Now I’ve Got a Witness – remembering The Rolling Stones’ 1960s roots with Richard Houghton

Stage Presence: The Rolling Stones giving it their all at Warrington Parr Hall in late November, 1963 (Photo: Martin Culleton)

Stage Presence: The Rolling Stones giving it their all at Warrington Parr Hall in late November, 1963 (Photo: Martin Culleton)

I’m not sure how old newly-published author Richard Houghton thought I was when we first spoke, but he was hoping I might fill him in with my memories of seeing The Rolling Stones at the Wooden Bridge in Guildford in March 1963.

As it was, I wasn’t set to make my world debut for another four and a half years after those particular appearances (I believe two more followed). In fact, I was only six weeks old when they released their overtly-psychedelic sixth album Their Satanic Majesties Request (one of my favourites in parts, although there may just be the odd hint of special sweetie intake during the recording process). And by the time of their fabled free concert in London’s Hyde Park in July 1969 – following inspirational guitarist Brian Jones’ death – I was barely 20 months old.

The confusion was down to me mentioning how I was always intrigued by the thought of the Stones at one of my past lunchtime watering holes, having worked nearby. I was talking about the late ’80s and early ’90s though. I soon put him right anyway, Richard responding: “Ah – the idea they were playing there of a lunchtime was a bit puzzling, quite apart from the fact it would make you at least as old as Mick.” There are days when – with apologies for going down the Maroon 5 route – I’ve been known to move like Jagger, and age catches up with us all eventually, but please.

As it turns out, Richard also missed out on seeing the Stones in the ’60s, despite catching them many times since (20 times, I understand). But he’s given us a valuable portrait of those halcyon days in You Had To Be There! The Rolling Stones Live 1962-69, a new book reliving those early days. He mentions within how he hopes he gives the reader a flavour of what it was like to be ‘there’. And it certainly does. He never set out to write a definite account of this seminal group’s first decade, but that doesn’t diminish or undervalue the sense of history recounted and set down here.

As Richard stresses, some accounts contradict each other, some are clearly embellished by the contributor, and the band themselves were somewhat complicit in helping blur the lines in the first place. But what we get is an often raw portrait of how it all was back then. Many of those responding suggest the PA was poor in the rare circumstances when you could hear the music above the screaming girls, yet you get the feeling that this really was a scene to experience first-hand. And while most of us never were there, this publication allows us to at least experience a sense of the spirit of the times.

I can’t go without a little criticism, and while I admire the fact that Richard has given his contributors free rein with their memories, I’d have taken the hatchet to a few accounts. Several go round in circles, more or less saying the same thing twice. But that’s a minor quibble for something that proves to be a valuable addition to the Rolling Stones literary canon, not least in the way it illustrates the band’s meteoric rise and swift progression alongside subtle shifts within the ranks as we go along.

The idea of catching the Stones in a huge stadium in later years never really appealed to me, but what I’d have given to see them in my hometown, in the capital or even The Ricky Ticky Club at the Star and Garter in Windsor in that first year, or in fact any number of shows mentioned here from those first seven years.

Many of the accounts jump off the page, and while there are far too many to name-check, I’ll at least give you a flavour of that first year, Richard starting with recollections of the band’s residency at Ken Colyer’s Jazz Club at Studio 51 in London’s West End in November, 1962, four months after the first Stones performance and around a dozen shows into what would prove such a mammoth rock’n’roll career. On one such night Brian Robinson, then 17 (and I’ll stick to the ‘then’ ages here), was clearly impressed by his namesake Mr Jones’ slide guitar skills and a chat with the man himself after their set, while Andrew Crisp recalls how his harmonica skills improved after a few tips from a certain Mick Jagger at the same venue.

We then have members of The Presidents talking about gigs on the same bill at Sutton’s Red Lion that same month, and while Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts weren’t yet on board, they were by mid-January ’63 for the first Ealing Club shows, where Trevor Baverstock remembers lots of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley covers. Furthermore, Trevor still appears to be quietly fuming, having given up his place in the drinks queue one night to Keith Richards, only to be blanked for his kindness.

