She was just seventeen… With these four words Beatlemania bounced off of the tin walls and ceiling of Sydney’s premier music venue in 1964, the Sydney Stadium, and into the musical history of Sydney. The Beatles had just broken onto the world stage when they came to Sydney, brought down under on a $3000 a week contract when US promoters were offering up to $50,000 per show!! Australia had seured them on a verbal deal between their manager Brian Epstein and local agent Kenn Brodziak, and true to their word they came.
They arrived in Sydney on 11 June in torrential rain, met by a hard core fan group and one sociologist to study fan group behaviour. The Beatles famously clambered onto the back of an open truck and were driven around the airport so all could see, desperately holding onto their TAA umbrellas in a fruitless attempt to stay dry.
Staying at the Sheraton in the Cross the Beatles were besieged by fans, camped outside and forcing the fab four to stay indoors. Well almost. For the first few shows the Beatles were using a stand in session drummer Jimmy Nichols while Ringo Starr recovered from an illness. Nichols was an unknown and so could come and go from the hotel without being recognised. He played a number of gigs at local nightclubs during his time here.
The Beatles did two gigs a night at the stadium, one at 6 and another at 8, playing for around 30 minutes each time. Commentators said after the first few bars you couldn’t hear the music over the screaming. St Johns Ambulance officers stuffed cotton wool in their ears as they attended the fainting screamers.
In a era when most people still came to Australia by boat and few of the world’s big name stars bothered with the trip, the Beatles were an enormous cultural phenomenon. They linked what was still considered a cultural backwater by many to the wider world. They kicked off the 1960s for real in Australia. Although not everyone agreed, with Richard Neville of Oz magazine calling Beatlemania an asylum for emotional imbeciles.
Thirteen years later in February 1977 another musical phenomenon touched down in Sydney when ABBA arrived for their one and only tour of Australia. Coming with 106 people in their entourage including a film crew to shoot the ABBA movie, they proved to be as big as the Beatles were in Australia and bigger here then just about anywhere else in the world. Again staying in the Cross, at the Sebel, ABBA were on a tight schedule with their first Sydney concerts at the Sydney Showground at Randwick.
March 3 was the first show and fans had been lining up since the previous day. At $12 a ticket, they were the most expensive pop concert tickets to that time in Australia. But as the show time approached a huge Sydney storm exploded overhead and there were calls by some to cancel. Wit no time to reschedule any shows they went ahead as torrential rain fell and lightning flashed overhead. The roadies and managers mopped the stage as ABBA sang and Frida took a dive in the wet whilst singing Waterloo. Still almost 25,000 fans braved it and watched the performance under a shiny black sea of umbrellas. ABBA apparently considered it one of the finest performances by fans of their careers. The next night for the second show it was clear, but the bright lights, white suits and white piano attracted swarms of bugs and insects onto the stage.
Ah Sydney summers.
Since then of course many many bands, groups, acts, singers, one hit wonders, supergroups and all others in between have been and gone from Sydney. Live music is now ingrained into the scene and large festivals bring all the big names. But it wasn’t that long ago when no-one came, and so both the Beatles and ABBA (neither of which returned) are fondly remembered and must be congratulated for bothering at all.