Tonite Let’s All Make Love in Leicester: Peter Whitehead and the Long 1960s (March 2017 De Montfort University)

Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th of March 2017 I attended a conference at DMU, Leicester about film maker Peter Whitehead, and celebrating the donation of his archive to the University.

I found out about it late but am really glad I went. There were some excellent talks that brought new light to the meaning and relevance of the 1960s Counterculture, and other aspects of the Swinging 60s, and also a sublime showing of Whitehead’s Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London on the big screen at Phoenix Square Cinema, Leicester. It was almost like watching a different film to the one I have only previously seen on YouTube.

This is a fascinating view of what was happening at the height of what is now seen as the first great flowering of the Counterculture. It is not uncritical though and the seeds of it’s decline can be seen in the interviews of contemporary stars like Julie Christie, Michael Caine and David Hockney. There is almost a sense of impending loss, and also a critique of it’s superficiality and materialism.

The film is really a response to Time Magazine’s famous article about Swinging London that shifted American’s ‘must visit’ tourist location from Paris to London. After a brilliant start with footage from the UFO Club accompanied by a great version of Interstellar Overdrive by Pink Floyd, Michael Caine bizarrely announces that “…it all started with the loss of the British Empire….”

There is no narrative as such but a series of Chapters that are linked by the time and place, and a general sense of bewilderment by the participants. Following some amazing footage of the Rolling Stones live in Ireland Mick Jagger comes across as a slightly lost , petulant school boy trying to make sense of it all “… they don’t like violence but they themselves are violent which doesn’t seem to make sense…”. Yes okay Mick, thanks for that, you sound just like my mother. Julie Christie, who looks absolutely stunning, bemoans the fact that she is totally superficial and has nothing to say “… everything’s happening to me and I’m not happening to anything…am I allowed to talk?…”. David Hockney is not impressed by ‘Swinging London’ at all and prefers New York and California. The bars stay open til 2 a.m. and the drinks are cheaper and he can meet ordinary people in the clubs, unlike London which is overpriced and exclusive. To be fair though, David Hockney has been moaning about something for most of his life, quite often about not being allowed to smoke cigarettes wherever he wants! He is very amusing though. When Julie Christie smokes a cigarette in the film she doesn’t look like she quite knows what to do with it. Vanessa Redgrave, on the other hand, exudes confidence and political commitment and sings a capella and lectures the audience, a bit like an over-confident trainee teacher.

Andrew Loog Oldham is the stereotype of a cynical, Svengali-like pop manager who talks about how he ‘invented’ the Rolling Stones image as the ‘bad boys’ of pop, which, in fact, they quite obviously are not. He revels in his lack of knowledge but obviously believes he can do anything he wants “… I might get into politics someday..or films” he says. In some ways, this is quite a refreshing and confident attitude. Nevertheless, he never did get into either politics or films which is probably just as well as I am sure he would have joined the ranks of the Thatcherites and done something really terrible like close down the NHS or sell the whole of England to Disneyworld. The film ends where it began with some amazing footage of dancers at the UFO Club and the music of Pink Floyd. A truly remarkable film! There is a real sense of dynamism and change. The way the music accompanies the live performances of the Stones is inspired especially with the song Lady Jane. Whitehead doesn’t bother about synchronicity and blends unrelated recordings with live footage. Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing in the Shadows), a surprisingly dark and seemingly uncommercial recording (even though it was a top ten hit), it’s not unlike the Velvet Underground, plays while the band and audience go wild and Lady Jane introduces a strange and eerie sense of calm.

The rest of the conference passed quickly. It took place over two days but the papers delivered were so fascinating that I never lost interest the whole time I was there. This has got to be a first for me, my attention can easily wander! I usually have alternative activities at hand in case I get bored! Didn’t need them this time! There were a wide range of themes that dealt with the 60s with some, but not all, relating to the work of Peter Whitehead

Adrian Smith discussed the interesting sub genre The Love Business: European Prostitution Drama as British Popular Entertainment. This dealt with the film distributors who were showing European films, many of which had a serious sub-text, as soft porn films to a British audience. There are some echoes of this theme in a recent Channel 4 series Magnifica 70 that deals with film and censorship in Brazil in 1970. Worryingly, this is about a right wing dictatorship in Brazil but could just as easily be about censorship and social control in Britain in the 1960s.  Definitely worth a look.

The Love Business: European Prostitution Drama as British Popular Entertainment

Richard Farmar looked at the bizarre film The Touchables and Melanie Williams gave an interesting account of the film maker David Hart. She talked about the “Right-wing Counterculture” which to some would be a contradiction in terms. The majority of  countercultural participants were either “left wing” or perhaps “apolitical” but she made a very good argument about how many issues, like women’s lib or gay rights, could belong to either the left or right.  She pointed out how politician and journalist Jonathon Aitken started as a countercultural figure in the 1960s but ended up as a cabinet minister in the Conservative Government of the 1980s (before he ended up in jail, that is!). I have investigated elements of right wing attitudes in my essay The Decline of the 1960s Counterculture and the Rise of Thatcherism in which I look at libertarianism and other aspects of the counterculture in the 1980s such as sexual freedom, drug taking and “alternative” businesses such as Virgin and Gap.

David Hart and Right-wing Counterculture

Caroline Langhorst gave an interesting talk on three lesser known films of the 1960s all of which are critical of the optimism and the joie de vivre of the period. These are Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, Privilege (starring Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones) and Herostratus (featuring a young Helen Mirren).

1960s Dystopian Tendecies

Both Privilege and, especially, Herostratus are relatively unknown films. Privilege had a cinema release in the 1960s (I actually saw it) but I believe Herostratus was virtually lost, although there is a copy now on Blu-ray (which I have yet to see). There are some clips of it on YouTube which are quite intriguing. Personally, I feel that the films that really define and critique the era, especially in terms of pop music and the counterculture, are Easy Rider, Performance (featuring Mick Jagger) and, of course, Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London. What becomes generally apparent is the mainstream media’s inability to really understand what is going on during this period. Their attempt to commercialise the movement in films of the time often produced a cliched view of pop culture and society that, for some, defines what the 1960s are about but is actually a ridiculous fiction.

Niki de Sainte Phalle with her trademark targets. An influence on Mod fashion?

There were some interesting talks about feminism in the 1960s. Alissa Clark investigated Peter Whitehead and Niki de Saint-Phalle’s collaberation Daddy. In 1972, Saint Phalle shot footage for this surreal horror film about a deeply troubled father-daughter, love-hate relationship. She was an artist, sculptor and film maker who made quite an impact on the avant garde scene from the 1940s onwards.

Jane Arden “The Other Side of Underneath”

There was also a passionate and forceful account of radical filmmaker and theatremaker Jane Arden who I had actually not heard of before. In 1970, Arden formed the radical feminist theatre group Holocaust and then wrote the play A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches. The play would later be adapted for the screen as The Other Side of the Underneath (1972). Arden directed the film and appeared in it uncredited; screenings at film festivals, including the 1972 London Film Festival, caused a considerable stir. The film depicts a woman’s mental breakdown and rebirth in scenes at times violent and highly shocking; the writer and critic George Melly described it as “a most illuminating season in Hell”, while the BBC Radio journalist David Will declared the film to be “a major breakthrough for the British cinema”. Interesting stuff!

Stephen Glynn gave an entertaining look at Whitehead’s films of the Rolling Stones including the iconic promotional film for the song We Love You and Steve Chibnall showed us what the 1960s Counterculture was like in a provincial city, namely Leicester! Well, I should know because I was there, but he managed to come out with facts that I knew nothing about. For example, how the local paper The Leicester Mercury led a campaign to close down the late night clubs and coffee bars that proliferated at the time. Do You Know What Your Children Are Up To While You Sleep? screamed the headlines. My favourite band Legay complained that they had hardly anywhere left to play and were moving to London! I am shocked and stunned by these revelations!

Jimi Hendrix at the Leicester Art College Hawthorn Building. Local rock and roll band Warlock ended up doing the support spot.

Richard Dacre gave an entertaining account of the Counterculture and Peter Whitehead at the Royal Albert Hall. Apparently, after Wholly Communion, poetry performances were banned at the hall for more than 20 years! Hilarious. I am looking forward to the Whitehead inspired festival at the RAH later on this year!

Counterculture at the Royal Albert Hall

 

 

 

 

The ‘Hungry I’ Pancake House.

Blog about one of the great Leicester places. I used to go there often with friends in the late 60s/early 70s. The pancakes were good and the atmosphere was fantastic. Candle light and Jazz. You can’t beat it.

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During the 1960’s one of the places to go, in Leicester was a pancake house called the ‘Hungry I’.  A great place for an evening out, good food, and great music.  The’ Hungry I’ was owned by The Monk brothers, and the music was provided by The Monk Brothers Quartet.  They advertised it as, ‘ muted jazz by candlelight’. 

The whole place was very atmospheric, and to us then,  full of excitement.  We usually went in the late evenings, and I only ever remember approaching it through the lamp lit streets.  Down a very narrow Lane  behind the main shops, and in at a small doorway, then up the winding stairs and as you climbed the smell of food, cigarette smoke and the  sound of lovely drifty jazz came down to meet you.  It sounds rather prosaic and un- pc by todays standards, but really you had to be a teenager in the 1960’s to appreciate it. 

