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4. The Rock'n'Roll Years
History of The Mayflower
Chapter 4: The Rock'n'Roll Years
As part of what became the Rank Organisation, the Gaumont was fortunate to be included in a ready-made touring circuit for the new breed of pop artists who wanted to appear in concert halls and theatres rather than dance halls and clubs, now that it was possible to produce a big amplified sound from a small group. The first were Bill Haley And The Comets of Rock Around The Clock fame on 23 February 1957. Their three performances in one night were instant sellouts with fans queuing through the night to get tickets despite five degrees of frost.
A young Jimmy Young was joined by Chas McDevitt's skiffle group in July 1957 for two weeks.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets, later to be the subject of one of the most successful musicals to visit The Mayflower, appeared on 3 March 1958. Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry were three more of the many American acts to wow Southampton audiences. Even so, cinema was still the main source of income and Rank watched in despair as one after another picture house closed around the city and the country. By the end of 1961, Rank were investigating converting the Gaumont to either a dance hall or a ten-pin bowling alley, then all the rage.
In April 1962 the succession of managers of the last decade - H. J. Excell, Jimmy Abell, Charles Jolliffe, Robert Lucas and Graham Jelly - gave way to a period of stability. Appointed in April 1962, Kenneth Watts was to remain manager until the Gaumont closed nearly 23 years later.
Ken oversaw a further expansion in the amount of live activity on stage and was present during the years when British pop music conquered the world. It was a golden era for pop music at The Gaumont.
The Beatles first appeared on 20 May 1963. By then they had had three hits - Love Me Do, Please Please Me and their first number one From Me To You. They began the tour supporting Roy Orbison but ended it at the top of the bill.
They had achieved another number one She Loves You in the summer and I Want To Hold Your Hand was the current number one, when The Fab Four returned here in triumph on 13 December of the same year to perform the last concert of their autumn tour.
The Beatles' final visit to the Gaumont was on 6 November 1964 when they performed two concerts. They were supported by US soul singer Mary Wells. Since their previous visit, they had topped the charts twice more with Can't Buy Me Love and A Hard Day's Night (the title song from their first film).
Paul McCartney returned with Wings on 9 September to open their 1975 tour and on 1 December 1979. It is believed George Harrison performed at an Eric Clapton concert also featuring Elton John on 1 December 1978.
The Rolling Stones visited the Gaumont four years running during the Sixties. On the first occasion, 29 September 1963, they were the support act for Bo Diddley and The Everly Brothers. The following year they had had their first number one It's All Over Now and returned on 4 October 1964 at the top of the bill. Three more number ones - Little Red Rooster, The Last Time and Satisfaction (which also topped the US charts) - had established them as second only to The Beatles in popularity by the time of their next visit on 25 September 1965. Another year and several more hits on, including the chart toppers Get Off My Cloud and Paint It Black, the Stones returned for their last visit on 9 October 1966 topping a bill that also featured Ike and Tina Turner and The Yardbirds.
Almost every hit band and singer of the sixties and seventies appeared on the Gaumont stage. Roy Orbison and Freddie and the Dreamers were joined by The Searchers and Brian Poole and The Tremeloes on 16 September 1963 and by Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders on 21 April 1964. Gerry and the Pacemakers topped a bill that included Cilla Black, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, The Bachelors and Del Shannon on 5 October 1963. The Who and the Spencer Davis Group could be seen on 14 April 1966. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cat Stevens and the Walker Brothers shared the same bill on 12 April 1967, performing as was often the case at 6.15 and 8.30.
As the sixties gave way to the seventies, the packed bills of short sets gave way to concerts in which one singer or band played the whole show, perhaps with one supporting act and often accompanied by a major theatrical production. The masters of this were Queen who appeared on 14 November 1974, 24 November 1975 hot on the heels of their new hit Bohemian Rhapsody, and finally on 26 and 27 May 1977.
The Beach Boys (23 November 1970), Led Zeppelin (21 January 1973), Genesis (16 April 1975, 20 January 1977 and 10 April 1980), Status Quo (16 November 1977 and 21 June 1979), Roxy Music (20 December 1976) and many more came in the seventies. The wave of big names continued in the eighties with Duran Duran (1 July 1981), Ultravox (29 and 30 May 1984), Thin Lizzie and the heavy metal of Black Sabbath featuring Ozzie Osbourne (1 May and 25 June 1980) and Iron Maiden (7 May 1983 and 5 October 1984) to name but a few of the many concert dates.
From Cliff Richard to Culture Club, The Police to Madness, Rod Stewart to Elton John, the Beach Boys to Simple Minds, the list seems endless. Unfortunately it didn't last and by the end of the eighties, the top names were moving from theatres to the new large concert halls and arenas.