Whether you grew up in the 1960s or the 1990s, or you're a teenager today, one thing's for sure: You have heard of the Beatles, arguably the biggest band to ever exist, even to this day. It's now been 50 years since the band played their final concert in Candlestick Park, San Francisco. And thanks to director Ron Howard (who acted in Happy Days and The Andy Griffith Show and directed Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, and A Beautiful Mind) we now have a new documentary, with completely new footage to look forward to.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years relives the height of Beatlemania and specifically concentrates on their four crazy years of touring the globe, from 1962 to 1966. During that time they performed an astonishing 815 times across 15 countries. And then they never performed a full live concert all together again. And while it may be one of the most iconic tours in music history, there's not that much footage around to fully show off the experience. Unlike today's concerts, which are fully reported on thanks to thousands of camera phones, not to mention Vines, tweets, and Instagram pictures, back in the '60s there would be just a handful of people recording the precious moments on old-school cameras.
In the new documentary, Howard has managed to collect some of these never-seen-before moments from fans who sent in any camera rolls they had. It includes footage from the band's last ever live gig, and with the bonus that they've used new technology to drown out the screams so you can actually hear the music for the first time.
But those weren't the only gems found during the creation of Eight Days a Week. One particular moment sees a 14-year-old Sigourney Weaver screaming John Lennon's name from the crowds at the Hollywood Bowl in 1962. After discovering the moment, producers contacted the actress and got her to speak on the documentary. She debuted the clip while speaking to Jimmy Fallon on his show last year.
Important facts that haven't been publicised much before also came to light. For example, it turns out the Beatles turned up to a concert in Florida only to be told they'd be playing to a segregated audience. They refused to play to a crowd divided by race, and it became, what they claim, the first non-segregated concert for black people and white people. The Beatles then had it written into their contracts that they would never play segregated shows and helped change the law as a result – which is a pretty big moment to look back on, and one that Paul McCartney told BuzzFeed he is "very proud of".
We spoke to the remaining Beatles, McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as director Ron Howard, while they were promoting the film at Abbey Road Studios in London last week. What followed was an incredibly interesting, yet heartfelt and casual chat with the musicians about their crazy time as a live band, how they feel about new generations being just as Beatles-mad, and why this documentary is coming to screens now. Here's what went down...
First of all, how did this documentary come about in the first place?
Ron Howard: It came to me as a possibility through a producer, Nigel Sinclair, who had been talking to the band and to the Apple [Corps] people about a documentary that they already knew they wanted to make, they were [already] gathering the footage for, which would focus on the touring years. At first I thought, Well, that may be a little too limited, but as I began to delve into it I thought it was a really brilliant, structural idea because to me it made it kind of an adventure story with a beginning, middle, and an end. I thought with my mainstream director hat on that I could do something compelling with it.
Ringo and Paul, it's been years since you've authorised something like this to be out there. Why this one and why now?
Ringo Starr: It just came up, that's how it happened. It wasn't, like, this huge plan. [Apple Corps CEO] Jeff Jones in our office, you know, our Apple... this idea came out to him and he presented it to me and then the board of Apple. I thought it was a great idea. You know, when I run on stage or he [points at Paul] runs on stage now a thousand people don't even see you, they're in their phone [mimes staring at a phone screen]. And we were trying to look for footage from those days. You know, maybe there was one guy [with a camera]. That's how it started, and then it evolved into this because of Ron.
You spent years gathering all of this footage to show the fans an unseen-before experience. What was one of the biggest revelations from the unearthed films you were sent?
PM: One of the big things that came over for me... When we were making the film, all these little facts had come out and Ron was sifting through them with his team. We were due to play Jacksonville [Florida] in the States and we found out that it was going to be a segregated audience – blacks one side, whites the other – and it just seemed so mad, we couldn't understand that. So we just said, "We're not playing that!" You know, it's an audience, we can't do that. And we stood our ground so firmly that they actually changed the law and the concert we did do was the first [non-]segregated audience. And there was a girl, Kitty, who remembers it well as her first contact with whites, really, in a concert situation. So I'm very proud of that and it actually ended up in our contract – "will not play segregated audiences" – and back then, you know, to us it was just common sense. But it turns out it was quite a statement.
Is that the kind of thing you're pleased the new generation will get to learn about in this new documentary?
RS and PM: Yes.
RH: Definitely. It surprised me. And then to find Kitty Oliver, African-American girl, now a woman, who had been there. It was like the last thing that actually came in to the film is when we discovered her and she was willing to talk to us. Very important. And I think very telling about these guys, not only as individuals, principled people who just said, "That's ridiculous", and forced them to integrate, but also as artists. The way that they kept evolving is what surprised me and impressed me. That in the midst of just the logistical challenge of all of that and the emotional intensity of Beatlemania, they just kept growing as artists like that.
PM: [interrupts] It wasn't a plan. We never sat down and said, "We'll grow as artists." [all laugh] It just seemed that's what you ought to do.
What was it like seeing some of the footage for the first time, particularly of your last ever concert and with the reduced screams thanks to the new technology?
PM: Amazing. It's great for us because it's memories and obviously for us it's, you know, John and George.
RS: We're all together. [gives a big smile]
PM: That's the big thing for us. So that's very emotional for us. But it is amazing. It's like looking at your old family snapshot album or your video collection or whatever and you're seeing what happened. People these days, you take films on your phones and stuff and you don't always just look back at them. It's one of the troubles. It's like, when am I going to look back at this stuff? And suddenly here it all is, presented, and we're looking back at it and it's, like, it's a treat.
How important is it to you to appeal to the younger audience nowadays and did you expect to still be popular in 2016 with young people?
RS: I think it's great. And we have over the years appealed to each generation because music is music and we made some really great music and still appreciate it to this day. And I love that about the Beatles, that the music is still going on more than the haircut, you know. So it's good.
PM: That's right. It's like a hidden bonus, we didn't expect that to happen. We thought we had 10 years, top whack.
RS: Did we think about it though? We just made music and put it out there.
PM: I'll do a show now, we do shows, and you'll see a 10-year-old who knows the words better than I do! And I'm trying to think, How does this go?!
RS: It's true! [both laugh]
PM: You can't believe it. You go, "You shouldn't know this! This is like your granddad..."
RS: The point is it is amazing that the generations have joined in the Beatle madness and love the music. Who knew?
The documentary delves into how crazy the height of Beatlemania was for you all. What are the craziest moments that you remember while touring?
RS: It could get crazy, but the four of us supported each other. But one of the craziest moments for me, we were playing in Wales, and as we were getting to the theatre someone put their hand through the line of so-called guards and grabbed me by the hair and would not let go.
PM: [jokes] Luckily it was a wig!
RS: Lucky I had another one in the bag! It was like violence... And in New York when somebody jumped on me and took the necklace I had on. And I went on a radio station and said, "If you give me me necklace back I'll give you a kiss" and they brought the necklace back! [laughs and claps] On Cousin Brucie's radio. So only like that, it's not like you were terrified. But someone grabbed you, you were stuck. Anything happen to you, Paul?
PM: [jokes] No! You know, there were plenty of little things. We were at the British ambassador's party, I think it was in Washington, and we thought, oh, well this will be civilised, you know, ambassadors and all that. And we're all standing around with cocktails and somebody comes up behind George, I think, one of the girls comes up with a pair of scissors and cuts a little bit of his hair off. [mocks shock] WAHH. So you know, there was that kind of madness. But yeah, generally you didn't feel unsafe, just these little bits that were a little bit over the top.