The Online Mod/ern/ist Archive

archive of original modernist recollections and information .
we are glad to hear from anyone with memories of the time, but we do not rewrite history .

2 Sept 2007

LONDON : THE SCENE CLUB and SOHO ( by Geoff Green, thanx to Alice Fowkes and Chris H)

The Scene club was in Ham Yard, off Great Windmill Street, in Soho, central London.
It had previously been a jazz club, but by 1963 it had become a club for mods, mainly playing records, but also featuring live groups.

I believe it was, in part at least, owned by Ronan O'Rahilly, who started Radio Caroline. Guy Stevens of Sue Records was the first DJ (I think).

I first went in 1963 with a group of my friends. I was a mod (of sorts, I was an apprentice and didn't have a lot of money), but the main reason we went was that the advert in the Record Mirror spoke of records played by artistes including Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Howling Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis and others.

I can't remember if they used the term "Maximum R&B" first, or if this was originated by the Who later.
At this time the Merseybeat boom was getting under way, beat groups were beginning to feature cover versions of rhythm and blues songs, and we wanted to hear the originals.

Chuck Berry's records had been issued in this country, but when Chess moved from London to the Pye group, his singles had been deleted. So when there was terrific interest in his material nothing was available.

I remember my first visit, the music seemed incredible.

All the great rhythm and blues records, plus good rock'n'roll stuff, plus the current Phil Spector hits like Da Doo Ron Ron and Zippadee Doo Dah (hope that is spelt right). I had never been to a club before, only to local dance halls, like the Tottenham Royal, where there was not the same atmosphere. And there were all these guys wearing the clothes I wanted and was having difficulty affording.

You went down a staircase, paid your money, had your hand stamped (just like the Dome) and went into a rectangular room. As I recall the DJ was in a little box to the right of the entrance, but it was flush to the wall. In the right hand corner opposite the DJ was a bar, that only sold soft drinks (I remember cola that was made from powder and water, really horrible).

A bit further to the left of the entrance was a passage to the cloakroom. Along the far wall to the left were booths, I think the first few times I went there you couldn't see what was going on, but later they were opened up, I think this happened after a raid for drugs. And I think on the right hand wall between the bar and DJ booth were benches.

The rest was a dance floor (I seem to remember a pillar or two, but again I could be wrong). People stood around or danced. A lot of the time it was a case of being seen at the right place.

I went a few more times, but became a regular in 1964. This was in the later part of the summer, I'd met a girl, and we were always going out to places to hear music and dance. So we went to the Scene, and the music was less rhythm and bluesy, more what we'd call soul, but it was still called rhythm and blues by us.

Also popular that summer were old rock'n'roll records by people like Bill Haley, Carl Perkins, etc. Remember this was the time of the mods and rockers riots, grossly exaggerated by the papers. But those records had the right beat for the dances of the time, the Block, and later the Bang, Also that time I remember the Miracles I Like It Like That, and the Supremes When The Lovelight Shines In His Eyes. I remember I wore an off white jacket with patch pockets (very fashionable then) and thought I was really cool. I also had a sort of crewcut, it was the summer of the American look, levis with little turnips and desert boots.

Shortly after that I joined (instead of using vouchers from the Record Mirror), as did my mates and girlfriend. It was a guinea (£1 5p). That seemed a lot of money in those pre inflation days to an apprentice. Monday nights were free to members, and Tuesday (the best weekday night) was one shilling (5p). The all nighter on Saturday was 5 shillings (25p), but I couldn't go to them with my girlfriend, her parents would have gone mad.We regularly went Tuesdays, and often Mondays.

When the Who started appearing at the Marquee in Wardour Street we would often go to the Scene in the break between their appearances, for about 3/4 of an hour.
The music by then was what I would describe as classic soul, Motown, Chess, Major Lance, Impressions, Gene Chandler, plus tracks like Boom Boom and Dimples by John Lee Hooker, and Jimmy Reed classics. Also Ska (or Bluebeat as it was known) was played, but not great amounts, records like Madness by Prince Buster and Carolina by the Folks Brothers. Also Jamaica Ska, I can't remember who sang it but it was a minor hit in the USA on the Atlantic label. Incidentally when I danced with my girlfriend we often jived, this was quite common then.

