Sixties Package Tours
by Robin Bell
The concept of a concert featuring just one group or artist was a rare phenomenon in the early sixties in England. It was much more common for a promoter to put together a “package” of artists and send them out around the countryside to perform one or two shows each day in towns and cities. Remember this was also well before the days of MTV and music videos. The package tour was the best way for local music lovers to see their heroes live - and for managers to promote their artists.
But for the artists, although offering exposure and publicity, the whole event could be and usually was, a grueling experience. In the days before motorways, it was not unusual for such a tour to travel thousands of miles on poor roads in cramped conditions, playing two shows each night over a thirty day period. And there was no restful break between tours either.
Bill Wyman, in his book Rolling with The Stones, recalls that between the end of their United Kingdom tour in November 1963 and the beginning of their next tour in January 1964, the band traveled 5,354 miles, played 58 shows over the 62 days, appeared on 5 TV shows, attended 5 recording sessions and managed just 7 days off – one of which was Christmas Day.
In the early sixties it was more common for the tour to be headlined by a visiting American artist or artists, with the support acts coming from local talent. So there were tours by Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Bill Haley. But later on, with the enormous rise in popularity of the British groups, the mix would change so that the headliners were now the local groups, supported by the visitors.
Thus on May 22nd 1963 I was able to see The Beatles, Roy Orbison, Gerry and the Pacemakers together with lesser lights such as Erkey Grant and The Earwigs, The Terry Young Six and Loise Cordet at The Gaumont Theatre, Ipswich.
For teenagers in rural England, this was the only chance to see on stage the people behind the music we heard faded and distorted on Radio Luxembourg in the evenings. How we waited eagerly for the announcement of the next tour to visit out little backwater.
I can recall the excitement when we heard that The Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley and Little Richard, supported by The Rolling Stones, Mickie Most, Julie Grant and The Flintstones, all in one fabulous show, were coming. Tickets were purchased, ‘bus travel organised and on November 2nd 1963 I was in the audience to see those performers live on stage.
Less than a year after the show above, on April 5th 1964. I witnessed The Rolling Stones headline their own show, supported by Mike Berry and The Innocents, The LeRoys, Simon Scott, The Mojos. The overseas artists on this bill were Inez and Charlie Foxx. The tides had well and truly turned in favour of the British Beat boom.
As the decade wore on, the package tour diminished with increased competition from video, television and to a lesser extent, the pirate radio stations which blossomed briefly around the English coast in the mid-60’s.
With more and more equipment, better and better light shows, the days of the package tour were limited. From now on it would the massive stadium shows which would rule. But Oh! How I miss those exciting times.
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