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Barry Band: How the 60s rocked Blackpool’s show scene

Gerry and The Pacemakers
Gerry and The Pacemakers

Joe Brown’s recent Grand Theatre concert gave some fans a mental flashback to the very beginning of the Swinging Sixties in Blackpool.

Not that such a name had been thought of in the summer of 1960.

Marlene Deitrich and Harold Fielding in Blackpool, in 1955

Marlene Deitrich and Harold Fielding in Blackpool, in 1955

And not that there is anything remarkable about Joe’s long span of performing when Charles Aznavour and Frankie Valli are due to appear in Britain this year.

Charles will be 94 when he gives a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, on June 30.

Frankie will be 84 when he does a farewell tour with the Four Seasons in November.

But it’s Joe Brown who kicked off a fabulous decade of pop and rock in Blackpool by netting 30-plus performances at the old Queen’s Theatre in a 1960 mid-summer season of afternoon shows and Sunday concerts.

Billy Fury, Eddie Cochrane and Joe Brown.

Billy Fury, Eddie Cochrane and Joe Brown.

I’m giving Joe the credit because he was, at the time, the best known name on the bill of one of those ‘busload’ tours of promoter Larry Parnes.

Eight acts, some of them singing only two numbers (they only knew three!).

At the peak of the 1960s Parnes and other promoters had more than a dozen such tours doing one nighters across Britain.

Joe Brown soon had two chart entries to his credit – A Picture of You and It Only Takes a Minute – and was in four Larry Parnes tours that came to the Opera House from 1962 to 1964.

Later in ‘64, Joe starred in the summer season show at the South Pier with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Mike Preston, the Tornados, Lynne Perrie, Al Paige and Blackpool comedian Bobby Bennett.

It was the year an avalanche of rock acts hit the resort, as pop promoters realised there was a holiday audience for the groups that were filling the charts in the wake of the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers.

The 1964 concerts kicked off at the Queen’s on Easter Sunday, March 29, with a Brian Epstein bill headed by Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and including Gene Pitney and Cilla Black.

Epstein also presented an eight-day show at the North Pier in May, with Gerry and the Pacemakers topping a six-act bill while at the same time having a Whit Sunday concert at the ABC, starring Billy J Kramer and five other acts.

Summer Sundays at the Queen’s saw concerts topped by Billy J Kramer (3), Gerry and the Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Searchers, the Swinging Blue Jeans and the Kinks.

After years of so-so Sunday entertainment, the North Pier switched to the new rock idols with Manfred Mann, Gene Vincent and the Animals playing 12 summer Sundays in 1964.

The Opera House Sunday shows of Harold Fielding stuck to a policy of middle-of-the-road favourites apart from two ‘teen’ bills headed by the Beatles.

But throughout the Sixties pop and rock fans were well served by Blackpool’s smaller theatres with appearances of just about every group and solo act you can think of.

The period would make a great thesis for a student of the theatre.