would be sat in that night … “Paul this is from a girl with blonde hair who will be blowing you kisses from the third row”. John, coming down the stairs from the dressing room, overheard me and said “Girls? ...where are the Girls?”…….. “I thought you were married?” I said. Being just 16, I was taken aback by his response … “So what!”…. until he followed up his comment with a broad grin.
Every night we spent at least 15 or 20 minutes alone with The Beatles waiting for our exit instructions. There was many a conversation… and many memories…
…..John Lennon composing on a piano backstage – composing what I wonder? …..
….Being told off by all four of them because the brake light on my motorbike wasn’t working, and having to promise to get it fixed…
….A long animated conversation with George about his love of cars, particularly his Mark 10 Jag…..
… The time their van stopped at traffic lights, girls recognizing them and screaming, only for Ringo to grin at me pointing vigorously to his chest assuring me that the girls were screaming for him not me… (Ringo did have a great sense of humour)
……backstage at the Odeon I watched every performance from the wings, and was never more chuffed than when Paul glanced at me and gave a wink of recognition. Eighteen years later I had the chance to return the gesture. Paul invited Fumble to appear with him and others at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. As we were playing our set, I saw him stood in the wings watching, just as I had done eighteen years earlier in Weston Super Mare. I nodded at him and winked – Paul raised his thumb and nodded back, but he could never have known
that this exchange had taken me back to Weston eighteen years previously when, aged 16, I had been so proud to be a Beatles outrider!
Great band – Great memories – thanks Lads! – Des Henly.