198503xx-clive-at-homeIt seems like an age ago that I wrote part one of My Life in Rock’n’Roll Clubs, with the intention of rolling straight into part two – and then lots of other interesting things happened to write about, including lots more clubs to visit and dance to great rock’n’roll played very loud. But before I get any older and deafer, and the memories of that first heady era of clubbing fade any further, here goes.

For me, the early 80s were dominated by the North London clubs run by Keith, aka Fifties Flash, but my route to his venues started much closer to work in Central London with the Bad Cat Club in the Notre Dame Hall, just off Leicester Square. Thanks to the superb flyers designed by Nigel Bents who, along with Barney Koumis, also provided the music in the Club’s early days, I can date the first date precisely as 16 April 1981, and can even remember picking the flyer up at the Caister weekender the preceding month. After my initiation to rock’n’roll clubs in grubby rooms above or behind pubs, the Bad Cat stands out then and now as something special. An original dance hall, underneath the Notre Dame church, it provided a sophisticat198905xx-riked mid-century venue for the eclectic blend of 50s hits and wild rockabilly that Nigel and198905xx-barney Barney treated us to. Given that I worked just ten minutes walk away, and needed to leave before closing time to get the last train home, I was always amongst the first to arrive, and made some lasting friends amongst the guys from the scene that used to man the ticket desk. As time went on, Nigel handed over both DJ and poster design duties to the equally talented, wildly inventive and hugely missed Rik Winner, a man whose capacity for bizarre exploits was matched only by the certainty of his good humour in doing them. Together, Rik and Barney took the club, in the guise of the Starboard Flange, onto Soho venues of a kind unknown to the rock’n’roll crowd, including the Whisky-a-Go-Go and then onto the Clarendon, a wonderful decaying labyrinth of an old hotel tottering towards oblivion under the Hammersmith Flyover, where the function room was approached through a seemingly endless tunnel-like corridor. To evoke the memories for those who were there, here’s a few of those handbills…

flash

Fifties Flash

But I’m leaping ahead, as my new-found friends at the Bad Cat had pointed my in the direction of clubs much closer to home in Tottenham – hence a rather trepid journey on foot along the White Hart Lane one Friday evening in 1981 in the search of the White Hart pub and my first Fifties Flash gig. I found a big hall on the back of a good-sized pub in the residential area of Tottenham, walked in, and enjoyed one of those ‘coming home’ moments that only those whose life is defined by their music can know. Before that point, I’d already given up striving for the Ted revival look, and our little rockabilly gang had set themselves apart at our local club with a skinny jeans and flat top haircut look (OK, it was the 80s – we didn’t know any better!). By now, I’d discovered the delights of Flip in Covent Garden and their racks of imported 1950s US clothing, with pegged pants, box jackets and painted silk ties, just like the ones we saw teenagers wearing in the 1950s rock’n’roll movies that appeared occasionally on BBC2 or at the Scala Cinema off Goodge Street. In my case, so I’d had to do most of my shopping at Flip’s massive discount warehouse in Islington’s Curtain Road, where the rest of the huge bundles that came off the ships ended up. Now, suddenly, I walked into a hall full of people who dressed the way I wanted to look. And the dancing. I’d always enjoyed bopping, ever since I first plucked up the courage to get on the dance floor, but here were guys who danced with the speed and grace of the Nicholas Brothers, Astaire and Kelly all rolled into one. Jivers, too – dozens of them – smart cats in pegged pants and loafers, gorgeous girls in print frocks and saddle shoes – effortlessly spinning across the floor, clearly not following any set routine but perfectly in time with each other. If you want to sense a little of what that felt like for a musical tribalist from any point in the 50s through to the 80s, there’s a scene near the beginning of Elaine Constantine’s film, ‘Northern Soul’, when the lead characters walk into the Wigan Casino for the first time and see a dance floor of people all lost in the music – the White Hart was one of those moments for me. And a few of Flash’s posters…

And from then on, it was one Flash club after another, made easier when Spring 1982 saw me the proud owner of a Morris Minor (a 50s car, even if it was built in 1967) which took me and my buddies Fez and Steve to venues spread across North London, from the Golden Gate pub in Newbury Park in the East, to the Railway Inn at Greenford in the West, and taking in names – sometimes three or four a week – etched in the memory of London rockin’ folk: Valentinos, Bumbles, Shades, the Cock, the Flowerpot, and the Fox – all in the Tottenham/Wood Green area – the Royalty i Southgate and the Electric Ballroom in Camden. We even stole a march on the 90s rave scene with some all-nighter gigs in disused factories in the East End – grubby events as spilled beer mixed with the dirt to create a slimy black covering on the stone floors and, by the end of the night, on everyone there. It had its dodgy moments: some massive brawls, both inside and outside, which we managed to avoid getting tangled up in (either because we knew people on both sides or, more likely, because we were too puny to bother with); coming out of Valentinos late one Friday night to find my car wasn’t where I’d parked it, hitching part way home to be met by my ever-tolerant Dad, then teaming up with a mate on Saturday to search every Tottenham backstreet, including the dark places under Broadwater Farm estate, before we found her smashed into a bollard outside the Spurs ground. But above all, we made dozens of great friends, were hopelessly (in my case, anyway) smitten with endless girls who looked as if they’d walked out of a 50s Hollywood movie, bought all the records we could afford from Ray Frensham’s stall, and danced, and danced, and danced. Most places weren’t ideal for photography, but one evening at the Royalty yielded a good set…

Of course, it wasn’t all Flash’s clubs. I carried on visiting the local Hound Dogs club fairly regularly then, in May 1984, a young South London DJ called Tom Ingram ventured to the heart of town to a venue just off Oxford Circus below a pub called the Phoenix (which, unusually for that kind of place, is not only still there but also has kept its basement function room recognisable). My diary of the time simply records ‘not good’ of that first night, but it quickly became the place to go, and from August onwards it starts to become my regular Friday night destination, either kipping down on a friend’s floor afterwards or striding through the City in the small hours to catch the Saturday morning mail train out of Liverpool Street. And that was another great thing about the club scene of the time – one could confidently head out with only a vague plan for getting home and the virtual certainty that you’d run into someone living more centrally who’d offer you a bed for the night – even if it did amount to no more than rolling up fully clothed in the hall carpet, and leaving early in the morning with little idea just whereabouts in London you actually were.

A bold decision to do something radically different with my working life took me away from London in April 1985. That last week shows a final round of familiar names: Saturday at the Fox, Sunday at Hound Dogs (illustrated above), Tuesday at Shades, Friday at the Phoenix after my last day at work, and then onto the train on Sunday to enter basic training for the Armed Forces. That didn’t mark the end of my association with rock’n’roll clubs (although sadly my diaries ground to a halt for a while), but it makes a good point to bring this bit of the story to a close.