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‘Eight Days A Week’ Celebrates The Beatles In The Road Years

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Courtesy photo
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The new Ron Howard-directed film Eight Days A Week celebrates the touring life of The Beatles.

Producer Nigel Sinclair says that the film came about largely thanks to fans. Many people had filmed Beatles performances and appearances with early home movie cameras, and scores had held on to memorabilia from the group. Sinclair and his team put out a call for materials via social media in 2014. He says that he and others involved in the film were greeted with a wide range of great material that had been lurking in basements and attics for more than 50 years.

“We got the most amazing pieces of film footage--pictures, and other arcane things relating to The Beatles’ years in America and all over the world. Japan, England and European countries like Sweden," Sinclair recalls. "I think, being able to tell that story with new elements, and there are about 18 never-before-seen things in the film, that made it feel like it was a good thing to do.”

Though classic Beatles albums such as Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band show a group capable of great experimentation in the studio, the Liverpool quartet was first a live entity. The late John Lennon was fond of saying that the band did some of its best work before it ever hit the studio. The live performances, Sinclair points out, were as an important part of the Beatles as the songwriting and sound experiments that came later.

“Paul McCartney has a wonderful cut where he says—I don’t think this is in the film—‘We went up on the steps on a ladder. We wanted to be the best band in Liverpool in the clubs. Then we wanted to be the best band in the ballrooms in Liverpool. Then we wanted to be the best band, regionally, in the north of England, playing ballrooms and town halls. Then we went to London and wanted to be the best band in London. And each step of the journey we earned it,’” Sinclair says, continuing with McCartney’s recollection, “‘But when we came to America, because we were a brand-new act from England, we were these new guys. But we weren’t new guys.’ And, of course, they benefited from that.”

Much has been made about the arrival of The Beatles on American shores in February 1964. Sinclair says that years spent playing clubs in England and Germany paid off, but so did the group’s immediate preparation for a U.S. visit.

“You know, they went to Paris in January 1964—and I was never able to find out if this was deliberate—and they actually did something like a 30-night residence in Paris at the Olympia,” Sinclair says. “Meaning they played night after night. So, they were red hot when they came to America. They were like a war machine.”

Many have said that the band’s 1964 appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, gave the nation something else to think about. Sinclair says that he was initially skeptical of that assertion.

“That sounds like a rather contrived thought,” he says, “and as we went into it, we heard so many people say that. I thought it was a very interesting phenomenon. Some people come along who just become part of the zeitgeist. It’s just the right place at the right time.”

Some have a fondness for looking back at the lighter side of The Beatles in 1964: The long hair, the witty remarks, and those accents. But Eight Days A Week shows another important facet of that time: The Beatles refused to perform before racially segregated audiences in the American south. The move was a bold one for artists at the time, especially those from foreign soil.

“Don’t you think it’s amazing that these guys were between 20 and 22 at the time?” Sinclair says. “I think John was 23. They come from Liverpool. They don’t have any experience with racial diversity. Britain was largely a homogenous country at that time—not completely, but largely; there were people in Liverpool from different backgrounds and races, but not a lot. And The Beatles, in the moment, in a press conference, when confronted with this question, said, just like that, ‘We’re not doing it.’ Then they had the band meeting [to confirm it]. I’m sure Brian [Epstein, manager] probably said, ‘Guys, this is not your fight. This is somebody else’s fight. These people fought a civil war about this. We can’t re-fight it for them.’ And they just said, ‘No, we’re not doing it.’”

Eight Days A Week screens Thursday evening at the Wichita Orpheum as part of the Tallgrass Film Festival.

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Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

 
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