24 July, 1964
When The Rolling Stones arrived in Blackpool that July day for a show at the Empress Ballroom, they hoped it would go better than the previous month’s US tour. Mocked on TV, largely ignored by the rest of the media, Mick Jagger pithily described it as “a disaster”.
But they had put all that behind them and devoted their energies to promoting their recently issued debut LP and latest single, It’s All Over Now, which gave them their first Number 1 at the start of July. A couple of days later, on July 4, the BBC aired a previously recorded edition of Juke Box Jury in which all five members of the band took part – the first time the show had used five jurors. The Stones resumed touring with gigs at Bridlington (11), Leeds (12) London Beat City (18) and Brighton (19), taking a break (21-23) to attend recording sessions by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra. (Some of these tracks, featuring sessioneers including Jimmy Page, Big Jim Sullivan and Clem Cattini, would appear on 1975’s Metamorphosis compilation.)
Would You Let Your Daughter Marry A Rolling Stone?
Meanwhile, furore continued across in the media. “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?” one tabloid thundered. Oldham, the band’s manager, turned the phrase into a promotional slogan. However, antipathy would rear its ugly head again, at the Empress Ballroom, a grand Victorian building adorned with chandeliers and other refinements unfamiliar to the rock generation.
“The crowd was aggressive from the start,” recalls Peter Fielding, lead guitarist with support act The Executives, a local group fronted by future NME journalist Roy Carr. “We had got through most of one set but they began chanting ‘We want the Stones’ and threw coins at the stage, until we had to cut things short.” A large hostile element moved closer to the stage as the Stones began playing. “Immediately some idiots at the front began throwing more coins,” Fielding adds.
“They punched their way to the front, straight to the stage and started spitting at us.”
As female holidaymakers screeched their appreciation of Jagger’s moves, less adoring audience members began spitting, Brian Jones the prime target. “They punched their way to the front, straight to the stage and started spitting at us. In those days I had a temper…” recalled Keith Richards, who singled out a ringleader for retaliation, stamping on his hands and then kicking him in the face. Things quickly got out of hand. Bottles and other missiles were thrown, chandeliers smashed, seats ripped up and, as the band retreated from the battle zone, the revenge-hungry pack of drunks vented their venom on the equipment, smashing a grand piano to matchwood, trashing amps, speakers and the drum kit.
Outside the hall the fury continued, the mob trying to break into the nearby Winter Gardens where The Dave Clark Five were performing. The police eventually brought the mayhem to an end, but not before damage estimated at £4,000 had been caused. Four of the miscreants were hauled off to appear in court. “Some people in the audience obviously didn’t like us,” understated Jagger. Blackpool Council were also unhappy, and banned the Stones from ever playing in the town again.
The situation got out of hand again at the band’s final gig of the month. On July 31, the Stones appeared at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, a venue so overcrowded that scores of girls fainted barely before the music got underway. The second song of the night was the prophetically titled It’s All Over Now… it really was as, just 12 minutes into the set, the gig was brought to a close, as distraught female fans were passed over heads onto the stage for their own safety while others were removed from the building, strapped to stretchers in a bid to contain their excitement.
“It was like they were being placed in straitjackets,” reported an observer.
What went wrong?
“That, I can’t tell you,” said Belfast’s Councillor Kennedy. “We let the hall at £75 for a dance and the hall was supposed to take 1,200 people but there was at least 3,000 in the hall, it was packed to suffocation.”
Adored or despised, it made no difference – the Stones equated with trouble wherever they played. However, years later some authorities learned to love the band. And in 2008 even Blackpool Council finally relented and said that The Rolling Stones would be welcomed back to the town any time they wished to play there. To date, Jagger and co have yet to return to the Empress Ballroom.