Lost Liverpool #2: The Beastie Boys in Liverpool and a riot at the Royal Court

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Beastie Boys

Beastie Boys

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 BoysLicensed 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.

The front page of the Liverpool ECHO following the Beastie Boys' gig

The front page of the Liverpool ECHO following the Beastie Boys’ gig

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‘.

BB Tkt

A ticket stub from 1987

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12 Comments

  1. Good article, I remember that evening well. As the night was still young, after the 12 min gig (shortest I have ever been to), I went over to The State, much to the surprise and also amusement of the rest of my mates who did not manage to secure a ticket for the gig itself. Got all the Beastie Boys work but never got to see them perform live again. I still have (somewhere) ticket No5.

  2. My abiding memory of this was that it was first gig I’d been to in the Royal Court for years where they allowed you to take cans upstairs. Normally it had to be poured into those flimsy plastic glasses.

    You’re right though Paul, there was something in the air that night. I seem to remember the throwing started almost immediately so I suspect it was co-ordinated in some way. Whether it was the door staff who wanted to give them a typical Liverpool welcome a la King Kurt and Jo Boxers I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.

    It was a shame though. I’d seen the Beastie Boys in Manchester supporting Run DMC and they were a bit lacklustre but in the 10 minutes or so at Liverpool they were magical.

  3. You are implying it was a setup but I’m not totally convinced. The way I remember it, there was a gang of Heavy Metal biker types down the front, who came to pick a fight and pelted the band with beer cans from the get go. The music stopped after half a song and Ad-Rock got a baseball bat to try and hit back some of the projectiles. The band then left the stage and chaos erupted. Some soft lads on the balcony started ripping out chairs and throwing them down into the main area. The tear gas came from the cops who had been outside the whole time waiting for trouble. And yeah the emergency exits were open cause people were running outside. Best gig I ever went to!

  4. I was there also (bottom, middle). I’m too convinced that something was up, mainly because it was the first time I had been to the RC when everyone was allowed in with cans and bottles; no plastic cup rule seemed to be in place. Also, the can that hit the girl in the face came off of a baseball bat swung by Horowitz (that’s what I recall); why was there a baseball bat waiting conveniently in the wings?

  5. I was there that night too. I was 16, right at the front and I saw everything. It started with can being thrown from the crowd. I remember one of the BB having a baseball bat and the music stopping. Then 10 minutes of madness. Brilliant night. Fist gig, first riot, first time tear gassed.

  6. I was working security that night manning the sound board. Soon as the shit kicked off I stood my ground for a while then realised I wasn’t being paid enough to risk injury so I too went outside away from the madness. I also remember the PA being toppled off the stage.Too bad as I was looking forward to it.

  7. Remember it well. Agreed there was defo an air of danger both out side and in. A mate of mine knew a couple of the girls who where getting paid to dance in the cages up on stage so we came over from Manchester to see what bEASTIE bOYs where about .This whole Gig experience soon reminded me of slightly earlier days when id be ligging about Punk gigs as a squirt trying to get in ,watch a band and get some beer down my neck …yep you could get served at some Bar/Pub Venues as a spotty early teen back then!!!The vibe was the same at Royal Court as at most those early punk Gigs..where an air of menace,sweat,smoke,beer, piss n puke would hang heavy in the air!Those where the days! HAHAHAHA. Details of the Gig I Remember a threat outside by desperate Tout .Anticipation.Inside Large Dark Cavernous Space ,faded Grandeur .Cans of Beer. Beasties enter.Music is Loud and the Girls are dancin like crazed Go Go girls from a 60’s Flick inside two massive Silver Cages. Magic few moments .Music Stops . Crowd Jearing .Bassball Bat Comes out.Music carries on .Crowd Gearing even more .Half full Cans flying down from top Balcony smashing down on heads and necks near by. Light from side Exit as Cops storm in.Tear Gas!!! Time to Exit!!! Good times. Could do with a bit of that attitude going down now if your reading this and in a band. What the Fuck are you waiting for?

