First there was the BBC’s Evan Davis knocking Wisbech people in his programme about migrant workers, and now Keith Richards makes them out to have been straw-brained Worzel Gummidges back in the 1960s.
Back in those halcyon days as the Stones strutted about, they would have been full of their own egos and wanted to stand out from the crowd in this Fenland town – as well as any other town. They would have been unique wherever the went, so, of course, people would stare. This is Richards’ account of their Wisbech gig:
“Maybe if we’d been wearing our houndstooth jackets and looking like little dolls we wouldn’t have outraged the males in the audience at the Wisbech Corn Exchange in Cambridgeshire in July 1963. We were city boys, and this music is what’s happening in the city. You got a totally different reaction. All of these hayseeds literally chewing on straw. The Wisbech Corn Exchange, out in the goddam marshes. And a riot was started because the local yokels, the boys who couldn’t stand the fact that all their chicks were gawping, and blowing themselves out about this bunch of fags, as far as they were concerned, from London. ‘Eee by gum’, that was a very good riot, which we were lucky to escape from.”
According to The Rolling Stones Chronicle, the Wisbech gig was one of their first “ballroom gigs” – and there is no reference to a riot. As a ghost writer myself, I am surprised that sensational statements like this are made without including the detail to back it up and add colour. I would like to know exactly what exactly happened during the riot, were any punches thrown,Â were the “yokels” jeering,Â were the police called, etc. We are told nothing about it, and yet that night clearly stuck in Richards’ mind.Â I haven’t read the book myself, but I’m sure whatever happened was quite mild compared to many of their other gigs, especially during a riot the following year at a gig in Blackpool.
I’m not sure how much of this is Richards’ own language (“looking like dolls”)? After all, they played well over 1,000 gigs over three years during this period, they played virtually every night, and sometimes twice a day. Did Wisbech really stick in Richards’ mind this way? Was it so bad that if the Stones go on the road again, they would steer well clear of Wisbech!
On the off-chance that anyone reading this was there, or knows someone who was, please do let me know what it was really like that night.