The night the Rolling Stones had to flee from Blackpool stage

It was one of the most notorious riots in rock and roll history and it happened right here in Blackpool.

Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 4:55 am
The Rolling Stones on stage, 1964
The Rolling Stones on stage, 1964

A teenage mob forced The Rolling Stones to flee from the Empress Ballroom, as they stormed the stage wrecking their kit.

The cheers and screams of the teenagers turned into threatening boos and the five band members ran from the stage to safety.

The Rolling Stones – featuring Watts along with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Brian Jones – played hundreds of shows around the UK in the 1960s.

Winter Gardens staff clear up the aftermath of the Rolling Stones riot. A grand piano was reduced to matchwood

Music writer Richard Houghton captured memories of these shows in his book, The Rolling Stones – You Had To Be There (spenwoodbooks.com)

He said: “The Stones quickly built a reputation as a fearsome live act, playing R&B and blues covers, with perhaps the most famous lead singer in music in Mick Jagger.

“But the band’s success was built on a solid rhythm section in Charlie Watts on drums and Bill Wyman on bass.

“The Stones played Lancashire three times in 1964, as their fame began to skyrocket, starting at the Public Hall in Preston in January of that year.”

Concert-goers disperse after the stage riot

In March 1964, the Stones were back in the North West, playing at the Opera House in Blackpool.

Syd Bloom, who was 17, remembers: “We were sort of old enough to go into the bar and I spent my time ripping beer mats, getting Keith Richards to sign them and flogging them to girls outside. Mick Jagger was nowhere to be seen but Charlie, Bill and Keith were very friendly.”

But it was their second appearance in Blackpool which is remembered, for all the wrong reasons.

The riots actually led to the band being banned from Blackpool for almost 50 years.

Richard explained: “The concert was held during Glasgow Fair, when Blackpool would see an influx of Glaswegian factory workers and their families taking their two week summer holiday.

Glaswegian audiences were famously hard to please, and the evening ended in a riot, with the Stones unable to perform the second of their sets and Charlie’s drum kit being rescued from the stage as sections of the crowd set about destroying the ballroom.’

Eileen Cornes was at the show. She said: “I was on holiday in Blackpool.

“Three quarters of the way through the concert the venue seemed to get rowdy.

“Our Scottish friend advised us to take off our shoes and run to the back of the venue as she feared that there was going to be trouble ahead. I hesitated at first, not really sensing danger, and she screamed at me to move. We all went back to the hotel. The following day we found out the Stones’ piano had been thrown off the stage into the crowd.’

Peter Fielding was on stage as a member of the Blackpool band the Executives, who supported the Rolling Stones that night He said: “The crowd were throwing old pennies at us and shouting ‘we want the Stones! We want the Stones!’

“The Stones came on and did the Bo Diddley number ‘Mona’ and started another song. One of the audience spat at Keith Richards, who tried to push him off the front of the stage with his foot.

“There was a bit of a fracas and it erupted into the crowd throwing bottles and all sorts. We ran on to get our gear off and it just went bananas.

“The crowd got on the stage and pulled all the Stones gear off and kicked it to pieces. The band ran off for their lives.

“I don’t know whether Charlie got his drum kit. The amps really got jumped on. A grand piano was pulled off the stage and onto the floor and smashed. We went back the next day. The debris was all over the place. They ripped the ballroom apart.’

Syd Bloom was also at the Empress Ballroom for the second time. “Roy Carr from the Executives started winding everybody up by doing ‘I’ve Got My Mojo Working’ and starting the song up again.

“So there was a bit of a tension because people were telling him to get the Stones back on. Two or three Scots guys got their way to the front right by the stage and one of them threw a fork at Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards, who promptly went forward and kicked his teeth out with his Cuban heel and it just kicked off from there.

The Stones ran for it. Charlie’s cymbals were being thrown around. Can you imagine a more deadly weapon than a cymbal?’

Richard added: “The riot became front page news and led to copycat riots at Stones concerts in Continental Europe, with tear gas and baton charges by the police. Blackpool really cemented the Stones reputation as the bad boys of pop and the antithesis of The Beatles, who dressed nicely and were the kind of boys a girl could bring home to meet their parents. Charlie found himself firmly in the ‘scruffy-looking, long-haired layabouts’ Rolling Stones camp, even though in reality he was a smart dresser and kept his hair quite short.”

Richard would like to hear from anyone who saw Charlie play with the Rolling Stones in the 1960s and can be reached on [email protected].

n The Rolling Stones – You Had To Be There, by Richard Houghton, is available from spenwoodbooks.com.