Last week I responded to a Facebook post from the Royal Court Trust asking for people’s memories of gigs held at the venue. I still have several ticket stubs from shows I’ve seen there, although not for every gig, and I may be biased but the place was and remains my favourite gig venue. Sadly the theatre no longer hosts rock gigs, as it has just had an extensive refurbishment and its focus is now on plays.
Back in the 1980s however, it was a different story. Run-down and with dilapidated decor, it was an ideal venue for rock concerts. The theatre is small, but with a balcony and a circle it still could hold a reasonable crowd, especially as they had removed the seats in the stalls so that the floor was all standing. (The Manchester Apollo did not do the same thing until the 1990s). Also at that time, Liverpool’s radio station (Radio City) hosted a regular rock show presented by Phil Easton, who seemed to know anyone who was anyone in the world of rock music. It’s no exaggeration to say that many top-name bands called at Liverpool because of his influence.
For a period of about four years in the 1980s, almost every name band played at the Royal Court. That included some of the top rock bands of the day; Rainbow, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard, Gary Moore – all played on that stage. Things began to taper off around the middle of that decade as bands got bigger and started to play at larger venues elsewhere in the country which were just starting to appear then, but as newer bands came through they also would invariably call. The ‘hair metal’ years saw Bon Jovi play there, as did others who followed in their wake such as Cinderella and Skid Row. Later on as newer Metal and alternative metal acts appeared, the venue played host to such bands as Pantera and – this is incredible to think looking back – Rage Against The Machine. One of the best gigs I have seen there was from the Foo Fighters, again looking back it is amazing to think they played this tiny theatre in my city, but they did in 1997.
There were gigs at the Royal Court up until around the mid-2000s, when the venue management changed hands. If I remember rightly, the last gig I saw there was Placebo in 2006 before the place abruptly changed tack, undergoing a refit and becoming a comedy club complete with tables and chairs installed in the downstairs area. In my view the loss of the Royal Court as a concert venue all but removed Liverpool from the gig circuit; there isn’t really a mid-size venue that can take its place currently operating. The o2 Academy is not as big (nor as good); the Mountford Hall at the University is not used anything like it could be, and although there are 700-800 capacity venues such as the recently-opened Hangar 34, there isn’t a place suitable for bigger bands on the circuit to play in. The arena is there for mega-acts but there isn’t that 2000-3000 capacity hall which Manchester has, hence we frequently miss out on bands.
Looking back at the good old days when UK tours meant 20 cities and not 4 or 5 then, here are a selection of my old gig ticket stubs from my days going to see my favourite bands at the Royal Court: