Fifty years ago today, the Rolling Stones played a gig that ended in a riot at The Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, Lancashire, UK. What’s the big deal? It’s rock ‘n roll! But keep in mind, this was during an era when rock ‘n roll was still very risqué, and the Rolling Stones were being arrested for things like urinating in public (shocking!) and the whole “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone” campaign (courtesy of band manager Andrew Loog Oldham) was happening at this time.
On top of the bad boy rocker image, Blackpool had its own stigma. As the UK’s most popular (and lavishly tacky) seaside resort, it’s only fitting that The Empress Ballroom would be replete with chandeliers, grand pianos, and other opulent furnishings befitting an old theater. Although rock shows had been staged there previously, the theater was not ready for the Stones, and neither was the audience. They were rocking out, gyrating, jumping, and jigging. Well, at least some of them were. One man in particular, who had his hands on the stage, was instructing others to aim their spit at guitarist Brian Jones. While in today’s punk scene, this might fly, however in ‘64, it was highly insulting and Keith Richards was not about to stand for it. He told the man to stop, who of course did not, so Richards stood on his hands and promptly kicked him in the face. Several times. So naturally, a riot ensued.
Everything was destroyed. The piano was smashed (and it was a Steinway!), the crystal chandeliers were smashed (don’t ask how), chairs, just everything was wrecked. Of the 7,000 audience members, 30 were injured, in addition to 2 police officers, and the cost of the damage was estimated between£4,000 and £10,000. The town council fathers were so upset by the riot that they place an indefinite ban on the Stones ever performing in Blackpool again. In 2008, however, nearly half a century later, the Blackpool town council has lifted the ban. Council leader Peter Callow explained:
“From what I hear, some sections of the crowd were outraged at the performance – they found it suggestive. Nowadays it would probably seem very normal, but back then the Rolling Stones were very new to the scene and it wasn’t something the fans were used to. A lot of people got very wound up. The crowd were hysterical and they went wild and trashed our world famous ballroom.
“As you’d imagine, the council and the people who ran the venue at the time weren’t very happy about it all and banned the band from returning to the resort. But I think it’s now time for reconciliation. It’s time to bury the hatchet and extend the hand of friendship. I want to say: ‘Come back, Mick. All is forgiven.'” The band made no comment in response to the lifting of the band, and have yet to return to Blackpool. Only time will tell if the Stones will ever play there again.