In 1964 Sean Connery came to Wigan via Russia and with love. The Beatles also came but more about them later.Wigan’s own Beatles were the similarly named The Beat Boys or as the adverts often proclaimed ‘The Fabulous Beat Boys’.They were – by all accounts fabulous.As wereThe Long andThe Short.There were hundreds of others that weren’t so fabulous but it meant that Wigan and the rest of the North of England was awash with beat bands. During that first month in 1964 Wigan was host to bands such as The Toledo Four, The Autocrats, The Astrals (Direct from the Twisted Wheel) and The Incas.The Empress Ballroom – better known as The Emp and later Wigan Casino – and the adjoining Palais de Danse became home to the new beat craze as the skiffle and jazz bands were confined to history.
For the first time in history working class lads saw music as a way out of the mills and pits and fame, fortune and girls awaited them. Even if that fame was only on stage at the local youth club with a tea chest bass it probably got them the girl. As such there was an explosion of bands. The New Court Ballroom tried to hang onto its ballroom roots but it was not long before they were holding regular Sunday ‘beat nights’. By 1964 you could see any number of bands on any night of the week at a host of venues. Clubland was catered for by (amongst others) the LasVegas club in King StreetWest hosted by Jimmy Collins. And you could have supped your continental beer and ‘bought a short for your lady’ after going to see the first big night of the year as Billy J Kramer, Gene Pitney, Cilla Black and The Kinks arrived at the Ritz at the beginning of March 1964. There were two shows at 6.20 and 8.35pm. If however the thought of listening to Cilla wail away was too much Herman & The Hermits were regular visitors to the town. Screaming Lord Sutch would bring his Savages who at this time may or may not have included Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore who were both members at some stage to the town at regular intervals.
There were beat concerts at the various rugby clubs,The Sportsman in Pemberton and The Crawford Rooms where the Reverend Black & The Rocking Vicars regularly shook the place to its foundations. By April the New Court Ballroom had edged the prancing ballroom boys and girls to one side and Saturday night was now ‘BIG BEAT + RHYTHM & BLUES NIGHT’ with The Merseybeats being one of the earlier bands to play that night. The teenagers from Scholes were catered for by the newly opened THE MASK ‘TEENAGE BEAT COFFEE BAR’ CLUB and Jimmy Collins’ Las Vegas Club soon introduced their own ‘Beat Club’. A ‘BIG BEAT 64’ featuring Gene Vincent (who would subsequently pull out) and Shane Fenton and The Fentones (later known as Alvin Stardust) was organised for The Palace at Hindley.
In September 1964 a club was to open that became notorious in the history of Wigan’s nightlife. Located in the Central Chambers of Market Street and known as THE ROOM AT THE TOP. It would last for three or so years but was blighted by drug problems and is a tale for another day. Five days after the Room at the Top opened on the 16th September the Rolling Stones were back in town at the Ritz.With two shows again at 6.20 and 8.35pm and tickets priced at 12/6d, 10/- and 7/6 in old money the shows would sell out as the Stones put on a rocking performance. Whether any of the Wigan public “locked up their daughters” I’m not sure.
A month or so later (13th October 1964) most of those daughters were scampering to get tickets to seeThe Beatles who were at the Ritz.Again it was the customary 6.20 and 8.35pm shows but tickets were now priced at 15/-, 12/6d, 10/- and 7/6. It was loud with people screaming and I’m sure nobody heard the Beatles play their recent hits including ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. If you couldn’t get a ticket and wanted to actually hear the music Cliff Richard and The Shadows were at the Ritz at the end of October. Personally I’d have settled for the screaming!
By November another seminal Wigan club had opened. This time just outside of Wigan in Scholes. The club was BLUESVILLE and had the Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated as early guests.The club had an air of menace about it, a Modernist clientele and on 5th December 1964 held the first all- night session in Wigan. Running from 7.30pm to 6.00am a number of bands including The Victor Bronx Blues Train and The Anzaks entertained the crowd. Two weeks later on 19th December another all-nighter featured the legendary Jimmy Whitherspoon. Wigan was buzzing and the following year, 1965, it simply went mental. More bands emerged.The Stones came back this time with The Moody Blues and the Spencer Davis Group in tow. Manfred Mann was about and even Cilla returned this time second on the bill to the legendary Everly Brothers. More clubs opened including THE PINK ELEPHANT CLUB (in Aspull of all places) and THE PARADISE CLUB (in Scholes). Oh and after extensive renovation the Empress and Palais Ballrooms reopened as the CASINO CLUB.
The beat boom went bust but rock kept a hold in Wigan with as the hippie ideals floundered and earnest young men and women rocked out at FAG nights at the Swan & Railway and Swinley Labour Club and anywhere else that would have them.Then something very bizarre happened.
To be continued…