Just wanted to share
My first club experience, was the Black Cat in Woolwich, opposite Woolwich Arsenal station. This was about 1963, Music was mostly the Mersey sound & pop chart. And plenty of girls to slow dance with.
My friends lived around the Shooters Hill area, so the next club we frequented was the Inferno, a wooden shed at the end of a dead end road on the borders of Welling & Bexleyheath.
Tracks I remember, Sugar Shack, The Purple Pill Eater, Chuck Berry. The music was drug enough to keep me dancing all night, well til 11 pm when it closed, & time to get the bus home.
During my apprenticeship at Wm Cory’s in Charlton, I worked with Mad Fred, a rocker with a 650 Bonny. He was in his teens, when I mentioned the Inferno, he said “Oh yea, I spent 12 months in Borstal for blowin that up, with weed killer and sugar”. The reason for this action, “he didn’t like Mods”. A great guy, but a completely reckless biker, gave me a lift home one night, as we approached the Charlton to Woolwich main crossroads, he didn’t slow down but went full speed across the junction, after that I caught the bus home.
It was during one of these Inferno nights, I met a new group of guys, never seen them before. One guy, Eric, asked if I fancied clubbing up West, when the Inferno finshed, he also told me I would need some Blues to keep me going. I bought 4 at a shilling each
We drove up West, parked up in this cobbled yard (Ham Yard). Just being around Soho at midnight with places still open at midnight, & hundreds of people milling around was exciting enough, as a 16 year old.
We queued up outside The Scene, at the top of the stairs. As the queue slowly wended it’s way downstairs, a flight of about 8 steps, turning sharp left, a further 10 or 12 more. At the bottom pinned to the walls, were LP covers, the one that stood out for me was Huey Piano Smith’s, Rocking Pneumonia, which I later bought.
I remember haggling with the bouncers over entry price, can’t remember what we eventually paid. we paid our money through a small window, to an attractive, but old (probably mid twenties) blonde female. Once the money was handed over, we were pushed through the first door into a small dimly lit space facing another door, everything seemed to be painted black. It was through this second door we were shoved & the music deafened you, assailng your ears, at first it seemed you had been pitched into complete darkness. The atmosphere was unbelieveably exciting, it was so dark, you could barely make out peoples faces. To the right, in the corner, was a small glass fronted DJ cubicle. The only lighting for the whole dance floor came from his small convex shaped cubicle. Straight in front, in the middle of the floor was a 2 ft dia vertical support beam from floor to ceiling, and to the left of this at ceiling height, dangled a mirrored disco ball. Situated on the left wall was the stage with a piano, this was curtained off. Under the piano, a couple were getting friendly, on the far left hand wall, were small curtained cubicles with seating for two people. We followed the crowd to the far left hand corner into a long passage. On reaching the front of the queue, it turned out this passage led to the cloack room. I realised I had been blindly following the crowd, as I didn’t have a coat to deposit, just as well, because in the morning there were several arguments over lost leathers & suedes (nicked).
The record being played, as I blindly followed this queue, was La la la by the Blendells, I had never heard music like this before, amazing, the trumpet wah wah break, after being daily bombarded with pop, Mersey sound guitar groups and this new sound was on the off beat, totally mind blowing. It’s impossible to describe the mixed feelings of fear & excitement invoked being in this deafening dark cavern. From now on, The Scene, was to become our regular Fri. or Sat. night venue, couldn’t afford two cosecutive nights. The music was underground, never played on Radio 1, only pirate radio stations. We were the in crowd, as Dobie Gray put it. Every week, we were treated to Doris Troy, Rufus Thomas, Betty Everitt, James Brown, Night Train, Jacky lee, The Swim, The Duck, Little Walter, Tommy Tucker, Otis Redding, Major Lance, Alvin Cash, Impressions, Jimmy McGriff, Don Covay, Folks Brothers and the list goes on. And of course all the fantastic Mowtown… Velvelettes, Marvalettes, Temps, Tops, several early Mowtown tracks being issued on Stateside
One night I had been on one of my West End wanders, when I returned to the club, I noticed 4 Black Maria buses with dark tinted windows, lined up in Great Windmill Street. Not realising the significance, I made my way to The Scene entrance, only to be turned away by burly police officers, my friends were still inside, so panic set in. As I waited, the whole Scene was evacuated, with most of the club goers being marched onto the waiting buses, to be driven to West End Central police station. My mates emerged being allowed to go, because they claimed to be eighteen or over, one of my friends “H” claimed that when the raid began, & all the police piled into the club, the lights went up, everyone was lined up, boys on one side, girls on the other, & told to strip to their underwear ready for drug search, not sure if this was true, as “H” was known for exaggeration. At first The Scene didn’t finish until 7 am, but as time went on, sometimes they would throw us out at 5 or 6 am. We would make our way round to Tiles, I think it was in Oxford St. a weird club, from the entrance, you walked down a long, wide aisled staircase, with long tables and bench seats either side of the aisle. The stairs finished at the bottom, there was a tiny dance floor, wouldn’t hold more than 10 people, and the DJ table, he always seemed to be playing Sue label, Frankie Ford, “Sea Cruise” etc. Another after club venue was the Blue Rooms, no idea where this was. I remember a tiny coffee bar, whose entrance was a flap in the pavement, you walked down a short wooden staircase about 6 rungs, it was probably on old pub cellar entrance where draymen rolled the barrels down into the pub cellar. The coffee bar was quite cramped but had a brilliant juke box collection of sounds.
