When silky-voiced Gene Pitney appeared in Sunderland

The entertainment scene in early 70s Sunderland was rich with top talent from both sides of the Atlantic.

Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 11:00 am
The Empire Theatre in Sunderland which hosted an appearance by Gene Pitney.

And the memories of it all are still strong as yesterday’s feature on the Top Rank Club showed.

But what else was there for you to enjoy?

Georgie Fame with Alan Price - another of the superb bills at the Empire Theatre.

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Here’s our tribute to Wearside’s 70s scene and let’s start with a heart-throb visitor from the USA in 1972.

Were you one of the lucky fans who got to see Gene Pitney at the Empire Theatre in 72?

He went down an absolute storm and had our Echo reviewer enthusing about his talent.

The 31-year-old belted out hit after hit - from Liberty Valence to Town Without Pity and 24 Hours from Tulsa.

The Senate Club in Peterlee.

He read out letters from fans, and had the audience clapping enthusiastically as hit after hit was performed.

As well as his own numbers, he treated fans to Hello Mary Lou and Rubber Ball.

He was smartly dressed in an ‘immaculate grey suit, with his neatly cut hair and black-rimmed spectacles’, said our reviewer. “The performance was altogether enjoyable. Pitney’s strong, commanding voice which never seems to fail him, makes one feel that D’Oyly Carte would welcome him.”

It was quite the review and yet he was typical of the fantastic entertainment on offer in Sunderland at the time.

Another Empire hit was the appearance of Alan Price and Georgie Fame - and all for £1 in the dress circle or 80 pence and 50 pence in the stalls.

The equally silky Matt Munro was on his way to La Strada in Fawcett Street in a month when the venue also welcomed Lovelace Watkins, the Las Vegas-based singer who was once invited to perform at the Royal Command Performance for the Queen.

Paper Lace were pulling in the crowds at Wetherells while Brass Alley and Beckett were the double bill at the Bay Hotel. Admission was 30 pence.

Stone The Crows were starring at the Locarno (50 pence admission on the door), City Lights from the USA were on at the Manhattan and The Gill James Invasion were appearing at Tiffany’s.

Slightly further afield, Lonnie Donegan was headlining at The Senate Club in Peterlee.

And as well as the big name acts, there were plenty of clubs where live entertainment was just as popular.

The Dave Raven Disco was on at the Rokoko Club and The Tandom Duo were headlining at the Ivy Leaf Club.

There was dancing to Eric on the drums at Hepworth and Grandage Social Club, where a showgroup called Ronnie Body And The Blue Caps were appearing the next night.

Over at the Londonderry Hotel, it was an evening of jazz every Friday or you could watch Tex Leon and the Tynesiders at Sunderland Boilermakers and Shipwrights Social Club.

Fancy a game of doms? A domino handicap was on the way at the Sunderland Football Supporters Club in Zetland Street and Los-Rios were back by popular demand at the RAOB Club.

If you fancied having a go on stage yourself, there was a grand talent competition at the Sunderland Transport Club while the Las Vagas Trio were the backing band to a night of dancing at the Pallion Workmen’s Club.

There was 50/50 dancing at the Silksworth Hall Hotel and, if you needed to master the steps before trying out those moves, you coudl learn how to dance at the Mattie Dorn Dance Studios.

But if all you wanted was a night of silver screen superstars, there were plenty of options for that as well.

Diamonds Are Forever was the blockbuster at the Odeon starring Sean Connery, or there was South Pacific at Studio 1.

Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson were the superstars in Mary Queen of Scots at the ABC and you could catch John Alderton in the film version of Please Sir at The Cinema in Houghton-le-Spring.

If you just wanted a night in, this was the era of The Virginian, The Liver Birds and Gardener’s World with Percy Thrower on the BBC, or His And Hers, The Sky’s The Limit and Opportunity Knocks on ITV.

Who remembers this great line-up of entertainment? Which were the venues that you loved to visit? And which bands did you get to see at the time?

Get in touch with your memories of Wearside and County Durham in the early 1970s by emailing [email protected]