Thursday, 23 January 2014

Legendary Venues - The 100 Club. Writer Finn D'Albert takes a look at the unbelievable history of London's legendary 100 Club.

I was at the Demolition Ball, in the final crowd to enter London’s Astoria without compulsory hard-hats, so I know the sting of losing a place built on thousands of peoples’ memories. For now though, I’ve decided to focus on the venues that are still standing; that have survived the economic ups and downs (in some cases several times over) and are still creating memories for thousands more. The four walls of Oxford Street’s underground 100 Club are still playing host to some of the most exciting live shows on the circuit, of new and not-so-new musicians alike.

On 24th October 1942, Mack’s restaurant (not yet known as the 100 Club) was hired out by British jazz drummer Victor Feldman’s father, with the sole intention of giving his jazz-obsessed sons and their band a place to play. The first gig at Mack’s featured Feldman’s two brothers on clarinet and accordion, with the now legendary Jimmy Skidmore on saxophone. News of this new jazz venue spread quickly through the American and British servicemen stationed in London during the Second World War who were looking for a dance. One such visitor was big band maestro Glen Miller, who appeared at Mack’s with his famous band. The club itself, being a basement, acted as an air raid shelter for the dancing masses on more than one occasion.

After its initial surge in popularity the club’s name was changed to the London Jazz Club (1948), specialising in swing; before being changed again to The Humphrey Lyttelton Club (1950) after the English trumpet player and band leader (who later went on to host the radio programme Sorry I Haven’t A Clue), who’s agent was the leaseholder at the time. It was around this time that the great Louis Armstrong performed there with his band while they were on a break from a British tour. As time went past (we’re at about 1959 now) the Humphrey Lyttelton Band and the Club became synonymous with the growing trad jazz scene, and the club’s popularity grew with it.

By the mid-sixties and early seventies, the 100 Club we know and love had been born, and was playing host to some of the biggest names in blues ever known; Albert King, Bo Diddley, B.B. King and Muddy Waters to name a few, as well as soul legend Jackie Wilson. As the popularity of the blues rose in the UK, the British blues and beat scenes also took to the club’s stage, with acts like Julie Driscoll, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and The Animals pulling in the crowds. The, then unheard of, Spencer Davis Group, Kinks, and The Who also played the club around this time. This prosperity didn’t last, however, and the 1970’s Three Day Week and unions’ Work To Rule policies took their toll. Due to industrial action by coal miners, electricity was basically rationed by being automatically switched off between 6 and 9pm.

The looming frustration across the nation soon erupted though, with well-documented affect. In 1976 the 100 Club held the world’s first international punk festival, helping to move punk from the underground into the cultural limelight, and the club back into business. The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Buzzcocks, The Vibrators and The Stranglers all played what must have been one of the most incredible and destructive two-day festivals in history. Incredibly, at the time, all of them were unsigned.

As few other clubs were willing to stage punk gigs the scene remained focussed around the club for almost nine more years, with the second wave of punks (G.B.H., The Exploited, Discharge) cementing the 100 Club as the punk movement’s spiritual home.

In the interest of complete contrast, the club also hosted lunchtime reggae sessions with The Equals and Eddie Grant playing, as well as the hugely popular Saturday Soul club. The 6T’s Northern Soul All Nighter also took place at the club around this time, with performances from legends including Doris Troy, Ray Pollard, The Flirtations and Lou Ragland. Amazingly, the night is still going to this day.

Just to give you an idea of what a bizarre melting pot London was in the eighties, it was during this time of punk, reggae and soul all sharing the same stage that South African township music arrived on the backs of jazz sextet The Blue Notes and The Brotherhood of Breath. African drummer, Julian Bahula’s Friday night line-up regularly featured performances from musicians that were political refugees due to the apartheid; including Fela Kuti, Youssou N’Dour and Dud Pukwana. They ran until the release of the late Nelson Mandela, which was almost a decade.

Fast-forward to September 1992 and four boys called Suede took to the stage, heralding the start of the 100 Club’s indie era (which is arguably still in full swing). Over the next decade, the club saw Oasis, Kula Shaker, Echobelly, Catatonia and Cornershop perform; before the second wave of Semisonic, Muse, Doves, JJ72, Squarepusher and Ocean Colour Scene came crashing through the doors.

The longevity and heritage of the 100 Club mean that it has a special place in the hearts of acts like Paul Weller, who, since playing with The Jam in the early eighties has come back several times (the last time was 2012) to try out new material or just play a smaller gig. If Paul Weller doesn’t concern you then consider that both Metallica and The Rolling Stones have used the venue as a secret warm up gig before touring. So go, go to this hallowed place and touch the sweaty walls, because venues like this one are living history.

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