Mods, Delinquency and the Green Bowler Cafe

 

Mods in Nottingham

According to the poet Philip Larkin

“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.” (Philip Larkin)

It may have been a bit late for Larkin but it was rather early for me. In 1963 I was 12 years old which meant I was very aware of what was going on out in the World but I was still basically a child. I had a lot of freedom (and a bike) and I was just finishing my first year at secondary school. The obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was all over the news and, as has been often said, was a nail in the coffin of the old established order, who appeared so out of touch with the modern age. The Beatles were obviously a totally new phenomenon that epitomised modern times and I, like most of my contemporaries, were totally won over by both their sound and their energy.

At the age of twelve I was not a rebellious child, in fact I was quite the opposite. I enjoyed going to school and I volunteered for virtually all the activities offered. I joined the school band, I was a member of the Rugby and Cricket teams, on sports days I volunteered for nearly all the events (it took me about a week to recover) and I swam several events in the swimming galas. On top of that I acted in the school play (oh, and recited a poem by heart at an external competition. The teacher said I sounded like I was reading a laundry list! It was Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin, which is a lot to remember!). I was also a keen member of the scouts and loved hiking and camping. Like Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, I also eventually became a patrol leader.

So what could possibly go wrong?

Well, not a lot actually. I carried on doing all of those things but there is something that changed, and that was that I became a TEENAGER. It seems strange now that such a small thing could create such a change in attitude and outlook, but this was the 1960s and Teenagers were all the rage. A whole industry had arisen to cater for their needs and, of course, as usual, the media had created a monster. For me 1964 was the beginning of a New Age and I discovered it’s dark side. The Rolling Stones and The Who became my favourite groups and 1965 became the year I experimented with Crime and Delinquency. 1965 was also the year that Like a Rolling Stone was released by Bob Dylan, a song that still resounds like liquid mercury in my brain!

Like many before I was drawn to what the bad kids were doing and thought there was a world of immense joy and pleasure out there. The first real youth subculture in Britain were the Teddy Boys and they provoked fear, or at least tried to, in all they came across. There were a terrifying group that met up on a street corner near where I lived. I walked an extra mile just to avoid them on my way back from the scouts. But 1964 saw a media storm involving a new subculture: The Mods. The first that most people knew about the Mods was when the press and TV sensationally reported battles between them and the Rockers (another new subculture based around motorcycles) at British seaside resorts mainly in the south. Well, of course, this was enough to create the self-fulfilling prophecy of violent gangs stalking the streets of England. It has been described in a study by Stanley Cohen in 1972 called Folk Devils and Moral Panics.

Before 1965 I had never considered the possibility of entering a life of crime and violence but it seemed to occur by it’s own volition. My best friend at school was very impressed with the Mods and, indeed, he was quite knowledgeable about them. His mother’s hair-dressing shop had an apprentice who was a fully fledged Mod who had a scooter and was old enough to travel to some of the clubs that were opening up. He was a source of information for both of us. Mod was about fashion and had a real self-confidence about it. When pop group The Who released My Generation it’s sheer arrogance was quite shocking. By contrast The Rockers were fairly conservative, trying to look like Marlon Brando in The Wild One and listening to 1950s Rock and Roll. At the time I was open to anything that looked good. For example, the Rockers decorated their belts and leather jackets with studs in quite intricate designs, and this appealed to me, but the Mods choice of music was far more interesting and innovative. The Rockers dress sense was very macho and they could look pretty good, especially when the trend for skintight, ice blue jeans came into style. They also had a reputation for being far more violent than the Mods, arming themselves with bicycle chains and studied belts. Many of the ‘battles’ between the Mods and Rockers through the streets of Leicester involved Mods haranguing Rockers and then running off with the Rockers giving chase. As far as I can remember, there was a lot of running and squaring up to each other, and not a lot of fighting. There was a sickening atmosphere of violence over the whole affair though. It accompanied the growth of fighting and hooliganism at football matches, which had it’s roots during this period, although there is evidence that this probably started much earlier. I can remember being a part of ‘battles’ in town where we sang the Dave Clark Five song Catch Us if you Can (1965) as we ran:

“Here they come again, mmmm-mm-mm

Catch us if you can, mmmm-mm-mm

Time to get a move on, mmmm-mm-mm

We will yell with all of our might! [drums kick in]

Catch us if you can …”  (Dave Clark Five 1965)

My third year at school lasted from September 1964 to August 1965. During this time I befriended perhaps one of the most unusual people I have ever met. He wasn’t in the same class as me but we became inseparable for nearly a year. That was until we got arrested for stealing two footballs (in case you are wondering, they were deflated!) from Lewis’s Department Store in Leicester. We ended up before the Juvenile Court and I was given a £3 fine and he was sent away to what the Americans call Juvie (Approved School in England, although there were other types of juvenile detention). He actually had quite a few previous offences so the court considered I had been led astray and that is why his punishment was more severe. To the chagrin of my parents I had become a fully fledged Juvenile Delinquent, a phrase that was banded about quite a lot in those days.