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The Beatles Live at De Montfort Hall in Leicester, U.K. 1st December 1963

This is a re-post of Catherine Turnell’s blog about the Beatles in Leicester U.K. The original can be found here http://leicestershirelalala.com/the-beatles-at-de-montfort-hall-in-leicester/

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The Beatles played at De Montfort Hall three times. Sunday, March 31, 1963, December 1, 1963 and October 10, 1964.

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It was as if time at De Montfort Hall had gone into some kind of gloopy slow motion. From the back of the stage, John, Paul, George and Ringo confidently strode towards the crowd – and into a deafening wall of hysterical screaming.

It was Sunday, December 1, 1963, and Beatlemania had touched down in Leicester.

Popular music, here and the world over, was already in a state of shock.

For the 3,000 children, teenagers and adults who got tickets at 3/6d each, the concert had been feverishly anticipated for weeks.

In the village of Burbage, brothers Paul and Roy Wheatcroft had fed their Beatles hunger by poring over every scrap of inky newspaper they could find. On discovering the band were playing in Leicester, the 12 and 10 year old knew they had to be there.

Tickets were going on sale at the Rugby Road offices of Hinckley’s Mr Showbiz – Arthur Kimbrell – at 9am on a midweek morning. Mr Kimbrell, praise his name, was the concert’s promoter.

De Montfort Hall Concert promoter Arthur Kimbrell, (1961) gave thousands of people the best nights out of their lives. Mr Kinmbrell arranged appearances at De Montfort Hall by such stars as the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Engelbert Humperdinck

However, The Beatles had actually been to Leicester before, the March previous, but without fanfare.

“Roy and I went to bed early so we could be at the office – a mile’s walk away – before 2am. We arrived to find six people before us, but we were the youngest.

“At about 6am a policeman turned up to keep his eye on the growing crowd. He spoke to Mr Kimbrell and we were allowed into the inner sanctum an hour early to pick up our tickets.”

As it turned out, they managed to get prime seats on the front row and brought friend Nigel Dawson, 13, with them.

“The Fab Four,” remembers Paul, “had given an interview shortly before the performance saying that their favourite sweets were jelly babies. And so, during the journey to Leicester, my dad stopped his Ford Escort and my little brother bought a box.”

As it turns out later, they weren’t the only ones to stop off for the jellied sweets.

However, getting Beatles tickets in Leicester was a little more fraught.

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George Harrison fan Jennifer Fivaz (nee Woods) from Melton, was a schoolgirl living in West Knighton.

“The main thing I remember was queuing all night for the tickets. I must have been 16 and we must have been right at the beginning of the queue.

“We started queuing at 9pm and we were getting the tickets the following morning.

“I remember being wrapped in a sleeping bag. In the early hours there were a lot of people in front of us.

“Police were doing crowd control and they had Alsatian dogs, pushing us up against the wall and the dogs were snapping at our ankles. It was quite frightening.

“Of course,” she remembers, “the biggest and strongest pushed straight to the front.”

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On the night of the performance, the gloom had set in for WPc Frances Harris (nee Edginton) who was working at Charles Street police station.

She was vexed to discover she wasn’t going to keep an eye on The Beatles during her shift – three hundred officers had already been chosen for duty.

Back then, WPcs were allowed to go backstage at the hall and with that, the biggest band in Britain had been within tantalising grasp of the 20 year old fan.

Frances was given messages to take to CID men in the traffic office and stomped out into the police station’s cobbled yard, and into the traffic room.

On the return journey she half noticed a dark car in the quad, and marched back to the control room still fuming.

Sensing her displeasure, the traffic sergeant started asking her about The Beatles, and if she liked them.

Of course she did, was her response. Although she didn’t let slip that John Lennon was her favourite.

“He said ‘they are in our enclosure, in the quad’,” recalls Frances.

“They’d brought them in the side door and just left them in the car, to keep them safe from the fans. I didn’t even think to look in.

“He went on to say they looked as if they needed a good shave.”

Squashed in the van, the lads kept themselves to themselves and passed the time listening to a radio.

Sadly, the car had gone by the time the WPc had learned the truth. “I probably got nearer to them than anybody,” says Frances, who lives in Leicester’s Narborough Road South.

“I was so annoyed I didn’t even think. It was evening and it was dark in there. It taught me a lesson: You keep your eyes open.

“I don’t mind telling you, I hope they thought ‘that’s a good looking WPc’.”

The screams and heat inside De Montfort Hall were escalating as The Beatles, the biggest band in England, arrived ignominiously in the back of a Leicestershire Constabulary dog van.

All night, no-one had heard a note from support acts the Vernon Girls or Peter Jay and the Jay Walkers.

And then, the time had come.

The Beatles, entering from the back and middle of the stage, took up their positions. The crowd went wild.

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“It was absolute bedlam,” remembers Geoffrey Freeman, a semi-retired warehouseman from Evington. “When they came on stage you couldn’t hear a thing.

“It was fantastic. I could see the stage and I could see John and Paul and George. There was a post, and so I couldn’t see Ringo or his drum kit.

“I think there was just one song they played I could actually hear. I think it was Please Please Me and most of the time all I could see was people jumping up and down in front of me.

“I’d always been a Beatles fan, right from the start,” says Geoffrey, who was 19. “I’d picked up on it early.

“I’ve been to various other concerts since and I’ve never seen an atmosphere like that ever.”

It wasn’t long before the heat and hysteria took its toll. Within minutes, girl after girl started fainting, and the police, along with St John Ambulance, had a fight on their hands.

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Janice Benfield (nee Barnwell), was 18, and working at Frears and Black bakery, where Abbey Park’s B&Q is today. She went with three other girls from work.

It was steaming inside De Montfort and very, very loud, she recalls.

“Some girl who fainted was passed over our heads, nearly knocking our hair off!” she says. “It was very, very noisy and very hot. God was it hot.

“Girls were crying ‘Oh John! Oh Paul!’

“Oh God,” she sniggers, “I was one of them girls. I loved John. I loved him. I had my eyes on him all night. I couldn’t hear the music; they only had to move and the screams went up. It didn’t spoil the show, though. They only had to open their mouths and the girls would go bonkers.

“It was a brilliant night, I’ve never forgotten what it was like.

“The Beatles was my first big gig and it really opened my eyes.”

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Eric Bridding, a pensioner from Lincolnshire, was six rows from the front and “never heard a sound all night”. “But,” he says, “I did see their mouths move. Mind you, I was old even then,” he laughs.

Fourteen year old Jo Harrison (nee Meadows) spent most of the evening stood on a chair in Row Y, seat 39.

The mum of two from Oadby was with friend Sheila Angrave and the pair were schoolgirls at Oadby’s Beauchamp College.

“It was quite scary, just the sheer hysteria. You were there and everyone around you was screaming. I wasn’t very big and I’m not very tall now.

“We stood on chairs rather than sit down. I remember the screaming starting fairly early. Although, when they came on stage, it went so loud that it went into a hiss.

“This is really embarrassing,” says Jo with a dry chuckle, “there was a Beatles song Til There Was You and it had one line about ‘sweet fragrant meadows’. When they played it my friend looked at me and said “he said your name”. I was a Meadows then and I knew it was coming.”

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Jo, a retired children’s speech therapist, still has the gold brochure from the gig and priceless memories.

“You couldn’t believe you were seeing them, it was just amazing to see them. At the time I just adored Paul McCartney.”

Of course, the room wasn’t just full of hysterical screaming fans. It was also full of hysterical screaming fans with bags of Jelly Babies. The Beatles had told a radio presenter they were the band’s favourite confectionery.

Teenagers Carole Digby and cousin Sandra Boyer were among the numbers at De Montfort.

“We’d heard that Paul McCartney liked Jelly Babies, so we went to Woolworths and bought a 1lb bag,” says Carole, a teaching assistant at English Martyrs.

“The security guards had threatened to throw people out if any more were thrown on stage, but we carried on.

“My cousin’s father worked at De Montfort Hall and he got me all their photographs and autographs. I wish I still had them now.”

It was raining Jelly Babies a few seats forward on the front row, remembers Paul Wheatcroft.

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“Within minutes of The Beatles being on stage, one or two people started to throw the occasional jelly baby but soon it was a barrage. My brother opened his box and threw one or two and a policeman in front of the stage pointed at him and shook his head. So my brother had to continue throwing cautiously.

“It was during a duet with Paul and John singing into the same microphone when my brother launched a jelly baby which sailed through the air and hit John Lennon squarely on the neck. The pair burst out laughing and stopped playing for a short time. To this day, that’s my brother’s claim to fame.”

Forklift truck driver Nigel Dawson was sat next to Paul and his brother Roy.

For all three, The Beatles were the first band they ever saw live.

“Yes, I suppose it is quite something,” says Nigel, from Burbage. “That’s not bad, is it?”

“I remember at the end of the concert there was a chap who jumped over from the right hand side of the balcony. He lowered himself down so far and jumped the final distance onto the stage, walked over to them and they all walked off together to the right. I wonder who he was?”

Teresa Ashton (nee Richardson) was 14 and living on Eyres Monsell estate with her family. She was a fan of blond boy wonder Adam Faith at the time and The Beatles meant nothing to her.

ENTERTAINMENT.The Beatles at De Montfort Hall, December 1, 1963PICTURE WILL JOHNSTON

If it wasn’t for her good friend Ann Lawrence’s convincing entreaties, she would never have gone.

But, lucky for her, she did: “It was the most wonderful experience ever,” she says, reminiscing from her home in Barrow on Soar. “It was very noisy and happy; I made several new friends that night. I particularly remember coming out with a sore throat with all the screaming and shouting.

