Everyone knows The Whiskey-a-Go-Go, The Flamingo, The Marquee, and all the other famous London clubs, but the suburbs had their own scene and living in London at that time was a dream for a teenager. There were pubs and clubs scattered all over that showcased live groups, and not just at weekends. When visiting these niche venues, you could see a name band for about five-bob (25p). Though I remember paying 7/6d (38p) to see Jimi Hendrix, and 10/- (50p) to see Derek & The Dominoes, which I thought a rip-off at the time. If there was a bar, (Brommel Club Bromley and The Black Prince Bexley had bars), you weren't hammered for a pint of beer.
My mates and I would often jump on bus or train to visit the clubs and pubs situated in the other suburbs. Mind you, whenever we went over the water to the East End of London, we made sure the locals didn't hear our accents, as a punch up was sure to follow. I remember the Room-At-The-Top Ilford, The Galtymore Cricklewood, Cook’s Ferry Inn Edmonton, the Upper Cut Club Forest Gate, Locarno Streatham, Tottenham Royal, and The Ram-Jam club at 390, Brixton High Road. Rik and John Gunnell, who had organised the Flamingo all-nighters, opened The Ram-Jam Club featuring The Animals on February 17, 1966. The club itself was larger than other venues, and only sold soft drinks, which meant slipping out between sets to a local pub for a pint or two.
The name Brixton derives from the stone of Brixi (a Saxon lord) and may have originated from Brixistane. The area was once farmland and market gardens, known for game and strawberries. There was a significant change in 1948, with the arrival of the first wave of Caribbean migrants on the Empire Windrush, which heralded in a multi-cultural Britain. Not only did they bring their customs, but they also brought with them their music, which would go on to play a big part in the sixties music explosion and influence a generation.
The day that England won the World Cup, I went on my first un-chaperoned holiday to Taunton with three mates. We were big fans of the Graham Bond Organisation and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and when Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce left their respective groups to form Cream, we couldn't wait to see the first so-called 'Supergroup'. I'd seen their second gig at the '6th National Jazz & Blues Festival' in July, and they were playing at the Torquay's Town Hall on August 5, which we also attended. On arriving home, I read in the Melody Maker that the Cream was appearing at the Ram-Jam Club, and decided to make the gig.
The audience on August 27, 1966, was predominantly white, mainly because the Cream were a blues band. I was standing to the left when the trio arrived on stage dressed in flying jackets, helmets, and goggles as per their first album Fresh Cream. They opened up with NSU and played a similar set to one I'd seen at Torquay and very blues orientated. I recall the giant Marshall stacks behind Bruce and Clapton. The last time I'd seen Clapton play with John Mayall, he'd used a Marshall combo amp.
In those days, I was a huge fan of Georgie Fame and would see him with The Blue Flames as many times as I could. Over a weekend in '66, I did a double-header as on a Saturday, Fame appeared at The Ram-Jam Club and the next day at The Black Prince in Bexley. During the set at the Ram-Jam Club, they announced there would be an extra gig the following Thursday, which meant going straight from work. The reason for the second gig was a French TV company would be filming Fame's live performance though I have never seen the movie.
Fame and the Blue Flames were on form for all three gigs, and featured what I believe to be their best line-up; Colin Green (gtr), Cliff Barton (bass), Peter Coe (t/sax), Glen Hughes (b/sax & flute), Eddie 'Tan-Tan' Thornton (tpt), John 'Mitch' Mitchell, Drums, and Nii Moi 'Speedy' Acquaye (congas). The Black Prince gig was full of Mods, while the audience at The Ram-Jam Club was a mixed bunch of white Mods and Jamaican teenagers. Although the sixties were supposedly liberal times, there was an undercurrent of racism though I never saw any 'trouble' of a racist nature at the Ram-Jam Club or other clubs that catered to a mixed audience.