  8. I think I remember it well! I was right near the front, and the atmosphere was definitely edgy from the outset. I’ll be honest, it never occurred to me that any of it could have been set-up – it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time. To my mind, one of the main reasons it kicked-off was that whilst Mike D was deffo hurling cans into (not at) the audience, there was a fair bit of shrapnel headed back the other way, and either a glass or a bottle smashed against one of the cages that was being danced in. At that point the dancers decided it was time to leave the stage. The Beasties went off with them (possibly to see if they were OK), at which point the ‘Liverpool tamed the Beasties’ chants grew… not long after, the lighting rig underneath the circle was pulled down, a CS gas cannister was set off, and I decided to get the fuck out of Dodge, only to be smacked across the back by truncheon wielded by a copper coming in the opposite direction. Once out, it was straight down to The Lisbon then off to The Planet.

  9. I was working the upper bar on my own that night with one security guard by the door. I can say that as per usual we had to pour all drinks into cups and I didn’t serve any cans or bottles that night. When it all kicked off we closed the bar door and bolted it but it was kicked in and myself and the security guard ended up fighting off hundreds of people with a baseball bat and a couple of fire extinguishers. The crowd decided the beer and the till were fair game, the till got knocked over and the money went everywhere loads of beer was taken I ended up with a fractured wrist the security guard had a fractured cheek bone. But I did watch the full sound check so actually got to see the Beastie Boys play.

  10. I was working at the RC and remember it well. The red top news paper stories had basically encouraged some scallies to buy the remaining tickets and come to out beastie the Beastie Boys. It was obvious in the bars before the show that there were people there to cause havoc. My overriding memory is that of people in the balcony throwing their chairs at the chandeliers over the people in the standing stalls. they weren’t Beastie Boys fans, they probably weren’t even music fans, they were just there to cause trouble. it was such a shame as I’d seen the Beasties open for RUN DMC a few months earlier and it was a great show. Basically the few spoiled it for the many.

  11. I was at this gig with some mates and we sat in the circle. I seem to remember either a tabloid or possibly local paper the Echo had reported some days before that the Beastie Boys had been bragging in interviews that they were coming to show the people of Liverpool who was boss and all that kind of thing. Now anyone who knows Liverpool will tell you that it’s a city that will ‘have less of it’ from bigmouths and suchlike, and I remember hearing rumours that people were going to the gig just so they could tell the Beastie Boys where to get off… I just went along because it looked like it might be an interesting gig but shortly after they came on I recall thinking that they were, in reality, actually a bit crap. (Videos were around at this point and bands would often look really exciting in them only to be found out once they hit the stage – this was the case here as far as I’m concerned.) Anyway, after a couple of numbers it started getting a bit wild in the stalls with people shouting and booing and all that (if they’d actually been well worth seeing they might just have possibly got away with it – it’s doubtful though as the element who’d gone to mess with them would have still soured it somehow). Next thing I remember was bottles being hurled around and some people behind us in the circle started to chuck their bottles at that massive chandelier that hung from the Royal Court’s ceiling. Pieces from the chandelier and the bottles were then dropping down onto the people below. Other commentators say they remember one of the band wielding a baseball bat onstage, well if that happened it didn’t last long because the band basically fled the stage pretty quickly as I recall. However the baseball bat certainly did end up in the hands of one of the security guards and he was at the front of the stage knocking the bottles and cans that were being thrown back into the crowd. The security (backstage at least – possibly throughout) that night was provided by a local ‘backpatch’ biker gang and I sort of knew the baseball bat wielder (I hear he’s given that lifestyle up these days). Bit of a Rolling Stones at Altamont thing was going on there then! Anyway I have no memory of the tear gas and was surprised to read about it here in people’s accounts, perhaps it didn’t reach the circle. We certainly didn’t leave in any kind of panic, we just shrugged our shoulders and shuffled out the place far as I remember. Didn’t see any bother outside either, maybe we just got lucky.

  12. I was there and it was chaos from the off…I think moody just about summed it up!
    I remember the bar downstairs was shut early with the barman (I think it was Roy?) locking the doors and kicking everyone out we decamped to the Lisbon as did loads…good days!

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