I remember that Night Train by James Brown was a regular play (it had just been issued on the Sue label), and people formed a chain and weaved in and out of the dancers. It was led by an attractive blonde who looked like Dusty Springfield, one of my mates fancied her. Organ instrumenta ls were highly popular, people like Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff. Quite a lot of jazzy sounding stuff was played as well plus almost anything issued by the British Sue label. I wish there were playlists available.

One Tuesday night an American TV were filming, I'd love to see that now.
In February 1965 my girlfriend packed me in for one of my mates, this broke up our crowd. A couple of the others had girlfriends and were drifting away anyway. At that point I was pretty down and started to go to all nighters there with one of my mates.
I would meet him at about a quarter to midnight in Piccadilly Circus underground station, outside the gents toilets believe it or not, I must have been extremely naïve in those days about that sort of thing. We'd then go straight to the Scene, pay our money and go in to hear the music. It was exciting and the music was brilliant. It was the time
all the classics were coming out, Respect (Otis), In The Midnight Hour, Nothing Can Stop Me, I Can't Help Myself, etc. I am sure you could name those records. Now to a certain extent they seem a bit hackneyed, we have all heard them so much.
But they were new then and so so exciting. Just like if you hear a Northern or R&B track you have never heard before. I'd hear one of my faves and be out on the floor straight away.

As well as soul and R&B tracks, some pop stuff was played. GTO by Ronnie & The Daytonas (a sort of surfing sound, but I think actually made in somewhere like South Carolina); Yeh Yeh, Georgie Fame; Jewel Atkins' Birds & The Bees; Righteous Bros Hung On You (a great track IMHO, better than Loving Feeling); the Vogues You're The One, quite a good pop record, but written by Petula Clark, the DJ (by now an attractive blonde lady) must have liked it; and just before the end Lightning Strikes (Lou Christie) and Barbara Ann (Beach Boys).
Also she like to play Tallahassee Lassie (Freddie Cannon); Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran) and Lewis Boogie (Jerry Lee Lewis).
At the same time bluesy stuff was still played; as was an EP made by the Animals for Decca (presumably a demo tape) featuring Boom Boom and Dimples (I am certain not the versions they did for Parlophone). There was a version of Mohair Sam but it was not Charlie Rich, it had different more amusing lyrics; and also a different version of Leaving Here, not Eddie Holland or the Birds. Somethings just stick in your mind.

During the all nighters we would go out for a walk to get some air and go to the milk machine in Berwick Street. I remember we were once accosted by a lady of the night who offered her services for 30 shillings (£1 50p). Needless to say we turned her kind offer down, music was more important, plus I think she made us a bit nervous.
Many of the records played were imports, so we heard many good records long before they were issued in the UK. I started going out with a girl (who eventually became my wife) in January 1966 and I took her there a few times, but there was another drugs raid, it re-opened but it wasn't the same. We stopped going in about March or April
1966. It later became the King Creole club but I know nothing of that.
It had a major effect on my musical taste, and I still look for some tracks I remember and have never found. When you're young you are inclined to take everything for granted, and that's how we were. It was good and I am glad I went there, I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't gone there."


DIMPLES said...

TOP SITE!!! congratulations!! I've really enjoyed reading the articles and looking at the pics.

This one:

is it written by Geoff Green? I've already read it in Yahoogroup CARMS on July.

Really looking forward to read more.

Best wishes, Alvaro.

Anonymous said...

like you my 1st visit in 1963...1st time i'd used purple hearts..blew me away danced all night...ur description of the yes there was two columns plus glitter ball hangin from ceiling...if u arrived just after opening time, the floor was sprinkled with talc powder..made it easier to do the slide..this soon disappeared once the club got heavin.i remember returnin to the sceneafter returnin from west end walkabout .about police coaches lined up in windmill st. drugs raid takin place downstairs..wasn't allowed in, but later told girls lined up one side of dance floor boys other,, and stippede down to their underwear..any one with drugs or underage,, taken off to west end central police station,, at lest 3 coachloads. or come downs were spent in "the blue rooms" don't know where this place was..other clubs..tot royal.. to be seen in ur mohair tonic cat woolwich..inferno bexleyheath..el partido lewisham..1st floor for mods...2nd floor ska blue floor cafe chill out...about 65 the scene changed its name to the new scene..but from 66 to 67 visits were rare spent wekends at clacton brighton

GSVS5mod said...

