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Q & A: Journalist Ivor Davis talks about touring with the Beatles in the summer of 1964

By Marshall Terrill

The Beatles and Me on TourIn the summer of 1964, The Beatles embarked on a record-breaking pandemonium-inducing tour of America and Canada. Ivor Davis’ new book, The Beatles and Me On Tour, presents an insider’s chronicle of that tour and a peek into a beloved era with the world’s most famous band. Davis, who was then a young reporter for the London Daily Express, traveled with The Beatles as the only British writer on the entire tour.

Through 34 days and 24 cities, Davis traveled with The Beatles watching them make rock and roll history. He enjoyed unrestricted access to the Fab Four – from their hotel suites to backstage concert areas to their private jet. He fended off excited girls, played all night games of Monopoly with John Lennon, became the ghostwriter of a newspaper column for George Harrison and witnessed the night Bob Dylan turned The Beatles onto marijuana.

In The Beatles and Me On Tour, Davis recounts in frank and amusing fashion, the rip-roaring adventures of The Beatles at a critical moment in rock history.

 

Q: Your book, The Beatles and Me On Tour marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first tour of the U.S. What took you so long to sit down and write this book?

Davis: I was getting on with my life. Newspaper reporters do a story and then move onto the next and seldom look back. I got married, had a family and covered some terrific stories in half a century – but I finally decided to look back. I’m glad I did.

Q: Tell us briefly where you were in your career at this point, who you were working for, and how you got the assignment to cover the Beatles first U.S. Tour?

George Harrison and Ivor Davis

George Harrison and his newspaper column ghostwriter, Ivor Davis, in 1964; Credit: Express Newspapers

Davis: I was newly appointed West Coast correspondent for the London Daily Express, circulation four million daily. My editor called and said, “The Beatles are coming to America and I want you to fly to San Francisco where they’ve just arrived. Cover them, eat, drink and hang out with them – and, oh yes, we have signed George Harrison to write a column. He’s a musician and can’t write so you’ll have to make what he has to say palatable reading.”

Q: You did a great job of covering a day in the life of Beatlemania experienced from the inside of the fishbowl, but it didn’t always sound so wonderful or cute. Looking back, can you talk about the stress and strain of that tour and how they handled everything?

Davis: Strangely enough The Beatles were like kids in the candy story; the prisoner effect was a strain. They were unable to leave their hotel rooms for fear of being torn from limb to limb by ecstatic fans. And they were upset about the lousy sound systems in nearly all of the venues. I couldn’t hear what they were singing. We were all drowned out by the screeching, wailing fans and so were The Beatles. Ringo often didn’t know what song they were singing and told me he had to lip-read to catch up!!!

Q: You came from an era of journalists where they flipped their notebook shut on the personal indiscretions of celebrities and politicians, and certainly, there’s still an element of that with this book. What was the informal agreement, or not-stated but implicitly-understood agreement with The Beatles in this particular case?

No one ever said, “Don’t write negative stories” … but we knew being allowed into The Beatles inner sanctum came with unwritten rules.

Davis: No one ever said, “Don’t write negative stories” … but we knew being allowed into The Beatles inner sanctum came with unwritten rules. The Beatles co-opted us onto their team, their entourage. We sympathized with their prisoner status. We could go anywhere and so we treated them kindly.

Q: Given what you just said, you don’t seem to defend John Lennon regarding an incident with a teen in Las Vegas.

Davis: The Vegas incident was a harsh wake-up call. We knew that when girls were ushered into meet The Beatles, they didn’t ask for their birth certificates. But as Paul said, “We were aware of underage girls hanging around, but there were lots of over-age girls – and this was at the start of birth control pills. And we were healthy young lads.” With, of course, lively libidos.

The Beatles at Hollywood Garden Party, September 1964;  Credit: Express Newspapers

The Beatles at Hollywood Garden Party, September 1964;
Credit: Express Newspapers

Q: Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley never experienced the kind of frenzy and mania The Beatles did. Can you give a perspective on why The Beatles seemed to evoke such feelings from the teens of that era?