“I also got into a lot of trouble when I got home late.

“From that concert, several of us off the estate never missed a pop concert there again,” she says, happily, “and I’ve been a Beatles fan ever since.”

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(Written by Catherine Turnell. A similar version to this story was first published in the Leicestershire Chronicle. Images copyright the Leicester Mercury)

Live Music Clubs and Coffee Bars in Soho, London in the 1950s and 60s

This blog was originally published on the web site Sixties City where you can find more information about Swinging London! It doesn’t include some of the legendary folk venues like Bungie’s and Les Cousins but it certainly gives a comprehensive background to British Jazz , Rock & Roll and Mod culture. It’s interesting to note how short lived some of these places were but had a significant long term impact. This is also true for the many coffee bars in my home town of Leicester that were imitations of the London trend but had a massive influence on the local live music scene with places like the Green Bowler, the Nite Owl, The Chameleon and the Casino Ballroom.

A couple of years back I visited the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool where the Beatles started.When it was opened it was based on the 2is Coffee Bar in London where most of the early British Rock & Rollers played. It is incredibly well preserved and gives a real insight into the Coffee Bar trend of the 60s. The fact there was no alcohol served meant they could open when they wanted, even all night, and created a real live culture that was full of confidence and cultural aspiration. This is where the success of the British music industry was really established.

Of particular interest to me was the club called the Scene which obviously became the template for many similar clubs around the country during the height of the Mod era. Like them it was very short lived but shone with an intense and powerful light during it’s existence. Until relatively recently I knew nothing about this club but all the regular acts like Georgie Fame and his Blue Flames, The Graham Bond Organisation and Geno Washington and his Ram Jam Band also played often at the Nite Owl and probably many other clubs up and down the country.

Soho occupSoho Square, circa 1700ies an area of London about a square mile in size whose boundaries are generally accepted as being Oxford Street to the north, Leicester Square to the south, Charing Cross Road to the east and Regent Street to the west and includes the area known as ‘Chinatown’ which sits between Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue. These are fairly modern delineations as the original area has never been formally identified, either geographically or administratively. To the north of it is Fitzrovia, with St. James’s to the south, Covent Garden to the east and St. Giles and Mayfair to the west.

The area was open agricultural and grazing land in the Middle Ages, when it was owned by the Abbott and Convent of Abingdon and the Master of the Hospital of Burton St.Lazer (also the custodian of the Leper Hospital of St.Giles), until it was ‘acquired’ by Henry VIII, during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, for use as a royal park attached to the Palace of Whitehall.

The name of the area ‘Soho Fields’ seems to have first come into use during the early part of the 17th century and is believed to originate, for whatever reason, from an old hunting cry, which is not unlikely as the area had probably been used for ‘royal hunts’ during that period. The cry of ‘Soho!’ is certainly known to have been used as a rallying call in the Battle of Sedgemoor at the end of the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, many years after being adopted into general use for the London area.
Some of the land passed from the crown to the 1st Earl of St. Albans, Henry Jermyn, in the mid-1600s, and 19 acres of it was subsequently leased to brewer Joseph Girle who acquired building permission for the land before passing on the lease to Richard Frith in 1677. Frith, a bricklayer by trade, initiated the major construction in the area.

Soho Square c.1816The land to the south, that was to become the parish of St. Anne, was gradually sold off by the crown in parcels during the 16th and 17th centuries, some of which was acquired by Robert Sidney, the Earl of Leicester. Freehold of the bulk of the area was granted to William, Earl of Portland, by King William III in 1698. The intention of the various landowners was to try and develop the area in the same way as nearby Marylebone, Mayfair and Bloomsbury but, although attracting a few aristocrats to the likes of Soho Square and Gerrard Street, it failed to retain any long-standing popularity as a residence with the rich of the country. It did, however, attract immigrants, particularly French Calvinist Huguenots, that led to it becoming known as ‘The French Quarter’ in the latter part of the 17th century.

After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 around 15,000 Huguenots fled France to avoid the religious persecution and by 1711 almost half of the parish of Soho was French. There is still a French Protestant church at 8/9 Soho Square that they founded in 1891 – 1893.
Developed during the late 1670s, Soho Square was a very fashionable place to live in its early years. It was originally called King’s Square in honour of Charles II and a statue of the king, created by Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber, was the centre piece of the Square in 1681, atop a fountain whose four spouts represented the rivers Thames, Severn, Tyne and Humber. . It was removed during alterations to the square in 1875 and eventually placed on an island in a lake at Grim’s Dyke, where it remained until 1938 when it was restored to its present location. Its name was changedfrom King’s Square to Soho Square sometime after 1739 and two of the original houses, numbers 10 and 15, still remain. The British Board of Film Censors (now The British Board of Film Classification) was created in 1912 by the film industry, who much preferred to retain regulation of their own censorship rather than have the government do it for them, and established itself in Soho Square.

Frith Street, named after developer Richard Frith, was built around 1680. In the 18th and early 19th centuries the Bohemian influence of the area was increased by the artists, writers and other historical notables who were born, died or moved into the area in general and in this street in particular. Legal reformer Samuel Romilly was born at number 18 in 1757.
BMozart blue plaque Sohoetween 1764-5 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, together with his sister and father lodged at number 20. Painter John Alexander Gresse was here in 1784 (the year he died) and John Horne Tooke (a philologist and political figure) and artist John Constable lived here in the first decade of the 1800s. Actor William Charles Macready was living at number 64 in 1816 and essayist William Hazlitt lodged and wrote at number 6 until his death in 1830. Sculptor John Bell resided here in 1832-33 and lithographic artist Alfred Concanen worked out of a studio at number 12 for many years.
In the 20th century, John Logie Baird lived and ran his laboratory at number 22 (now occupied by Bar Italia) where, on 26th January 1926, he first demonstrated his television to Royal Institution members.
Poet William Blake was born in Soho, Shelley composed poetry in Poland Street, Casanova carried out his seductions from Greek Street when he visited London in 1764 there and Karl Marx worked on ‘Das Kapital’ while living in 54 Dean Street and also at number 28, in the building that is now the Quo Vadis restaurant. The principles of ‘The Communist Manifesto’ were laid out at a meeting in the Red Lion pub in Great Windmill Street. Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith frequented a coffee house at number 33 and next door, at 33a was Walker’s Hotel where Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson stayed before embarking for Trafalgar. Other notable political agitators residing in the area at various times included Guiseppe Mazzini, Louis Blanc and bomber Martial Bourdin, whose attack on the Greenwich Observatory in 1894 was the basis for Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘The Secret Agent’. The King Bomba delicatessen at 37 Old Compton Street was where the owner, Emidio Recchioni, and other Italian anarchists plotted the assassination of Benito Mussolini in 1931.

Over the century between about 1750 – 1850 the character of the area continued to dimPeter Berthoud - A bizarre victorian bazaarinish. The aristocracy had already departed by the middle of the 18th century and, with the subsequent neglect and lack of development, other respectable families gradually followed. In 1816-24, a rare act of the Crown was passed resulting in 700 properties being demolished to create Regent Street as a boundary between the upper classes of Mayfair and the residents of Soho. Composer Richard Wagner and his wife are known to have stayed in The Kings Arms at 23-25 Old Compton Street in 1839, and also at another establishment then called The Swiss Hotel at number 44, which was later to become known as The Swiss pub and where Harry Webb and his backing band made the decision to become Cliff Richard and The Drifters in 1958.

In 1854 there was an outbreak of cholera in Soho, caused by a spring that had become contaminated by sewage, that was tracked down to a public water pump at the junction of Broadwick Street (then called Broad Street) and Lexington Street (then called Cambridge Street ) by Dr. John Snow. The original pump has long gone, but a replica remains, a few yards away from the John Snow public house, named in his memory. By the middle of the 1800s the area had largely become populated by small theatres, music halls and, inevitably, prostitutes.

Soho has been at the centre of London’s ‘sex industry’ for well over 200 years. Between 1778 and 1801 the notorious ‘White House’, a “magical” brothel fitted out with various mechanical contraptions designed to terrify the unwary, was located at 21 Soho Square and, in more recent times, before the introduction of the 1959 Street Offences Act, prostitutes packed the streets and alleys.

BSoho Door 2012y the early Sixties there were nearly 100 strip clubs and the area was inundated with stickers and postcards (known as ‘walk-ups’) advertising ‘French Lessons’ or similarly ambiguous services. The early Sixties also saw the introduction of a number of ‘sex shops’, initially by Carl Slack, which had expanded to just under 60 locations in Soho alone, by the mid-Seventies. A photographic studio at number 4 Gerrard Street was occupied by ‘glamour photographer’ and ‘girlie magazine’ publisher Harrison Marks, who was responsible for such publications as ‘Kamera’ until he broke up with partner and ‘model’ Pamela Green in 1967.

Gerrard Street is the main thoroughfare of ‘Chinatown’ and is named after Baron Gerard of Brandon, Suffolk, who commissioned the development of the land in 1680. It first saw an influx of Chinese residents in the 1920s, but did not become a significant ‘Chinese’ area until after WWII when the oriental population was expanded by the many refugees from other heavily-bombed parts of London.

