How a show at Sheffield's Gaumont helped to launch the 'Swinging Sixties'

Many people say it took the rise of the Beatles to put the ‘swinging’ into the sixties. But a book that’s just about to get its hardback release argues the genie was out of the bottle years before the Fab Four took the decade by storm, writes Neil Anderson.
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Authors Adrian McKenna and John Firminger suggest things were already well and truly swinging by the spring of 1960 when what’s widely acknowledged as the first ‘rock’n’roll package tour’ rolled across the UK with headliners Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.

The tour hit Sheffield Gaumont on February 7th, 1960.

If you’d have taken any notice of the British press reviews you’d have thought the tour was a total disaster. But the British youth – now more commonly referred to as ‘teenagers’ - knew better than to take any notice of reports compiled by writers totally out of step with what was going on according to ‘Eddie Cochran: A Fast Moving Beat Show – The Story of the Final, Fatal UK Tour’.

Eddie Cochran (front right) meets fans from The Star’s Teenage Club at Sheffield Gaumont with Gene Vincent (front middle) and Vince Eager (front left)Eddie Cochran (front right) meets fans from The Star’s Teenage Club at Sheffield Gaumont with Gene Vincent (front middle) and Vince Eager (front left)
Eddie Cochran (front right) meets fans from The Star’s Teenage Club at Sheffield Gaumont with Gene Vincent (front middle) and Vince Eager (front left)
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The countrywide dates by the American stars was a rare chance for British audiences to get up close and personal with major rock’n’roll names.

Many of the major stars had given the UK a wide birth – Elvis never performed in the country – as the promoters realised they could make more money back home.

Though the rock’n’roll sounds on offer were born out of the fifties – the promoters were confident that the headliners and an ever changing roster of support acts had the pulling power to make the tour a success.Adrian McKenna said: “This was the first all-rock n roll package tour in the UK. Previous visiting rock acts like the Crickets were headliners on bills with comedians, crooners and big bands and were basically novelty billing on a tour of variety acts.”

The authors argue Beatlemania and the Merseybeat sound might never have happened if it hadn’t been for the punishing schedule of dates the American stars undertook with a cavalcade of rising UK stars.

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Adrian McKenna said: “The Beatles attended the shows at the Liverpool Empire in March 1960 and would soon be sporting black leather outfits, inspired by Cochran and Vincent. In fact when Paul McCartney and John Lennon first met, it was Paul showing him the chords to Cochran’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ that forged their relationship.”

Tragically Eddie Cochran died at 21 years old in a road traffic accident just hours after the final date of the tour in Bristol.

The rock’n’roll world had lost one of its brightest stars before he’d even got going.

But the seismic impact he made in those few short weeks provided a blueprint for everything that followed.

*Content supplied by Neil Anderson.