Davis: Lots of older women I spoke to in the last couple of years told me that honestly they were in love with John, Paul, George and Ringo. In their own (fantasizing) minds, when they looked at each individual member, they winked, waved and smiled back … and it was true love.

Q: The Beatles’ side trip to Alton, Missouri for a few days of relaxation seemed unnecessary and dangerous. What do you recall of that stay?

Davis: It was a great break. What was dangerous was the late night flight in a rinky-dink plane with the owner of the charter jet company in the cockpit. And their landings in Missouri were runways with virtually no lights. It wasn’t until they were well into this flight that The Beatles realized danger threatened. Once on the ground they had a wonderful break – celebrating Brian’s birthday and getting nicely inebriated.

Q: Can you give me a brief thumbnail sketch of each Beatle, starting with John Lennon, who seemed to be a real pisser.

Davis: JOHN: wickedly funny, who spoke his mind and it often came back to bite him. Witness that Jesus statement that landed him in hot water. But brilliant and like Robin Williams a bit of a genius.

PAUL: Very PR-oriented. The most approachable of The Beatles, who knew the value of hobnobbing with the media and being nice.

GEORGE: Really uncomfortable with strangers at first. He was a bit sullen at first and the kind of guy who warmed to you later – once he felt more relaxed and got used to you.

RINGO: The newbie in The Beatles pack. Definitely the fourth banana. But as Brian Epstein said later, America made Ringo. By the time they flew home in September 1964, Ringo had become the most popular Beatle.

By the time they flew home in September 1964, Ringo had become the most popular Beatle.

Q: The Brian Epstein you painted was a man who seemed a harsh taskmaster who was volatile, vulnerable and emotionally fragile at times.

Davis: Brian lived a secret life. He was a closet gay, who took terrible risks in his personal life and had terrible experiences as a result. He tried to give off the cool, imperious front but beneath he was terrified that his sexual preferences would come out and destroy The Beatles who he had worked so hard to build up.

Q: John Lennon’s fascination with President Kennedy assassination and insisting on a tour of the book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald made the deadly shots seems almost fateful or ironic?

Davis: It was. But John was always pushing and prodding more than any of the other Beatles and at an early age was more concerned about politics and events outside the music biz. He was the political/social conscience of The Beatles.

Q: Lennon specifically commented to you about America being the Wild West when it came to guns. What would he have thought of today’s America with random shootings at malls, colleges and military bases on such a regular basis?

Davis: John would still be campaigning, using his fame to right terrible wrongs – in Iraq, Afghanistan and the plight of the have-nots in third-world countries.

Q: You were covering the Watts riots in Los Angeles when you received a phone call that The Beatles and Elvis were about to meet at his home on Perugia Way. Given that no photos or recordings were made of that night, why were you, a journalist, invited to come in the first place and what was your take on if they got along or not?

Davis: Elvis did not have a great time. It’s funny, everyone there, including the Memphis Mafia and those in The Beatles’ inner circle, said the ice thawed eventually and they began to communicate. That’s what I saw. Awkward beginning and a lightening of the atmosphere and mood once they started jamming. Don’t forget Elvis was the King of his castle and The Beatles had invaded his home terrain and taken over the No. 1 spot. Elvis was not a happy camper making those repeat movies (three a year!) and The Beatles’ first movie was a home run!

Q: You write at the end of the tour, it was fun, but that you didn’t expect it to be historical or the Beatles to become legends. What’s your outlook today?

Davis: Back then I was around the same age as The Beatles and none of us had the vision. Who in their early twenties has great vision … that comes with age. Today I am still astonished that people come up to me as if I’ve been sprinkled with invisible Beatle magic dust. I was just a lucky guy at the right place and right time – and who could have predicted it? No one. I was just doing a nice job when by happenstance The Beatles rode into town…

***

The Beatles and Me On Tour is available in hardback and Kindle on www.amazon.com

Ivor Davis will be signing copies of The Beatles and Me On Tour at the Los Angeles Fest for Beatles Fans Oct. 10-12. For more information about Ivor Davis, visit https://www.facebook.com/ivor.davis.395

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