By the start of the 20th century, with the further influx of immigrants who ran cheap eating establishments, the area continued to enhance its Bohemian reputation and increasingly became ‘the’ fashionable meeting place for artists, actors, writers and intellectuals. This, in turn, provided the essential basic clientele for the opening and growth of many more drinking houses and it was during this period that local pub landlords firmly established themselves in the area. Lyons specialised in large-scale catering and the three Corner Houses in Soho seated 9,000 people, and handled up to 15 sittings (135,000 customers) a day!

Cy Laurie Club 1956The development of its music scene, for which the area and name are now world famous, is generally considered to have evolved from just after the second World War at Club Eleven, a nightclub situated at 41 Great Windmill Street , that is now looked upon as the genesis of modern jazz music in Britain. Although it only had a two year lifespan between 1948 and 1950 it was significant in the development of a form of modern jazz known as bebop. It had two ‘house’ bands – one led by Ronnie Scott which included Lennie Bush, Hank Shaw, Tony Crombie and Tommy Pollard – the other led by Johnny Dankworth which included Bernie Fenton, Laurie Morgan, Leon Calvert and Joe Muddell. These 10 musicians, together with business manager Harry Morris, gave the establishment its name – Club Eleven. The club moved to 50 Carnaby Street in 1950 but closed down a few months later as a result of a police raid. Other notable local music establishments of the period were The Daybreak Club at 44 Gerrard Street, The 51 Club in Great Newport Street and The Harmony Inn, which was a seedy, ‘open all hours’ cafe on Archer Street that provided a late-night hang-out for musicians and music fans from the nearby Cy Laurie’s Blue Heaven Club (in Ham Yard, on the site of The Ham Bone club, which originally opened in the 1920s and became Cy Laurie’s Skiffle Club in the Fifties, but was best known for its jazz music). London’s first skiffle club ‘The London Skiffle Centre’ was opened in 1952 on the first floor in The Roundhouse pub, Wardour Street, by blues guitarists Bob Watson and Cyril Davies.

The basement premises of Studio 51 (originally just known as ‘The Studio’) in Great Newport Street were owned by Vi Highland. During 1950-51 various jazz ‘clubs’ were held on different nights featuring artists such as Johnny Dankworth, Joe Muddel, The Crane River Jazz Band and Chris Barber (‘Lincoln Fields’). From May 1951 five nights of the week were earmarked for modern jazz, and these were named ‘Studio 51’, under Joe Muddel’s musical direction. When Ken Colyer returned from his New Orleans trip in 1954 a ‘club’ with his name started on Monday nights and, by 1955, it was also host to the Johnny Dankworth ‘club’ and a band led by Harry Klein. Ken Colyer’s single ‘club’ night expanded to four with the increase in popularity of trad jazz and modern jazz was largely dropped, with the venue then being known better as The Ken Colyer Club rather than Studio 51. The 1960s saw rhythm and blues taking over from trad jazz with Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, The Yardbirds and John Mayall performing there, as well as The Rolling Stones who had a residency there in 1963, although The Ken Colyer ‘club’ continued until the late 1960s.Although thought of as a comparatively modern thing, the influx of Italian immigrants saw Bar Italia being opened at 22 Frith Street, in 1949, by Lou and Caterina Polledri. It still opens 22 hours a day, is home to a Mod scooter club that meets every Sunday at 6pm and has an original 1950s Gaggia coffee machine. There was a ‘renaissance’ of coffee houses in the Fifties, but it really exploded when Gina Lollobrigida officially ‘opened’ the Moka coffee bar at 29 Frith Street in 1953, which boasted London’s first Gaggia expresso machine. Achille Gaggia had patented the espresso machine in 1938, a machine that applied steam pressure to ground coffee, extracting its flavour to create a rich, creamy foam layer. An improvement ten years later incorporated a spring that applied additional pressure, allowing the production of a short black espresso in just fifteen seconds.

Italian-style espresso bars sprang up everywhere, almost overnight, initially in Soho but rapidly spreading across the capital and the country, sparking a revival in the popularity of the drink among the younger generation who were precluded from alcohol-serving establishments. The Moka was a huge success, selling over a thousand cups of coffee a day and it survived until 1972 when it closed under strange circumstances. Beat legend William S. Burroughs was not impressed by The Moka and believed it to be responsible for an ‘outrageous and unprovoked discourtesy and poisonous cheesecake’. He decided to mount a sound-and-vision attack, as he had previously successfully done against the Church of Scientology at 37 Fitzroy Street. He maintained that ‘as soon as you start recording situations and playing them back on the street, you create a new reality’ and that constant exposure to such attacks would lead to ‘accidents, fires and removals’. He stood outside The Moka every day, taking photographs and making tape recordings, returning the next day to play the previous day’s recordings. On October 30th 1972, the Moka Bar closed.

Ma2Is coffee bar Sohony of the new espresso bars attracted the clientele of the local youth by featuring the live music for which the area was already famous, including the ‘Heaven and Hell’ in Old Compton Street and the ‘Top Ten’ in Berwick Street but the most famous of these was undoubtedly the 2i’s, in the basement of 59 Old Compton Street, which was previously a steak bar, bought and opened in its new form in 1956 by ‘Doctor Death’ – a famous masked wrestler and wrestling promoter of the time called Paul Lincoln. The establishment’s name is believed to relate to two brothers who were previous owners. The 2i’s also featured live music and was a popular venue for artists and acts hoping to be ‘discovered’.

Some of the future stars who performed there were Cliff Richard, Hank Marvin, Jet Harris, Tony Meehan, Brian Bennett, Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking, The Vipers, Tommy Steele, Russ Sainty, Tony Sheridan, Rory Blackwell, Joe Brown, Clem Cattini, Screaming Lord Sutch, Mickie Most (as The Most Brothers), Paul Gadd (who became Paul Raven and later Gary Glitter), Johnny Kidd, Big Jim Sullivan, Terry Dene, Carlo Little, Richie Blackmore, Alex Wharton, Jay Chance, Wee Willie Harris and Eden Kane. Peter Grant was employed there as a ‘bouncer’ prior to his career as the manager of Led Zeppelin and Marc Bolan worked there as a waiter. The bar was featured in Cliff Richard’s second film, ‘Expresso Bongo’, made in 1959.

Subsequent to the success of the original 2i’s, the owners established a new venue at 44 Gerrard Street, initially known as the new 2i’s but which was later to become ‘Happening 44’ where Fairport Convention played some of their first gigs. The various establishments all found their niche in the society of the area and tended to attract their own specific clientele from the various ‘cultures prevalent in the area including the Edwardian ‘teddy boys’, the bohemians and, slightly later, the homosexual community who found the bars less threatening and more sociable than the strongly heterosexual clubs and other locations than they had previously had to use for furtive liaisons and gatherings.
Prior to 1957, The Wolfenden Report and a police crackdown on homosexual meeting places, basement and attic bars in venues such as Take 5, The Casino, No.9,The Huntsman and The Alibi had been favourite haunts until frequent police ‘raids’ drove them underground.
Also prevalent in the Fifties was the Beatnik culture, whose followers steeped themselves in beat poetry, jazz, jive dance and political debate and who also favoured the newly-introduced establishments such as Chas McDevitt’s ‘Freight Train’, The Stockpot, La Roca, Melbray, Le Grande, Universal, El Toro, Las Vegas, Le Grande, Sam Widges, Melbray, The French, The Picasso and Le Macabre in Wardour Street with its coffin-shaped tables.

The owner of Le Macabre (and also the New Yorker restaurant), Tony Mitchell, went on to buy premises in SW7 at 3, Cromwell Road and created The Cromwellian Club, soon to be joined in the business by professional wrestlers Judo Al Hayes ‘The White Angel’, Bob (Anthony) Archer nicknamed the ‘Wrestling Beatle’, ‘Rebel’ Ray Hunter and Paul Lincoln, aka ‘Doctor Death’, who owned Soho’s 2is coffee bar.

In bars like the 2i’s that featured live music, fees for appearing were a rarity, performers usually being recompensed with free coffee and Coca Cola, as they also were in another nearby establishment, The Cat’s Whisker, which was owned by Peter Evans who went on to found the Angus Steak House chain. Another fondly-remembered hang-out was the ‘Coffee Ann’ that catered almost exclusively for the music club-goers. Situated down some steep steps in the basement of a warehouse in Whitcombe Street, it was known for staying open into the early hours of the morning but was rarely, if ever, open during the day. ‘Les Enfants Terrible’ at 93 Dean Street was another expresso café venue that featured live music and was mainly frequented by many French students.

H2Is coffee bar plaque, Sohoowever, the coffee bars are most strongly remembered and identified as being the focal point for young people ( now becoming generally identified as ‘teenagers’), embracing the new musical sounds being imported into the city’s culture. This came about due, in equal parts to the ‘fashionable’ drinking of Italian coffee, the bright and modern furnishings, the provision of the exciting new music that they loved and the fact that, unlike public houses, they were not subject to licensing laws meaning that anyone of any age could enter and the places could stay open all the hours that they wanted, serving non-alcoholic drinks such as coffee and cola.

There was also the added attraction of a greater female presence due to the less threatening and ‘public’ nature of the coffee bars compared to the male-dominated pubs and clubs. In January 1966, towards the end of the ‘coffee bar’ era, ‘The Goings On’ was opened in Archer Street organised by a group of Liverpool beat poets including Johnny Byrne, Spike Hawkins and Pete Brown. The bar happily functioned as a sort of ‘beat club’ on Saturday afternoons, spending the rest of the week operating as an illegal gambling establishment.

