Having written at length about the club below the Phoenix pub in Cavendish Square, and had the pleasure of seeing that material appear not only in the pages of Now Dig This but also as the editorial in the Rockin’ London in the 80s photobook, I genuinely thought it would stay firmly in the category of nostalgia for our youth. Yes, the building was still there, and Mrs M and I had sneaked downstairs and found that the venue was still intact, but the prospect of ever heading back there as a rock’n’roll venue seemed as slight as the 7½ stone me who used to bop wildly there every Friday night I could make it. That’s until a post appeared on Facebook a few months ago from rockin’ DJ Slim Tim announcing that it would be reopening as a regular Saturday afternoon club. This seemed just too good to be true – a club we’d both frequented, but long before we’d met, reopening as a record hop and on a day and time that gave us a sporting chance of getting there without making a whole weekend of it. Mind you, having only made the 2 Rs on one occasion, we weren’t confident of making it, but a bit of crafty logistics saw us lunching round the corner at Ponti’s in good time to head down those hallowed stairs just after the 1.00 pm opening time.
Having been through a few evolutions in the intervening 35 years (and there was a reunion party there years back), it’s good to see that the Phoenix remains pretty much unchanged. The DJ booth has moved to a small stage on the other side of the dance floor, now occupying what I’ll always think of as the North London corner, but in the process also removing the ‘conning tower’ that divided the club in two and left Tom Ingram’s head perilously close to the ceiling. Some of the pillars have gone, too, giving it a much more open feeling, the seating’s much nicer, the ladies’ loo has acquired a couch, but the atmosphere and, most importantly, the decent-sized wooden dance floor are still as we remembered them. All of which just left Tim and fellow JD Skinny Jim to add the music, which they did with gusto, filling five hours with sounds covering the big beat in all its forms, from honkin’ R&B, through pounding rock’n’roll and rockabilly to storming early garage and surf. Anywhere I can get to hear Harry Lee, the Reekers and lots of Sun in one afternoon rates high with me. Fortunately for a scorching weekend, the aircon coped manfully, which just about stopped us from dissolving completely as we hit the dance floor again and again. Thankfully, friendly staff, good beer and reasonable prices at the bar also helped stave off dehydration!
Despite the lure of the summer weather outside, the club filled up nicely early in the afternoon and stayed that way until the 6.00 pm closing time. Along with the hard core of those of us who’d been regulars at the Phoenix in its heyday were those who’d just missed it at the time, plus those drawn by its legendary status. Indeed we were quite shocked to realise that it had only been open for a couple of years in the 80s; sure enough, after attending the opening night in May 84 and being there pretty much every Friday through 1985, Phoenix entries in my diary have dried up by the end of 1986. With dates booked through to the end of the year, it looks like the Phoenix is set to join the growing choice of afternoon and early evening London venues – very civilized and welcome for those of us for whom hiking across town to get the mail train home or crashing out wrapped in a friend’s hallway carpet no longer have quite the appeal they once did.
And if you want to play ‘Spot the Midcentury Chap’ you’ll find me jiving and bopping away in some of the videos on the Phoenix Rockabilly Club Facebook page.
October 26th – with guest DJs Craig Simpson & Trev Collins
November 30th – with guest DJs Ragin’ Lee & Simon Preacher
December 21st – with special guest DJs TBA
This article first appeared in Now Dig This magazine.