"The Blue Rooms".....that you mention were in Walworth Road SE17 and owned by Bill (a Cypriot, I think). great guy and a great place, used as comedowns (it never seemed to close day or night) by the original Mods. A few hundred yards away from the Library on the same side. Very steep stairs, sold sold soft drinks apparantly! but we always arrived blocked on drynamyl (purple hearts) day and night. He also ran the Rodney Cafe later which was originally a stronghold for the Rockers. Great times, I can still hear those early sounds coming from the place now. a cafe really, but as far as cafes go just as good as the famous Mod bar The Coffee Ann. (But don't start me off on that place!.....)

Anonymous said...

Boy you have a good memory. Your description is spot on. One person sticks in my mind and he was a little Asian guy who always seemed to hang around the bar area. We always nodded but no more than that. Wonder who he was. I first went to the Scene probably Feb/March 65. At the time i was a messenger boy for AB Pathe in Wardour St. Four of us boys decided to go there one night, cannot recall why though. What an assorted bunch we were. I was a Mod of sorts so was one of the others but of the other two one could not decide if he was Mod or a Rocker and the the last one was an ex public schoolboy who had a thing about El Cordobes the bull fighter and was always practising his passes with an imaginary cape. Wonder that we got in at all.
The last two did not go again but we remaining pair did. I met my first real girlfriend down there in April of that year even though we only lasted a couple of months. I can also remember a film crew one night but they were something to do with Pathe as i recognised one of them. Never have seen of found the finished product though. I was there one night when the police came down although i would not call it a raid as i definitely did not get searched. Someone knocked one of the coppers helmets off though.
Like you i was also taken aback by the music that first night. I used to go mainly on weeknights as it was near to work and as i lived in North London it saved money on fares. When i got together with my girlfriend we sometimes went on a Saturday night as well as she lived in Pimlico. If i wanted a coffee or something to eat i used the coffee bar or cafe just round the corner in Gt Windmill St. Don't think it was an all nighter though. After breaking up with said girfriend about July that year never went again. Good memories.

Anonymous said...

Nice to read about the club my Dad designed and ran the bar at! The booths and columns of the Scene Club were designed and built by him. He ran the bar with his brother. He assures me that the cola was not powder so not sure where you drank that lol
I was a baby at the time so I would have been out the back in my pram during the day when Dad was cleaning up! :o)
Lionel Blake, the Manager, lived with us for a time, he was in "Operation Crossbow" to name but one of the extra parts he played.
Dad is now 72 and still going strong, he has good memories of the Scene Club.
Thanks for putting this on here, it's unusual to see anything about the Scene Club.

july archives said...

The Scene Club to this day is still really underestimated in its unintentional at the time shaker and mover of fashion and music direction. I was there around then , and looking back The Flamingo ,which started something [and The Scene took the music [Tamala Motown and Soul music ] to another level .Irember seeing a band called the VIP,s at the Scene and other bands like Georgie Fame and his band .My most enduring memories of that era were the visits to "The Last Chance " which were about a year behind the other all nighter clubs in that era .However the people [faces ] made this the the place to be seen not because of the gear you where wearing but they played the best music at the time as well'
All respects to all i bumped into in those magical ,ceative and strange days .Wiliy Gillmore [King]The Irish Mafia.Terry Whelan, The Mile end boys and others who years after that time admitted to being there.

Geoff Green said...

Thanks to everyone who commented on my memories. People go on about the Twisted Wheel in Manchester and I think that the London clubs like the Scene, Flamingo, Last Chance and La Discotheque appear to have been forgotten. But the genesis of Northern Soul was laid in those clubs, don't really think Manchester was ahead of London, hope that doesn't upset anyone.
I still go out to soul nights now, even though I retired last year, does anyone else who went there still get out to hear music?