Places known as ‘clip joints’ also started to appear in the early Sixties, swindling tourists who were looking for ‘a good time’ by selling them low quality liquids as ‘champagne’, at vastly inflated prices, with the unfulfilled promise of the services of the female ‘hostesses’. The Compton Cinema Club, a ‘private member’ establishment to circumvent the law, opened at 56 Old Compton Street in 1960, becoming the capital’s first sex cinema.

The owners were Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger, who produced some of the early Roman Polanski films such as ‘Cul-de-sac’ and who also owned the premises that had previously been a Beatnik club, turning it into the ‘Heaven and Hell’ hostess club, just across the road from the 2i’s coffee bar on the corner of Dean Street and Old Compton Street.

Muriel Belcher, ‘a theatrical Portuguese Jewish lesbian of Welsh extraction’, was the founder and proprietor of a private drinking club called ‘The Colony Room’ (also known as Muriel’s) upstairs at 41 Dean Street in 1948 (next to The Groucho Club), having previously run a club called ‘The Music Box’ in Leicester Square during WWII. Although public houses had to close at 2:30pm, she managed to acquire a 3pm-11pm drinking licence for The Colony Room bar as a ‘private members’ club. The club had some notoriety, not only for its clientele and its sickly green décor (a bright green room decorated with bamboo, mottled mirrors, leopard-skin barstools and plastic tropical plants), but also for the personality and sexuality of the owner herself – she attracted many gay men to the club as well as those brought there by her Jamaican girlfriend, Carmel.

George Melly said of her, “Muriel was a benevolent witch, who managed to draw in all London’s talent up those filthy stairs. She was like a great cook, working with the ingredients of people and drink. And she loved money”. Belcher was famous for her rudeness, a trait which became part of the club’s ‘culture’. Members included George Melly, Francis Bacon, Peter O’Toole, Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice, Charles Laughton, E.M. Forster, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Tallulah Bankhead, Mary Kenny, Lady Rose McLaren and John Hurt. On her death in 1979 it was taken over by her long-term barman, Ian Board (known as ‘Ida’) until his death in 1994, then by veteran barman Michael Wojas, and Dick Bradsell until its closure. It was popular with artistic types, particularly those known as ‘Young British Artists’, (YBAs), who included Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin.

D5 Denmark Street Sohoenmark Street first appears on land surveys dating from the 1730s situated in an area known locally as ‘The Rookery’ which was basically an unplanned slum that was mostly cleared and redeveloped by the end of the 1800s. It is one of the very few roads in London that still has original 17th century terraced facades on both sides. It is a short and narrow road with St. Giles High Street to the east and Charing Cross Road to the west, particularly renowned for its connections with British pop music, and is generally regarded as the British ‘Tin Pan Alley’.

The industry connections are many and not just limited to its large number of instrument-selling and music-related establishments. Melody Maker was first published there in 1926 and The New Musical Express was founded on, and published its first British music chart from, the first floor of number 5 in 1952.

Denmark Street was the place to be for songwriters and music publishers during the Fifties and early Sixties and it was in the bars and cafes around the area that a young writer named Lionel Bart , more famous for his musical show scores, listened to the R&B sounds brought back from America by merchant sailors, inspiring him to write some of the first British rock’n’roll music, mainly for Larry Parnes‘ artists. In the early days his co-writers included Tommy Hicks (Tommy Steele) and Mike Pratt (actor probably best known as the ‘alive’ partner in the TV series ‘Randall & Hopkirk – Deceased’).

The Regent Sounds Studio opened at number 4 Denmark Street in 1963, one of the first in the area, and The Rolling Stones recorded their first album there in 1964. Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder also recorded there, as did the ‘British Bob Dylan’, Donovan, and it was one of the first studios to install a 16-track sound recorder. David Bowie allegedly couldn’t afford a flat here and chose to live in the street in a camper to be closer to the studios and, slightly more recently, The Sex Pistols lived and recorded their first demo tracks above number 6. The Beatles’ George Harrison is said to have purchased an acoustic guitar in Denmark Street which was used on the track ‘Til There Was You’ on their second album ‘With The Beatles’ and Elton John is supposed to have written ‘Your Song’ there. Denmark Street was also the ‘birthplace’ of the SciFi comic empire, ‘Forbidden Planet’.

Between Wardour Street and Dean Street there is a connecting alley called St.Anne’s Court where The Blue Gardenia Club existed for a short while at number 20 during the early Sixties. Managed by Brian Casser (Cass, of Cass and The Cassanovas) whose claim to fame is allegedly being the first venue in London where The Beatles ever performed, on the 9th (or possibly 10th) December 1961. This was apparently an impromptu set played by Paul and John, with Pete Best on drums, while George (who had the ‘flu) chatted with one of the clientele.

Almost next door, at number 17, is Trident Recording Studios, the first in the UK to install 8-track recording and where The Beatles recorded ‘Hey Jude’, four of the tracks for ‘The White Album’ and ‘I Want You’ from ‘Abbey Road’. Ringo Starr’s ‘Sentimental Journey’ album, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ and much of his ‘All Things Must Pass’ triple album were also recorded here as was Paul McCartney’s production of Mary Hopkin’s ‘Those Were The Days’. On the edge of Soho, situated at 31 Whitfield Street (Fitzrovia) was the CBS ‘Hit Factory’ where, in December 1966, The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded their first album ‘Are You Experienced’. The Clash also recorded their first album there in 1977.

The number of live music establishments increased considerably during the Fifties, taking advantage of the new sounds arriving from America and the emergence of modern British music talent alongside the already established jazz and R&B establishments. This, inevitably, attracted the younger generation who had more money than ever before and were eager to break away from the grey days of post-war society.

From this melting pot came the Modernists, or ‘Mods’, embracing the new music and evolving their own hairstyles, fashions and culture, and who were to ‘adopt’ certain of these new music establishments as the ‘in’ places to be, although pretty well all the clubs had a Mod clientele to a greater or lesser extent. The best-known of these were The Flamingo, La Discotheque, The Scene and The Marquee Club.

The Flamingo Club (which also incorporated weekend late-opening sessions known as the ‘AllNighter’) was located at 33-37 Wardour Street and evolved from Jeffrey Kruger’s ‘Jazz at the Mapleton’ which began life in August 1952 at The Mapleton restaurant in Coventry Street, moving to Wardour Street in 1957. Jeffrey Kruger was to become a major music promoter, later forming Ember Records and the TKO Group. During its early life the club featured a resident band containing the likes of Ronnie Scott, Tony Crombie, Tommy Pollard and Joe Harriott and attracted notable live performers such as Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. In 1959 it was re-launched as The Flamingo Club where, in 1962, it was the venue at which the infamous fight between Aloysius ‘Lucky’ Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe over a girl named Christine Keeler occurred, a link in the chain of events that was to explode into British political history as ‘The Profumo Affair’.

The Flamingo was a ‘jazz’ club until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, when the ‘AllNighter Club’ club kicked in, which would remain open until about 6a.m. Although the establishment was known to be one of the main centres of Mod culture, it was frequented by fans of both jazz and R&B, from many ethnic groups, and it is generally accepted that it helped significantly in breaking down the old post-WWII racial prejudices in the area. Specialising in the R&B sounds loved by the Mods, The Flamingo probably had the dearest entrance fee, £1-10shillings (£1.50 – about £24 in today’s money) because of the top acts it featured.

Georgie Fame outside Flamingo Club SohoRegularly appearing at the venue were Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames (who released a full LP titled ‘Rhythm & Blues at The Flamingo’ in 1964), Chris Farlowe and The Thunderbirds, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band and Shotgun Express, who featured an artist called Rod Stewart. Members of other major groups of the time such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix were all regular visitors. In the mid-Sixties the club attracted many major artists from the other side of the Atlantic such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley and His Comets, Stevie Wonder and John Lee Hooker.

The club was renamed The Pink Flamingo (aka The Flamingo at The Temple) in the mid-late Sixties and finally closed its doors a couple of years later. Also located at 33-37 Wardour Street, on the upper floor of the same premises, was another live music establishment, the Whiskey A-Go-Go where, in March 1958, Buddy Holly gave a press conference prior to his 25-date tour of the UK. Although arguably less popular than The Flamingo, it had a certain ‘chic’ as it was one of the few clubs that was licensed to sell alcohol and survived until 1981 when it changed its name to The Wag Club, enjoying something of a revival for a time. In 1996, in a strange ‘full circle’, it was boosted by the introduction of the Sixties-inspired ‘Blow-Up’ sessions, finally closing its doors in 2001. The location is now in use as one of the O’Neill’s Irish theme pub chain.

The Scene Club SohoWith its entrance situated in Ham Yard, off Great Windmill Street just behind Piccadilly Circus, The Scene club (formerly The Piccadilly Club) had previously been a jazz club featuring both records and live acts that had, by 1963, been ‘adopted’ by the Mods. To accommodate its ‘new’ clientele it was remodelled and re-opened in March 1963 with DJ Guy Stevens spinning the latest records from America via a Duke Vin sound system. Guy was also one of the originators of the Chuck Berry Appreciation Society, instrumental in bringing Chuck Berry to Britain for his first UK tour.

