In early 1963, when the Rolling Stones began gigging seriously, they played in and around London, at mostly clubs and pubs. In mid-July they drove over 250 miles north, in their beaten up old van, to play the Alcove Club in Middlesbrough; it was their first gig away from their established fan base. Following this, they went on a two and a half month whirlwind tour of clubs and ballrooms throughout the UK. It was all in support of their debut single, “Come On,” which had been released in early June. Helped by some TV, it all began to pay off. By the end of August, the Stones made No.20 on the NME chart.
Even before they began the routine of club and ballroom one-nighters, the Stones were told by Eric Easton, their co-manager along with Andrew Loog Oldham, that he got them a slot on a prestigious package tour in the autumn. It was to star the Everly Brothers, who had topped the UK charts on four occasions, and Bo Diddley. According to Brian Jones in an interview for a pop paper at the time, “This is a wonderful break for us and we’re looking forward to meeting the American duo. For the present, we are coping with plenty of dates in and around the London area. We don’t hear enough about the London scene in these days of Liverpool domination, but we’re hoping we’ll fly the flag of the Capital when we get on our tour.”
The 30-date package tour was scheduled to last 36 days, and it got underway on Sunday, September 29, 1963, at London’s New Victoria Theatre. According to a report in the NME the week before the opening night, the band was really looking forward to one thing more than anything else. “For us, the big thrill is that Bo Diddley will be on the bill! He’s been one of our great influences. It won’t be a case of the pupils competing with the master, though. We’re dropping from our act on the tour all the Bo Diddley numbers we sing.”
Package tours were very much a 60s phenomenon, with as many acts packed onto the bill as a promoter could squeeze into two hours; two hours that included an interval so that fans could cool down with ice cream. Stage managing such a fast-paced show was no mean feat. For this tour, promoter Don Arden, father of Sharon, the future Mrs. Ozzy Osbourne, hired one of the best in the business, Peter Grant, who would a few years later manage Led Zeppelin.
Compered by comedian Bob Bain, the opening act was a long-forgotten band called the Flintstones, followed by Mickie Most, who had made No.45 on the charts in July with a song called “Mr. Porter” (he became a very successful record producer, among his hits, was the Animals, “House of The Rising Sun”). Then the Stones came on, followed by Bo Diddley, who closed the first half of the show. The Flintstones and then Bob Bain got the second half underway and prior to the bill-topping Everlys, British singer Julie Grant (who had a couple of minor hits earlier in the year), did her turn. Grant was only on the bill because Eric Easton managed her.
Even in the first week, it became clear that the Everlys, whose star had waned since the coming of The Beatles and the other beat groups, were not selling enough tickets. According to Don Arden, “The Everly Brothers had definitely had it. I phoned up Little Richard and said ‘Richard you’ve gotta help me out.’ He said ‘Ok’.” And he did. By the time the tour reached Watford’s Gaumont cinema, its seventh date, the American was added to the bill.
The Stones set lasted barely 10 minutes. They played “Poison Ivy,” “Fortune Teller,” “Money,” and “Come On.” As the tour progressed, they substituted “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Route 66,” and “Memphis Tennessee” at some shows; “Come On” was dropped, as none of the band really liked it.
On October 6, following the second show in Cardiff, they drove to London in their new VW van to record what was to be their new single at De Lane Lea Music in Soho. It was a cover of Lennon & McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
Most people on this tour were not there to see the Stones. That included the journalists. A few days after the opening night the NME’s reporter noted, “I can freely admit to bewilderment at recognition of the Rolling Stones. They won great appreciation for ‘Poison Ivy,’ ‘Fortune Teller,’ their hit parade success ‘Come On’ and ‘Money.’ But not from me”.
By the time the Stones got to Southend, the fifth night of the tour, the local paper decreed: “We couldn’t really give a verdict on the Stones, the up-and-coming young group with the caveman hairstyles, because we hardly understood a word they sang, but the teenage girls screamed, and they are the ones who put such groups on the recording map.” In a souvenir programme for sale at one of the shows, Mick Jagger was quoted as saying, “I give the Stones about another two years.”