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Although it was made during the first flush of Beatlemania and broadcast on television on both sides of the Atlantic (and internationally) in 1964, “Around The Beatles,” a one-off TV special produced concurrently while A Hard Day’s Night was being shot, is a comparatively “buried” Beatles treasure. It had once been released as a bootleg by Media Home Entertainment (who bootlegged tons of Beatles material in the early days of VHS and Betamax) but most people have never heard of it. A bit of it was used in The Beatles Anthology TV mini-series, and the Shakespeare bit has made the rounds, but YouTube doesn’t even have a complete version currently. Thankfully, there’s a high quality file on Dailymotion, embedded below for your listening and viewing pleasure.
“Around the Beatles” refers to the set, a theater in the round. Fading up from black, John, Paul and George, dressed in Renaissance garb, raise their horns. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is seen and Ringo raises a flag with the show’s title before firing off a cannon with disastrous results (and cartoon sound effects). The opening comedy skit is a shambolic performance of Pyramus and Thisbe (complete with hecklers) with Paul McCartney as Pyramus and John Lennon in bad drag as his beloved Thisbe.
The special was directed by Jack Good, the TV producer and manager who gave the world Shindig!, Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and others of Britain’s first wave of rock and roll stars (he’s also the guy who convinced Gene Vincent to don that Richard III garb—see a pattern here?). Featured on the program along with the Fab Four were Cilla Black, Long John Baldry, PJ Proby, the Vernons Girls, Jamaican teenage ska sensation Millie “My Boy Lollipop” Small, The Jets and Sounds Incorporated, an instrumental group who were Cilla Black’s backing group as well as the opening act when the Beatles toured. (Both Black and Sounds Incorporated were represented by Brian Epstein’s management company, NEMS. PJ Proby was Jack Good’s charge.)
The Beatles lip sync along to “Twist And Shout,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and a medley “Love Me Do” / “Please Please Me” / “From Me To You” / “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” They also cover The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and the Fab Four are seen providing (literally) offstage back vocals for some of the other acts.
Of particular interest here is PJ Proby’s wild performance of “Cumberland Gap.” Introduced by Paul McCartney, he brings the house down! On the night this aired in Britain (May 6, 1964, to be exact), PJ Proby—who had been recording for years in Los Angeles without success—became an instant sensation. In the wake of his appearance on “Around the Beatles”, “Hold Me,” his first single released under this name (formerly he’d been “Jett Powers” a name probably familiar to Cramps fans for “Go Girl Go”) was rushed released to the screaming teenagers clamoring for it. (In fact the record was so rushed that they didn’t even finish mixing it, leaving stray vocals after the fadeout on the initial pressing of 45s.) Soon after the special aired “Hold Me” would rise to the #3 spot on the English pop charts, making Proby (who I think is one of the single most talented yet fascinating flawed figures of this era) a star for a short moment.
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