The Beatles in New Zealand

Page 2 – Setting the scene

'Roll over Beethoven'

The Beatles' 1964 tour occurred as New Zealand was undergoing a cultural shift. The values of younger New Zealanders seemed to be changing as one era passed and another emerged. From this time, New Zealand opened up to the world as never before through television and the beginning of mass air travel overseas.

Some young people began to look very different. Their love affair with rock 'n' roll, started in the 1950s, became even stronger, but the look and the music had changed. Young women hiked up their skirts as high as they could go and traded in the bouffant beehive hair-do for the 'mod' look, inspired by British fashion queen Mary Quant. Brylcreemed short-back-and-sides hair, shapeless sports coat and grey strides were the last things the male mod would be seen wearing. There was longer hair for men, and black velvet jackets, brown corduroy trousers and Chelsea boots were popping up in trendy Auckland boutiques.

Hello, goodbye

Compared with modern bands, The Beatles' performances on stage were brief. The same 11-song set they performed at every New Zealand show clocked in at under 30 minutes: 'I saw her standing there', 'I want to hold your hand', 'You can’t do that', 'Till there was you', 'All my loving', 'She loves you', 'Roll over Beethoven', 'Can’t buy me love', 'This boy', 'Long tall Sally' and 'Twist and shout'. Ringo Starr also sang ‘Boys’.

Television began broadcasts in 1960. The world crowded into more and more New Zealand lounges. In 1961 there were fewer than 5000 TV licences; two years later there were over 80,000. The sole channel broadcast for just 50 hours a week in the mid-1960s, and much of the fare was pretty staid, but novelty value was high.

'The box' introduced many older New Zealanders to The Beatles when a TV special about the band was shown just weeks before the tour. Not everyone had heard of the band, of course. One older couple got free tickets to a Wellington concert. Their granddaughter Fran McGowan remembers the family story: 'They had no idea who The Beatles were. They thought they were going to a show about gardening.'

The band's records had already hooked local teenagers.  ‘She loves you’ was their breakthrough hit in New Zealand, in 1963. With this release, the 'Fab Four' changed their image. Gone was the hard-living Liverpool bar band that was used to performing in leather jackets and jeans and playing for drunken sailors and off-duty prostitutes in Hamburg’s red-light district. In were the clean-cut pretty boys in matching mohair suits and sharp hairstyles who had an air of London's fashion-setting Carnaby Street.

That can't be bad?

New Zealand was part of The Beatles' Far East tour. The band was already sick of constant touring when they arrived. ‘A room and a car and a car and a room and a room and a car’ – the plot of the film A hard day’s night, completed shortly before the tour – summed up the band’s daily life on the road.

The brief sets they performed every night were a charade; the band could hear nothing but the piercing screams of fans. In a no-holds-barred interview seven years after the tour, John Lennon described it as one long party. The endless procession of women seemed to him like something out of the bacchanalian orgies shown in the film Satyricon.