Beatlemania started in Finsbury Park? Tell me why...
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
In 1963, The Beatles began a festive residency of Finsbury Park. We found it was an era when all the best bands played in Seven Sisters Road.
Every town or city where The Beatles played one of their early shows likes to claim the same thing: “Beatlemania started here.”
There is Liverpool and Hamburg, of course. Hell, even some people in Romford claim Beatlemania started there after a couple of shows in 1963.
In that case, we might as well add Finsbury Park to the list.
This week 53 years ago, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr began “The Beatles Christmas Show” – their residency of Finsbury Park Astoria in Seven Sisters Road.
Rick Burton, an expert on the theatre’s history, insists: “That was the start of Beatlemania. The shows were from Christmas Eve 1963 until January 11, but sold out instantly.
“The audience screamed when they walked out, and didn’t stop screaming. George Harrison said they were the best shows they ever did, and said Finsbury Park Astoria had the best audience.”
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The Beatles had only released two albums by this point, which meant they were not above doing silly sketches (described by one onlooker as “so bad” and “organised chaos”) in between songs.
“It was the first Christmas show they put together,” Rick says. “The sketches had them in costume and climbing out of submarines.
“John Lennon also had his guitar stolen on the first night. Someone broke in, but that place was always being broken into. The security was lax, to say the least.
“It wasn’t just stealing instruments, either. I had people come to me, years after it closed, saying how easy it was to sneak in and that they never even paid for a ticket!”
It didn’t stop the band returning for another Christmas show on December 11, 1965 – one of The Beatles’ last ever live performances.
Rick, 65, worked at the venue in a three-year stint from 1977 to 1980, when its name had changed to the Rainbow Theatre.
He started as assistant front of house manager before working his way up to the lighting manager role after “realising all the action was happening on stage”.
Rick, now of Buxted, East Sussex, worked festive shows himself, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in 1978. They were the first UK gigs of Johnny Rotten’s post-Sex Pistols band, Public Image Ltd.
Surprisingly, they were a far cry from the jolliness of The Beatles show 15 years earlier.
“Johnny Rotten said to me: ‘Just give me a really green stage.’
“It was an easy lighting job for me, although I remember those two shows were particularly violent, there was a lot of fighting in the audience. True Christmas spirit!”
Now a Pentecostal Church, the theatre closed as a concert venue in 1982.
But with performers ranging from The Osmonds and David Bowie to Iron Maiden and Pink Floyd, Rick says its legacy speaks for itself.
“In the 1970s, it was definitely London’s major music venue,” he says. “It was run by people who were never told what to do. We did things off our own backs and as a result, it was a free-spirited place.
“I don’t think Finsbury Park has changed much at all since then – apart from housing, as there was a huge squatting community at that time. Some squatters even worked on theatre projects.”
Visit Rick’s Rainbow Theatre history website here.