Meeting the Beatles scored an interview Ivor Davis, who followed the Lads along on tour in 1964 for London’s Daily Express. Davis wasn’t on the outside of the fishbowl peering in, but given an insider’s perch for every step along the way. Ivor was also there firsthand for the Beatles meetings with Bob Dylan, and then Elvis Presley. Ivor was kind enough to allow Bob Wilson to pick his brain for Beatles Magazine and allow us to read it in the news today. Oh boy!
Beatles Magazine: London’s Daily Express chose you to follow the Beatles on tour in 1964. As you hit the road, how close were you on a daily basis with them?
Ivor Davis: After 24 hours of “getting to know you,” (which started slowly because the Beatles were totally jet-lagged by their 6,000 mile trip from London to San Francisco) we became very close. I had next door hotel rooms, to their suite, and as the l964 first American tour continued, we hung out together in the hotel—where they were virtual prisoners. I traveled on their private jet, which skipped around the country landing at sometimes remote sections of airports in the middle of the night. They were in limo number one, I in limo number two as we raced –often with screaming police escorts—from airport to hotel to venue. Because they had very little contact with the public, I and some of the DJ”s that came and went on the tour, became their companions. A bit like family.
BM: As you saw the shows, the crowds, the hotels, and Beatlemania, what things stand out in your mind about the experience?
Ivor:I never knew what to expect because I had never been to a Beatles show. I saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show in Feb 1964, along with 70 million plus viewers. But in the flesh, so to speak, I was completely bowled over that first night at San Francisco’s Cow Palace in August l964. About 17,000 screaming fans packed the place. And from the second they stepped out on stage the screaming began—and never ended until they finished their gig. And frankly, sitting in the front row at every concert, because of the unending shrieking, I could barely hear their songs or words. And that was the way it played out during the entire trip. I learned to live with it by arming myself with ear plugs! One thing to remember: Sound systems were lousy—and oh, so primitive.
BM: As someone who was there, please tell us about the legendary meeting of the Beatles and Elvis Presley? Was there any sort of a jam session?
Ivor: That took place in August l965—at Elvis pad in Beverly Hills. The Beatles wanted to meet him, particularly John, but in l964 Elvis was working on his endless movies, and the Beatles were scampering all over the place. Finally Brian Epstein and Tom Parker got their act together—but said, “no press…no cameras…no tape recorders.” So I was the fly on the wall watching at first the awkwardness of Elvis, who was never comfortable with strangers—that’s why he hung out with his Memphis Mafia. Finally I watched as nothing happened—and then Elvis, looking slightly peeved, with sideburns that reminded me of shag carpeting–, jumped up and said “I’m going to bed—unless you guys came to jam.” That broke the ice. They plugged in guitars, Ringo went to play pool/billiards in the other room, and for about 20 minutes they jammed. No Beatle songs. Elvis stuff and other blues.
BM: You also were there when Bob Dylan brought a certain substance to meet the Beatles. How did they all get along, and was there really weed in the garden?
Ivor: Not sure there was weed in the back garden—but I saw Dylan, wearing a backpack, and looking scruffy, with wispy face hair, and like someone whose picture you might see on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, show up at their hotel near the airport. I did not partake of the shared ciggies—but sat in the next door room. They put wet towels on the floor between the doors and the area I was sitting in. Brian had put on a farewell party at the hotel—so we waited—free drinks courtesy of Brian– while Dylan and the lads got together in the next room. About80 minutes later, the doors opened. I saw Ringo rolling on the floor, laughing. Dylan was on the way out. The rest of the group looked a little worse for wear, and I was told that Ringo’s condition came about because he had been given a fat marijuana cigarette. Not knowing the Protocol, he thought the ciggie was for him—and him alone– and he had imbibed heavily before Dylan realized that he wasn’t going to share it—and removed what was left of it—and passed it around. Although I was not at the time an afficianado of pot, I realized that the high quality “fat” joint, that Dylan had kindly provided, was to be shared. By all!
BM: The concerts seem to have been events filled with female hysteria and inferior sound systems being drowned out. What did you make of the shows?
Ivor: Partly answered above. Female hysteria was rampant. The Beatles often could not hear themselves, and the sound systems were pathetically weak. Also the Beatles never deviated from their concerts. About ten or so songs—done at breakneck speed and usually finished in well under thirty minutes! The Beatles delighted in trying to break their record. No between song chit-chat, maybe a line “this is from our new film…..” And they launched into a Hard Day’s Night. Only in Kansas City they threw in Kansas City. Otherwise it was songs by rote.
BM: Each Beatle was dubbed as cute, quiet, acerbic, or sort of lovable goofy. Were these traits accurate, or overdone?
Ivor: They all had a brilliant Liverpudlian sense of humor—and they used it to ward off the craziness of the tour, and the endless press conferences, with the same questions. Ten minutes on the ground in Toronto, and someone would ask “What do you think of our Canadian women!!!!” Plus endless a questions about their hair. Those of us who were regulars on the tour, might get a wave from Derek Taylor to ask a question which signaled “let’s go boys” It was, “When do you think the Beatles bubble will burst…”
The entire Beatles tour entourage in 1964 in Chicago, including correspondent Ivor Davis (back left, just to the right of man with camera)
BM: Which Beatle did you feel the most affinity with, and how did they treat you?
