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Rock 'n' Roll Wiltshire

You are in: Wiltshire > History > Rock 'n' Roll Wiltshire > The year The Stones conquered Wiltshire

The Stones play McIlroys Ballroom in Swindon

The Stones playing McIlroys in 1964

The year The Stones conquered Wiltshire

In 1964 The Rolling Stones played in Wiltshire five times. Read reviews of their gigs at Swindon's McIlroys Ballroom, and view footage from their outdoor show at Longleat House.

The mid-sixties was quite a time to be a pop-music loving teenager. And the hip young folk of Wiltshire were especially spoilt for choice as pretty much every household name of the time played gigs in and around the county.

It seems unbelievable now to imagine a time when The Rolling Stones, one of the all-time great bands would have played even one gig nearby, let alone five in one year! But they did, in 1964.

The band had made their live debut in Wiltshire at Salisbury's Gaumont Theatre on Sunday 27th October 1963. They played fourth on the bill to The Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley and Little Richard. 

Just under a month later they played their first show in Swindon at McIlroys Ballroom in Regent Street on Thursday 21st November 1963. The venue inside the famous department store proudly trumpeted itself as 'Showplace of the West', and gigs were held there every Thursday.

McIlroys in Swindon

McIlroys, as it stood on Regent Street in Swindon

Anyone who was anyone on the early to mid-sixties national pop music scene played at McIlroys, including a pre-fame Beatles.

At the time of The Stones' first appearance at McIlroys, the band were in the Top 20 of the UK Singles Chart with their second single, a version of The Beatles' 'I Wanna Be Your Man'.

At the gig they were supported by Frankie Roy and the Soundcasters and played to a capacity audience.

A review in the Swindon Evening Advertiser the following day gave most prominence to the performance of lead guitarist Brian Jones. It read; "His command of the style is authoritative, and he managed to achieve a mellow, amplified sound where most West Country 'rock' groups only muster a harsh twang." 

They returned to the same venue less than two months later on Thursday 17th January 1964, for a gig which demonstrated the band's rapidly increasing popularity. It was also the first of five separate shows they played in Wiltshire that year.

At this stage they had yet to release their debut album, and had so far only released two moderately successful singles, but the band were on the cusp of greatness and the reception they received this time proved their emerging popularity.

The gig poster shows that admission on the night was seven shillings and sixpence, which in today's money works out at a meagre 37 pence!

They were supported this time round by local act the Hummelflugs.

A review in the 24th January 1964 edition of short-lived Swindon weekly newspaper The Swindon Echo headed 'Great night - Rolling Stones send fans wild' read as follows:

"It was the biggest night in teenage entertainment of the winter - the visit of London rhythm-and-blues stars The Rolling Stones.

Queues began earlier than ever outside McIlroys Ballroom. When The Stones arrived in their lipstick-scrawled dormobile, they were mobbed by teenage girls.

Before the doors opened at 7.45 the line of enthusiasts stretched up Regent Street, waiting more or less patiently in the cold.

A poster from the gig

A poster from the gig

But once inside the ballroom, the excitement built up to fever pitch.

Dancing was forgotten when the long-haired Stones filed out on stage. A false start, a change of equipment and the group were off to a galaxy of screams.

Their chief assets - a driving rhythm and the extraordinary haircuts, that make The Beatles' look like short-back-and-sides.

"A capacity crowd, with several hundred turned away. Easily the best night since we began this Thursday club last autumn," commented ballroom manager Mr T McCann."

The very next night, The Stones played their second gig in Wiltshire in 1964 at Salisbury's City Hall on Saturday 17th January. They returned to the same venue on Saturday 18th March.

The band made a reappearance for their third and final gig at McIlroys Ballroom in Swindon on Thursday 9th April 1964. Incidentally, playing at The Locarno in the High Street in Old Town on the very same night was Cilla Black, who at the time was also in the UK Top 20 alongside The Stones.

But by now it was clear the band had outgrown playing venues at this level, as evidenced by the sheer size of the very last gig they played in Wiltshire, four months later.

By this time, they'd scored their first number one hit single in the UK with their cover of Bobby Womack's 'It's All Over Now'. The Rolling Stones' popularity in the country was now second only to The Beatles.

The Stones perform on the steps of Longleat House

The Stones perform on the steps of Longleat House

As a result, Sunday 2nd August 1964 saw the band appear in front of a 16,000 strong crowd of fans on the steps of Longleat House near Warminster, for the stately home's '3rd Pop Festival'. The admission fee was 2/6d.

There was such a violent clamour for the band at the show that over 200 female fans were treated for minor injuries.

A policeman is reported to have said: "We could easily have some dead on our hands if things go on as they are." But luckily things didn't escalate that far.

The band were paid £1000 to appear and were supported by Danny Clarke and The Jaguars, and Tony Rivers and The Castaways.

An ad for The Stones' Longleat gig in the Wiltshire Echo

An ad for the Longleat gig in the Wiltshire Echo

On his website, Tony Rivers remembers: "This was probably the first major outdoor gig in the 60's," he wrote. 

"This was the first time anyone had seen crowds like this before, or at least, we certainly hadn't! 

"I can't say I thought much of The Stones' performance, it seemed very sloppy, their timing was all over the place. 

"I didn't find them at all friendly in the shared dressing room, in fact I think they thought they were a bit too important to talk to the likes of us!"

Certainly, after this gig, the band were truly catapulted to superstardom and never performed in the county again.

