Eddie Cochran at Sheffield Gaumont - memories of a momentous day
Eddie Cochran with Gene Vincent (middle) and Vince Eager at Sheffield Gaumont.
The winter of 1960 was a pivotal moment in live popular music, the new ringing in a changing scene which would exploit the nascent spending power of the growing youth market. These first tremors heralded the seismic shift of Sixties society.
Music impresario Larry Parnes conceived the U.K's first ever all-rock 'n' roll package tour, a novelty which seems surprising at this juncture but hesitant promoters of the day, unsure of the new music style's durability or drawing power, hedged their bets and had hitherto presented rock 'n' roll acts merely as part of a variety bill. Which is why Buddy Holly was supported by a juggler when he toured the country in March of 1958. Parnes' novel concept also boasted the irresistible appeal of genuine transatlantic talent as American rockers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, joined by a rotating cavalcade of British rock 'n' roll stars, played a punishing schedule of twice nightly performances in Gaumont cinema/theatres and clapped-out Moss Empire venues starting in Ipswich on January 24th. The tour, billed as the 'Fast-Moving Beat Show', was proving to be a huge success and had just finished a week-long engagement at the Glasgow Empire when it swooped into Sheffield for a unique one-night rock 'n' roll spectacular. The first green shoots of the Sixties had truly arrived in Sheffield, ahead of even the snowdrops and crocuses, in a new decade that was just weeks old.
On February 7th, the Sheffield Gaumont was the venue for two performances of the 'Fast-Moving Beat Show', at 5:30 and 8:00 on this dreary, rainy Sunday in 1960. The Glasgow line-up featuring Gene and Eddie supported by The Viscounts, Tony Sheridan, compere Billy Raymond and Lance Fortune (who would be hastily renamed Georgie Fame within weeks of this appearance) performed, minus Sally Kelly but with the special addition of Vince Eager for this Sheffield date. Marty Wilde's band, The Wildcats, provided the musical backing for the acts. The troupe had played the Saturday in Glasgow then travelled around 250 miles south to get to Sheffield, enjoying the dubious pleasures of a Sunday train service. The Beeching cuts had begun to decimate rail travel in the UK in favour of motorway construction- yet the M1 motorway was only 72 miles long in November 1959 and the first section of the M6 was open less than a month in December 1958 before the surface deteriorated rapidly and the road was closed. Serious cross-country travel was hardly straightforward, swift or convenient. Gene & Eddie travelled First Class, everybody else rattled about in Third.
Local newspaper, the Sheffield Star, showing an unusual prescience for generating interest and fan participation in a rock 'n' roll show ran a competition giving the winning Star Club members a chance to meet the cast, who happily obliged. Lynn White and Vicky Penn were on the Teenage Club committee, Lynn, "We went along to the first meeting of the Star office and I think that's how we came to be on the committee- just by turning up! We didn't get to see any shows but they bused us to 'parties' where we met various pop stars who were in or near town. I remember the Gene and Eddie one mainly because we were disappointed! We were big Eddie fans and he just sat looking really miserable (probably bored out of his mind!) Vicky was convinced he was wearing make-up (face powder, I think). Gene was more animated and circulated amongst everyone but we thought he was surprisingly small and weedy!"
Another young fan who attended was Carole Ward (now Commander). "At the time I was working for Paul Anka by running his International Fan Club and also interviewing many stars for the club magazine. When the show appeared in Sheffield I was invited by Eddie Holland of The Star to the Star Club party and asked if I would interview Eddie which I did and the rest is history" Meeting and talking to Eddie, Carole was impressed with his caring demeanor.