However, my friend wasn’t really a delinquent at all. He didn’t really tick any of the boxes, except that he was a truly obsessive kleptomaniac. He took massive risks and actually got away with it most of the time. He was addicted to the adrenaline rush and I really picked up on that and became an adrenaline junkie myself. He wasn’t really a criminal even. He wasn’t trying to profit from it, he really was just living for kicks, a phrase that was used a lot in those days. Apart from that, he was a nice, kind person from a quite respectable background. After 1965, to my regret, I never saw him again until I was doing a gig at The Crows Nest, Leicester in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, by then, apart from our shared school experience, we no longer had much in common.

During my fourth year at school from 1965 to 1966 I decided to give up my criminal ways and pursue more artistic and cultural interests. I started going to the Phoenix Theatre that had recently opened, and I also attended all sorts of concerts at the De Montfort Hall some of which I paid for and others I just hung about outside, this included Bob Dylan’s famous electric gig and also the American Folk Blues tours where I actually got to meet Son House and Willie Dixon.

Image result for bob dylan leicester 1966

It was during this time that I first got involved with the local Leicester live music scene. With my new best friend I started going to the Green Bowler Cafe on Churchgate. This was quite a small place that became a major meeting place for the Mods. There were always rows of scooters outside and there were often encounters from the Rockers who were based at the Roman Cafe. This worked both ways and in the end there was a ‘summit’ between the owners of the respective cafes to create a ‘Pax Romana/Bowler’ which actually worked.

You could own and ride a scooter or small motorbike at the age of 15 and I would have joined the ranks of scooter owners if it wasn’t for the fact that I had another run-in with the law for riding a moped without a licence, insurance or tax. To make matters worse I foolishly gave a wrong address and when the police finally caught up with me I was given another fine and banned from driving for two years. Even with my decision to ‘go straight’ I now had two criminal offences to my name and I hadn’t even reached the age of 16. My future was not looking good!

The Green Bowler had a few tables at the front and side and at the back was the bar selling ‘frothy coffee’, two American pinball machines and a superb jukebox containing all the latest hits. For me, the pinball machines were the big draw. After a certain amount of points you’d get a replay, and you could get even more replays as the game continued. The essence of the game was to stay on as long as possible and there were many people keen to displace you. It is a real game of skill and quick reactions and I became a bit of a ‘Pinball Wizard’ (not like the Who’s ‘Tommy’ though. I couldn’t do it with my eyes closed!)

There were girls at the Green Bowler and it was a great social scene. I met my first proper girlfriend there. The girls had their own style that was quite androgynous. When Andy Warhol encountered British Mod Fashion in New York at the time of the British Invasion he was impressed by how the boys looked like girls and the girls looked like boys. The rest of America weren’t quite as sure though, especially in the Deep South! Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick became the first American Mod Girl and the style went International!

1960's Mod. Edie Sedgwick
Mod American style with Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick

As time went on the owners opened up a club upstairs called The Antiquity Club. This was tiny but there was a small stage where local groups played and there were alcoves, and a jukebox that was even louder than the one downstairs. Without a doubt, you have never really heard classic 60s hits like the Stones, Who or the Beatles until you hear them on a loud classic jukebox (45 rpm singles, not digital rubbish!).

A friend of mine has said that there was the intention of opening another club in the basement of the Green Bowler but I never experienced this. There is a large interesting building next door that became the Freewheeler Club in the 1970s. This was quite a happening place for a few years.

By 1967 the Mod scene was splitting. Many of the Faces (trend setting figures) were moving towards the Hippie Counterculture, which was far more fashion-conscious than the American equivalent, whilst others stuck to the somewhat grim, violent, right-wing morality of what eventually became the Skinheads. The Green Bowler lasted for a few more years and became meeting spot for people and musicians but the real scene for me moved to other places like the Chameleon, the Art Centre Cafe, The Fuddyduddy (Kenco Coffee House on Granby Street) and the Art College Chaplaincy Centre (on Newarke Street). 

