Pop stars delighted fans of the Glasgow Empire in the early 1960s
Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, two influential figures in early rock ‘n’ roll, were currently touring British theaters. The following month, Bobby Darin, Duane Eddy, Clyde McPhatter and British singer Emile Ford would appear in British theaters. The Everly Brothers were due in April. Other US acts such as Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Ricky Nelson are said to be in the pipeline. Unfortunately, there was nothing to see of Elvis Presley, who was in the US Army at the time.
But otherwise everything was going well. “With drums rolling and guitars blaring,” proclaimed the Evening Times, “the American invaders are here!”
Lonnie Donegan and Skiffle had fascinated a large number of young people and inspired many of them to start their own skiffle groups. The advent of rock ‘n’ roll had a similarly electrifying effect. “And then, after the skiffle,” as Paul McCartney once remarked, “when rock ‘n’ roll came along and we heard Elvis, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino and Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, it was game up. That was it. All hell broke loose. We knew we had to do it for a career. And the rest is history, so to speak.”
CONTINUE READING: The famous Glasgow theater that has attracted countless legends
Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran’s concerts at the Glasgow Empire in February 1960 still illustrate the gulf between their frenzied young audience, who adored rock ‘n’ roll, and the suspicious and often hostile older generation. Youth culture evoked a significant amount of contempt and apathy. (When teen idol Cliff Richard was playing Empire in September 1959, the Evening Times was amused to discover that a 19-year-old female fan had squirmed, cried and “viciously” pulled her hair on the floor).
Cochran and Vincent both had solid track records. Minnesota’s Cochran had a string of chart hits – Summertime Blues, C’Mon Everybody, Somethin’ Else and Twenty Flight Rock. Vincent, an unpredictable rockabilly loner from Norfolk, Virginia, had landed a hit in 1956 with Be-Bop-A-Lula (an “anthem of incoherent lust,” as music historian Peter Doggett later put it).
Both artists were very well received by their Glasgow fans, less so by newspaper critics. “The Vincent act was a series of pointless gimmicks,” complained Gerry Kilgallon of the Evening Times. “Leather jacket and trousers, the crouch, taking off your right shoe on the first number and leaving it off for the rest of the performance… Cochran showed himself to be a fine guitarist, but vocally he couldn’t keep up with four amplified guitars”.
Regarding Vincent’s stage outfit and Cochran’s tight black leather trousers, the newspaper’s critic wrote: “Mr. Cochran and Mr. Vincent jerk, twitch and pull themselves out of themselves so much that one begins to fear for them”. Cochran also chose “the unusual expedient of being spotted with his back to the audience and leaving it there for the first part of his performance.”
It was reported that Vincent and Cochran were taken with Scotland and bought tartan to take back to the States. Cochran told the Evening Times that while Scottish audiences are “not quite as wild as they are back home”, they are very enthusiastic, “and I really appreciate it”.
Although the tour drew disparaging reviews, it was seen as a milestone in the development of British rock music. It ended tragically on April 17, however, when Cochran died and Vincent was injured in a road accident outside of Chippenham, Wiltshire, as they were driving to London to fly to the US. Cochran was just 21 years old.
Within two months Vincent was back in Britain, part of a package tour that was partly a homage to Cochran. At his shows at the Empire in early June, he prevailed with Billy Fury, Lance Fortune and Keith Kelly.
However, a Friday night show was suspended after ashtrays and whiskey bottles were thrown onto the stage. Police and servants cleared the theater and hundreds of fans protested outside, angry at being denied a chance to hear Vincent. One of the performers suggested that the men throwing the rockets were jealous of the girls yelling at the male singers. Several men later appeared in court.
An angry Glasgow court usher, who witnessed the riots with his own eyes, was alarmed by the “inflammatory” nature of the show and the “writhing and squirming” of some fans. The city’s magistrates wrote to the Empire’s administration asking for their cooperation in avoiding a repeat and asking the Chief Constable to keep an eye on such shows.
It had been a characteristically busy period for the old Empire as it continued to host its usual wide range of acts, from March’s Bobby Darin shows to singer Robert Wilson, the Joe Gordon Folk Four, Cliff Richard and the colorful American entertainer , Freedom. Stars like Eartha Kitt and Andy Stewart attended in 1961 (not to mention King Kong (“South Africa’s dynamic stage musical!”).
But the sun had set on the Empire. The arrival of ITV in central Scotland in 1957 had had a damaging effect. “Desperate times, desperate measures,” the Herald’s entertainment editor Andrew Young recalled in 1989. “Skiffle groups, everything, were pushed onto the stage. It may have attracted some young fans, but it drove away the regular family audience.
Later, other venues in Glasgow, such as St Andrew’s Halls and Green’s Playhouse, held concerts; and what was worse, the variety shows that had once been the staple of the Empire were now featured on numerous television programs on Saturday nights. The writing was on the wall.
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In March 1963 it was announced that the very last show of The Empire would be on the 31st of the month. It would take the form of a tribute, directed by the Scottish section of the Federation of Theater Unions and produced by comedian Johnny Beattie, vice-president of Scottish Equity, and Rikki Fulton.
Stars included a young Albert Finney (he was then playing with the Citizens), Jack Radcliffe, Andy Stewart and Dave Willis, Fay Lenore, the clown Charlie Cairoli, Iain Cuthbertson, the Alexander Brothers and more. “We hope that the impact of the closure of the Empire will be such a shock to Glasgow that the same cannot happen in the city’s theatres,” said Scottish Equity.
Stars like Jessie Matthews and members of the public contributed their memories of the old place in newspapers, reminiscing about the great nights and the acts they saw. Her memories go back to just before the First World War.
On that Sunday evening, March 31st, many tears flowed. Christopher Small, our Distinguished Theater Critic, was present and wrote: ‘The last rites … produced an extraordinary and lavish variety of talent; the house was crowded from floor to roof; after the sinking, at least the sinking was a brilliant, at times almost joyful occasion. Of course, melancholy was never completely banned…”
dr Henry Farmer, who was once the theatre’s music director, said old people would often shake his hand and talk about the days of the old Empire. “To see an audience of 2,000 — twice every night — rocking out with laughter and seeing their faces light up with joy at any merriment,” he wrote, “made life worth living for me.”
https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/23390908.pop-stars-thrilled-glasgow-empire-fans-early-1960s/?ref=rss Pop stars delighted fans of the Glasgow Empire in the early 1960s