Saturday 4 July 2015

los beatles en la Plaza de toros


3 July 1965

I remember playing a big bullring in Barcelona, the Plaza de Toros, where the Lord Mayor had great seats and all the rich people had seats but the kids, our real audience, were outside. We used to get upset about that: 'Why are we playing to all these bloody officials? We should be playing to the people outside. Let them in...' But of course they wouldn't. Paul McCartney (Anthology)

I did say that from time to time I would venture away from Liverpool and the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' only appearance in Barcelona seems a good enough excuse to show some photographs I took during my summer holidays in this fantastic city during August 2014. 

Of course, it's now 2016 and therefore the 51st anniversary. What can I say, it was supposed to be finished last year but "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans..."  Still, I've just returned from another holiday there with more photos so hopefully it was worth the delay!

There is very little information to be found on-line concerning the Beatles' visit to Spain barring one or two articles in the Spanish language which are repeated on numerous sites elsewhere. As a result  I've done my best to adapt it using Google translator.

The most significant aspect of the Beatles’ performance was that it took place while Barcelona was still under the regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Though The Beatles were famous enough to enter the music scene in a country where most foreign visitors were prohibited, they were an emblem of modernity, music, freedom, love and happiness, that was at odds with the atmosphere created under Franco’s dictatorship.

By the sixties the nature of the Franco regime had changed from an extreme form of dictatorship to a semi-pluralist authoritarian system but the population was still prevented from enjoying the kind of freedom that we take for granted today.

The Beatles visit was an important stimulus for the a generation that would provide new ideas in all areas of Spanish culture. In Barcelona, neighbourhood movements demanded improvements, social phenonema such as the so-called Gauche Divine (the "Divine Left" a movement of intellectuals and artists that swept through the Barcelona of the sixties and early seventies) and a greater permissiveness of cultural events in the Catalan language all reflected a shift in history and whilst it would be wrong to suggest that the Beatles' concerts in Spain were a catalyst for this social and cultural change the fact that they were permitted to take place reflected the inevitable transformation into new times.

On February 5 1965 in Seville the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein signed a contract with the Spanish promoter Francisco Bermúdez (who also represented the singer Raphael and the actress Marlene Dietrich) for the Beatles to make two concert appearances in Madrid and Barcelona during the Beatles 1965 European Tour planned for that summer. The deal was said to be worth seven and a half million pesetas, the equivalent of £5000 for two shows which would last no more than 30 minutes each.

Epstein was initially sceptical. He argued that whilst the Beatles sold around 900,000 copies of their albums in the UK, their sales were much lower in Spain, perhaps around 3,500. With apparently so few fans in Spain how could Bermudez even think the concerts would make a profit? It took the intervention of music journalist José Luis Alvarez (founder of the music magazine Fonorama) to persuade Epstein. Alvarez explained that in Spain only around 1500 people owned a turntable which meant another 2,000 people had bought the records without being able to play them. It seems this was reason enough to convince Epstein of the possibilities.

What Epstein (and the Beatles) probably didn't know was that the Francoist authorities tried to prevent  their visit until the last moment.  Bermúdez had it all prepared, but the permission of the Minister of the Interior did not come. It is said that permission was only granted to avoid a diplomatic row with Britain following the news in early June that the Beatles were to be awarded the M.B.E. 

With seven days to go before the shows the embargo on tickets and advertising material was lifted.

Both concerts would take place in bullrings and whilst Brian Epstein was a keen enthusiast of what some would call a highly ritualised cultural event and art form, and others a "blood sport", the four Beatles were not.  

I went to a bullfight there, and it was the saddest thing I ever saw. It was really sorrowful to see the bull just getting weakened and weakened. And then, when they finally kill the bugger, they wrap a chain round its leg and bring in a couple of cart-horses and drag the corpse away. I always thought it was such a miserable end. That's the only bullfight I ever went to, and I've never been interested in seeing one again. Ringo Starr (Anthology)

It's not clear when Ringo attended a bullfight. Certainly there seems to be no mention of any of the Beatles going during their time in Madrid. It may have been during his May 1963 holiday in Santa Cruz, Tenerife. George and Pattie witnessed one in Arles during a September 1965 holiday with Brian Epstein. If the picture below could say a thousand words.....

Following their appearance in Madrid the Beatles boarded an Iberian airlines Super Constellation, flight number IB214 flying to Barcelona at 2:45pm on Saturday 3 July.

The only Beatle who had previous experience in the Catalan capital was John Lennon who had taken a vacation there with Brian Epstein between April 28 and May 7, 1963. Paul and George were with Ringo on the aforementioned holiday Tenerife.

