Remembering 55 years since The Rolling Stones rocked Stevenage

PUBLISHED: 07:02 01 April 2019

The Rolling Stones during their performance at Stevenage's Locarno Ballroom on April 1, 1964. Picture: Courtesy of Richard Houghton

The Rolling Stones during their performance at Stevenage's Locarno Ballroom on April 1, 1964. Picture: Courtesy of Richard Houghton

Archant

On April 1, 1964, a five-pice rock band, who would release their debut album just over two weeks later, played Stevenage’s Locarno Ballroom in front of an adoring crowd of screaming girls and dancing teenagers. That band was The Rolling Stones.

The Rolling Stones perform at Stevenage's Locarno Ballroom on April 1, 1964. Picture: Alan Ford, Our StevenageThe Rolling Stones perform at Stevenage's Locarno Ballroom on April 1, 1964. Picture: Alan Ford, Our Stevenage

55 years on from their Stevenage performance, the Stones are renowned as one of the biggest rock groups of all-time, with 29 studio albums, 13 live albums and 240 million in album sales, according to Forbes.

But what was it like to see Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts rock the Locarno back in ‘64?

Mary Abra, 15 at the time, recalls that she got closer than most than that.

“None of my friends wanted to see the Stones but I was determined, so went to the Mecca alone.

The Locarno Ballroom in Stevenage. Picture: ArchantThe Locarno Ballroom in Stevenage. Picture: Archant

“I remember there was a line of bouncers with their arms linked at the front of the dance floor surrounding the stage.

“I was right at the front and quite small, with the crowds pushing forward.

“The bouncers were worried that I would get squashed so let me and a few other girls go onto the stage and to the back for safety.

“However, when I got onto the stage I took the opportunity to sit next to Charlie Watts and his drum kit.

The Locarno Ballroom in Stevenage, which has since become a Mecca Bingo hall. Picture: ArchantThe Locarno Ballroom in Stevenage, which has since become a Mecca Bingo hall. Picture: Archant

“I was soon hauled off and taken to the back of the revolving stage.

“My idol at the time was Brian Jones, I loved his floppy hairstyle.

“I can’t remember how much I had to save up for the ticket, probably something like 17/6.”

Mary had another close encounter with the Stones 12 years later, when she served the band breakfast at The Blakemore Hotel in Little Wymondley ahead of their appearance at Knebworth.

The Rolling Stones:  Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Bill Whyman. Picture: ArchantThe Rolling Stones: Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Bill Whyman. Picture: Archant

When artists performed at the Locarno, they would usually start their performance on the ballroom’s revolving stage, but not the Stones.

“The Stones were the first band to sell out the Locarno, with more than 2,000 tickets,” recalled Colin Standring.

“They were also the first band I saw that ignored the ‘revolving stage’ procedure.

“The stage was built on a large revolving disk format, with a backdrop in the middle.

“When the support band finished, the stage would revolve with the band playing out, and the new band would come around already playing their first number.

“Not the Stones. The stage revolved around to reveal just the equipment.

“Jagger & Co. then walked on nonchalantly, picked up their instruments, tuned up at leisure, and started to play. In those conservative days, a sensation.”

Margaret Senior was also at the Locarno that night.

She wasn’t a fan of The Rolling Stones beforehand, but was quickly convinced they would soon have a number one single.

“The Rolling Stones were not everybody’s cup of tea in the early days nor mine, with the in-your-face heavy rock,” she said.

“But, after seeing them, I could see that they would be a serious contender for the top of the charts.”

She was right. Just over two months after appearing in Stevenage, the band topped the UK singles chart with It’s All Over Now.

Maragret continued: “The atmosphere at the Locarno was a brilliant dance hall with balconies all round it, where the boys eyed up the girls on the dance floor or line the edges of it – and we would eye up them.

“It was always mind blowing. The night they played it was deafening!”

While most had to pay for a ticket, Steve Edwards was lucky enough to get in for free – although he doesn’t remember much about the night.

“My dad got a ticket for me. I believe it was a Geo W King apprentices do, and the first gig I ever went to. I was 15 at the time, and had just left school. I cannot remember much about it now except them playing Not Fade Away.”

John Lacy was one of the lucky gig goers to get near the band, saying: “I was at the front opposite Mick Jagger at the start of the evening and remembered being pushed from behind into the bouncers’ backs and nearly getting crushed.

“A good night,” he joked.

Some weren’t even inside the Locarno, including a young Lisa Everett, but she still had a night memorable night

“I remember waiting round the back as I was not old enough to go in and we got their autographs. I wish I’d kept them. I had loads of groups, but they got lost along the way in life.”

The Locarno Ballroom – now Mecca Bingo in the town centre – would go on to host The Who on six different occasions, as well as being rocked by The Animals, The Kinks, Stevie Wonder, Chuck Berry, Cream and Electric Light Orchestra to name but a few.

However, the night the Stones played will always be a memorable one for those who were there, who are able to say they saying one of the world’s biggest rock bands before they were big.

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