Geoff Green said...

Thanks to everyone for their kind comments on my memories. I often think that the London clubs of that time, the Scene, Flamingo, La Discotheque, and the Last Chance have been rather overshadowed by the Twisted Wheel. I'm not sure when the Wheel actually started but doubt if was earlier than the London clubs. The music that was played at the Scene was in my opinion the genesis of Northern Soul.
I still go out to soul nights, including all nighters, around the country, in London these days it's mainly the 100 Club, although I retired from work last year. Does anyone else who went to the old Mod clubs still get out these days? What's the Ham Yardies things like? Do any of the old 60s Mods go to them?

charlie games said...

you can get the guy stevens sue recoeds complations-m,abye they have some of the tracks you are looking for

The Seeker said...

Hi, apparently The High Numbers (The Who before they were The Who) played here on 2nd Sep 1964. A really great bootleg recording of this nights gig exists but is credited as being from The Marquee Club (where they had a resedency every Tuesday night Nov/Dec 1964). Is there anything you can say to shed any light on wether the recording was indeed from Scene or Marquee? You can hear it on my Who radio show just released today: Thanks in advance for any info.

Angela barker said...

Am 64 now and the music heard at the Scene I guess moulded my taste in music all my life.probably 15/16 when first went there.Didnt drink,do drugs,just danced to music I had never heard before.Still remember how amazing it was to hear shirley Elliss,major lance etc years before fame.brilliant club.

Noolas said...

started going up west back in late 64 i was 15 at the time tagging along with my older mates, couldn't believe what i was seeing, wardour st packed with teenage mods, other mods approaching us to ask if we wanted any gear,the first club i went to was the last chance saloon, my first real introduction to RnB,the entrance was in oxford st underneath a big yellow swinging sign that had a picture of a sombrero on it with two smoking 45s, into a porchway and at the back was a narrow winding staicase that went past a cloakroom, then on down to pay the 10 shilling entrance fee and get the back of your hand marked with that stuff that was only visible under the florescent light, having done that it was on thru the swinging saloon doors and into the club where the most amazing records were being played louder than i had ever heard, temptations "why you wanna make me blue?"/"my girl", sugar pie desanto, "i dont wanna fuss" betty everitte "getting mighty crowded", i could go on, i became a regular and when things got too hot we would sometimes go walkabout maybe to see who was hanging about in ham yard,or over to wardour st which was usually heaving with teenagers all talking non-stop after taking copious amounts of blues, sometimes we would venture on over to whitcombe street and have a coke in the coffee-ann which had a great juke box by the way loads of RnB stuff on it which looking back was unusual for a coffee bar? but there again the coffee-ann was no usual coffee bar it was in excell court off whitcombe st, the entrance was just a cellar hatch like they used to have outside pubs to shoot the barrels down, the stairs were steep and very awkward but we always managed them ok, la discotheque in wardour st at no 17 was on the first floor, it was in the sunday pictorial newspaper almost every week for a while with tales of drugs and debauchery, the "scene" in ham yard led the way musically i think the other clubs followed its lead, it was a great little club but this too had its share of police raidswhich thankfully i was never caught up in, it was all so underground,exciting and going on at the cutting edge of RnB 3years 63-66 and it was all over "up west" i'm so glad i was there and a part of it

Geoff Gritten said...

There is no mention of the Rolling Stones in any of these posts. I only ever went to The Scene Cub once; it was to see the Stones. After that I went to every gig they did; each time it was at a larger venue.
Credit has gone to The Marquee as being their first ever gig; I don’t think so. The Marquee was a bigger space than The Scene; I doubt very much they would go back to a smaller audience.
The night I was there it was packed solid; no room to dance. I was at the back and could hardly see them. But then I got to sit at the same table as them in the bar, or was it a nearby pub; I forget. At that point they were not well known and I was too polite (shy) to butt into their conversation. But there I was, in touching distance of these all-time greats.
Does anyone know if the Stones were there before The Marquee; it would please me to verify that.

Unknown said...

Best band I saw there was the Animals, we had a few beers with them at the pub across the road.
Lol that guy says strip search in the middle of the club, big imagination.