There are tales that John and Brian simulated a bullfight in a street close to Barcelona Cathedral and had a gay adventure which the heterosexual Lennon agreed to reportedly because he was ready to try anything once.

Anyway, moving swiftly back to 1965...

Joana Biarnés, a photographer for the Madrid newspaper 'Pueblo', convinced her boss to buy her a ticket for the Madrid to Barcelona flight and managed to take pictures of the Beatles on the plane: When I boarded the plane, I noticed that the four of them and their people were in the back.  Together with them, there was a press officer, two sound engineers, a sort of assistant who did all the chores requested by them (the latter three were also bodyguards), and the manager, a quiet man, always watching and controlling in silence everything which took place around his lads.

The two sound engineers and the assistant, described as three bodyguards were actually Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans and Alf Bicknell.

Biarnés prepared her camera in the bathroom and photographed the group by surprise. One of the Beatles' bodyguards mistook her for a "crazy fan" and asked her to stop taking pictures. 

Joana's photograph above clearly demonstrates that the Beatles did not travel like superstars. They were travelling on a regular flight, without special security measures. The group didn't seem particularly bothered by her presence. In turn she was impressed by their accessibility and also their kindness towards her.  John and Paul were sitting quite close to the toilets, just like George and Ringo, and all hid their eyes behind dark sunglasses. Her picture below shows Wendy Hanson (Brian's secretary), Paul, Brian and John in white with his back to the camera.

At 4.30pm the plane made its landing at El Prat de Llobregat. Instead of landing on runway 17, as previously announced, the Beatles did so on a remote track in a different area (opposite the restaurant). 

Brian Epstein got off the plane before the Fab Four and then Franciska, a singer in fashion at the time presented the Beatles with four monteras (a type of cap used by bull fighters) with the compliments of the promoter. They obligingly posed with them for the cameras, Paul toying with his cap, playing the fool and pretending it was a goblet.

presents the monteras

Another attractive woman gave them four little dolls dressed with typical Andalusian suits and Elisa Estrada, president of the Official Fan Club in Spain presented them with some key rings. I wonder if they ever took these sort of gifts home with them at the end of a tour?



For the benefit of the press the Beatles staged their descent of the aircraft steps several times. Note the Beatles' driver Alf Bicknell top left behind Franciska.

Around 200 fans had gathered to welcome the Beatles but had been removed by the police for 'security reasons'. The first radio journalist to approach them was Joan Armengol who managed to get a few words with George Harrison before he moved towards the waiting car. Just before boarding the vehicle, the George reportedly remarked 'in quite acceptable Castilian' that the weather was "quite hot, which is always better than cold."

Hotel Avenida Palace,
Gran Via

On the second day of my holiday this year I thought I'd try and find the Hotel where the Beatles stayed during their visit to Barcelona.

In 1952 the HUSA group, Spain's leading family hotel chain opened its first Grand Hotel, the Avenida Palace in Barcelona. According to Joan Gaspart*, son of the owner of the HUSA group, it was the best hotel in the city at that time.

A limousine on the airstrip took the Beatles from the airport directly to the Avenida in the city centre. Joan Gaspart, then 19, was at the entrance waiting to welcome them. Oddly, it was not the first time they had met.

During 1962 and 1963 the young Gaspart lived in Liverpool and worked in the Adelphi Hotel (of all places). In an interview with the radio host Maria Francino he recalled that when he finished work he would go around town with a friend and it was on one such night out that he first became aware of the Beatles: They were known in the city. I went to watch them play before an audience of 10 people and sometimes even drank beer with them. I told them if they ever came to Barcelona they could stay. At that time I never thought they would become so famous. When they did come to Barcelona I was called and told them to stay at the hotel of my father, the Avenida Palace.

One newspaper later reported that the Beatles were tired and spoke very little when they arrived at the hotel and were allocated rooms 109 and the adjoining room 111 on the first floor. Joan Gaspart claims they had dinner and spent the time reminiscing.

The suite that Beatles used at the Avenida Palace has transcended the hotel to become an icon of Barcelona. Since 1965 the room has become a magnet for Beatle fans and following refurbishment in 2012 today features a selection of newspapers that make reference to the Beatles' visit, and memorabilia including a replica of Paul's Hofner bass guitar.

No sooner had they settled in when they received another visit from Joana Biarnés, the Pueblo journalist who only hours before had snapped them on the plane. Despite the hotel concierge telling her she would not be able to get past the heavy security she simply walked up the stairs, quickly finding herself outside the Beatles' room.

A surprised and bored looking Ringo opened the door to the suite with a not unfriendly "you again?" In English she asked if she could finish her article about how they spent their hours before a concert. Fortunately the Beatles reacted favourably to it and Biarnés was the only photographer who was able to share "about four hours" with them in the Avenida.  Therefore all the photographs of the Beatles in their suite here must originate from her.