Early Date: A flyer from the Wooden Bridge at Guildford from 1963 (Photo: http://www.guildford-dragon.com/)

Early Date: A flyer from the Wooden Bridge, Guildford, for two more dates in 1963 (Photo: http://www.guildford-dragon.com/)

Adele Tinman, 16, was always impressed from her Studio 51 nights out at how Mick would always acknowledge the original artists they covered, encouraging her to go out and find those records herself. And then we have Stuart Farrow, 24, part of that Wooden Bridge audience at Guildford, telling us, ‘You had your good looking Billy Furys and people like that, but they were a scruffy group and a lot of people didn’t bother. I remember standing around, jigging around to the music. It wasn’t tremendously busy but the music was very loud.’ What’s more, Stuart recalls snippets of conversation with Brian between numbers, about where they were next and what he was playing.

On we go via shows at Eel Pie Island, Twickenham, more at Ealing Club and then the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, with a couple of mentions of ‘sixth Stone’ Ian Stewart’s live contributions. And I empathise with Tony Donaldson, 20, when he says, ‘You went to dance as well. Unfortunately for spectators, once they started doing ‘proper’ concerts this exciting aspect of seeing live bands was lost’.

Jackie Hankins, 24, was at Eel Pie Island, saying how ‘They looked like they’d just got out of bed. They didn’t look like they’d washed for a month’, while Robin Mayhew, who saw them at the Red Lion in Sutton and the Ricky Tick Club in Windsor, reminisces about the early days and how he knew ‘Stu’ back in Scotland. And then we have the afore-mentioned Trevor Baverstock remembering an overheard bit of needle that summer of ’63 from Mick about Brian at London’s Scene Club, seemingly jealous of the attention given by the early punters to his band-mate.

At Middlesbrough’s Outlook Club – on a double-bill with The Hollies – Mike Gutteridge compliments Mick on his footwear and is told, ‘Yeah, man, these are Chelsea boots’. At Dunstable’s California Ballroom, David Arnold, 17, remembers chatting to ‘an affable Brian’ at the interval, while at Banbury Winter Gardens, Trevor Nevett, 22, reckons unimpressed owner Ethel Usher sent the band off to get haircuts before she let them on, while Ken Pratt, 15, tells how he went backstage and all the band managed to cadge one of his Senior Service ciggies off him. What’s more, Joe Freeman, 16, said the band ended with Shake, Rattle and Roll, Mick’s stage presence inspiring the audience into a chorus of ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’. Yep, different times.

Gay Jinks, was impressed at Northwich Memorial Hall by her conversation with Stones boss Andrew Loog Oldham, who went on to get her a signed photo, while back at the Ricky Tick at Windsor, Martin Osborn, 18 – who turns up again four days later at the Il Rondo Ballroom, Leicester – recalls a chat with Bill about the band’s new gear, courtesy of their deal with Decca. And then there’s Christine Murphy, 15, cycling into Manchester after school, getting changed at Kendals department store, meeting a friend and getting her autograph book signed by Mick, Keith and Brian before the Oasis Club gig.

Having been at the first gig outside England – Prestatyn Royal Lido – Trefor Jones regrets losing his autographs following his divorce, while – skipping forward to October – Susan McLaren, 13, recalls Brian throwing a photo out of a window at the Streatham Astoria, later that night signed by Keith. She did however have to eventually chuck the apple core Brian also threw out. She kept it in a tin in her shed until her Dad discovered it, complete with maggots.

At the Watford Gaumont, 22-year-old Diana Whitney’s mother-in-law’s neighbour Queenie (are you following this?) didn’t let the boys back in after they popped out of a rehearsal, as they were a ‘scruffy bunch’. Apparently, the manager was later phoned to let them in. And later that month a young diner at a Wimpy Bar in Poole obviously agreed, telling Margaret Gray, 17, ‘they are scruffy long-haired oiks and they will never last’. It didn’t deter her though – she was soon screaming ‘Keith!’ at the Bournemouth Gaumont.

