“You Had To Be There! The Rolling Stone Live 1962-69” by Richard Houghton (published by Gottahavebooks)

Stories from those who there for those who wish they had been

Beat groups worked themselves into the ground in Britain in the early 1960s, crisscrossing the land in an exhausting series of concerts. The Rolling Stones, for instance, racking up more than 800 shows around Britain between 1963 and 1966, leaving riotous audiences in their wake. Here are stories told by more than 500 fans, supporting musicians and backstage staff who saw, and screamed at, the shows.
18. June 2022 10:47

These were the Brian Jones years, and the reminiscences begin with no fewer than three people who were among the handful that saw the group at Studio 51, Ken Colyer’s Jazz Club, London, in November 1962 and end with the Hyde Park free concert on July 5, 1969, two days after Jones’ death and which introduced his replacement, Mick Taylor, before an estimated 250,000-plus crowd. Stones fans are divided over whether the “Jones years” or the “Taylor years” were the better (and maybe even the “Ronnie Wood years”) but if you saw Jones, then you really do have something to tell the grandchildren.

Author Richard Houghton lives in Manchester, England, and he has produced a series of similarly themed “You Had To Be There!” and “A People’s Histroy” books on other groups such as The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Thin Lizzy, in which witnesses recall their concert experiences.

Houghton was too young to see the Stones in the 1960s, though his mother did take him to see the 1964 Beatles Christmas Show at Hammersmith Odeon, London, when he was just four years old. He says he became a Stones fan after watching Mick Jagger strut his stuff performing “Brown Sugar” on “Top of the Pops” in 1971, since when he has seen the band live 20 times.

The Rolling Stones first performed as a group on July 12, 1962 when a lineup containing Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones appeared at the Marquee Club in London. They played a further 12 times in the period to the end of October 1962, principally at the Ealing Jazz Club. In November 1962 they began appearing at Studio 51, a club gig hosted by Ken Colyer’s Jazz Club in Great Newport Street in the West End of London.

In those three early reminiscences from Studio 51, Andrew Crisp recalls how in the interval of a Sunday afternoon Stones session he asked the singer and harp player, whose name wasn’t really known then, for some tips on playing the harmonica. The singer invited him into the rudimentary dressing room and they sat down and traded licks. Crisp learned to play the harp thanks to Mick Jagger.

At the same venue on another occasion 17-year-old Brian Robinson approached  the guy who “was sitting down playing the slide guitar fantastically” and told him, “You’re really good, you are” and asked, “What’s your name?” He said “Brian.” “And I went, ’Oh that’s my name, Brian. What’s the name of your band?’ He said, ’We are going to be called the Rolling Stones’.”

At the Red Lion pub in Surbiton in November 1962 pianist Ian Stewart was still in the group, they had no bass player, there were six or eight people in the audience and they used the “really crummy” house PA, which was just a couple of 12-inch speakers hanging on a wall.

Bill Wyman took the bass spot following an audition at the Wetherby Arms pub in Chelsea in December 1962, and they played their first gig with Charlie Watts on the drums at the Ealing Club on January 12, 1963. Three to four times a week in the early months of 1963 they would appear at one of Studio 51, the Ealing Jazz Club, the Red Lion, the Ricky Tick Club at Windsor’s Star and Garter, Harringay Jazz Club at the Manor House pub, the Crawdaddy Club at Richmond’s Station Hotel and the Wooden Bridge pub in Guildford.

Trevor Baverstock was a bit annoyed when he gave his place in the queue for drinks at the Ealing Club to Keith Richards and didn’t get so much as a thankyou. He wished he hadn’t bothered. Still, the Stones were generally polite, according to many accounts, and happily signed autographs and chatted when they could.

The early 1960s, recall, was a world of black-and-white television, pubs shutting at 10.30pm and youngsters having to respect one’s elders. Many accounts remember how fans were divided between the “acceptable” Beatles or the “uncouth” Stones – you either liked one or the other – and it was the latter who helped blow apart the fading established order with their uncompromising take on the music of black America and their refusal to conform to showbiz norms and social mores.

The Stones began to pack venues and had to move to larger ones, still primarily around London and the South East.  Their first single, “Come On“, was released on June 7, 1963, and they began making forays into the Midlands and the North of England. Their first gig outside of the Home Counties was in Middlesbrough where they played on a double bill with the Hollies, and Jagger sat at the back of the stage on a stool and sang from there.

Gradually their shows in cinemas, theatres, dance halls and ballrooms up and down the country became riotous, with the group having to be smuggled in and out of packed venues and the screaming so loud that it mostly drowned the music. They were often on package tours with fellow British and American acts. This meant they only played 10 or so songs, and sometimes fewer if they had to flee early from the mayhem.

In Middlesbrough, Mike Gutteridge, 17, had his own band, The DenMen, and he sat and had an orange juice and coffee with Jagger and Richards. Richards used his unplugged Epiphone to show Riviera how to play the intro to “Down the Road Apiece”, and when Mike said to Jagger “I like those boots”, Mick responded: “Yeah, man, these are Chelsea boots.”

In October 1963 the Stones embarked upon their first UK tour, a package tour featuring a number of acts who would perform twice nightly. The headliners were the Everly Brothers. The tour took in 31 venues in 36 days in Gaumont and Odeon cinema chains with a capacity of around 2000. The Stones wore matching houndstooth checked jackets but their sound was rough and raw. They were edgy and would play a short set of five songs before making way for the next act.

After a show in Salisbury that October, Len Watts’ van almost caused the Stones’ car to collide, whereupon Jagger’s head appeared out of the window and shouted, “What fucking clown is driving this fucking van?” before the car roared off up the road. Such are the moments of which dinnertime anecdotes are made and people claim their 15 minutes of fame.

At the Matrix Ballroom in Coventry the next month, Brian Robinson, 18, remembers Jagger “walked rather gay” on stage and someone shouted up at him, “Oh, what are you doing, you poof?”, causing Charlie Watts to stand up from his drums, throw down his sticks, come to the front of the stage, point at the bloke and say: “I’ll have you outside, mate.” It was really funny, says Robinson.

Here it all is – heaving rooms, mass hysteria, stormed stages, bohemian Charlie in shoes without socks (!), the time his tom-tom caught alight, Mick on maracas, the band in pubs enjoying a pint, the scruffy group “falling about all over the stage” in Kettering, Mick offering a fan a chip from his fish and chips, the crowd ripping apart the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool and kicking the group’s equipment to pieces after Keith Richards and an audience member had an altercation and all hell broke loose and the Stones had to run for their lives, a tomato thrower in Guernsey angered by the Stones’ versions of his favourite 1950s songs, in Georgia in 1965 they were “drunk or stoned or something” and after playing three or four songs they left the stage, Jagger hit in the face by a coin and throwing blooded tissues into the audience, Richards felled on stage by an electric shock, and much more.

Britain in 1962 was still in the clutches of post-war austerity but things were about to change. All in all it became a wonderful time to be a teenager and an exciting time for music.

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