“They’re coming: YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!” So was the headline of the South China Morning Post on 14 March 1964, to announce that The Beatles would arrive in Hong Kong on 8 June 1964 for their first World Tour, launched right after their UK Tour. Hong Kong would actually be the first and unique stop in Asia, before they would head to Australia and New Zealand. In anticipation of the Beatlemania, stores even started to stock up Beatles suits and moptop wigs.
At 12:00pm on Monday 8 June 1964, more than one thousand fans, mostly screaming teenagers, were waiting for the Beatles at Kai Tak Airport. The reception was described as “hysterical” by The Spectator. The group was allowed to bypass customs and immigration procedures to avoid the crowd and was quickly taken to the President Hotel (later the Hyatt Hotel) in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Jimmie Nicol and Paul McCartney
The Fab Four were actually the Fab Three on that day: Ringo Starr was in hospital in the UK, so the drummer Jimmie Nicol had to stand in for him on this early part of the World Tour, along with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.
Some anecdotes have emerged about their short stay in Hong Kong. At the hotel, Paul McCartney ordered a few Hong Kong’s 24-hour bespoke suits, a popular request among visitors to the then-British colony, as well as two watches, one for each wrist! He also tried to visit Kowloon, but was recognised by enthusiastic fans, so he was forced to return to the hotel. Jimmie Nicol, standing in for Ringo Starr, was able to wander around unbothered since he was totally unknown!
On their first evening, The Beatles were expected to attend the Miss Hong Kong pageant, held in the hotel’s Convention Hall. They were jet-lagged so they turned down the invitation, causing so much tears and disappointment among the contestants that, eventually, John Lennon – known for being far from shy with women – went to greet (kiss) them…
On 9 June 1964, The Beatles performed two shows at the Princess Theatre (now the Mira Hotel) in Tsim Sha Tsui, with two instrumental groups, The Maori H-Five and Sounds Incorporated.
In the collective memory, this date has been considered as essential in Hong Kong’s pop history, at a time where the local market was dominated by traditional Cantonese opera. The Beatles concerts marked the beginning of the Hong Kong English-language rock ‘n’ roll, and ultimately of the Cantonese-language pop derived from it.
The commonly heard story says that the Princess Theatre was packed with thousands of screaming music fans, but the screams most likely came from military servicemen, according to Hong Kong institution DJ “Uncle Ray” Cordeiro. Indeed, tickets were priced so high – the equivalent of a weekly wage – that they went unsold. “It was quite a flop because the teenagers couldn’t afford to buy the tickets … and the parents didn’t know who The Beatles were. So the theatre was empty,” Cordeiro says. The promoter had to offer the unsold tickets to the army for free, and the auditorium was filled with soldiers in uniforms. This was probably the only financial flop in The Beatles concerts history!
Before The Beatles came to Hong Kong, the legend Cordeiro initiated the pop music scene in Hong Kong in the 1960s with his radio show, introducing Hong Kong listeners to British pop and rock’ n roll. The Beatles concert in 1964 was held at a perfect timing. The Fab Four were catchy and resonant at this time, right when Hong Kong was more open to new sounds.
Insiders would say that the real impact of the shows in Hong Kong comes down to sex and hair! The Beatles showed to Hong Kong locals groups that the power of rock ‘n’ roll came not only from excellent tunes but also from growing their hair longer and shaking their head, so the girls would scream!
Joke aside, the concert also had a more practical impact on the music business in Hong Kong with the explosion of demand for new rock ‘n’ roll records. This would benefit to local bands, as well as overseas record companies and distributers, with records finally flown in rather than brought in by boat. The Beatles concerts also brought Hong Kong people closer to popular Western groups who started to perform live in Hong Kong: The Carpenters, Herman’s Hermits, Peter, Paul and Mary, etc.
South China Morning Post, 9 June 1964
After their two days stay in Hong Kong, The Beatles flew to Australia to continue their World Tour. Paul McCartney had left a parting note for their fans at the hotel: “Hello Everybody in Honkey-Konk, thanks very much for the applause, etc… All the best from the Beatles. P.S. Can’t wait to get back”…
As we know now, this note was far from a prediction. After a four-year period dominated by almost nonstop touring, the Beatles stopped performing live in 1966 to become a studio-only band until their break up in 1970s.