In 1964 the man who ‘discovered’ Millie Small and turned her into a pop star with ‘My Boy Lollipop’, Chris Blackwell, employed Stevens to run his Sue Record Label company. After serving a jail sentence for drug possession in 1966 Stevens was to go on to produce Procol Harum (named after Stevens’ cat!), Free, Mott The Hoople and the ‘London Calling’ album for The Clash. Live entertainment was provided by a number of ‘house’ bands including Zoot Money, Graham Bond, Georgie Fame and, on occasion, The Animals, who appeared as part of what was something like a ‘work exchange’ scheme of the time. Such was its reputation as the Mods ‘HQ’ that all the ‘faces’ congregated here and it was visited on a regular basis by representatives of the TV music show ”Ready Steady Go” to choose audience members and dancers to appear in the ‘live’ shows to exhibit the latest fashion trends and demonstrate new dances.

Set in a basement, the main décor was matt black with red toilet walls. Membership of the club was 1 guinea, (21 shillings or £1.05 – about £17 today) after which there was also an entry fee which apparently varied according to the entertainment available. As with some other clubs such as the Whisky-A-Go-Go, Tuesday nights were free to members, other nights were about 1 shilling (5p) except the ‘all-nighter’ on Saturdays (a favourite night for police drug raids) which would set you back 5 shillings (25p – about £4 today). Hands were stamped and once down the stairs and through the ‘bat wing’ doors, you were in a surprisingly small, low-ceilinged area, dimly-lit with blue fluorescents. There was a non-alcoholic bar, the DJ’s area, an undersized stage area with a ‘baby grand’ piano and a number of ‘booths’ with tables along the far wall, the rest of the area being occupied by the dance floor. The club was managed by an entrepreneurial Irishman called Ronan O’Rahilly who also managed several of the acts, including Graham Bond and Georgie Fame, and owned his own independent record label.

The music industry of the time was something of a cartel that was monopolised by the big labels such as Pye, Decca, Philips and Columbia records, as Ronan discovered when he tried to get a Georgie Fame recording played on the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. The situation was, to him, completely unacceptable and he found a unique way around it by setting up the pirate radio station Radio Caroline off the coast of Essex in international waters. The Scene lasted until 1966 when the Mod era started to dissipate and I believe it became the King Creole club for a time until it finally closed down. Sixties City Pirate Radio History

Marquee Club Soho

Also in Wardour Street was the legendary Marquee Club. Originally opened on April 19th 1958 as a jazz, skiffle and blues club located at 165 Oxford Street, featuring acts such as Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and was the venue where, on 12th July 1962, The Rolling Stones played their first live gig.

It relocated to smaller premises in an old Burberry warehouse at 90 Wardour Street in the spring of 1964 when its opening night acts included Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds. Although not an ‘essential’ Mod club, with its staple R&B and Blues music, it still attracted many now-famous acts, such as Manfred Mann, The Who, The Spencer Davis Group, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds, The Moody Blues and Long John Baldry.

In late 1966 it staged the Sunday afternoon ‘Spontaneous Underground happenings’ that featured the latest in ‘psychedelic rock’ music, including a young Pink Floyd, led by Syd Barrett.

It also hosted Led Zeppelin, King Crimson and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Moody Blues hit ‘Go Now’ was recorded by Alex Murray, their manager, in a homemade studio in a garage at the back of the club and also produced the UK’s first ‘pop’ promotional video. It is said that the Marquee Studios were largely financed from the profits of this one record.

The club relocated to Charing Cross Road in 1988 when it was believed that the vibrations from the sound system had caused damage to the structure of the building’s façade. Although the original entrance remains, known as Soho Lofts apartments, the main club area was demolished and replaced with a Terence Conran restaurant.

Just a few doors down from The Flamingo, at number 17 Wardour Street, was La Discotheque which was a little different in that it did not feature live acts but established itself as London’s first real ‘disco’. In the mid-Fifties the notorious Notting Hill slum landlord Peter Rachman decided to expand his ’empire’, building up a chain of gambling clubs and, in 1956, opened the El Condor club under the management of Raymond Nash, one of the Lebanese gangster family. The El Condor was one of ‘the’ places to be in the late Fifties and boasted a clientele that included royals such as the Duke of Kent and Princess Margaret. It was re-launched as La Discotheque in the early Sixties, featuring curious Bohemian décor, including toilets and bedsteads. This was also to have a connection with the Profumo Affair due to Rachman’s involvement with Mandy Rice-Davies who, with dark hair, can be seen with Rachman in photographs of the club’s opening night, and who was to famously throw a drink in the face of one of the Kray brothers in an incident at the club.

In Carnabv Street, before the Mod fashion boutique ‘boom’ when the narrow side street consisted of a brick warehouse along one side and contained only a few clothes shops and a newsagents, was The Sunset Club – home to jazz and Caribbean music which played until seven in the morning. It provided a place for musicians to get together when their own clubs closed for the night and was, racially, totally mixed, there being no such thing as a purely black clientèle at that time. Under the ownership of a larger-than-life character called Count Suckle ( real name Wilbert Augustus Campbell) it became ‘The Roaring Twenties.

The Count had come to the UK in 1952 as one of the ‘Windrush’ generation, along with the celebrated Jamaican DJ Duke Vin, who is credited with setting up the first hi-fi sound system in the UK and who provided sound systems for several local establishments. Charles Brown, (who was the Jamaican landlord of murderer John Christie at 10 Rillington Place) was the doorman at the Sunset club. Count Suckle also owned The Cue (later ‘Q’) Club in Praed Street, Paddington, and was later to start his own record label, Q Records (a subsidiary of Trojan Records). The sounds consisted largely of Ska/Blu Beat (later known as reggae) and the music of the likes of The Kingsmen, Doris Troy, Etta James and Otis Redding, both as a disco and with live performances. Georgie Fame also appeared here.

The Bag o'Nails SohoAnother club in close proximity to Carnaby Street was the ‘Bag O’Nails’, affectionately known as ‘The Bag’, at 8/9 Kingly Street, opened by Rik and John Gunnell (in November 1966) who were already part of the local club scene. In the heart of the Sixties fashion and music world it was an important part of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ society. Using the DJ’s booth, The Jimi Hendrix Experience played their first UK gig there in December 1966 and the internals of the establishment have changed little to the current day. The club was a popular celebrity venue, somewhat more ‘up market’ than other venues in that it provided food and drink as well as live music.

Apart from the many celebrities who frequented it – almost a ‘who’s who’ of British Sixties music, it is also known as being the meeting place of Linda Eastman and Paul McCartney at a Georgie Fame gig on 15th May 1967. Paul recalled “I saw this blonde across the room and I fancied her. So when she passed my table I said something stupid like Hello, how are you? Let me take you away from all this”. Linda commented ” It was like a cartoon. It sounds silly, but our eyes met and something just clicked”. Also said to have met here for the first time were the (later) Fleetwood Mac members John and Christine McVie. On the other side of the coin, it is alleged that Elton John spent an evening drinking here in 1968 with Bernie Taupin and Long John Baldry who spent the entire time talking him out of his upcoming marriage at which Baldry was going to be best man.

CThe Bag o'Nails Sohoarl Douglas & The Big Stampede had a 14-night residency during the opening fortnight. Band member Tony Webb “We’d been playing at the Bag O’ Nails the night before and had left the gear there. When we went in [the next day] all of our gear was off the stage to one side. We didn’t know it at the time but this guy who we now know was [Jimi] Hendrix and his three-piece band was playing onstage with photographers. We were more annoyed that our gear had been taken off the stage!”

Also nearby, 4 Kingly Court housed The Pinstripe Club which was frequented by celebrities such as Oliver Reed, Steve McQueen, George Best, Richard Harris, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. It closed down as a result of the 1963 scandal where John Profumo was forced to resign as Secretary of State for war over allegations regarding an affair with Christine Keeler, the mistress of a Russian spy, at the height of the Cold War. The same general clientele returned when it re-opened as The Kingly Club, becoming known as ‘the haunt of the rich and infamous’.

Geoffrey Worthington and ex-policeman William Bryant opened a club, similar in concept to The Scene but essentially aimed at the homosexual community, in a basement in D’Arblay Street in 1964, called Le Duce, following a failed attempt to operate a discreet bar called The Lounge in Whitehall. The new establishment stayed open all night on Saturdays, favouring mainly Motown and Blue Beat music, and had a vigorous entry policy that was, by all accounts, fairly successful in keeping out undesirable and disruptive elements.

Mods aside, there were a number of jazz clubs in the area, by far the most famous of which is Ronnie Scott’s. It originally opened on 30th October 1959 in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street, moving to its present, larger location at 47 Frith Street in 1965. The original club continued to exist, known as ‘The Old Place’, as a ‘proving ground’ for new talent until its lease expired during 1967. Managed by musicians Ronnie Scott and Peter King, it was a live music establishment and the galaxy of stars who have appeared at the venue over the years are far too numerous to mention, as well as the number of performances ‘recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s’. Pete Townsend and The Who premiered their rock opera ‘Tommy’ at the club in 1969 and it is also famous for being the venue of Jimi Hendrix’s last live performance.

Following Scott’s death in December 1996, King ran the club for a further nine years until June 2005 when it was sold to theatre impresario Sally Greene.

Known as The Skiffle Cellar prior to the Sixties, Les Cousins (reputed to have taken its name from the 1959 Claude Chabrol film of the same name) was an innovative folk and blues club located in the basement of a restaurant at 49 Greek Street. Its décor included fishing nets and a large wagon wheel and it was extremely popular with more progressive artists in the field during the mid-60s folk music revival, with a number of live albums being recorded there. It is noted for having an influence on the careers of such musicians as Bert Jansch, Alexis Korner, Paul Simon, Al Stewart, Davey Graham, John Renbourn, John Martyn and Roy Harper.

