In the second Lost Liverpool column, Getithothis’ Paul Fitzgerald looks back on a seminal moment of hip hop’s golden era as the Beasties caused mayhem at The Royal Court.
The circus that was The Beastie Boys‘ Licensed To Ill tour rolled into Liverpool for its final date on Saturday May 30 1987. It was a short-lived affair at just 12 minutes long, which ended with the crowd being tear gassed, a riot, a fan being injured by a flying beer can, and the subsequent trial of a New York rapper at Liverpool Crown Court a few months later. To some, it was a shock, an outrage, an offence to moral decency. To others, it was a cynically planned and perfectly executed marketing ploy, which worked like a dream.
For a couple of weeks previously, the Beastie Boys had toured Europe and the UK, gaining notoriety and enraging the tabloids. Whether true or not, stories like that of them laughing at disabled kids at Heathrow airport all helped create the image. Taking their lead from the punk movement of 10 years earlier, (the band was, after all, originally a hardcore punk band) the attitude was all-important.
The tabloids loved them. The tabloids hated them. The tabloids loved to hate them, and hated loving them. Giant inflatable penises onstage and semi clad girls dancing in cages might have gone some way to encourage the red tops, to be fair. And, of course, the irony of this was not lost on Liam Howlett of The Prodigy, who reminded the Beasties of this latter fact 11 years later, when the Beasties objected to them playing Smack My Bitch Up on the same bill as them at Reading Festival in 1998.
The Licensed To Ill tour was plagued with legal difficulties and lawsuits from the off. When the final night of the tour arrived at the Royal Court after weeks of ‘adverse’ publicity, it was no surprise that the Beastie Boys and, it’s fair to say, some members of the audience, were primed for an eventful evening. They certainly got it.
It was packed in the Royal Court that night, a full house. I was down the front with several others, among them photographer and filmaker Mark McNulty and Andrew Erskine, who then managed Scouse rappers Eat My Dog and went on to manage Waterpistol-era Shack, as well as co-running local dance label Airdog Records. It was warm in there and a couple of beers had been sunk. There was a definite feeling in the air, unlike other packed nights we’d all shared in that venue. Something different. Moody, if you like.
Although there’s been some debate over the years about exactly who started or caused what happened next, with people blaming the band, the crowd, and even the venue staff, here’s the thing… I went to the toilets downstairs just before the band went onstage.
The merchandise stall had been completely cleared away. Before the gig? Something I’d never seen before – or since, for that matter. So, maybe someone from the band’s crew had an inkling that something was going to happen, eh? Maybe. Maybe they knew.
From the moment the band launched into what would be an 11 minute set, sections of the crowd goaded them, and they retaliated. It all got a bit ugly and very angry, when Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz (AdRock) started throwing cans of Bud into the crowd.
As the band disappeared in a shower of bottles, cans, and V signs, the crowd pushed forward and then immediately began to disperse in any and every direction, trying to escape. Tear gas. Who knows where from, or who set it off, but the pain in the eyes, and throat, was unbearable. Teenagers were draped over the front of stage barriers coughing and fighting for breath; others sat on the floor, trying to get under the gas, so they could crawl away.
The majority just ran, in whatever direction, and as fast as they could. It’s no exaggeration to say that there could have been more people seriously injured, but someone had very kindly, and coincidentally, opened all the exit doors just in time, allowing most of the crowd to get outside to the safety of the street, and fresh air.
As Andrew Erskine made his way to the exit doors at the front of the venue, gasping for breath, he tripped over a bin bag outside the doors, landing face first on the Roe Street pavement.
A large and anticipatory police presence outside the venue that evening meant that he fell right in front of one of Maggie’s boys in blue, who immediately arrested him on a trumped up drunk and disorderly charge. He was later cleared of this charge, possibly due to the evidence of his expert witness, but kept all the court statements, as well as his original ticket, number 000001.
Horovitz, however, wasn’t so lucky. He was arrested in London the next day, interviewed for 10 hours, and brought back to Liverpool where he faced assault and GBH charges.
One of the cans of Bud he’d thrown during the incident had hit a young woman in the face. MPs predictably called for the Beastie Boys to be deported in the wake of the riot.
Licensed To Ill, one of the biggest selling debut albums of all time, sold in excess of 25 million copies, and soon after the Liverpool riot, the Beasties left Def Jam Records and Rick Rubin, and went into the studio to record the more accomplished and mature classic that is Paul’s Boutique. The importance of Licensed To Ill, though, should not be underestimated. This album helped bring hip hop to a much bigger audience, and helped take the genre from the street and the clubs and into the mainstream consciousness.
As they walked offstage at the Liverpool venue that night in 1987, sections of the crowd shouted ‘We tamed The Beastie Boys‘.