Punk rock ban was 'shocking event' in Sunderland Empire's history

Author and journalism lecturer Alistair Robinson.
Author and journalism lecturer Alistair Robinson.
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An author has labelled the night punk rock was banned from Sunderland Empire as a "shocking event" in the venue's history.

October 23 marks 40 years since damage and vandalism at a Boomtown Rats concert forced theatre bosses to take the step.

The Boomtown Rats happy to be back in Sunderland at the Kubix Festival in 2018.

The Boomtown Rats happy to be back in Sunderland at the Kubix Festival in 2018.

"Chaos at the Empire" was among the Echo's headlines after toilets were daubed with spray paint and at least £1,500 of damage was caused to seats when spectators surged forward to greet the group's arrival on stage.

The ban effectively ended any opportunity of Sunderland music fans ever seeing leading punk bands the such as The Sex Pistols or The Clash in their home city.

It also contributed towards the gradual drift of household music acts to larger venues in Newcastle.

Author and Sunderland University journalism lecturer Alistair Robinson, who has written two books about the Empire, said: "It was certainly a notable and shocking event in the history of the Empire.

Our front page story following the concert.

Our front page story following the concert.

"It was a disaster for the management because of the damage and forced them to take the decision to ban not just punk bands but rock bands as a whole.

"It could have been that if the concert was a success then other similar bands would have followed.

Also read: Sunderland punk rocker's memories of infamous Boomtown Rats concert
"But it was a long time before they tried to get similar groups and from then on there was a period of revival groups from the 1950s and 1960s."

The concert by The Boomtown Rats, who were just weeks away from their first number one single, was seen as an opportunity to revive Sunderland's flagging fortunes as a music venue.

Mr Robinson, the Echo's former entertainments editor, said: "Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, Sunderland was on the map in terms of staging rock gigs every weekend.

"You just have to look at the Echo's adverts around that time to see who was coming here. It more than held its own.

"It was largely down to promoters such as Geoff Docherty, who was able to attract big names to places such as the Locarno, in Newcastle Road, and The Bay, in South Bents.

"We had Led Zep, The Who, Jethro Tull and T.Rex.

"As the 1970s wore on he started to move to the Newcastle Mayfair and Newcastle City Hall.

"The bigger bands were starting to play America and when they came back they did not want to play smaller venues again.

"The Empire was a big theatre but a small rock venue and so the next step up was the City Hall."

The October 23 gig was also marred by singer Bob Geldof repeatedly threatening to leave the stage after the crowd spat on the band.

While there is no record of the ban getting lifted, rock group Motorhead did eventually appear at the theatre in 1987.