I’m often asked on my London Beatles Walks where and when the Beatles first played in London. I wish there was an easy answer! It looks like it was in the early hours of December 10th 1961, but how many of the Beatles actually got onstage, and where it was, remains something of a mystery to this day!
The Beatles came down to the south of England on December 9th 1961, to play at the Aldershot Palais. The Beatles were looking to get a recording contract but could not encourage any record company people to travel from London to Liverpool to see them. Therefore, a good friend of theirs, Sam Leach, who was also a concert promoter, decided to book them into a club in the London area and invite some record company people along. Sam’s geography was not very good – the place he booked them into, the Aldershot Palais, was some 30 miles from London. No record company people would even travel that far to see them, so that idea didn’t work.
The Beatles’ problems didn’t end there. Due to a mix up between Sam Leach and the local newspaper, the advert that Sam sent them for the concert was not printed. When the Beatles arrived at the Palais that night, there was no one there at all because no one knew about the show.
To try to get some sort of crowd at the Palais it was decided that all the local clubs and pubs in the area should be visited to persuade people to come along. No one had to pay to get in, but only 18 people showed up – surely the lowest ever attendance for a Beatles concert! After the show the concert hall owner refused to pay the Beatles as no one had paid to get in. They were extremely broke at the time and couldn’t afford a hotel room in Aldershot. They messed around in the concert hall for a few hours until the concert hall owner, keen to go home for the night, called the police, who not only escorted the Beatles out of the hall but out of Aldershot too!
Rather than have an overnight trip back to Liverpool, the Beatles decided to make the far shorter trip into London. According to Sam Leach, they remembered that an old friend of theirs, Brian Cassar, who used to belong to a group called Cass and the Cassanovas, had moved from Liverpool to London and opened a club called the Blue Gardenia. Luckily, the club stayed open all night and so they headed straight there. When they arrived Brian asked them to get on stage and sing a few songs. It was the Beatles’ first performance in London.
Or that is one version of the story. Regrettably, the location of the Blue Gardenia remains a mystery to this day. As the club was illegal it didn’t register with any local authorities, so there are no official records of its location. In fact, there is now some doubt to whether the club even existed, and Sam Leach confused it with another club! In his extensive biography on the Beatles ‘Tune In’, Mark Lewisohn now thinks that the Beatles actually went to the ‘All Nighter’, in Wardour Street, which is the name the Flamingo Club changed it’s name to after midnight. He also states that only John and Paul got onstage, with the band that happened to be playing there that night.
I have been trying to get to the bottom of this story for years, and had no luck. However, a few years ago, a lady came into the Beatles Coffee Shop and said that she knew where the Blue Gardenia was! She said she used to go there, and that it was in Wardour Mews, just off Wardour Street, in the same building as another club, called the ‘Take Five’. I have since found reference to the Take Five club, but still none of the Blue Gardenia, though maybe it did exist after all. There is also a reference to it on Bill Harry website at http://www.triumphpc.com/mersey-beat/a-z/cassanovas-earlymemories2.shtml – though, regettably, no address.
One person who could throw some light on this is Brian Cassar. After the Blue Gardenia club, he changed his name and formed a band called Casey Jones and the Engineers. The lead guitarist was a young man called Eric Clapton (whatever happened to him!). They played a few gigs in Liverpool, at which time Eric saw the great power trio, The Big Three, and though it would be a great model for a band. The Big Three were actually formed when Brian Cassar left Cass and the Cassanovas to come to London, and the rest of band carried on as a trio. Brian Cassar (Casey Jones) then moved to Germany, and then seemed to disappear. However, at the last Beatles Convention in Liverpool, Mark Lewisohn interviewed Johnny Hutch, formerly of Cass and the Cassanovas and the Big Three, who said he knew where Brian Cassar was. Hopefully he can be tracked down, and the mystery forever solved!
Blogger Richard Porter is a professional Beatles tour guide in London. For more details of his tours, see http://www.beatlesinlondon.com
His book, Guide to the Beatles London, is available at http://www.beatlescoffeeshop.com/shop/product.php/2/guide_to_the_beatles_london__guide_book_by_richard_porter