Beatlemania recreated in Montreal museum show
Deborah Tucker, who was at the only Beatles performance in Montreal in 1964, looks at John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls Royce at the Beatles exhibit at the Pointe-a-Calliere museum in Montreal on Thursday, March 28, 2013. (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, March 28, 2013 8:30PM EDT
MONTREAL -- Ringo got a death threat, the shows didn't sell out despite the Beatles' worldwide popularity and the band's manager brushed off a reporter who pointed out the British musicians would be playing to a mainly French audience.
The Beatles only stayed eight hours in Montreal when they visited in 1964 before speeding to the airport for a flight to Jacksonville, Fla., which was at that time in the bull's-eye of hurricane Dora. They never came back as a group.
But why dwell on the negative.
"The Beatles in Montreal," a new show at the Pointe-a-Calliere museum, doesn't shy away from the controversies but is generally as upbeat as one of the Fab Four's catchy tunes from the 1960s when they changed the face of music.
It aims to look at the bigger picture of a groundbreaking band that exhibit manager David Ledoyen describes as a "musical tsunami."
"We wanted to talk about Beatlemania and the history of this very important group in pop and rock music history," Ledoyen says of the interactive show, which opens Friday and runs until March 30, 2014.
Montreal has a solid place in Beatles history, besides their rocky experience with the 1964 concerts. John Lennon returned to the city in 1969 for a week-long bed-in for peace with wife Yoko Ono and recorded the antiwar anthem "Give Peace A Chance" at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.
Beatles music is piped through the Pointe-a-Calliere exhibit, which is chock full of souvenirs, guitars, pictures and other artifacts, including Lennon's Rolls-Royce sedan.
A recording of the Montreal concerts can be heard by visitors to the show, while film clips of various Beatles appearances play from displays. People can even sing along with the group in one section.
Ledoyen says the group, which spearheaded the so-called British Invasion of the 1960s, influenced not only their screaming fans but also many Quebec bands.
One of the groups mentioned in the exhibit, Les Baronets, included a young Rene Angelil, who would go on to international fame as the manager and husband of music superstar Celine Dion.
About 5,000 delirious fans met the Beatles when they landed at Dorval airport on Sept. 8, 1964, and a total of 21,000 would attend their two concerts --9,500 at a late-afternoon matinee and 11,500 at an evening show.
The numbers reportedly miffed the band because they were well below the Montreal Forum's 13,551-seat capacity at the time. It's something that has furrowed plenty of other brows since then too, considering the lads from Liverpool were considered one of the hottest tickets of the day.
Ledoyen says one of the reasons usually cited for the turnout is that the shows were held at the beginning of the school year and teachers weren't going to tolerate skippers.
"There was a lot of pressure in the schools on the students," he said Thursday. "They were threatened by the teachers that if they were not there (in class) on Sept. 8, you were in big trouble."
But drummer Ringo Starr was probably more concerned about a death threat against him which decried him as an "English Jew," although Starr, whose real name is Richard Starkey, is not Jewish.
Starr cowered behind his cymbals, which he set facing upwards instead of flat, on the stage and a police officer sat discreetly nearby.
"He was really scared," Ledoyen said of the musician.
Ledoyen said the Beatles never were able to interact much with the fans because of their popularity, which spawned a heavy police presence.
"John Lennon said, 'The only thing I remember about Canada is the blue shoulder of a policeman protecting me from the fans'," he said.
In the exhibit, a taped recollection from then-teen journalist Janette Bertrand described how she had been brushed off by Beatles manager Brian Epstein when she pointed out that 80 per cent of the concert-goers would probably be French-speaking.
"Next question," she recalled Epstein as saying.
However, she said Lennon took her aside afterward with the band and spoke some fractured French to her.
"She gave them a very, very short Quebec history lesson and probably it influenced them because they said 'bonsoir' to the crowd during the evening show," said Ledoyen.
But the controversies didn't dim the memories of Sharman Yarnell, who was 10 when she attended both shows.
She was actually just nine when she snuck out of her parents' house in a Montreal suburb a few months before and caught a midnight train into town to camp out for tickets, which went for $4.50 and $5.50. She also got a lecture when her mom found out.
Yarnell, whose childhood Beatles scrapbook is in the exhibit, had to stand on her seat when she went to the concert and only got a fleeting glimpse of the band when they appeared.
"Pandemonium broke loose," she said. "I couldn't hear a thing. The noise was beyond deafening. I've never heard it at any concert since. Never."
Yarnell says she likes the Scousers' music because most of it told a story.
"I loved the lyrics and I loved the musicality. I think they were absolutely extraordinary musicians. I didn't realize that then."
While the legendary Liverpudlians did not play Montreal again while they were together, Starr and Paul McCartney did play the city in separate shows many years later. George Harrison never performed in Montreal again.
"I heard he came for the F1 race here because he's a big fan of car racing," Ledoyen said.