Rolling+Stones+The+Rolling+Stones+-+Alta+Fide+52981Elsewhere, Peter Wood, 28, recalls the trip home from the Salisbury Gaumont in his mate Len’s A35 van, not least a sudden stop when they reached their destination, leading to an exchange with the guy behind the wheel behind them, a squeal of brakes followed by frantic reversing and quick acceleration, the irate driver – a certain bloke with the surname Jagger – stopping long enough to ask, ‘What f***ing clown is driving this f***ing van?’ before roaring off.

And before I roar on, I’ll mention Ray Hulme, 16, and how he reckoned he couldn’t understand Mick and Brian when they pulled up outside Crewe Town Hall on November 10th, 1963, but along with his mates helped them unload their gear, taking it upstairs to the venue. He also adds, ‘I’d never seen long hair like it’.

But that’s just a snapshot of this hugely-entertaining 288-page read. Instead, let’s get back to my chat with Richard. And then you can stop reading over my shoulder and work out how to get a copy of your own.

Richard, 55, works for a housing association in Chorley by day, writing in his spare time while based with his partner in Manchester. And while he admits his latest project has ‘taken up a fair chunk’ of his life, he reckons it‘s ‘a labour of love’.

As with many books covering 1960s’ pop culture, there are plenty of Beatles vs Stones comparisons from the contributors. So it’s worth noting here that the Fab Four were the first band Richard saw – albeit as a four-year-old.

Richard, whose 19-year-old son Bill has inherited his love of the Stones, said: “They played a string of shows at Hammersmith Odeon over Christmas 1964.  My recollection was going to see Santa Claus in a department store that afternoon and unwrapping the present he gave me when we got to the gig that evening.

“It was a set of wooden skittles and balls. I managed to drop one of the balls, which rolled away to the front of the theatre, never to be seen again. But my mother says we went to one of the early January shows, so I can’t in all honesty say they made a big impression.”

He certainly remembers his first taste of the Stones though, performing 1971’s Sticky Fingers’ lead single Brown Sugar on Top of the Pops.

“Mick was wearing a pink satin suit and a baseball cap, doing the moves he’s still famous for. I think that was a turning point – at the age of 11, he was as charismatic as Marc Bolan, Noddy Holder or the other pop stars I was aware of.”

Rolled_Gold_-_The_Very_Best_of_the_Rolling_Stones_(album_cover)It was Decca’s 1975 Rolled Gold greatest hits double LP that really got Richard hooked though.

“Growing up in a small town in Northamptonshire, my friends were more into Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes. I was ‘the only Stones fan in the village’. They were viewed as being past their best and weren’t a singles band anymore so weren’t in the headlines, at least not for their music.”

As it was, Richard didn’t see his idols live until an open-air one at Feyenoord’s stadium in Rotterdam in 1982, alongside ‘40,000 rabid Dutch fans’.

“UK shows were rumoured but the European dates were announced first and I bought a coach package. I didn’t want to miss out. This was in the pre-internet and social media days, when the only source of information was the music weeklies.”

By then, the Stones were two decades into their stellar career, but now Richard has recreated something of the feeling of seeing the band in those early days, having collected eyewitness accounts from 500 fans who were ‘there’, the reader taken on a journey from the first London gigs in 1962 through to Hyde Park in 1969.

That includes plenty of revealing Lancashire anecdotes, and Richard – who devised his epic tome with the help of Cambridge-based husband and wife team Trevor and Julie Bounford, of GottaHaveBooks – certainly gives a flavour of the ‘60s Stones experience.

“I used to work with Julie, and Trevor said he liked the book so much he was prepared to set up his own publishing company to publish the book when discussions with another publisher appeared to be going nowhere.

“Trevor’s a graphic designer by trade and has worked on a variety of projects over the years, including designing other books about the Stones.  While this is the first book they have published they have ambitious plans.

