Screams like teen spirit: girls go wild at a Beatles concert, Christmas 1963. Photo: Sharok Hatami/Rex
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Forty pairs of abandoned knickers: Maureen Lipman on the Fab Four in Hull

In the second half, John Lennon stepped forward to the mike, thighs straining against his shiny and confining suit. He shook his locks, lowered his eyes and let me have it.

Where I came from, you were a Beatles girl or a Rolling Stones girl. Just as, a few years earlier, you were a Connie Francis or a Juliette Gréco girl: white shoes and a beehive hairdo or black roll-neck, kohl and flatties. Mecca Locarno or basement jazz room, Pepsi-Cola or whisky sour: queuing at both. This was Hull, 1963, before it had culture and a marina, when David Whitfield covered “Cara Mia” in a blazer made by my dad and Philip Larkin darkly traversed the university library.

I was 17 years old, working on my English, art and history A-level syllabus and mooning around my bedroom listening to Doris Day and reading The Golden Notebook. I was a good enough actress to do a convincing squirm at Elvis’s gyrations, but frankly I had less idea what “sent” my gang of schoolfriends than I had of the unification of Italy 1871.

Every end of term Paddy, Ann, Marilyn, Janet, Leonie, Kay, Jennifer and me – the arty girls – led the whole school out on to the playing fields and performed an entire Sunday Night at the London Palladium show. Marilyn Atkinson’s “Cliff”, with tight trousers and lacquered quiff, drew more screams than the real thing. Crushes abounded. I had gaggles of fans who waved autograph books at me. We were legends.

One of my “crushees” had a dad who worked at the Regal Cinema and therefore had access to free seats at the forthcoming Beatles concert. A giggling posse of navy blazers asked me if I would like to go along and, out of pity, I agreed – after all, it was only 18 months since I had stalked Pauline Melville after her performance as the maid in Cranford. As far as I was concerned, the Beatles were a nice-sounding group of young men with shiny hair and no lapels. Nothing to sing about.

At the concert, the music was completely drowned out by the screaming. It was tribal, and I viewed my fellow mortals from my balcony seat with the same amusement and disdain I felt when audiences rose and lumbered out before the end credits ran on Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8 – which I saw 15 times. So unprofessional!

Then I reached my road to Damascus. In the second half, John Lennon stepped forward to the mike, thighs straining against his shiny and confining suit. He shook his locks, lowered his eyes, put his overbite delicately in place and let me have it:

 

The best things in life

are free

But you can keep it for the

berds [sic] and bees . . .

Someone very close to me screamed the most piercing of screams, a primal mating call. I looked around peripherally without losing sight of the tiny demigod in front of me:

I want mo-o-o-ney.

Thass what I want.

My Cornetto dangled. Sweat ran across my upper lip and down my virgin armpits. The screaming was increasing in volume and intensity. Someone was about to implode. I realised with an electric shock that the screaming someone was me. I continued to scream for the next 40 minutes. The rest of the concert is a blur. As is the smug excitement of my fourth-year fans, and the moment their heroine was dragged away from the stage door by her dad to his Morris Oxford.

“Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three,” Larkin wrote. He wasn’t far wrong. The next day, I had a voice like Eartha Kitt; the manager of the Regal told my dad they’d cleared away 40 pairs of abandoned knickers at the cinema; and life, as I knew it, was never the same again. I still thank John Lennon from the bottom of my heart. From that day on, I understood what Martha Quest in The Golden Notebook was actually doing it all for. 

This article first appeared in the 20 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, What the Beatles did for Britain

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Harry Styles: What can three blank Instagram posts tell us about music promotion?

Do the One Direction star’s latest posts tell us about the future of music promotion in the social media age - or take us back to a bygone era?

Yesterday, Harry Styles posted three identical, captionless blank images to Instagram. He offered no explanation on any other social network, and left no clue via location serves or tagged accounts as to what the pictures might mean. There was nothing about any of the individual images that suggested they might have significance beyond their surface existence.

And, predictably, they brought in over a million likes – and thousands of Styles fans decoding them with the forensic dedication of the cast of Silent Witness.

Of course, the Instagrams are deliberately provocative in their vagueness. They reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s three-panelled White Painting (1951), or Robert Ryman’s Untitled, three square blank canvases that hang in the Pompidou Centre. The composer John Cage claimed that the significance of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings lay in their status as receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them. The significance of Styles’s Instagrams arguably, too, only gain cultural relevance as his audience engages with them.

So what did fans make of the cryptic posts? Some posited a modelling career announcement would follow, others theorised that it was a nod to a Taylor Swift song “Blank Space”, and that the former couple would soon confirm they were back together. Still more thought this suggested an oncoming solo album launch.

You can understand why a solo album launch would be on the tip of most fans’ tongues. Instagram has become a popular platform for the cryptic musical announcement — In April, Beyoncé teased Lemonade’s world premiere with a short Instagram video – keeping her face, and the significance behind the title Lemonade, hidden.

Creating a void is often seen as the ultimate way to tease fans and whet appetites. In June last year, The 1975 temporarily deleted their Instagram, a key platform in building the band’s grungy, black and white brand, in the lead up to the announcement of their second album, which involved a shift in aesthetic to pastel pinks and bright neons.

The Weekend wiped his, too, just last week – ahead of the release of his new single “Starboy”. Blank Instagrams are popular across the network. Jaden Smith has posted hundreds of them, seemingly with no wider philosophical point behind them, though he did tweet in April last year, “Instagram Is A BlackHole Of Time And Energy.”

The motive behind Harry’s blank posts perhaps seems somewhat anticlimactic – an interview with magazine Another Man, and three covers, with three different hairstyles, to go along with it. But presumably the interview coincides with the promotion of something new – hopefully, something other than his new film Dunkirk and the latest update on his beloved tresses. In fact, those blank Instagrams could lead to a surprisingly traditional form of celebrity announcement – one that surfaces to the world via the print press.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.