19 February 1963


Cavern Club, Liverpool

The Beatles' third-to-last Cavern show ever. The Pathfinders, Freddie Starr and the Midnighters, and Lee Curtis and the All-Stars (including drummer Pete Best) also played that night.

February 19, 1963

"It was a day that would prove pivotal for four young Liverpudlian musicians called John, Paul, George and Ringo. They began it as a buzz band from northwest England, local heroes with one Top 20 hit (Love Me Do) under their belt, and their debut album, Please Please Me, completed in a mere 13 hours at Abbey Road Studios eight days earlier. That evening, they would perform yet another set at the Cavern, a useful last-minute warm-up for their support slot on Helen Shapiro's tour, due to open in Mansfield the following Saturday. Things were undoubtedly moving for the Beatles. But the fuse had yet to be lit that would rocket them, within six months, to national fame and, a year later, to global superstardom.

Michael Ward, the photographer driving from London that February morning to shadow the band around their native city streets, wasn't to know it at the time, but by nightfall he would be watching history being made. Before that, though, there was an assignment to be completed. Britain was at the time two months into the harshest winter the country had seen since 1740, and the frozen Fab Four were reluctant subjects for Ward's lens. The images he took that day have now been collected in a boxed set, A Day in the Life, but most of them have languished, unseen, since the day Ward took them. He is modest about the results - "I just happened to be there," he says, 45 years on - but his gritty photographs are true to documentary style of the time.

The photographs also provide (and forgive the pun) a freeze-frame of a band still - just - insouciant and unharassed enough to stroll around a city in full public view. By the autumn of that year, such everyday activities would be impossible. And that very evening, news came in that would set in motion the momentum that would lead to Beatlemania, The Ed Sullivan Show, Sgt Pepper, Abbey Road and, ultimately, the bullets speeding from Mark Chapman's gun. The Cavern crowd was informed that the Beatles' second single, Please Please Me, was No. 1 in the coming Friday's NME chart. Under the arcane chart procedures used at the time, the band found themselves sharing the top slot with a Frank Ifield song that gloried in the evocative and petomaniacal name A Wayward Wind.

From then on, the Beatles were on their own. They had woken that morning as aspiring pop idols. They went to bed that night as stars.

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Tuesday, February 19, 1963

"I'd never heard of them, and they weren't remotely interested in me." The photographer Michael Ward had been commissioned by Honey magazine to take pictures of a Liverpool pop group called the Beatles. "I met them in a pub and then we went around the town together." Ward tried several locations as backdrops: the stone steps of the Pier Head and the balustrades of the Victoria Monument. "Paul was very helpful, but John Lennon would insist on ruining a picture. Of course, he thought it was extremely funny. John just wanted to get it over with. He's chatting to the girls while the other three are looking straight at me."

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Walking through the city

"I was trying to make them laugh and look at the camera - or past the camera. It wasn't easy because they were all chatting among themselves, and the fans had started to come along." At this stage, though, the fans were a long way from the screaming hordes of just a few months later. By mid-afternoon, the band had had enough of the freezing weather (Britain was still in the grip of one of the century's worst winters). "They got fed up, and the final shot, on the zebra crossing, was ruined because Paul disappeared behind Ringo. They couldn't be bothered to do it again, and nor could I." But the idea would reappear on the cover of Abbey Road.

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Brian Epstein's office

The band took refuge in their manager's office, where a map on the wall was covered with pins showing their first full British tour, due to begin on the following Saturday.

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Later in the afternoon, the Beatles walked over to the Cavern to set up their instruments and rehearse for the evening's performance. "They seemed slightly surprised by their success. I think they were amazed at their own talent: they enjoyed doing this, putting it together. It was as if they'd suddenly realised they produced songs that people liked, and weren't sure how to handle it. They were very tight-knit, depending on each other collectively. There's a picture of John and Paul playing to each other, swapping chord structures. They weren't proficient musicians at all: they were groping, listening. It was marvellous."

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Before the band took the stage, it was announced that Please Please Me had just made it to No 1 in the charts. Ward realised he didn't have a flash with him. He made do with the stage lights and a slow shutter speed. He photographed the band from among the audience, then managed to manoeuvre himself onto the tiny stage. "I was shooting from the front, but, after a while, it got a bit boring, and it was so full, I was having terrible trouble keeping the camera steady. So, I thought I'd get behind them and try to shoot through their legs at the audience. There was no screaming - not like they started to get later on. You could clearly hear the band, even on the quieter numbers. I was quite surprised by the strength of their melodies. But I was such a jazz man and, to me, there was no rhythm, no syncopation - it was just a solid beat, and that killed it for me." The group, who had yet to earn £100 for a performance, would play at the Cavern only twice more after this."

Source: Sunday Times, 3 February 2008

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