 

Living the Bohemian Student Dream in 1960s Paris

studentsinparis

I love to find a good Paris photo story that I haven’t seen before, and this one that I found buried in the LIFE archives is a quite the treat. Veteran photographer for the magazine Loomis Dean followed a group of young students in 1961, getting an intimate peek into their lives as they pursued the bohemian dream in mid-century Paris.

And you know what? It doesn’t seem like much has changed. Clicking through, I noticed the routines didn’t seem so different from the Paris I’ve come to know today. Whether you start out in a tiny attic room or student dorms, throw yourself into the café culture or lose yourself in art museums, Paris is more recogniseable than ever in this photo story from decades past…

Monday nights at the local…

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The mid-week hangovers…

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Actual photo caption: “Student with a hangover”.

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To the Café! (and make it a double)…

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Close living quarters (the dorm room years)…

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A college dormitory at number 57 Rue Lacépède in the 5th arrondissement (Latin Quarter). 

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There is still a café under this building called La Contrescarpe (see it here on Google earth).

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A student looking through his music.

dorm2

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 A Classroom in Paris

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Students studying in a park.

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Art students visiting a gallery.

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Every hour is Apéro Hour!

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Getting to know the locals…

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(over Pastis-fuelled philosophical debates)

parisbar6

 

Beatnik shindigs in old wine cellars…

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Ending up at a house parties, having no idea who the apartment belongs to.

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Saturday nights in.

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Inspiration-searching Sundays…

parisstreet

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Strolling down the Seine…

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Art students “picnicking” with their models…

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Not forgetting Springtime loves…

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And of course, too many damn cigarettes.

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All photos (c) LIFE

Heaven and Hell Coffee Lounge in Soho, W1 |Eric Lindsay

This is a brilliant blog post about the Heaven and Hell Coffee Bar in Soho. Sadly not with us anymore. Check it out!!

Ray Jackson and I opened Heaven and Hell in late 1955. I had the idea from when I had been working in Paris, where there was a type of cheap cabaret called  “Ciel at l’Enfer” “Heaven and Hell” in Pigalle. The name and the place intrigued me, so later when I was in Paris again with Ray, I took him along to see the place and he also thought it was tacky but great.

Source: Heaven and Hell Coffee Lounge in Soho, W.I. | ericlindsay 

The Cy Laurie Club and The Harmony Inn, Soho (1950s Greasy Spoon)

This is an account of the Harmony which was an all night cafe in Soho. It is famous for being the meeting place of the earliest modern jazz musicians in England as well as some of the most dubious “wide-boys” and gangsters of London!

Cy Laurie

The late 50s was the height of the English traditional jazz boom and Soho was a Mecca for trad’ fans who headed for the clubs of Ken Colyer and Humphrey Lyttleton. But by far the most successful venue was the Cy Laurie Club.

Unlike some of his fellow New Orleans jazz revivalists, Cy never made the charts but his club was by far the most popular. Situated in scruffy Ham Yard, at the junction of Great Windmill and Archer Street, it was entered by going through a set of doors it shared with a strip-club and a boxing gym. (Ham Yard was used by the street traders of Rupert Street to store their barrows.)

A dingy staircase descended into a vast basement that was used as a dance rehearsal room during the day. There was little in the way of décor, just hardwood floors and a few dilapidated sofas, alongside minimal lighting and a PA system that worked only intermittently.

Refreshments – limited to soft drinks and crisps – were dispensed from a crude bar next to some equally crude toilets.

Despite the dismal surroundings Cy’s band drew an enormous following from, initially, art school students with a distinctly bohemian bent.

Drainpipe trousers and Jesus-sandals were de rigeur for guys, along with Bardot hairstyles for females and compulsory duffel coats for both sexes.

The club’s fame soon spread and at the weekends hundreds of fans from the suburbs packed into the smoke-filled basement, all jiving wildly as Cy waved his clarinet in front of his six piece stomping group.

The craziest scenes were at the occasional all-niters that drew much unfavourable reporting from the popular press. (Although drugs were used by jazz musicians they were very rarely seen amongst their audiences.)

When the sessions finished at eleven most of the kids ran for the late night buses and tubes back to the suburbs, but the few who hung about often ended up in the small hours in the only place around that stayed open through the night – a big greasy spoon caff in the middle of Archer Street audaciously named The Harmony Inn.