But for Wiltshire, 1964 will always be the year of The Stones.

last updated: 25/02/2009 at 10:14
created: 17/12/2008

Have Your Say

If you saw The Stones in Wiltshire in the sixties, share your memories below.

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Dave Smith
As a young Blues fan in the early sixties with two cousins in London who sent me albums from the Kempton Folk and Blues Festival was very aware of people like Muddy Walters, Howling Wolfe Chuck Berry, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley and the early exponents of the British blues scene such as John Mayall and the Rolling Stones. Therefore at the age of 15 i was very lucky to get tickets to all three Stones concerts in Swindon. I remember taking the schools lovliest pupil (a form older than me) Ros to the third on the 9th April 1964.They were in the charts with NOT Fade Away at the time .The group were fantastic and the venue was packed out with people at the back standing on tables and chairs. In fact the promotorhad to request them to get down as the windows were open and we were onthe 2nd floor.I saw several groups including Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers with their great brass section.The most exciting group were the YARDBIRDS with either Eric Clapton or Jeff Back on lead guiter and Keith Relf lead singer playing a great blues harmonica.Swindon had another great venue which was the Locarno in OLd town which also hosted top groups including Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green on lead guitar.I have seen the Stones many times over the years the most recent a couple of years ago at Wembley and they are still fantastic value for money

Ray Beatty, Melbourne
I was there at that first Swindon show on 21st November but I can assure you it was not a capacity crowd. There were just a couple of hundred of us, mostly students from Swindon College. We had so much space we were able to dance in front of Mick and the boys! Then when they came back in January they had made the hit parade and the ballroom was packed like sardines. No more dancing! A few of our cute Swindon College girls even managed to faint in the front row. (Gosh girls you'll all be over 60 now!) The next time I saw the Stones was five years later - in Bali. Ah but that's another story...

Janet Davis
I was 13 and had one of the Rolling Stones records. My sister was friendly with a boy who had moved in nearby, and he had been at school in Dartford with Mick Jagger. His parents also lived in the same house and took myself and my older sister to watch the concert. Mick had pink jeans on, that was fabulous as I had never seen a man wear pink jeans before! I remembered before they came on stage, they were up on the roof of Longleat House and were looking down at us all. It was a warm August afternoon and I loved every minute of it. I was so envied at school next day, it was a big thing in those days for a 13 year old girl to be at a rock concert, how times change? Thank you to Mr and Mrs Coley for taking us.

David Bradfield, Wantage
We saw your feature on the local news re the Pop Groups at McIlroys in the 60s. I went there regularly before then in the late 1950s to see all the Trad Jazz Bands which were so popular before Pop took over. As I remember it there was a different Trad band every week (Thursday?) and we got to see and dance to all the best of them including Aker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot, Kenny Ball, Chris Barber and so on. Wonderful memories!!


Mike Tobin
My band "Mike Tobin & The Magnettes" , along with many other Bristol based bands often "crossed the border" to play in Wiltshire. The Neald Hall, Chippenham, The Assembly Rooms, Melksham spring to mind. We also supported Shane Fenton & The Fentones @ McKilroys Ballroom . I also wrote for the local "Beat Music Magazine" Western Scene so was @ The Rolling Stones Longleat gig & was backstage with them in Lord Longleat's Library ! In the 1970's I was Manager of the Bristol band Stackridge and they played in Wiltshire many times including The City Hall,Salisbury&The Alex Disco.Salisbury. I still manage them now !

Colin Bowie
I remember going with Wincanton Youth Club by coach to see the Stones. We were about halfway between the house steps where the stage was an the Horningsham Gate Lodge. Unforgettable.

John B
Yes, I remember the evening dance nights at McIlroys in Swindon.Must say the Thursday Jazz Night was my favourite though.I also remember the night the Norman's the furnishings & pram shop on the adjacent opposite corner of Havelock Street & Regent Street, burnt down and the heat broke all the window glass in McIlroys shop and ballroom above. But if you are talking of the 60's and visiting groups and performers to Swindon, you can't forget The Locarno Ballroom, up in the Old Town Square and there most famous artist singer, Cilla Black, who I saw perform there. Sat here watching BBC Oxford TV News, in the French Provence, in our tiny village perched on top of the rock face of the gorge of the same name (about 30km north as the crow flies from St Tropez on the coast), your piece in tonight's new really bought back memories of my late teens to mid 20's, my nights at McIlroy, The Locarno on Saturday nights and my white convertible Triumph Herald with its red leather seats ~ those were the days.

Harry Reed
I worked in Mcilroy's ballroom when I was about 14 or 15 years of age - 1964 to 1965 collecting empty bottles and glasses and I was priveledged to rub shoulders and mingle with the bands backstage. Don't remember seeing the Stones or Beatles (before my time maybe). I saw Shane Fenton ( Alvin Stardust)and the Fentones, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, The Temperance Seven. Duke D'Mond and the Baron Knights were regulars and had a local fan club. Must have seen many more, these were 'Happy days'!!!!!

Doc Merwin
I was at the April, '64 gig at McIlroy's. I was stationed at Burderop Park at the time. The crowd were frantic!! My date passed out! After we revived her, it was a brilliant night. I also felt that Brian Jones was the most outstanding performer in the group. I went back to Swindon a couple of years ago. I wish McIlroy's was still there!!!Doc

Andrew Lamb
I skipped signing in the church choir to cycle down to Longleat from Midsomer Norton, I was 13 at the time. I first heard them on a juke box near Weymouth signing "I Wanna Be Your Man". I have since seen them everytime they tour in UK and once in France. They just get better every year. Its only rock and roll but thank you for everything, it has been important.

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