SiRonnie Scott's at  39 Gerrard Street, October 1959, prior to opening.tuated at 100, Oxford Street, The 100 Club was originally called The Feldman Swing Club, becoming The London Jazz Club in 1948, The Humphrey Lyttelton Club in 1954, Jazz Shows Jazz Club and then, in the mid-60s, The 100 Club. The Ad Lib Club was located on the top floor of the Prince Charles Theatre at 7, Leicester Place, was a hang-out for the ‘beautiful people’ and is alleged to be the place where John Lennon and George Harrison shared their first LSD trip. Other clubs in the area included The Jack of Clubs in Brewer Street, The Alphabet Club in Gerrard Street which cost 10 shillings (50p – about £8 today) to get in, The St.Moritz Key Club in Wardour Street, Le Kilt, Club St.Germain and La Poubelle in Poland Street.

Opposite the 100 Club at number 79-89, was the short-lived Tiles Club (previously known as ‘Beat City’), which opened in March 1966 in a remarkable subterranean area. One of London’s best-kept secrets are the hidden and underground rivers and waterways that run through it.

One such river runs through the basement of Gray’s Antiques on South Molton and Davis Street and can be seen through a glass floor. It is thought that the river once ran across Oxford Street with a riverside roadway, due to there being a cobbled street with door arches and building frontages that apparently still exist in an area two floors below the ground.

Tiles Oxford StreetIn the Sixties this was known as ‘Tiles Street’ and formed a part of the Tiles Club complex with late night shopping in the businesses that established themselves in this underground shopping arcade’. The club itself occupied a large open space with a coffee bar at one end and ‘Tiles Street’ was off to one side. The catacomb of small shops included a beauty parlour, a record shop and various clothes and accessory shops, including a boutique for women called ‘Plumage’.

The club itself, unusually, was open at lunch times during the week, running an ‘all-nighter’ on Saturdays, and hosted an impressive number of live acts during its short existence, although it never gained the ‘cult’ status of the music establishments that had been in on the ‘ground floor’ of the culture change in the earlier years.

Tiles Oxford StreetIt had a superb, very reliable (but not hi-fi) PA system installed by Imhof’s, a record retailer in New Oxford Street, with speakers that ran all around the dance floor, which is not so surprising when you know that one of the club’s backers was a guy called Jim Marshall who owned the Marshall Amplifier company. The regular DJ was the ubiquitous Jeff Dexter, who was famous for disco gigs around the London clubs with his Jeff Dexter Record And Light Show. Tiles Oxford Street

The club closed on Sunday 24th, 1967, unable to continue after the owners lost a fortune from their investment in an unsuccessful Woburn Abbey music festival, and the DJ presiding over their last night was John Peel. The site existed as an aquarium for a time during the Seventies that made way for redevelopment of the area in the Eighties.

Of course, the Sixties British cultural and music ‘boom’ went hand in hand with the revolution in fashion, and at the heart of it was a man called John Stephen and a run-down narrow lane in Soho, called Carnaby Street .

Mods in Leicester U.K. in the mid 1960s

This is copied from an article about Mods in Leicester in the mid 1960s printed in the Leicester Mercury in 2010. It is the only thing that comes up if you “Google” some of the Coffee Bars and Clubs in Leicester around at that time. The internet Information Revolution seems to start in the 1990s and knowledge about earlier times appears to be getting lost!! It actually presents a pretty accurate picture of some of the things that happened then and the places that people went to. It complements my blog about My Life in Music. The Irish was one of the main fashion shops but it was actually in Silver Arcade which was off Silver Street. It subsequently moved to the corner of Silver Street and High Street and is still there now, I believe, but it’s not the fashionable place it once was. The article also talks about the Antelope pub. I must have missed this totally because, although I remember the pub, I never went into it. I thought it was an “old man’s pub”. The main pubs we went to were the Fish and Quart on Churchgate and the Churchill on Silver Street which is now The Lamplighters. The Churchill became the trendy place to be from 1968 onwards.

The interesting thing about the rivalry of the Mods and the Rockers was that it was invented by the media. If you look at the headlines they scream out about the Wild Ones! Actually, this is a reference to the Marlon Brando film “The Wild One” which was banned in Britain and not many people had seen it. Brando was the role model for the Rockers though, with his leather gear, macho swagger and surly attitude, to say nothing of the slurred drawl. “Hey, Johnny whadaya rebelling against?” “Whadaya got?” Elvis Presley copied him too in his earliest and greatest incarnation, circa 1956. Originally, however, there was no conflict. In fact, Mods became Rockers and vice versa. It all changed in the reporting of events at Brighton in 1964 and the rest is history! I do remember an occasion at Avenue Road Youth Club which was a Rocker stronghold. I’d been told to give a message by a group of Mods to Dave Buswell, leader of the local Rockers and as mean a looking guy as you could wish to meet. He was terrifying! The Mods were on Victoria Park ready for a battle. At that point all hell broke loose as they rushed out for the affray. Personally, I decided to go home and have a night in, watching telly! It was one battle I had no desire to fight and I didn’t even really know if I was a Mod or Rocker supporter then! I kind of liked them both!

I did eventually side with the Mods because, actually, the music was a lot better and the coffee bars and clubs were much more exciting! And although the girls weren’t any better looking, they were far less ferocious!

Sensational coverage of what was essentially a non-event of bored teenagers with nowhere to go! This is what created the Mods and Rockers clash!!

Turn left at the Clock Tower, head towards High Street, pass Cheapside, veer off by the amusement arcade and you’re there – right in the heart of Leicester’s pill-popping, sharp-dressing, scooter-revving, hedonistic counterculture, writes Mark Charlton.

Or at least you would be if this was still the swinging 60s. If London had Carnaby Street at the heart of its Mod scene, Leicester had Silver Street. With their tailor-made suits, parkas and scooters, the Mods had a huge impact on the streets of mid-60s Leicester. They’d ride into town on their Vespas and Lambrettas to hit the coffee bars and hear the latest jukebox sounds from bands such as The Who, The Kinks and The Small Faces.

Rows and rows of scooters would be parked up in city centre streets, particularly outside bars such as Cadena, in Belvoir Street, and Kenco Coffee House, in Granby Street. But Silver Street was the real magnet for the Mods. That’s where Irish Clothing store was. That’s where Il Rondo was. That’s where you went to be seen. That’s where their real-life version of Quadrophenia played out.

John Barratt, 60, who grew up in Humberstone, was one of Leicester’s original Mods.

“Silver Street was our Carnaby Street,” he remembers. “I don’t know why but it was just a big happening for us there. I guess it had a lot to do with Irish Clothing and the Il Rondo, and there was also a pub called the Antelope. I think it just drew us to the area as there were places we could meet.”

The site of the Il Rondo on Silver Street. Now a restaurant. The original entrance was where the white doors are now.

Leicester was buzzing with these hip, rebellious kids who wanted to make their mark on the world by dressing smartly and listening to the hottest new sounds. It was their way of getting noticed and making a point to their elders. John says: “In the 50s and early 60s, young people were almost penned in, everything was dictated to them. When Mod came along, it was our way of saying ‘we are human beings’. We were trying to put over our feelings that we weren’t going to put up with being told what to do.”

The Mod scene, with its slick fashion and fascination with black American soul music, had spread north from London, fed by newspapers reporting on violent clashes between Mods and Rockers in Brighton and Margate in 1964, and by broadcasts on Radio Caroline. Young people in Leicester were quick to pick up on the idea.

John says: “The first Mods were in Leicester by 1964. It was sweeping the country at that time. I was still at school and started getting into the music and the fashions. I knew I wanted to be a Mod. When I turned 16 I bought my scooter. At that time, I had a good job in engineering. I needed it. Being a Mod was expensive. You had to keep up with all the latest fashions, for a start. Then you had to run your scooter, keeping it taxed and on the road before buying all the accessories to make it look as good as possible. Then there was the music. You had to keep up with all the new music coming out, plus the wild life that went with it and on top of all that you had to try to keep a girl on your arm. I earned good money in engineering, but I didn’t save a penny.”

A Mod Lambretta scooter not yet customised! This is a picture I took recently at a Mod exhibition in Northampton.

Another young Mod was Chris Busby, from the West End of Leicester. He recalls choosing to be a Mod when he was still at school.

Chris Busby in the 1960s

“I was 14 in 1964 and we thought ‘should we be Mods or rockers?’. I looked at the rockers, they were greasers and horrible. I looked at the Mods, they were so clean looking and smart with their scooters. I wanted to be like that.”

Chris remembers Leicester was a great place to be at that time.

“There was so much going on,” he says. “The music was fantastic, there were some great places to go and lots of house parties.”

Chris was part of a Leicester Mod band called CERT X. Other notable Mod acts from the city’s scene were The Cissy and Legay.

John saw them perform at several gigs in the 60s. He says: “CERT X was a really good local band, really good. The highlight of the band’s career was supporting Cream at Nottingham University.

The music scene was vibrant at that time. Chris remembers: “A place called the Night Owl opened, in Newarke Street, in 1966, which put on all-nighters. I think (soul singer) Geno Washington recorded an album there. Bands like Amen Corner also appeared there. There were a lot of people taking drugs like blues and dexys, and I think that is why it got shut down quite quickly. The Green Bowler, in Churchgate, was popular too.”

