FIVE MINUTES WITH IVOR DAVIS
Ivor Davis is the author of The Beatles and Me On Tour, the new, lively and provocative inside story of life on the road with the Fab Four, during their historic tour of North America 50 years ago in the Summer of ’64. (See: www.ivordavisbeatles.com)
Davis, has written about showbusiness for over five decades and is a former foreign correspondent for the London Daily Express and Times of London. He wrote a weekly entertainment column for the New York Time Syndicate for 15 years and was an editor at Los Angeles Magazine. His stories have been published in newspapers and magazines in more than 50 countries.
He sat down for this interview in the Southern California beach town where he lives, to talk about this behind the scenes Beatle memoir.
Q: What took you so long to write this story?
A: I was always so busy covering other big stories. But for years people who learned I traveled with the Beatles were fascinated by that trip. They were more impressed by that adventure than I was. Finally as the Beatles legend grew with each passing year and the passion for them never dwindled I realized it was a great story. I mean my own grand-kids love the Beatles. Maybe yours do too. For someone who prided myself on having a good ‘nose for news,’ I really fell down miserably on that one.
Q: How did you land the dream job?
A: Fate. Luck, call it what you will. I had been hired by the London Daily Express as their West Coast Correspondent. One morning in August 1964 I got a call from the Foreign Editor David English who told me to fly to San Francisco to cover the Beatles who were beginning their first five week American tour. He said part of my job was to write George Harrison’s column. George was being paid to write a column for the newspaper and because he couldn’t write it was my job to make him readable.
Q: Was it easy?
A: No. It was terrible. For the first two weeks George didn’t have anything to say for himself. Or he slept until the early afternoon and I missed my deadlines. So because of that I wrote what I thought. Then one day on the Beatles jet he stormed up to me and said his column was “a load of old rubbish.” We had an argument but later he started talking to me—and his column came to life.
Q: Are you an expert on rock and roll and the Beatles?
A: Absolutely not. I’d seen them on the Ed Sullivan Show and knew they were big in England and Europe. But they were totally untested and virtually unknown in America before that first Sullivan show in February 1964.
Q: What were they like back then?
A: Great guys, but half formed humans. Weren’t we all? Don’t forget they were in their early twenties and not at all like the Beatles we think of today. They were grown up kids having a fantastic time. Even they never imagined they would last.
Q: Was their music always so great?
A: It was loud, noisy and pretty primitive. After all, it was basic lollipop stuff. They sang about ‘holding your hand’ and ‘she loves me—yeah, yeah, yeah.’ They copied many of the American rockers like Little Richard and Fats Domino. They were not very sophisticated.
All that lusher music and albums like ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ came much later with producer George Martin as their musical mentor.
Q: What was it like at those concerts?
A: Sheer, utter bedlam. No one actually came to listen to the lyrics. They came and they screamed from beginning to end. Non stop. My ears took a beating. They fainted or they tried to touch a Beatle. And the local cops tried to stop them. The Boys did their ten plus songs and they were gone with the wind. You wouldn’t believe it but their total performance time ran—at the most, 30-minutes. Pop stars would never get away with that at today’s rock concert venues. They would feel short-changed.
Q: How did you get around on tour?
A: We flew with them in their private chartered jet. On the ground they were in the first Limo and we were in the second. Every time we arrived, like visiting royalty, we had police escorts with red lights flashing as we raced through the city from hotel to venue to airport.
Q: Which of the Beatles did you like best?
A: They all had that razor sharp Liverpudlian wit. John was wicked and funny, irreverent and quite brilliant who enjoyed being the troublemaker. Paul was innately the showman, Mr. Nice Guy who was born with PR savvy. George not very communicative so he got saddled with “The Quiet One” label, although he too had a great sense of humor. And Ringo, well he was the drummer who took over from Pete Best who didn’t really have much to say for himself. But he quickly learned.
Q: Was it fun on tour?
A; Are you kidding? We were like members of their family. The ladies were throwing themselves at the Beatles and throwing themselves at anyone else who knew them. We were all young and foolish at the time, in our twenties and out for a good time. Including the Beatles.
So we had a terrific time. Drinking, playing cards with them until the wee small hours of the morning. Our access was incredible. When we wanted to ask them something we just wandered into their suites. There were no bodyguards. We were on the inside track. Nice work if you can get it.
Q: Do you have any regrets about that tour?
A: No, although I wish I’d kept the autographs and programs but I gave them all away. And I wish I’d taken my I-phone camera with me in l964! Oh, maybe they didn’t have I-phones 50 years ago?