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Rock 'n' Roll Wiltshire
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, 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
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
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 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
Have Your Say
If you saw The Stones in Wiltshire in the sixties, share your memories below.
Ray Beatty, Melbourne
David Bradfield, Wantage