Andy Howells looks at the new Ron Howard Beatles documentary Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years.
Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years
I recall a few years ago posting an image of my copy of The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl on Instagram and commenting “great album, wonder why its not been released on CD?” Shortly afterwards, someone else commented “because it’s not very good!” I remember thinking what a crass reply, although lets face it, The Beatles are probably celebrated more for their recordings these days rather than as a live band.
In fact even The Beatles can barely remember themselves as a live band, faced with an onslaught of screaming girls at every concert, Beatlemania took a hold of them so much as performers that they couldn’t even hear themselves. The touring years, therefore is frequently glossed over as a bad experience, bar for those lucky enough to remember attending such shows and get to wear the badge proclaiming “I was there!”
Ron Howard redresses the balance with the documentary Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, tracing The Beatles live performances from 1962 to 1966 and discovering that actually The Beatles were pioneers on the live circuit as much as in the recording studio.
With insight from all four Beatles and American journalist Larry Kane who unwillingly accompanied The Beatles at the direction of his editor on their first (and later, second) US tour (s) we get a closer look at behind the scenes of the live shows.
“They were louder than us and we had the microphones”, proclaimed John Lennon in response to the crowd’s hysteria as The Beatles step off the stage of their first American concert at DC Washington’s Coliseum . But fresh faced and still eager to perform The Beatles are seen as far from tired of the touring experience and if anything were prepared to go all the way for their fans when they later refused to perform at a segregated concert at Jacksonville unless the audience were free to sit together. Whoopi Goldberg describes The Beatles as “colourless” and “welcoming” as she observes how The Beatles brought people together at later concert appearances.
As the film unfolds, the audience are also drawn in to the Beatles world. Thankfully with the very latest processes we can hear that they were a very good live band, In fact even better than they themselves realised. As they play Twist and Shout and A Hard Days Night against an unleashed female maelstrom of screams, we get the chance to observe how tight a band The Beatles were at large venues such as The Hollywood Bowl and Shea Stadium.
Through rare footage and many sequences seen for the first time in colour, Eight Days a Week lends some new focus to this chapter of The Beatles story, as does the impeccable remaster by Giles Martin of the newly reissued Hollywood Bowl recordings, we can at last, see and hear The Beatles as they really sounded and it’s pretty awesome.
Eight Days A Week leaves us with a teaser of The Beatles final live performance in 1969 on a London rooftop away from screaming crowd. Is it possible that we could still see Let It Be remastered and reissued in the near future?
The Beatles at Shea Stadium
Speaking of which, the final treat of the premiere Beatles screening of Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years was the accompanying screening of a remastered version of The Beatles Live at Shea Stadium concert, unseen in Britain since a rerun on BBC2 over Christmas, 1979.
Certainly worthy of a big screen appearance, this edited to half-hour film was big in sound, attitude and appearance. The Beatles giving their thunderous best as they belt out Help!, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, I Feel Fine and I’m Down.
Ringo Starr can be seen watching John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s from behind to gauge where he is in a song, while John looks on the funny side of things in places as he simply can’t hear himself.
The crystal sharpness of the remaster even emphasises how hot it was at Shea Stadium on that August evening and that it was probably not only The Beatles that were the contributory factor to many girls fainting in the audience.
The Beatles’ performance is tight throughout, which shows how much the band were in tune with each other. Faced with the dizzy heights of fame, they still managed to deliver the goods, and as George Harrison observed in Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years , they had each other, unlike Elvis. who only had himself.