The Supercars debate reminded me of a time not so long ago when we didn’t have to close our streets to attract entertainment from outside Newcastle.
Instead, we rolled up to a boxing stadium transformed into a concert venue in Newcastle’s West End to see singers and bands who topped the pop charts globally.
During the 1950s the stadium, now the thriving Marketown shopping centre, put us on the world entertainment map, attracting superstars who performed to huge crowds in our capital cities, especially Sydney and Melbourne.
It was close to the zenith of its popularity when I joined the now defunct Newcastle Sun newspaper as a 16-year-old first-year cadet journalist in 1954.
The stadium’s manager and promoter in those days was a solidly built, jovial impresario named Harry Mack who haunted our reporters’ room, seeking publicity for his up coming shows.
I clearly remember one of those concerts in 1957– by American rock and rockabilly idol Guy Mitchell – because it was the first live show my wife, Meg, and I saw together in Newcastle. Mitchell (the son of Croatian migrants with a real name of Albert George Cernik) was at the peak of his career on the way towards selling no less than 44 million records. These included Singing The Blues, his number one hit that topped the 1956 charts in the US for 10 weeks. Few people in Newcastle would even remember his name today but Mitchell back then was one of many big stars who entertained Novocastrians at the stadium.
In 1954, world famous drummer, Gene Krupa, and his trio shook the floor boards of the former boxing hall with his supports, Jack Allen and his Katzenjammers. The following year, the stars at our own “west end” included The Inkspots and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Johnnie Ray cried his way through two performances, in 1956 and 1957. I can still see him with his hearing aid, sobbing his way through The Little White Cloud that Cried.
In 1956, there were also packed houses for Louis Armstrong’s All Stars, Gary Crosby; Stan Freberg, Joe Fingers Carr, Buddy Rich and Frankie Laine.
Bill Haley and The Comets began 1957 at the stadium with his huge hit Rock Around the Clock - the song that will always be the beginning of rock and roll for me. I first heard it as the theme in the Glenn Ford movie Blackboard Jungle and I still rock along to the beat via my old record player.
In the same year, other performers included The Platters, Freddie Bell’s Bell Boys, Lionel Hampton, Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, Graeme Bell’s Skiffle Band, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps and Nat King Cole and his Trio.
And what about the bill on January 31, 1958 – Buddy Holly and The Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Anka and Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays. Later that year, the great Billy Eckstine trod the stadium boards.
The year 1959 was even bigger for the stadium. The artists included Frankie Avalon, Johnny O’Keefe, Johnny Reb and the Rebels, Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, Col Joye and the Joy Boys, Conway Twitty, The Delltones, Dig Richards, Johnny Devlin and the Devils and the great Sammy Davis Junior.
And then the stadium’s music died. The building became and ice skating rink and finally a shopping centre. But for some of us lucky enough to have been there 60 years ago, the memories, all the songs and the singers live on.