Archer Street ran behind Great Windmill Street and was home to the Musician’s Union offices. On Monday mornings in the 50s and 60s all manner of musicians would gather there to find engagements for dance bands, jazz groups and even classical orchestras. (Recently, BBC4’s Jazz Britannia series aired a documentary about it called The Street.)

Everything about The Harmony was unsavoury. Grubby Formica tables and chairs were ranged around a dismal counter in a totally bland room; the only colour was the red and white shirts on the table football teams. The most exotic fare was a cheese sandwich, tea and foul Camp coffee.

The clientele were even more dubious. The late-night trad’ fans who drifted in had little in common with the Harmony Inn’s regulars. The customers that it attracted after midnight were drawn from the spivs, petty and major criminals that gave Soho a bad name: Billy Hill, Tony Muller, Ronnie Chambers, Mick the Hammer, and the Capone figure of Jack Spot.

The caff was presided over by Dixie France who was allegedly a police informer who gave evidence at the Hanratty murder trial (and mysteriously committed suicide shortly after Hanratty was hanged in 1962.)

Those in the know said that there was an arsenal of weapons under the counter ready for any emergencies, mostly the punch-ups that arose over the football machine that occupied one corner of the room.

There was also a downstairs room used as a private club. Details of what occurred there are sketchy but are said to involve a pair of West Indian girls whose dancing skills were much ‘admired’.

Alongside the heavies and trad-merchants, The Harmony was also the hang-out for a group of modern jazz musicians that had formed around tenor-sax man Ronnie Scott. (Jazz Modernists would have no truck with trad’ which they considered an anachronism. Their heroes were the New York bop musicians like Charley Parker, Dizzy Gillespe and Thelonius Monk.)

The audience for modern jazz was relatively small and there was no central venue for it in the West End, but the Harmony Inn played a crucial role in its development.

Ronnie Scott’s Club house-magazine editor Jim Godbolt recalls: “We (including Ronnie Scott, Peter King, Benny Green, Derek Humble, Tony Crombie and Jimmy Deuchar) were all sitting in the Harmony Inn in Archer Street, near Piccadilly, one day in January 1953 when we conceived the idea of forming a nine piece co-operative band and it turned out to be one of the better ideas we had that year.”

The Harmony cafe crew would go on to set the foundations for modern jazz in England.

© Steve Fletcher

The Cy Laurie Club

Great Windmill Street, London W1.

One of the earliest jazz clubs in the UK was run by the clarinetist Cy Laurie. Born in London in 1926, Cy was an admirer of New Orleans clarinet player Johnny Dodds and would claim to be the reincarnation of Dodds, even though Dodds was alive while Cy was a teenager.

Here’s Cy Laurie’s band playing Sol Blues in 1955 with Alan Elsdon (trumpet), Graham Stewart (trombone), Cy Laurie (clarinet), Pat Hawes (piano), Brian Munday (banjo), Stan Leader (bass), and Peter Mawford (drums) :

Cy had previously run a small weekly club at the Seven Stars in Bow, but in the early 1950s he started up the club for which he would become so well known. Cy Laurie’s Jazz Club became a focal point for live traditional jazz for most of the decade and was renowned particularly for its all-night raves.

41 Great Windmill Street 2011

The club was in the basement of 41 Great Windmill Street opposite the Windmill Theatre in London’s West End. During the day, the space was used as Mac’s Rehearsal Rooms. Many jazz musicians used the rehearsal rooms at that time – if you were living in a flat or a bed-sit, you needed somewhere to practise or rehearse to avoid disturbing the neighbours. There was a nightclub on the ground floor and a boxing gymnasium on the first floor. An obituary for Cy Laurie in the Daily Telegraph newspaper (click here) describes the setting as: ‘Dark and intimate, with a dance floor surrounded by dilapidated sofas, these premises held an irresistible bohemian appeal for the young people from the suburbs who flocked to the club’s “all-nite raves”’.

Above: 41 – 44 Great Windmill Street in 2011 opposite The Windmill. Ham Yard is a little further up on the left, and Archer Street opposite Ham Yard on the right.

There is an excellent description of the club on the website Classic Cafés (click here). The page is primarily about the Harmony Cafe in Archer Street but says of Cy’s Club: ‘Situated in scruffy Ham Yard, at the junction of Great Windmill and Archer Street, it was entered by going through a set of doors it shared with a strip-club and a boxing gym. (Ham Yard was used by the street traders of Rupert Street to store their barrows.) A dingy staircase descended into a vast basement that was used as a dance rehearsal room during the day. There was little in the way of décor, just hardwood floors and a few dilapidated sofas, alongside minimal lighting and a PA system that worked only intermittently. Later on it became the most iconic club of the Mods in the early 60s The Scene, which became the model for many other clubs throughout the U.K. e.g. the Nite Owl club in Leicester.