Ivor: I liked John best. He was outrageous, full of black wit, off the wall and the most provocative. He liked to provoke you with outrageous questions. He had a lighting mind—a bit like Robin Williams who I also got to know. (Williams, of course was NOT on the Beatles tour—only his brain, like John’s, was razor sharp.) Paul was a grand Shmoozer. He served me gin and tonics on the plane and was a charmer. George was surly at first—difficult for me because I was supposed to ghost his newspaper column for my newspaper which was the London Daily Express—“four million readers a day!”. But for the first ten days I couldn’t get him to tell me what he thought about the trip. So I made up his column—until he sat next to me on the jet and complained, “My family in Liverpool say my column is a load of old shite.” Stung by this—it was true of course, because I played it safe by writing trite rubbish—I suggested that he take time out and give me some genuine input. Things improved between us. Ringo: Strangely he was fairly shy to start with. I think he was being a bit careful, because he realized that Beatle drummers were expendable! But after a week or so he blossomed—and was one of the funniest, particularly when the Beatles had to do their mandatory press conferences for local media on the tour. As the Beatles left I saw lots of signs at the airport, “Ringo for President.”
BM: What was Brian Epstein like, as you interacted with him? Often he is not given too much mention in the expansive Beatles coverage.
Ivor: Brian tried to keep himself aloof from the craziness. He always showed up in shirt and tie. A bit overdressed for the occasion. He lurked on the edges of press conferences but left the details to Derek Taylor. I saw him telling John off for smoking, and if one of the Beatles used bad language in public, or a swear word, he would tell them off—quietly in the corner. I got to know him better halfway through the tour: We had both been forced to do National Service in the British military—and we were both Jewish. On Yom Kippur—the holiest day of the Jewish calendar—Brian wanted to go to the synagogue. And I was asked to get a ticket for him. I did. But on the appointed day Brian had left town—and Derek apologized saying “he had to go to New York.” Brian felt he was the guardian of the Beatles image—and took that role very seriously.
BM: Will you please tell us about, ‘The Beatles and Me On Tour’?
Ivor: Long after I traveled with the Beatles—I used to tell people about my adventures. Finally nearly half a century later I decided to write a book about my adventures with the Fab Four. As a foreign correspondent, I covered many major stories in America: Assassinations, murders, presidential campaigns– And the Beatles were a footnote. Finally I sat down and wrote about the insane but memorable historical journey with John Paul George and Ringo—and I had great fun telling all. The good, the bad and sometimes the ugly! But mostly the Good.
BM: What is your viewpoint of the Beatles animated film, “Yellow Submarine’?
Ivor: I loved it when I saw it—and looking at it today it’s an incredible treat. And it is rich with their songs. Also, it is so so perfect for the psychedelic period. And kids adore it. But let me put things in perspective with a little “ancient” history. The Beatles first movie for United Artists was a smash hit: “A Hard Day’s Night.” The second film in their contract was a bit of a mess “Help.” But most people didn’t realize that the Beatles were contracted to do “three movies” for UA. And they cleverly decided to sort of get out of their contractual obligations by doing the animated film: To start with their voices are not the Beatles but done by actors: And the Beatles snickered and said they now had fully fulfilled their Hollywood obligations—because in the final scene they actually appear. They didn’t realize it would become so popular.
BM: What have you cooked up with Brooke Halpin to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Yellow Submarine?
Ivor: We will give them all the fascinating behind the scenes facts about the making of the movie—and tell them that thanks to the phenomenal technological improvements in the movie world, it has been immaculately digitized so today’s film is 100 times better than the original. And there’s the legendary Beatles music.
BM: How can your fans keep up to date on what you are up to?
Ivor: My new book out this Summer is for kids: It’s called “Ladies and Gentlemen—the Penguins” It’s a fanciful fable about a famous Penguin rock group from the remote British Falkland Islands who grow up to become one of the most successful pop groups in the world. Even bigger—well almost—than the Beatles.
Written by Bob Wilson
Ivor Davis & Brooke Halpin Host Yellow Submarine
We’re delighted to announce that Malibu Screening Room has just been approved to join the global celebration of the 50th anniversary of YELLOW SUBMARINE! On Sunday, July 8th, theaters the world over will be showing a stunningly restored digital presentation of the original Beatles classic.Every individual frame of the 1968 film has been painstakingly retouched by hand, with the original soundtrack remixed at the famed Abbey Road Studios for 5.1 surround sound playback. It all starts when doors open at 7:30PM for the free wine reception at the Malibu Screening Room. Joining us for the event: two world-renowned Beatles experts, Brooke Halpin (who hosts the internationally distributed radio show, “Come Together with the Beatles”) and Ivor Davis, the journalist assigned to travel with the Beatles during their very first U.S. tour. Ivor and Brooke will be signing copies of their latest books before introducing the film around 8PM.