At seven in the evening, after a short break , they gave a press conference on the stage in the Grill Hall (dining room?) before a dozen journalists, with the help of an interpreter hired by the promoter . 

The press conference turned out to be very funny – despite the presence of only 20 journalists. It is thought that the low turnout may have been due to the promoter being reluctant to give away free tickets for the concert.

Joana Biarnés was lucky once again: After the press conference, I told them I wanted to be with them.  They said yes by means of pointing their thumbs up, a Beatles common practice.

Joana with the Beatles (minus George) in their suite at the Avenida Palace.

At 7:30pm the five of us went into their rooms.

There were records spread all over their beds, lots of hardbacks, a (battered looking) record player, a Spanish guitar.  Ringo was lying on a bed reading.   George was not present.  Nothing special on the shelves:  no perfumes or the like.  A hair dryer.   They smoked a lot, all types.  Ringo always smoked tipped cigarettes.  There was a table with plenty of drinks and fruit. 

 John did not cease to play the Spanish guitar for a moment.  He played many 
classical Spanish pieces.  The Beatles took the opportunity to learn about Spanish culture. They talked to me about Albeniz**.  They asked which factory made the best Spanish guitars. They loved flamenco dancing.  They wanted to write some songs with a Spanish touch.  They told me to sing a rumba, a word which by the way, made them laugh.  I admitted I had no idea about rumbas.  Nevertheless, I taught them to palmear (to handclap in flamenco like style) and some Catalonian expressions.  After this friendly conversation, a casual dinner was held in the suite.  This was the menu:  john—a chicken sandwich with a lot of tomato sauce, Paul had a cheese and ham sandwich, George and Ringo—fried eggs and beans.  They drank tea with milk.

After the dinner, they were told they had to get ready to go to the show.
(Joana Biarnés)

Despite her scoop she did not have the recognition she expected: When I arrived with my exclusive the newspaper editors told me my story was no longer needed and nothing about he Beatles was published. 

Whilst I may have lost something in the translation it appears that John Lennon's (stage ?) pants were so wrinkled that he ended up exchanging them for Joan Gaspart's before starting the concert:  I remember John Lennon wanted to wear my pants because mine seemed to be better ironed. He performed wearing mine and his (pants) stayed with my family. Unfortunately I did not place the same importance on them as I would today and the trousers have gone. I do not remember what I did with them.

Some photos of the Avenida Palace Hotel in August 2016

Gran Via, with the Avenida on the left.

Outside the Avenida, standing where Joan Gaspart awaited the Beatles' arrival in 1965. This is where they were photographed getting out of their limousine in the photograph above. 

I hope my photographs show that this is a fine hotel. I asked the receptionist if she minded me taking a few photographs.  She asked if I was one of the guests and when I explained where I had come from and why I wanted to take some pictures she said she would ask the Manager.

Shortly afterwards she returned with another lady who was clearly the boss. She asked  me if I was doing a review for a travel company or website so I explained again why I wanted to take some photos. "I have come from Liverpool, England and The Beatles stayed here in your hotel". "No problem, that's fine" she said so I thanked her and took some shots around the entrance and reception. I was going to ask if the Beatles' suite was occupied but didn't want to push it.

This is the staircase to the Beatles Suite.

The Beatles had to leave by the two small doors of the hotel kitchen that overlooked the Rambla de Catalunya to avoid the crowd of fans who crowded before the hotel doors on the Gran Via.

Then they were off to the bullring.

Part 2: The concert at La Monumental coming soon


Most, if not all, of the non-aeroplane steps photos come from Joana Biarnés and remain her copyright.

Have a look around the Beatles suite at the Avenida Palace Hotel here:

* Joan Gaspart  was later the 36th president of FCB Barcelona

**Isaac Albeniz,  born 1860 has come to be considered one of the most important and influential figures in the history of Spanish music. He was a child prodigy, performing his first concert at the age of four, and publishing his first composition at eight. He travelled around the world performing concerts, visiting South America, the US and Europe. In 1880 Albéniz travelled to Prague, Vienna and Budapest, where he met Liszt.  This new contact was a crucial point which consolidated his vocation. After a lengthy stay in Granada his music had become infused with new character, an oriental flavour and Andalusian colour and rhythm which would influence not only other Spanish composers but also French musicians such as Debussy and Ravel. His music was successful throughout Europe during his lifetime and he was well respected by his composer peers. He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour by the French Government, recommended by Debussy, Fauré, Chausson, D’Indy, Dukas and Lalo. He died in 1909

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