When we arrived on Thursday, the show kicked off late, and I noticed Fame was wearing the same shirt that he wore on his latest album Sweet Things. For some reason, Sitting In The Park sticks out in my memory, and I recall Glen Hughes playing the flute. As the Thursday gig started late, we were keeping a close eye on the time, as the last train home left Waterloo station just after midnight. As the last bar of The Mar-key's Last Night faded into the night, we dashed to the tube station and made it back to the station with minutes to spare. Not that I was bothered, Fame was the Guv'nor, and I couldn't miss a gig.
Not having wheels like some of my mates, I only visited the club a few more times, once again to see Georgie Fame, and Geno Washington, whose group the club was named after. There were rumours of illegal gambling and drug dealing going on at The Ram-Jam Club, and punters did smoke the occasional spliff. However, the Gunnell's were too savvy to let it get heavy as they'd had problems at The Flamingo, where the police and the GLC were all over them like a cheap suit, and Brixton 'Nick' was situated nearby.
The clubs and pubs scattered around London and the rest of the country were on the cutting edge of music. The Ram-Jam Club featured artists like; The Shotgun Express / Zoot Money & The Big Roll Band / Who / John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers / Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers / Jimmy James & The Vagabonds / Herbie Goins & The Nightimers / The Alan Bown Set / Small Faces / Ronnie Jones & The Blue Jays, and The Moody Blues. As well these bands, you could see name artists like; Otis Redding / Ben E King / Patti La Belle & Her Belles / John Lee Hooker / Nina Simone / Mary Wells / Bobby Hebb / Wilson Pickett / Jimmy Cliff / The Skatalites / Ike & Tina Turner / Lee Dorsey, & Arthur Alexander, to name a few. The price of admission varied between Five shillings (25p), [three shillings - 15p for members] and fifteen shillings (75p) [ten shillings - 50p for members] for the big acts. When Jimi Hendrix played the club, he was paid £75 for his troubles.
What I liked about The Ram-Jam club, and the other venues, you could see excellent bands who didn't quite make it like; Rupert’s Rick ‘N’ Beckers Show / Amboy Dukes / The Ferris Wheel / The Action / The Creation / Joyce Bond Show / The Eyes of Blue / Gary Farr & the T-Bones / The Loose Ends, and The Mark Leeman 5. These bands were the backbone of the sixties and without them; there wouldn't have been a scene.
Once the sixties boom was over The Ram-Jam Club went into decline before opening up under the name of Clouds. In 1981, Andy Czezowski and Susan Carrington, who had run the Roxy during Punk music's heyday, refurbished the club to the tune of £20, 000 and rebranded it The Fridge, decorating it out with Swedish fridges. The Fridge was at the heart of the 'New Romantic' movement and featured bands like; Eurythmics / the Pet Shop Boys / Boy George / Sade / Frankie Goes to Hollywood / Magenta Devine / Marc Almond / Bronski Beat, and Grace Jones. In 1984, it relocated to The Palladium Cinema (which changed its name to the Regal (1956 - 1963), and then to the ABC 1963 -1977), situated on the Town Hall Parade in Brixton, rebranding the venue as the ACE, after a former roller-disco called The Ace.
As far as I am concerned, it was the music scene that made the sixties, yeah the clothes and shoes were significant, but it was the sounds that grabbed us first generation Mods. Rock n Roll music held no sway for us, and we didn't want to listen to our father's music. We were an eclectic bunch of teenagers influenced by every kind of music from Soul to Ska, Blues to R n B, and Jazz to Pop music.
The music business was at its peak, and a number one record had to sell a million copies, as did most of the top five singles, unlike today. I earned around nine quid a week, and if it wasn't for Hire Purchase, I couldn't have afforded to dress the way I did, and visit the vibrant club and pub scene, well, not on those wages. As a Southeast London Mod, the groups that I saw at The Ram-Jam Club and the other venues were an unforgettable passage of rites into adulthood.
Ronchi Dei Legionari, Italy
Author of Shout To The Top -A bio on Paul Weller