“It’s really exciting to be associated with a start-up company that had the faith to invest in my book and I’m really pleased with the way the book has turned out. Feedback has been really positive.”

Can he pick out a favourite anecdote or early gig he wished he saw?

“I’d have loved to have been at one of the gigs at the Red Lion in Sutton, Surrey, when they were struggling to attract more than a dozen people. Imagine seeing the Stones playing in the back room of a pub and being able to go up and ask Mick to play a Chuck Berry song!”

Richard must have despaired at what he’d taken on at times though. As he mentions, they played more than 750 times between 1963 and 1966 alone, and memories do get hazy.

Rolling Richard: The author, Richard Houghton, with his Stones bookshelf

Rolling Richard: The author, Richard Houghton, with his Stones bookshelf

“I had to do a lot of triangulation of facts, as people remembered seeing them at Venue A with support band B on such and such a date. Sometimes the books suggest they never played that venue on that date or appeared with a different support.

“But I tried not to rewrite memories. I didn’t want to lose the spirit of what people told me.  I wanted it to be in their words as much as possible.

“There were two memories I didn’t include because I couldn’t authenticate them.  One was a lady from Hereford who claimed to have seen the Stones in Hereford supported by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and by Olivia Newton John.  As far as I know, those three acts have never performed together on the same bill in Hereford or anywhere else.

“And there’s another story from a guy who says he saw the Stones play a show in Bangor in Northern Ireland in front of a tiny crowd.  I couldn’t find any reference to it in any books or on any websites but the timescale fitted in with when they visited Northern Ireland in 1964.  In the end I contacted the Stones manager from the ’60s, Andrew Loog Oldham, to see if he could verify the story.  Andrew said they didn’t play there so without someone else to substantiate the facts I sadly had to leave out what was a very plausible story.”

Is ‘truth stranger than fiction’ in some cases?

“Absolutely. Some of the early encounters people relate are fascinating. Essentially, the Stones started out as a pub band playing music very few people wanted to hear, so audiences were often no more than a handful of enthusiasts.

“The band would just step off the stage and wander to the bar during the interval, and there are some great anecdotes – with Mick showing someone how to play the harmonica or Keith teaching someone a chord on his guitar.

“Once the vibe about how great a live act they were started to spread, and when they’d had a hit with Not Fade Away, things started to take off very quickly.”

Bill Wyman’s autobiography, A Stone Alone, proved a good reference point, a combination of the band’s original bassist’s diaries and research by journalist Ray Coleman using press reports of the time. But Richard’s favourite was Roy Carr’s Illustrated Record’, listing all the gigs and adding ‘great images’.

“I knew Roy was a former NME journalist. What I didn’t know was he was from Blackpool and his band was one of the Winter Gardens support acts on the night of the infamous Empress Ballroom riot (with that 1964 date covered in great detail within).

“Plus, Bill’s book is not infallible.  The Stones played a show in Sunderland at the town’s Odeon Theatre.  Bill lists it as the Rank Theatre when it was never known by that name.  The discrepancy came to light when a journalist on the local paper in Sunderland queried it with me.  So although it’s a bit ‘trainspottery’ I’ve played a very, very small part in ensuring the history of the Rolling Stones is accurately recorded.”

Young One: Richard Houghton, around the age he saw The Beatles

Young One: Richard Houghton, around the age he saw The Beatles

So much has gone into print about the band, but Richard clearly envisaged a gap in the market.

“I did. I’m a bit of a collector of books about the Stones, at the last count having more than 200. But as far as I know there’s never been a book trying to tell the early history in the words of the fans.

“I didn’t want to tell the story by rehashing old interviews, doing cut and paste jobs from books already out there. I wanted something I could step back from and say, ‘I’ve added a different perspective, and wanted people’s stories heard while they’re still around to tell them.

“I couldn’t have written this without the help of local newspapers, primarily as older people whose stories I wanted to collect are still avid readers of print media and won’t necessarily respond to internet appeals.

