The day the Rolling Stones played in Sunderland - and were deemed 'too scruffy' for Holmeside

The passing of Charlie Watts, the legendary Rolling Stones’ drummer, has sent the world of entertainment into mourning.

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 12:02 pm

Charlie was the steadying influence on the band, both musically and off-stage. And if any band ever needed a steadying influence, then it was the Stones.

Charlie, who has died aged 80, had a love-hate relationship with touring. He loved nothing more than performing, but was much less keen on travelling.

The Stones’ tours are the stuff of rock n’ roll legend. But before the days of stadium gigs, even the very biggest acts at the height of their fame could only play in comparatively small indoor venues.

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The Rolling Stones in the 1960s and the Odeon where the band played in 1965

The Stones really had to tour. The band has been one of the world’s biggest for almost 60 years. There is no argument that they were, indeed still are, one of the biggest acts in the history of entertainment.

They are instantly recognisable, have sold hundreds of millions of units and played legendary gigs. Venues for these include Wembley, the Tokyo Dome, Altamont, the Mecca Bingo Hall on Holmeside…

We’re only kidding about that last venue. It was actually the Odeon Cinema when the Stones played there; twice, on Tuesday, March 9, 1965.

This was not when they were up-and-coming unknowns. They had made it. Only the Beatles could claim to be bigger.

Today the former Odeon cinema on Holmeside, as graced by the Rolling Stones, is now a Mecca Bingo hall. Picture by Stu Norton.

Yet the Stones were happy to play Holmeside, just before they hit number one with “The Last Time”, the third of their eight UK chart-toppers. They were massive, and the two gigs were the usual frenzied, screaming affairs.

Today bands of such stature play vast arenas before tens of thousands. But in 1965 such gigs were in the future in Britain and the Odeon had seating capacity of 2,500, so the band played two shows in one day.

A year earlier the Stones played the Top Rank Suite, later the Blue Monkey, in Bedford Street.

They weren’t the first big act to play the Odeon. Bill Haley and Cliff Richard had performed there but the Stones were a coup for the town, even if not everyone saw it quite this way.

As usual, the band managed to create a story while they were in Sunderland. As you might expect it involved the two most high profile members of the group, although they didn’t, for a change, actually do anything wrong – other than be Rolling Stones.

During their visit, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, always looking for stylish clobber, popped into JW Gracey’s Men’s Outfitters, directly opposite the Odeon, and asked to see some shirts.

The owner, Jack Gracey, was unimpressed as the pair were somewhat less conservative than his usual customers.

Mr Gracey arrived home that evening, muttering to his 16-year-old son David that he’d earlier served two dreadful scruffs, who looked like they didn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together, said they were some sort of musicians apparently.

Young David couldn't believe his ears. He showed photographs of the world-famous group to his father, pointing out Mick and Keith. No further impressed, Mr Gracey maintained that they were still a couple of scruffs.

Keith’s thoughts on this upstanding Holmeside businessman are unknown. But the Rolling Stones never played Sunderland again.

As usual, Charlie kept well out of it.

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