A few years ago, Renen de Guia wanted to try to bring in Paul McCartney to perform in Manila.
But the Ovation Productions boss, who had successfully promoted the Philippine concerts of Metallica, Sting, Depeche Mode, Bush, Manhattan Transfer, INXS, Swing Out Sister, Lady Gaga, Tears For Fears, Taylor Swift, among dozens of other major artists, knew the odds he was up against.
The mere mention of Manila would probably spoil Macca’s mood over the memory of The Beatles’ July 1966 concert in Manila. That date would go down in history as the moment when the country, globally famous for its people’s hospitality, turned into a gangland whose thugs manhandled the world’s biggest band — for not showing up at a Malacañang reception organized by then First Lady Imelda Marcos.
What really happened?
A certain Ramon Ramos Jr. had booked the Beatles for two shows — a 4 p.m. matinee and an 8 p.m. main show — on 4 July 1966 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Here are excerpts of the events that transpired from the Beatles’ arrival on 3 July, the concert on 4 July, and the band and its entourage’s departure the following day, as recalled by Tony Barrow, the band’s then press officer employed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s company NEMS Enterprises.
All the quotes here are from Barrow’s 2005 book, John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me: The Real Beatles Story, as well as from Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall and the Fab Four themselves in the 1995 TV documentary The Beatles Anthology.
Said Barrow on the day the Beatles entourage landed at the then Manila International Airport: “The tour itinerary prepared by Ramon Ramos Jr. was never discussed properly that evening between Epstein and the rest of us. I doubt if he even read it thoroughly or even noticed the crucial bit suggesting that The Beatles might ‘call in on’ the First Lady, the President’s wife, Imelda Marcos, at three o’clock on Monday afternoon ‘before proceeding on from the Malacañang Palace directly to the stadium for the first concert.’
“The wording Ramos used made this sound like a casual proposal rather than a command from the President’s office — not a fixed and formal appointment so much as something to be talked about as a possibility.
“The group (Beatles) had finally reached their suite at the Manila Hotel at 4 a.m. They were sleeping when two high-ranking government officials arrived later in the morning and announced that they would be escorting The Beatles to the Palace.
“The officers spoke coldly: ‘This is not a request. We have our orders. The children who wish to meet The Beatles will assemble at 11…’
“Vic [Lewis, NEMS employee] threw on a shirt and trousers, phoned me and we went to see Brian Epstein, who was having a late breakfast. Vic told me: ‘I have to warn him that these people are hot-blooded. A snub would be unwise.’
Unsurprisingly, Epstein refused to compromise: ‘I’m not even going to ask The Beatles about this. Go back, Vic, and tell these people we’re not coming.’ If everyone had acted quickly and positively at this point, the boys could have made it to the palace and avoided a disaster.”
George Harrison: “The next morning we were woken up by bangs on the door of the hotel, and there was a lot of panic going on outside. Somebody came into the room and said, ‘Come on! You’re supposed to be at the palace.’ We said, ‘What are you talking about? We’re not going to any palace.’
“‘You’re supposed to be at the palace! Turn on the television.’
“We did, and there it was, live from the palace. There was a huge line of people on either side of the long marble corridor, with kids in their best clothing, and the TV commentator saying, ‘And they’re still not here yet. The Beatles are supposed to be here.’
“We sat there in amazement. We couldn’t believe it, and we just had to watch ourselves not arriving at the presidential palace.”
Aspinall: “Although people kept saying it was a failure in the Philippines, The Beatles did two gigs to about 100,000 people, after the Marcos thing, and all the fans had a really good time. They really enjoyed it…”
Barrow: “At Manila International Airport, management and staff had been instructed to give no assistance to The Beatles’ party. Escalators stopped working as they approached them, forcing them to carry heavy amplifiers and instrument cases.
“When The Beatles joined us, Filipino thugs, some in military uniform, closed in on our party from all sides. Guns were brandished and fired into the air… Someone shouted in English that The Beatles were not special and deserved to be treated just like ordinary passengers.
“John (Lennon) said: ‘Ordinary passengers? They don’t get kicked and thumped, do they?’ There was no alternative but to run the gauntlet of the menacing mob. Brian Epstein was punched in the face and kicked in the groin. The roadies got the worst of it. Mal Evans was kicked in the ribs and tripped up but he staggered on across the tarmac towards the aircraft with blood streaming down one leg. We did our best to shield John, Paul, George and Ringo from direct blows. Vic Lewis and I were the last to go. He held an open hand across his back, saying it might protect his spine from a sniper’s bullet.
Starr: “There was chanting, with people hating us all the way — and now at the airport they started spitting at us, spitting on us, and there’s the famous story of John and me hiding behind these nuns, because we thought, ‘It’s a Catholic country — they won’t beat up the nuns.’’’
Lennon: “All along the route to the airport there were people waving at us, but I could see a few old men booing us. When they started on us at the airport, I was petrified. I thought I was going to get hit, so I headed for three nuns and two monks, thinking that might stop them. As far as I know, I was just pushed around, but I could have been kicked and not known it.”
McCartney: “It was an unfortunate little trip, but the nice thing about it was that in the end (when we found out what Marcos and Imelda had been doing to the people, and the rip-off that the whole thing allegedly was) we were glad to have done what we did. Great! We must have been the only people who’d ever dared to snub Marcos. But we didn’t really know what we were doing politically until many years later.”
De Guia actually went to see McCartney in one of the latter’s tours, hoping to pitch in a Manila date.
Wow, I told De Guia, if you can pull it off, it would put closure to that ugly episode in 1966. Besides, Marcos had long been dead.