Cy Laurie Club programme

Steve Fletcher has sent us this programme for the Cy Laurie Jazz Club in 1956. You can see from the programme that in 1956 jazz was on the menu every day of the week from 7.15 pm to 10.45 pm and if you were a member you could get in for 3/- (was that 30p?). Steve says: ‘I have lots of memories of the Cy Laurie club. I spent so many evenings there that eventually the manager gave me a job on the door. It was simply the best ‘trad’ club in London from 1953 – 58. Why? Not because it had the best music – we teenagers at the time could not really make reasoned judgements about whether Cy’s band was that much better than Ken Colyer’s or Humph’s. In all of the clubs you just went in to jive – and to try to pull a chick – and Cy’s had the best chicks, mainly from St Martin’s Art School. Cy’s, certainly at weekends, was packed to capacity, and personally I never left without a different bird on my arm. Humph’s was for tourists and Colyer’s for purists but Cy’s was for jiving and raving.’

‘The place itself was a dump, a grubby basement rehearsal room with no decent furniture, clapped-out P.A., filthy toilets and a lousy little tea bar – but the arty bohemian mob loved it like they loved the French coffee bar in Old Compton Street. Ironically Cy, himself was a very straight guy – aesthetic vegetarian, non smoker or drinker, and a total disciple of Johnny Dodds who would not compromise to cash in on the ‘trad’ boom. I was never really a ‘trad’ fan – at home I was listening to Mulligan and Kenton – but I would never miss a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night at Cy’s – for half-a-crown’s worth of unbridled noise, smoke, sweat-laden jiving and – what all young men are looking for…’

This photograph of an all-night session at the Cy Laurie Club in March 1956 is by Magnum photographer, David Hurn. It was used widely to advertise an exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in London in 2008 – Soho Archives 1950s and 1960s. You are

Cy Laurie Club photograph

able to see this and other images of Soho by clicking here.

There are two recollections of the Club on the History Is Made At Night web blog that help in describing Cy’s Club and the scene at that time (click here). The blog quotes the source of the recollections as being http://www.jazzhouse.org/com, but that website no longer seems to have the information.

‘The Windmill Street club was the Saturday Night magnet in my late teens; it was the music and the atmosphere, but also the place to find out the address of that week’s rave; there were five of us, and between us we could muster three cars – unusual in those days – which ensured that we always gathered passengers who knew the ropes. On one then celebrated occasion, four of us went to Manchester, at the drop of a hat in an Austin A35, by the time we got there it was all over, so we returned to London with an extra passenger, who had been given a trumpet which he taught himself to play on the journey’ (so years before the late 1980s London orbital parties, the convoy of rave pilgrims was established).’

Ham Yard

Great Windmill Street with Ham Yard to the right in 2010

‘All nighters at Cy’s were a buzz. I was one of the – all dressed in black and often barefoot – dancers who was first AND last on the floor…. Cy’s place was a culture thing, and included the early morning rush to Waterloo station to get the Milk Train to Hastings, for “FUN” in the Hastings caves’. Others would stumble into the Harmony Inn cafe in Archer Street. By the end of the 1950s, Laurie had moved on to India to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, beating the Beatles to it, while revivalist jazz had been superseded by the trad jazz boom and a new crowd of ravers.’

Archer Street was just round the corner from Great Windmill Street and it was there that musicians would meet in the street outside the Musicians Union office making contacts for gigs.

In 1958 a film was made to advertise the Ford Thames Van range. Called Band Wagon, it is a valuable piece of film in that features some rare footage of the Cy Laurie Jazz Band. Here is the video.

Steve Fletcher has identified some of the musicians: Cy Laurie -clarinet, Colin Smith – trumpet, Terry Pitts – trombone, Stan Leader – bass … but who are the drummer and banjo player? (Chris Mitchell tells us that the drummer is Ernie O’Malley and the banjo player is Tim Streeton).

Cy Laurie Mug

By the way – did you know that you can buy a Cy Laurie mug for £8.99? (click the picture)

From Norman Simpson

Norman comments on the video of the Cy Laurie band:

‘I suspect that the banjoist is Tim Stretton and the drummer Ernie O’Malley. The band had a pianist at the time, Ron Weatherburn, but he obviously couldn’t fit in the van – so it wasn’t all that great a bandwagon!’
4.2011