IT’S 50 years since The Beatles first appeared at The Imp, Nelson’s cult pop venue – and Steve Chapples recalls the time Beatlemania hit East Lancashire.

That appearance in May, 1963, came as their hit ‘From Me to You’ was riding high at number one in the charts. The Fab Four had, however, been booked some time previously – for the princely sum of £20!

Stage manager during the sixties was Alan Wilson, who also ran a record shop called Multi-Relays, in Nelson, and knew Brian Epstein, then manager of NEMS record store, in Liverpool. Consequently, Alan had taken a group of local youngsters to The Cavern, just as the Mersey Sound was exploding.

And long before Paul, John, George and Ringo had their first hit, ‘Love Me Do’, Alan had persuaded the Imp general manager Bob Caine to book them – though he had never heard of them.

In late 1962, three of the group visited the Electron record shop, in Hall Street, Burnley, owned by Jim Baxter, and John Lennon, ordering a Dinah Washinghton EP, revealed they had just made a record.

The co-owner of the Imp in those days was Alec Holt, and when the band returned to Nelson in 1963, along with Epstein for their gig, they visited the offices above his shoe shop, in Scotland Road, after checking out the acoustics.

Although fire regulations limited the audience to 2,000, the venue could easily accommodate twice that number, so 5,000 tickets were printed and fans descended on Nelson from all over England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, offering to buy tickets for £5 each, which was a week’s wages at the time. Glen South, who played on the same bill, revealed that Brian Epstein hired a flat-top lorry and loaded it with about 30 screaming teenage girls who, in exchange for free entry, would stand at the front and whip the rest of the audience into a frenzy, thus creating Beatlemania.

The Beatles, dressed as policemen to hide their tell-tale long hair, were smuggled in, and out, of the Imp in a Black Maria.

Fifty girls had fainted during their 25-minute show and had to be carried to the back of the stage.

The Fab Four later complained that no-one could hear them play, because of the constant screaming.

Jim’s son Les Baxter, who was in the audience, could see them, but not hear, so went to the bar for a pint instead. The band made a second appearance in July 1963 when their manager managed to negotiate them a better deal.

Alan was given an A Parlophone copy of “Love Me Do”, which all four Beatles autographed.

One of his proudest moments at the Imp was escorting singer Yana to the stage in 1959, and he also became a close friend of the late Matt Monroe.

Alan was for many years the non-playing captain of Lancashire tennis squad and once partnered Cliff Richard in a charity doubles match.

n In January 1963, The Beatles played at the now-demolished Co-oporative Hall, in Darwen, which was promoted by the local youth club of the Baptist Church. The bill also included The Electones, The Mike Taylor Combo, and The Mustangs with Ricky Day.

And in June that year, the band took to the stage at King George’s Hall, in Blackburn.