Leicester in the mid 60s was already something of a cultural melting pot. Lots of young black kids were mixing with white lads at nightclubs and gigs.

Chris says: “It was a good time. We were friends with a lot of the black lads, there was never any trouble between us – we all respected one another. The only time we ever had aggro was with the rockers.”

The Mods’ cats-v-dogs relationship with the rockers is well documented. Seaside skirmishes at Brighton and Margate and made national news but there was plenty of trouble in Leicester, too.

John says: “The rockers used to hang out down at the Roman Cafe, in Humberstone Road. It was part of the life of a Mod to have problems with the rockers, or Hell’s Angels. They were so different from us. We would roll up at the Roman Cafe on our scooters just so we could have a scrap. They would come looking for us, too.”

Rockers!
Rockers!

Chris remembers one incident: “We were at the Casino Ballroom at the top of London Road. A popular boxer, Alex Barrow, was there, a black guy, with two of his friends. Two rockers walked in, and one of the lads with Alex said ‘you hit my mate’ and knocked one of them flying. Within 30 minutes, hundreds of rockers were flying down London Road on their motorbikes heading for the club.”

There was an unwritten hierarchy within the Mods. If you were particularly cool, you were a ‘face’. If you could not keep up with the pace of the scene, you were seen as a ‘ticket’.

Chris says: “The older lads, who were about two or three years older, were working and could afford better clothing. We looked up to them, they were the faces to us. There wasn’t a rank as such, but we were subconsciously aware the differences were there. We knew the older ones to nod at, there was never any problem between us.”

John says: “There was a lad called Tony Weston. He was king of the Mods to us. He was the organiser, our leader, always coming up with ideas and things todo. We all looked up to him because of the way he dressed and his scooter.” John had a Vespa 125cc GL scooter. “Registration 461 BBC,” he says.

“I’ll never forget it. It had all the gear – spotlamps, a big aerial at the back, a slimline windscreen and so many mirrors it was a wonder it moved, it was so weighed down. I had so many spotlamps that if I turned on the lights without the engine running it would flatten the battery.” But keeping your scooter up to scratch was a big part of it. It cost a bloody fortune. The main place for buying scooters at that time was a place called Readers,in Aylestone. We all went there. Scooters were appealing at the time because you could do hundreds of miles on a tank of petrol. A group of us went to Yarmouth. It took us the best part of six hours to get there. It was a steady run and we only used a tank-and-a-half of petrol there and back.”

Chris had a Lambretta li 150 with green and white stripped side panels and fur on the seats. “It cost me £30 in 1966 and wasn’t anything special compared to some of the scooters around but it was special to me,” he says. “It would be worth about £2,000 if I still had it.”

Another Lambretta. Poster of a Vespa in the background!

Chris also did his fair share of going to Mod events at coastal resorts, even taking a job in Skegness. But there was plenty going on in Leicester. Wednesday at Il Rondo, in Silver Street, was Mod night, on Sunday, Mod music was played at The Palais de Danse, in Humberstone Gate, and the Casino Ballroom, in London Road, held regular live events. Music was the lifeblood of the scene. All-night dances, or parties were often fuelled by the use of amphetamine-based drugs. Some were known as blues, or purple hearts.

John says: “People were taking them because, if you didn’t there was no way you would last the amount of time you were awake for.”

“The main thing was the music,” says Chris. “It was so new and fresh.”

John says: “There were certain songs that were important to us, for example the Sir Douglas Quintet’s She’s About a Mover and Louie Louie, by the Kingsmen.”

The fashion and hair styles still have a huge influence today. Chris has been a barber for 36 years and now has a shop, in Northampton Street. But when he needed a Mod cut back in the 60s, there was only one place to go.

The Who in the mid 60s. My Generation, one of the best records of all time!!

“Everybody went to Ron’s, in Church Gate. It is still there. At the time, there was a look that was something close to how Paul Weller wears his hair now. Another was how Roger Daltry (singer in The Who) wore his, with a parting, although some people just wanted a close-cut, clean look. Mods felt the way they looked set them apart from the rest. Attention to detail was vital. Clothes would be made-to-measure and tight fitting. Shirts and suits would be sent to the tailor for more buttons to be added or taken away, depending on the mood. We’d have bigger vents put in or more buttons put on our shirts, just to make them different. We were always trying to stay one step ahead,” says Chris.

Ron’s Hair Stylists on Churchgate, still going today!!

Having such smart clothes proved a problem motoring around town on a scooter. A US Army fishtail parka was ideal for keeping clean on the move.

John says: “I had a parka and a mohair suit – well, several. We were always buying clothes, trying to have something new and to stay ahead of everyone else.”

Mod parka. A photo I took at the same exhibition in Northampton.

Chris says: “I never really got into the suit thing. Lots of people did though. On a Saturday, there was Jackson’s the Tailors, in Gallowtree Gate, and Burton’s, in Church Gate, which would have queues outside all day from the moment they opened, with people collecting clothes they had ordered, or being measured up for something. Jackson’s was seen as a cut above the others because the staff would offer advice to the customers. Personally, I preferred wearing Levi Jeans, desert boots and a Ben Sherman shirt rather than a suit. I wanted to feel comfortable. Also jumpers with targets on, or shirts similar to those Roger Daltry was wearing at the time. I bought an overcoat from Irish for £22. That was four weeks wages to me. I have still got it.”

By 1967, the Mod scene was changing. Some were moving away from the slick looks and sounds and moving into psychedelic music.

“They were what we called the ‘flower children’, says John. “They were getting in to what became the hippy thing. I guess bands like The Who and Small Faces had become more psychedelic, particularly the Small Faces with their album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. I moved on to other things but I have never stopped feeling that I am a Mod. Even now, I’m still a Mod. I love the Mods.”

Some stuck to their cause of being a Mod and others became interested in the skinhead scene, which was emerging in the late 60s.

Chris, a married dad of three, remembers: “I was working in Skegness in 1969 and I could still see running battles between Mods and rockers. I went on to become interested in other things, but years later I was thinking about the look and how much I enjoyed wearing the clothes, so I went back to it.

“So now I wear a Ben Sherman, Levi jeans and desert boots. I love it, and the music, of course.”

In 1979, The Who brought out the movie Quadrophenia. It told the story of the Mods, their clashes with rockers, the girls, the drugs, the parties. The film was to coincide with and widen the impact of a Mod revival, which had started in London a few months earlier.

Chris said it was very true to life.

“It’s pretty close,” he says. “Particularly a scene in Brighton as Jimmy (Phil Daniels) walks along the seafront with all the other Mods. Somebody asks him what the best thing about being a Mod is. He says something like ‘being here, amongst all this’. And it was spot on. That buzz, the buzz of being part of it at that time, that is exactly how being a Mod felt.”“(Mark Charlton Leicester Mercury 2010)

The press invented the clash between Mods and Rockers and then everyone believed it! It was propaganda on the scale of Goebbels!

Read more: http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/Lost-Tribes-Leicestershire-Mods/story-12092027-detail/story.html#ixzz3FkFGmKii

The Image is the Servant

The Image is the Servant

Here’s me at the microphone at an event at Hansom Hall, Leicester organised by David Soden. It is a battle between performers and images taken of them and projected on to screens around the hall. Here’s a short video of one of the performances:

It was a brilliant event that reminded me a bit of the happenings and events of my youth. Mind you, the technology has changed a lot since then with banks of computers rapidly processing images as they are taken but the effect on the senses was surprisingly similar! It was not that far from the projections and light shows of the past!!

The Image is the Servant
The Image is the Servant

Malta in May 2013

March was one of the coldest on record and April wasn’t much better. I had some gigs in Florence, Italy at the end of May and was looking forward to that but in the meantime I was freezing in Leicester. Time to get some Sun. Found some cheap flights and even cheaper hotel on the island of Malta for the first two weeks in May and, yes, the weather was beautiful. Every day was mainly sunny with the occasional shower and the temperature was warm but not too hot. Still warm enough to sit out at night!  Superb! Only downside was that on the second day I had my pocket picked on a bus going to Valletta. It was all good after that though. Yes, Malta is a beautiful and historic island and will become part of my yearly schedule I think. Anything to get away from the cold!!

In Malta a lot of people live in a small space. It is the smallest country in the European Union and has the biggest density of population. It doesn’t feel claustrophobic though and most people live in the areas around the capital city Valletta. Valletta is a beautiful town which is a World Heritage Site. It was built by the Knights of St. John and is extremely well preserved and traffic free. A nice place to sit outside drinking coffee and watching the world go by. There is a magnificent cathedral there as well.

St. John's Co-Cathedral, Malta
St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Malta

Here you can see one of the most remarkable and famous paintings by Caravaggio “The Beheading of John the Baptist“.

You need to get here early as it closes at 3.30 p.m. and 12.30 p.m. on Saturdays. You can’t visit at all on Sundays or public holidays but you can attend services on those days. Their web site is here:  St John’s Co-Cathedral, Malta

The Beheading of John the Baptist by Caravaggio.
The Beheading of John the Baptist by Caravaggio.

Apart from this blast of culture we spent most of the time driving round the island and visiting  Gozo, a tiny island you can go to free on the ferry. Mind you, you have to pay to get back!  Mdina is very interesting and old and was the original capital city. There are lots of great beaches and some unique neolithic monuments. There are some amazing sights and the restaurants and bars are generally good. Here are some pictures I took of the trip. They are from all over the island:

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