In a little village somewhere north of Farnham, there is a magical place where, once a month, a rock’n’roll club of the type that disappeared from most places years ago emerges in an old village hall to transport people like me back to the places where we first discovered that an obsession with 1950s music and style was something you could share with others. This is Crondall Rock’n’Roll Club, the club, running in the same premises since 1976 and dating back to the 60s, and still offering a live band and record hop every month. It’s got everything, and is clearly run for love, not profit – how else could you get all that for £8 a head! Just putting out the photoboards must take the organisers hours of setting up, before they go on to man a bar on one side of the room, and hot food and tea stall on the other. It’s very firmly a ‘Ted Club’, but these are not the Showaddy Waddy type of dayglo-drape revivalist Teds of the late 1970s. Give or take a generation, it would be easily to believe that these were the delinquents who featured in the hand-wringing articles of the 1950s press as they lurked menacingly on the edges of dance floors in Locarnos from Tottenham to the Elephant and Castle.
Sober Edwardian suits, waistcoats and Slim Jim ties, they formed the perfect backdrop for the featured band, the Fireballs UK, who proved that there was genuinely a British Rock’n’Roll scene with a sound of its own between the skiffle craze and the emergence of the Beatles that went beyond pop songs and big band covers of American hits. We were treated to the hard core elements of the output of the better known British rockers, from Vince Taylor, Shane Fenton, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Cliff Richard of course, and even some early Tommy Steele. It was great to be reminded that, alongside the TV-friendly combos drawn from the ranks of big band sidemen, there were legions of small bands, mostly guitar-driven, rocking hard and creating a unique British sound that too rarely found its way into the hit parade of the time. The Fireballs are a family outfit, with Dad on double bass and lead vocals, and two very talented sons sharing the honours on guitars who would not have looked out of place in a Joe Meek Tornados line-up. The band’s name is, of course, a tribute to the ground-breaking Gerry Anderson series, Fireball XL5 and the set included a roaring version of the theme tune.
Add a DJ whose playlist included all those records I’d almost forgotten hearing every time I went out as a teenage rock’n’roll acolyte, well-stocked record stall, Cherry Bomb’s vintage clothes stall, and a genuinely friendly family atmosphere, and it’s no wonder that Crondall has such a special place in the hearts of even hard-bitten veteran rock’n’rollers. Where else could you find yourself listening to live rock’n’roll with a mug of tea and a slice of home-made birthday cake! More power to the elbows of the organisers, and long may this Brigadoon of rock’n’roll clubs continue to make its regular appearance from the depths of the Surrey countryside.
The Fireballs UK have their own website and Facebook page.