“Newspapers have been an invaluable resource. I particularly wanted to hear stories that perhaps hadn’t been told before outside of friends and family. And I had so many letters and emails which began, ‘I saw your letter in the paper and it brought the memories flooding back.’”

As hinted at before, it’s the earlier accounts really resonate – from fans who chanced upon the band at those smaller venues, some of which are long gone.

“It would be great to have a time machine and see them play I’m A King Bee or Walking The Dog. But hopefully this captures what it was like and inspires people to go out and listen to the early albums again or discover them for the first time.”

You make a good point about how so many of these concert halls, clubs and pubs mentioned are now either gone or going.

“Many venues they played are still standing but lots have gone, replaced by car parks or supermarkets. Others are in intensive care, awaiting a major injection of funds to restore them or a planning decision as to whether to demolish them.

“We don’t seem that interested in preserving our civic and musical heritage or recognising that without places to play there won’t be the opportunities for another Stones or Beatles to play live in a different town every night and break through to a wider audience.

“It’s a dispiriting thought to think we’ll have to rely on The X-Factor to break a new group.”

Points Made: The Stones in the '60s. From the left - Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Brian Jones

Points Made: The Stones in the ’60s. From the left – Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Brian Jones

There’s certainly a strong sense of nostalgia and even sadness in various anecdotes, not least those regarding Brian Jones or earlier ‘sixth’ member Ian ‘Stu’ Stewart.

“I tried to keep the commentary from myself to a minimum. I wanted the fans and others associated with the group to speak for themselves.

“Stu was an old friend of one contributor, and his role in getting the group work in the early days is reflected. Before (Stones manager) Andrew Loog Oldham came along he was their pianist, road manager and booking agent.

“He had an office job and ready access to a phone when Mick, Keith and Brian were slumming it in a flat in Chelsea, living off money they could get from taking empty beer bottles back to the off-licence.

“Brian’s role in founding the group and subsequent demise has been much documented. I think what’s really sad is that the tensions between Brian and Mick in particular seem to have been evident from very early on.

“People were aware that Brian was troubled but were unable to do anything about it. But I’m a firm believer that his life was back on track once he left and that he was murdered at Cotchford Farm. His death wasn’t an accident. Perhaps the truth will come out one day.”

I’m guessing this is a project that never really ends. Have you already had fresh responses?

“I’ve had quite a few more stories. It turns out my brother-in-law saw them at Eel Pie Island in 1963 and was miffed I hadn’t asked him! If I have enough new material I’d love to do a second book.

“I’ve only just come off the phone from a guy who went backstage to meet them when they played Exeter. He had a great story about Mick signing something while hanging upside down, telling him the autograph would be worth more as a result!”

Is that right you’re contemplating a Beatles book along the same lines?

“A lot of people who responded wanted to tell me about seeing or meeting The Beatles too, so it’s started to write itself.

“I’ve a great story about them staying in a small hotel in Wiltshire while filming scenes for Help on Salisbury Plain, marching through the lobby in a line to get to their rooms. Even at the height of their fame they didn’t have the tons of security modern bands seem to surround themselves with.

“I think it’s a sign of just how much affection there is for both groups that so many people want to tell their stories. And people with teenage memories to share are great story-tellers. Sometimes they’re just looking for an audience, and hopefully I can help them find one.”

5181I3hOY-L._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_For the writewyattuk interview with Stones legend Bill Wyman from October 2013, head here.

You Had To Be There! The Rolling Stones Live 1962-69 By Richard Houghton (GottaHaveBooks) is available from various independent retailers, including – on my patch – Chorley’s Ebb & Flo bookshop and Malcolm’s Musicland, or online via www.gottahavebooks.co.uk and Amazon.

And anyone with Rolling Stones memories stoked by Richard’s project can email him via stonesinthe60s@gmail.com or write to 7 Hartley Road, Manchester, M21 9NG.

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About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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4 Responses to Now I’ve Got a Witness – remembering The Rolling Stones’ 1960s roots with Richard Houghton

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