Photographer Ian Wright was just 18 when he captured The Beatles on stage on 22 November 1963. But the photos never made it into his newspaper because of an event half-way around the world.
The Beatles had just played their first set at the Stockton Globe to 2,400 screaming girls, and another 2,400 were making their way in for the night’s second performance when the frontman of the support band heard a newsflash on his transistor radio.
“He had a clapped-out trannie that was held together with chewing gum and elastic bands, and he used to tie the little aerial around one of his cymbal stands,” recalls Wright, who was hanging around backstage.
“He was tuning in to Radio Luxembourg to find out who was in the top 10. All of a sudden there was a crash. He’d dropped the cymbals. He came out and looked completely gaunt and ashen. He mumbled something but you couldn’t grasp what he was saying.
“And then he composed himself and he said, ‘It’s just been on Radio Luxembourg. The president of the United States of America has been assassinated.’
“It was surreal. The place just went silent.”
Wright’s paper the Northern Echo, under the direction of legendary editor Harold Evans, immediately turned out a special edition that went on a fleet of lorries to London in an attempt to beat the national titles to the following morning’s commuter trade.
The day of the gig also saw the release of The Beatles’ second album With The Beatles, but the paper’s exclusive story about the world record 350,000 advance orders went by the wayside, as did Wright’s photos from that night – which remained unpublished for almost half a century.
The Stockton-on-Tees venue shut in 1975 and did not operate as a music venue for almost half a century, until it reopened after a £28m renovation (delayed and way over budget) earlier this month.
Wright’s photos of The Beatles and other iconic artists who performed there in the 60s, many of which have never been seen, have now gone on permanent display at the venue, as well as being included in a new book.
Wright got to know the bands while hanging out at venues including the Globe, taking photos from the orchestra pit.
“McCartney said, ‘What do you hear down there?'” Wright says. “I said, ‘It’s very surreal because it’s like a seashell. If I turn this way, I can hear you perfectly on stage. If I go the other way, all I can hear is a cacophony of screaming girls wetting their knickers.'”
As well as the crowds inside the venue, thousands more blocked the high street outside.
When the news began to spread about US President John F Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, there was an eerie atmosphere, Wright says.
“When we went out into the streets, it was sheer silence. You could hear a pin drop. Many young girls were hugging each other and consoling each other. Nobody knew what to do next.
“Over the road was the parish church, and somehow the dean managed to pull all his campanologists together, and all of a sudden the bells started to toll. It was absolutely incredible. And then slowly…” He imitates the crowd’s spontaneous applause. “That’s what happened.”
Nevertheless, The Beatles’ second performance of the night went ahead as planned, and Wright photographed them again when they returned the following year.
One year after that, the Stones visited the County Durham town – and this time there was a very different atmosphere.
“There was a feeling of menace in the air. Something was going to happen, you knew it,” Wright recalls.
“I hadn’t been there more than about two songs into the Rolling Stones set when all of a sudden a nine-inch spanner whistled past my head, landed on the stage, pinged off the cover of a footlight and hit Charlie Watts’ drums.
“The next thing, all of a sudden [Mick] Jagger jumped, span in the air and had his back to the audience. He carried on singing and all the time he was fumbling in his pocket. He brought out this crisp handkerchief and then turned to the audience, and there’s blood pouring down his face.
“It’s on his shirt, it’s down his trousers, it’s on his shoes. He finished the song, and he walked off. And they brought down the curtain.”
Rolling Stones gigs were occasionally marred by violence, and the singer had been hit by a sharpened coin thrown by Teddy Boys in the crowd, according to the photographer. “This one was half an inch above his eye, otherwise he’d have been blinded.”
Wright also captured stars like Cliff Richard, Cilla Black, Roy Orbison and Ike and Tina Turner on stage and in their dressing rooms.
Many of those photos can now be seen on the walls of the venue, which reopened with a McFly concert on 6 September.
Wright, now 76, returned on Tuesday to give a talk about his memories – and says he was transported back to that night when The Beatles came to town.
“We were doing a run-through and they put the photographs up on the screen, and they put The Beatles on the sound system, and I said, ‘This is where I was standing when I took this photograph.’
“And all of a sudden, when the picture came up, the whole atmosphere in the theatre went cold, it went tingly, and everybody stopped. It was dead quiet. They were like spirits.”