Empress Ballroom, Blackpool Page 2

Still, the eager punters pay their ten shillings and pack into the Empress to partake of what The Stones will refer to on the news the next day as, 'the most sickening night of our lives'.

People Gasping
This is quite some statement considering what usually happened at such events. 'We'd walk into some of these places and it was like they had the battle of the Crimea going on,' Keith Richards remembers. 'People gasping, t**s hanging out, chicks choking, nurses running round with ambulances. You know that weird sound that chicks make when they're really letting it go? They don't hear the music. And we couldn't hear ourselves for years!'

Such are the familiar scenes accompanying '60s pop idolatry. But Blackpool is really something else again. It's hard to fathom where the aggro starts but some time not long after the gig kicks off, a bunch of guys down the front begin spitting at the band, especially, it seems, at Brian Jones whose girlfriend, Linda Lawrence had given birth to Brian's son, Julian, just the night before.

Keith clocks all the gobbing and reckons this geezer right in front of him is the ringleader. Keith has a word. Or two. An interchange occurs. It involves the f-word. Repeatedly. The geezer spits at Keith. Keith stomps on his hand. Then kicks him in the face. Cue pandemonium.

Here's Keith's side of the story: '(It was) during Scots week (the annual holiday), when all the Scots come down and get really drunk and let it rip. A whole gang of 'em came to this ballroom and they didn't like us and they pushed their way to the front, right through the whole 7000 people, straight to the stage and started spitting at us. In those days I had a temper, and, “You spit on me!?” I kicked his face in!'

It's quite a battle. The Stones leg it off stage smartish. The cops call in reinforcements. With dogs. Pretty much all of the seats around the sides of the venue are torn out. The drum kit Charlie Watts borrowed from a local band is eventually delivered back to its tearful owner in splinters. And the pièce de résistance, a Steinway piano is heaved off the stage to crash onto the dance floor. Estimates of the damage will range from £4000 to £10,000: a lot of money in those days. Fifty people are carted to hospital, 30 of them seriously injured including two coppers.

Such is the furore that Ken Dodd, the buck-toothed guvnor of the Diddy men who sported an ace rat's nest hairdo, well pre-Robert Smith, is asked to extend his evening's show at the adjacent Opera House to ensure his giggling crowd doesn't get accidentally embroiled in the carnage next door.

Cue the ban which is only lifted, as we know, some 44 years later. And it's interesting to note that, only three weeks after The Stones are banished, The Beatles play Blackpool with The Kinks and The High Numbers (soon to be rechristened The Who) also in tow occasioning no untoward scenes beyond the usual fans' screaming, fainting and so on.


Nascent Ravers
Other stand-out Empress shows include the opening night of Queen's first major headlining tour. On the 1st of March 1974, the Ballroom hosted the inaugural live celebration of their latest album, Queen II. For £1.10 on the door, the Blackpool audience was also treated to sets by Marie Celeste and Bob Kerr's Whoopie Band.


Some 15 years after Queen graced the boards, The Stone Roses invaded the Empress, performing what some say was their most celebratory and legendary show ever on the 12th of August 1989. Four thousand nascent ravers rocked up to hear a classic set which included 'I Wanna Be Adored', 'Waterfall', 'She Bangs The Drums' and 'I Am The Resurrection', singer Ian Brown explaining: 'We wanted to play Blackpool to give people a day out. When you live in Manchester there's nowhere else to go; it's the local seaside resort.' The occasion was captured on a live film and bootleg album, still freely available on the Internet.


Into the mid-'90s and Sheffield band Pulp stopped by, entertaining fans on the 17th of December 1995 with a 15-song set that included hits from their UK No 1 album of that year, Different Class.


The Empress also served as the location for Under Blackpool Lights, the first official DVD issued by The White Stripes. Filmed in appropriately moody black and white on the 27th and 28th of January 2004 the footage captures 26 tracks of Jack and Meg White at the peak of their dramatic interaction.

Fab Covers
Released at the end of 2004, Under Blackpool Lights includes many fab cover versions including Screaming Lord Sutch's 'Jack The Ripper', Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' and Son House's 'Death Letter' alongside such original fan favourites as 'Hotel Yorba', 'Seven Nation Army' and 'The Big Three Killed My Baby'.

If life were like the movies, we'd be ending this article with The Stones' triumphant return to the Empress but sadly, as we speak, the RSVP remains in the post.