Rock 'n' Roll Wiltshire
Read about the string of pop concerts that took place at the Longleat Estate in the mid-sixties, featuring such acts as The Stones, Freddie and the Dreamers, Adam Faith and The Seekers.
Freddie and the Dreamers at Longleat in 1965
Summer pop and rock festivals couldn't be more commonplace in the UK, and indeed around the world these days. But back in the early 1960s they were relatively unheard of.
Rock'n'roll, beat groups and singing teen heartthrobs were a new phenomenon and up until then the only outdoor concert people could attend would have been a jazz festival.
But as the sixties started to swing and promotors saw the commercial prospects of the new musical wave sweeping the nation and enthralling teeny-boppers, pop festivals held over the summer months were introduced.
Wiltshire's premier stately home, Longleat House near Warminster was, up until 1946, a private residence. However, the estate was suffering financially, so its owner - the 6th Marquess of Bath, Henry Frederick Thynne decided to open Longleat to the public in order to raise funds to maintain and preserve the house and gardens.
This progressive attitude led him to later add a safari park in 1966, as well as enthusiastically embrace a proposal to stage outdoor pop concerts on the steps of Longleat House, under the banner 'Longleat Pop'.
In 1961, jazz legend Acker Bilk appeared at an outdoor concert in the grounds of the estate, but the 59-year-old Thynne - with two of his five children still in their twenties - was only too aware of the current craze for pop and rock'n'roll that was captivating the nation's youth.
So, Sunday 3rd May 1964 saw the first in a succession of outdoor pop concerts staged at Longleat over the next two years. The headliners for this show were Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas - one of the key acts of the Merseybeat invasion spearheaded by The Beatles.
The band had recently enjoyed a UK Number One single with 'Little Children' and were supported at the gig by local act Tony and the Richelles, who were members of Calne Youth Group.
A coach leaving Longleat in the sixties
Over 13,000 screaming fans turned up, and according to a report in the May 7th edition of the Wiltshire Echo newspaper, they 'choked six miles of roads from Warminster to Longleat; trampled acres of parkland; laid siege to the 16th century house and fainted in scores.'
The report went on to state that the 'solid, rippling mass of fans' at the front of the stage set up on the steps of the house 'erupted into a pushing, forward-surging tidal wave' when Billy J and the band hit the stage.
The Great Hall in Longleat House was used as a make-shift first aid area for all the fans who'd passed out in the excitement.
Asked if he'd do it all again, His Lordship The Marquess said: "Yes of course we shall. We didn't expect this. Next time though we'll be better equipped. Stronger barriers and barbed wire.
"But I don't mind this. They haven't done any harm to the place - only to themselves."
It was just over a month later when the next outdoor pop event was held in the grounds of the estate. On Sunday 7th June, Irish singing trio The Bachelors wowed a huge crowd whose enthusiasm failed to be dampened by the heavy rain showers the event was beset with all afternoon.
As with the previous show, there was more fainting from numerous female fans, but the newly-installed £500 worth of crowd control barriers, and improved organisation ensured things ran smoothly.
The Bachelors, famous for hits such as 'Diane', 'I Believe' and 'Whispering' were supported by Gog and the Reefers from Trowbridge and Bristol's Danny Clarke and the Jaguars. And they arrived at Longleat in style, in a vintage Mercedes with Swindon's silver screen siren Diana Dors in tow.
An ad for The Stones' Longleat gig
Longleat's third pop festival of the sixties took place a couple of months later on Sunday 2nd August 1964, and this show proved to be by far the biggest and most memorable with over 16,000 people attending.
Unsurprising as the headliners at this event were the, by now wildly popular, Rolling Stones.
The fourth and final pop concert at Longleat in 1964 came on Sunday 30th August, and the band set to headline were popular Northern harmonisers The Hollies.
But the 5000 strong crowd of fans who'd turned up were to be disappointed. At the last minute the band cancelled their appearance due to the illness of one of their members.
All was not lost however as last minute replacement act Heinz and his band The Wild Boys put on a well-received show.
Although the 4th September edition of The Wiltshire Echo stated that unlike the previous show at Longleat where 200 fans required the smelling salts, only a dozen girls fainted this time round.
The crowd at a Longleat pop concert
This may be due to the fact that Heinz was only a moderately successful pop star of the time, his most memorable song being 'Just Like Eddie' which reached number five in the UK Singles Chart in 1963.
Ritchie Blackmore - the guitarist in his backing group The Wild Ones later found huge success when he formed Deep Purple.
After the show, Lord Bath took the mic and thanked the crowd for behaving "extraordinarily well".
It was the following year when the next summer concert was staged at Longleat. Sunday 15th August 1965 saw novelty pop act Freddie and the Dreamers headlining alongside clean-cut Mancunians Herman's Hermits. Opening act on the day were Warminster's The Skylons.
The event went without a hitch, as described in a report in the 19th August edition of the Wiltshire Echo which read; 'Although the spectators didn't try anything spectacular, they were an appreciative audience.
'They realised that Freddie is an entertainer and they wanted to hear him sing melodious numbers. They enjoyed seeing him doing his zany antics - shaving with the microphone, leaping in the air and cackling inanely.
'Then after his act was over - all too quick it seemed to the youngsters out front - the crowd dispersed and the great stately home was quiet again.'
Adam Faith performing on Longleat House steps
Just three weeks later - on Sunday 5th September, the fifth and final outdoor pop concert to be held at Longleat in the sixties took place.
Australian folk-poppers The Seekers - famous for hits such as 'Georgy Girl' and 'I'll Never Find Another You' headlined on the day, and were joined by crooning heartthrob Adam Faith and his backing band The Roulettes.
Returnees from the previous Freddie and the Dreamers show was opening act The Skylons from Warminster.
Although it was a rainy and cold afternoon, this final pop concert was a resounding success with little or no problems from the slightly subdued, umbrella-sheltered crowd.
The 9th September edition of The Wiltshire Echo remarked on the mature reaction from the audience: 'They were listening. Something which is sadly lacking at most pop shows.
'At the end of each number the applause was generous, and one police officer could be seen to be clapping along.
'This must have been one of the quietest pop shows ever held at Longleat, but the teenage audience seemed well satisfied, even if a little damp.'
And there ended Longleat's string of mid-sixties summer pop concerts. Although a couple of similar events were held in the early seventies - one of which included the return of a newly-reformed Herman's Hermits - the estate became more commonly used for dog shows, horse trials, marathons and hill climbs.
But those six outdoor pop shows in the mid-sixties ensured Wiltshire was swinging along with the rest of the country.
Thanks to Longleat Archives for their help in researching this article.
last updated: 21/05/2009 at 16:36
Have Your Say
If you attended any of Longleat's pop concerts in the sixties, leave your comments below.
Karin Jackson formerly Guth )