Ol’ Blue Eyes Comes to Town
by David Milloy
Of all the musical artists who’ve played in Ayr over the years (in whose ranks you’ll find some serious talent), the most famous of them all has to be the Chairman of the Board, Ol’ Blue Eyes himself: Mr Francis Albert Sinatra.
That’s right, the leader of the Rat Pack played to audiences in Ayr on what I assume was a balmy day in July 1953. Moreover, he played two shows in one day: a 3.00pm matinee followed by an 8.00pm evening gig. This once (okay, twice) in a lifetime show took place at what was then Green’s Playhouse, more recently known as the MECCA bingo hall in Boswell Place.
That Frank Sinatra came to Ayr at all was, without wishing to be unfair to my home town, a consequence of his somewhat fallen status. From being the idol of 1940s bobby soxers, Sinatra’s star had waned to a significant extent by the early 1950s. The reasons for this were manifold but large amongst them loomed public distaste at his all too public affair with actress Ava Gardner.
Sinatra was, however, nothing if not a fighter. In early 1953, he’d managed to land a new recording deal with Capitol Records as well as a supporting role in Hollywood’s big-budget production of From Here to Eternity. He wasn’t to know it then, but those two deals were about to propel him to heights that easily surpassed the fame he had enjoyed in the 1940s.
That was, however, still to come when the crooner toured Europe in 1953. It was a tour which would see him perform in some of Europe’s finest cities: Rome, Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, Glasgow… and Ayr.
Having cut short his tour of Sweden, Sinatra thereafter spent a month in England, appearing in both Birmingham and London before heading north to Scotland and a series of concerts at the Glasgow Empire. His Glasgow gigs completed, Sinatra made the short hop to Ayr. Backed, as he had been throughout his British tour, by Billy Ternent’s orchestra, Sinatra played two shows at Green’s Playhouse on 12th July, 1953. Sadly, neither of his Ayr concerts came close to selling out, with the afternoon show being particularly poorly attended.
From Ayr, Sinatra made his way to Dundee’s Caird Hall and less than packed houses before taking his leave of Scotland and strolling, hat cocked at a jaunty angle, into a future that would deliver him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, a lengthy string of critically acclaimed and commercially successful records, and the odd controversy. That future would also hold a return to Scotland, but not until 1990 and only for a single concert.
As for Green’s Playhouse, its future is somewhat uncertain. Having served for many years as a bingo hall, it now lies empty and in search of a new tenant. Hopefully it will survive and continue to provide entertainment and pleasure to the people of Ayr, just like it did on that magical day in 1953 when Sinatra came to town.