February 5, 1957: American Rock ‘n’ Roll Invades Britain

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1956’s Rock Around the Clock film caused riots and created big interest in Bill Haley and His Comets when it was shown in the U.K.

Before there was a British Invasion of rock music into America, an invasion of the U.K. by seminal American rocker Bill Haley helped set the stage and fire up the English musical troops. His star may already have been fading back in the States, but overseas he was welcomed with a mania by fans that presaged what was to come for The Beatles. The year before, the film he appeared in, Rock Around the Clock, had sparked teen riots when it was shown in theaters.

Crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth, Haley was the first American rocker to visit Great Britain. The 31-year-old was met when the ship docked in Southampton on this day by a crowd of about 5,000 fans. A few hundred rode along with Haley and His Comets on the train to London. Another 5,000 or so mobbed the train at Waterloo Station. (See below.)

A number of future British stars saw Haley on the tour that took the singer and his band across England and to Scotland and Ireland, starting at the London Dominion on February 6 and wrapping up back at the same venue on March 10.

“The first time I really ever felt a tingle up my spine was when I saw Bill Haley and The Comets on the telly,” remembers Paul McCartney. “Then I went to see them live. The ticket was 24 shillings, and I was the only one of my mates who could go as no one else had been able to save up that amount. But I was single-minded about it…. I knew there was something going on here.”

“The birth of rock ‘n’ roll for me?” Pete Townshend explains. “Seeing Bill Haley and The Comets…. God, that band swung!”

Graham Nash says, “I’ve still got the ticket stub in my wallet from when I went to see Bill Haley and the Comets play in Manchester in February 1957 – my first-ever concert. Over the years I’ve lost houses… I’ve lost wives…  but I’ve not lost that ticket stub. It’s that important to me.”

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