Vince Eager (left) with Larry Parnes
For Mike Redman, February 7th remains a very special day indeed, "In 1960, I was 18 years old and a serving soldier in H.M. Forces stationed in Germany. I used to get letters, etc. and used to send them back home when I spotted or knew about artists in Sheffield who were playing at venues in our City. Some I missed but I was a lot of very famous music artistes. My Mum or friends used to buy the tickets and I would pay them back when I was on leave. I went into town with a friend, Frank Stuart, who I grew up with. We were killing time in Barkers Pool when we saw a van pull up on the side of the Gaumont Cinema. Two guys got out and unloaded some big amplifiers and other equipment into the cinema. We watched for a minute or two and they drove off. We walked over to find the door was left open a little bit. We went inside and found ourselves right at the back of the cinema. It was dark and as we walked down the aisle to the stage there were some men fixing the amplifiers and talking. Next, this guy came out of the wings holding a microphone on a stand. We looked, it was Gene Vincent! We knew straight away as he limped across the stage. We got near the front looking up when all of a sudden Eddie Cochran came onto the stage. He had a grey leather jacket on with a big silver eagle on the back. He casually took it off, put it on the amp and looked at us. He smiled and said, "Hi guys are you at the show tonight?" If only a picture had been taken of us. Open mouthed, unable to speak. He beckoned us up the stairs at the side and we were a yard's length from him. He looked exactly like the photos, a little smaller than I imagined. He had his guitar and he just put his fingers on the chords to check it was ok. Gene walked past, smiled and said "See ya!" I nearly collapsed. Eddie then said I was staring at his jacket, "Wanna try it on, Bud?" I did, it was Three Steps To Heaven! I could not believe that he was there. He then said he had to go. He said, "See you at the show guys" and left the stage with his jacket, damn! Just then, back to reality. An old guy shouted from below the stage, "Hey you two, what are you doing?" We dived down the stairs and sprinted for the doors. He slammed the door behind us. It happened in less than ten minutes. We spent the rest of the day talking American "Hi, you guys", etc. We did get to the show in the evening. It was a blur."
Two more teenagers who attended the concert were Phil Crookes and his pal John 'Joe' Cocker. Phil, "It was Sunday February 7th and me and friend Joe had tickets for the second performance. Joe and I both had paper rounds and from them we saved the eight shillings and sixpence for the front row seats! We'd heard that Eddie Cochran had been added to the bill; two of our favourite singers here in Sheffield. We found our seats and then the lights went down and the curtain came up and a partially-lit stage showed a figure in a silver waistcoat and black leather trousers. He had his back to the audience and was picking out the introduction to Ray Charles' 'What'd I Say' on an orange Gretsch guitar. He looked and sounded just like his publicity stills and recordings but even more so. His voice and guitar were as clear as a bell and as the music picked up the rhythm and the musicians turned round to face us, it's a scene that's stayed with me ever since. I'd been trying to comb my hair like Eddie Cochran's for a while and when my friend Joe said "Eddie keeps looking at you" it told me my quiff was going in the right direction! With the Wildcats, Eddie went on to do an excellent set of his best sellers 'Somethin' Else', 'Twenty Flight Rock' and 'Hallelujah I Love Her So', but I think if we'd known it was going to cost him his life coming over here, we'd rather have kept listening to his excellent recordings."
Lincoln fan Frank Blanchard made the trip to see the show in Sheffield, "I was 18 years old at the time, and a year or so younger than most of the people I travelled with to the show on a bus organised by Lincoln Jive Club. Lincoln Jive Club (or it might possibly have been called Newport Jive Club, ‘Newport’ being the street the club was on, I can’t quite remember) was a jive club held every Saturday & Tuesday night in Lincoln and was always very well attended. They played rock’n’roll music all night and it was where you’d ask the girls to dance, or obviously jive. If you fancied a pint there was no bar in the venue so you just nipped a few doors down on Bailgate to the Duke William pub. For the Gene & Eddie show one of the members of the club arranged a bus to take us all to Sheffield and I couldn’t wait to get my ticket. It ended up being a foul night weather-wise with it being cold and constantly raining, typical of February. This dampened no one's spirits however and off we all trotted over to Sheffield in enormous excitement on Sunday, February 7th, 1960.
The first thing I remember, and after recently looking at the tour poster for that particular show, was there were more acts on the bill than only the 3 advertised (Gene, Eddie & Vince Eager). It was definitely a typical show of at least 6 or 7 acts and though I do remember Vince Eager performing, I’ve always also thought Roy Young was another of the supporting artists, though I cannot be sure. I can’t quite remember who the other supporting artists were but I do remember Eddie closing the first half and Gene the second. The most abiding memory I have however was the place was absolutely packed. And I don’t just mean packed as in a full house and sell-out, I mean the entire building seemed to be packed. The foyer was full of people, the stairs up to the balcony full of people just hanging around, and the auditorium itself absolutely heaving. The noise from everybody screaming all the time was deafening and I remember the ushers were having no chance in trying to keep people in their seats.
The noise was so loud I remember I could barely hear Eddie or Gene throughout their entire segments! PA amplification in those days of course not being anything as sophisticated as it is now. So I can’t really remember what songs anyone actually sang! I’m sure the obvious ones will have been in there but in Eddie’s case I definitely do remember him singing, ‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’. Maybe because that was a more gentle tune the screaming possibly died down a little so you could actually hear him, I don’t know! I do remember I had a terrific view as well as I was right in the middle of the balcony with a perfect eye line to the stage. I was just sittin’ in the balcony, just watching one of my heroes!’ Everybody on stage looked terrific and I remember Eddie beginning his segment with his back to the audience before turning to sing and the place erupting! And that’s it, really. I just remember the whole evening being an entire frenzy and the atmosphere being incredible with so many people in the venue. A fabulous night topped off with everyone in terrific spirits on the bus back to Lincoln singing Eddie and Gene songs! It was brilliant. Just brilliant."
Someone else who was enthralled by Eddie's performance at the Gaumont was Eric Peel, "He looked fabulous, occasionally combing his hair in between songs and had a slightly nervous cough. I was shocked though to see Eddie come on second. I thought he would have been top of the bill."
Glenda Dyson takes a photo of the three stars at the show
Mike Smith, "I remember it as a unique event with these American Stars who we had followed through the New Musical Express and couldn't believe they were in Sheffield and at the Gaumont cinema. All I can remember is it was a great energetic night and me and my mate were buzzing afterwards. I was 16 at the time working as an apprentice at what is now Forgemasters on Brightside Lane. The NME was our bible."
Janet Callaghan, "A friend and I were schoolgirls when we saw Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. The audience was subdued during Eddie's act, he closed the first half, but were more welcoming to Gene Vincent. We were huge Eddie fans even then. It was a big deal in those days for two fifteen-year-olds to travle to Sheffield on the bus from Chesterfield in the evening."
Dave Berry (centre) and his Cruisers with Gene Vincent (right)
Also in attendance was Sheffield performer Dave Berry and members of his band The Cruisers. They are photographed talking to Gene Vincent. Dave Berry recalls that, "Eddie looked great and just what we imagined an American rock 'n' roll star should look and sound like. Gene Vincent did too." Keith Simpson, "I was with Dave when we saw Eddie Cochran at the Gaumont in Sheffield. My memory is that he was the best looking guy we had ever seen and his music was brilliant." The band's guitarist, Frank Miles, was so impressed with Eddie's performance that shortly after he ordered a Gretsch Chet Atkins model, possibly the first example to be used by a British band. Gretsch guitars would become a very familiar sight in the forthcoming Beat boom- Brian Jones, Gerry Marsden, Steve Marriott, George Harrison and many others all used examples of the brand. The origin of their popularity can probably be traced back to Eddie Cochran and Duane Eddy.
After all the effort made to encourage teen participation in the event, the Sheffield Star, in keeping with virtually all contemporary mainstream media reportage of the tour, failed to show any further signs of youthful zest in a predictably stuffy review of the show. "Gene Vincent did every sort of microphone gymnastics imaginable. Personally I was not impressed... Eddie Cochran's harsh singing and jogging movements were a little wearing to both the ear and the eye. Vince Eager gave a first class performance."
* The spring 1960 show is featured in the brand new 'Dirty Stop Out's Guide to 1960s Sheffield' whilst the whole tour - which culminates in the tragic death of Eddie Cochran - is chronicled in 'Eddie Cochran: A Fast Moving Beat Show - the Tragic Story of the Final, Fatal UK Tour'. This blog is written by Adrian McKenna - co-author of 'Eddie Cochran: A Fast Moving Beat Show - the Tragic Story of the Final, Fatal UK Tour'