Before going up West, we would go to the Apples & Pears, a brand new pub situated just off The Old Kent Rd. Brilliant DJ (who’s trade was a diamond cutter) The pub used to get so packed that on reaching the bar, we would order a crate of beer if we were staying for the night. It was also the place to score your Blues prior to going up West.
Other clubs we frequented, were the El Partido near the clock tower in lewisham, a converted Victorian three storey house, just an ordinary front door, as you made your way upstairs to the first floor, the darkened dance area played Motown & Soul, the next floor up was Blue Beat, Ska, the top floor was well lit with canteen tables & chairs set out, with tea, coffee & soft drinks being served. I remember sitting there one night, looking out the window you could see the roof of the buildings across the street. I noticed the opposite roofs which had a parrapet surround, every now & then police helmets would appear over the parrapet, thought it must’ve been the drugs I’d taken, but then the whole club was filled with police. The floor of the canteen was filled with little packets & little blue pills, from where everyone had thown them from their pockets, before the drug search took place.
Another club we visited after Scene chucked out was in Bromley near the station, music was all Ska & Reggae, can’t remember the name. A couple of times we went to Slough or Windsor (memory fade) to a club called the Rik Tik, it was done out like castle dungeons or caves, I remember seeing Geogie Fame playing solo, without the Blue Flames.
Summers were spent caravaning in Clacton, Rosebanks, Highfields, St Osyths. Driving into Clacton, heading for the Royal, for a relaxing pint. When the pub closed it was round to Fred’s Cafe opposite the underground public toilets. Fred had all Soul, Mowtown, as well as regular chart sounds, one coffee would last several hours while we spent the time chatting listening to the music. Fred’s was a Mod hangout full of Londoners, where tribal differences were left behind. We got chatting to a 10 strong group of Mile Enders. The look of horror on my mates faces, when being asked where I was from, and I replied Woolwich. One of our gang lived in Surrey Docks, Deptford should have been my reply apparently, sounds more hard. Big Lou, & Kenny Woo, were two names I recall of the Mile End gang, we had to follow their car convoy to Chelmsford one night where we were going to turn over the local dance hall, can’t remember the details, but we never reached our destination, pulling birds, not fighting, was our forte. I was happy & relieved not to reach our destination. The Clacton local boys hated our annual visits, their girls were attracted to our mod dress & rebel like behaviour.
The drug scene was mostly either amphetamines or hash, depending whether you wanted to dance all night, or sit at home with your mates, listening to music. At the Black Cat one night, early 1963, some guys came in, & asked if we wanted any purple hearts for thruppence each, a few weeks later the price had risen to sixpence ( 2 1/2 pence). Once the drug companies realised these curved-edged triangle pills were being used by the Mods for weekly recreation, the shape was changed to circular, thus the name change to French Blues, Black Bombers, long capsules were an alternative . By the time I started taking pills, the price had risen to a shilling each, this price remained for several years. For those who smoked, you could buy a small block of Hash, about 3mm square for 2s-6d or 5 shillings, memory fade again. This block would make one good joint for three people, lasting a good one hour’s music listening pleasure.