The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Cream, Jethro Tull, The Yardbirds and Ten Years After. These are just some of the rock superstars that, in the early 60s, passed through the doors of The Railway Hotel, West Hampstead in North West London and upstairs to a fairly inconspicuous function room that was “Klooks Kleek”. Quite where the name came from is a bit of a mystery but it is believed to be named after some obscure jazz album, Klook being the nickname of the band’s drummer.
Beatles or the Blues
Klooks Kleek was the brainchild of Dick Jordan who originally opened it as a jazz club but the explosion of new bands playing black American music and the huge following it was creating made him decide to open up a regular Tuesday Rhythm & Blues night. The UK had gone Beatles crazy, the four mop tops also had cut their teeth on this music in relative obscurity whilst playing the Starlight Club in Hamburg. Incidentally next door to the Railway Hotel was the Decca recording studio where the Beatles auditioned for a recording contract and were famously rejected.
Whilst the rest of the country was engulfed in “Liverpoolmania”, London and the South East remained firmly loyal to the blues and its legions of followers gave rise to a unique “blues circuit” that took in such clubs as The Flamingo,100 club (still very active today) in Central London, Ricky Tick , Blue Moon, Fender Club, The Crawdaddy, famous for kick starting the Rolling Stones, and of course Klooks Kleek .
The rock star apprentices
Today’s big stars were of course just jobbing musicians back then and it was the bands they played with that captured the attention of the audiences. These were just some of them: Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Herbie Goins and the Nightimers, Geno Washington and the Ram-Jam band, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and my personal favourite The Graham Bond Organisation. John Mayall, in particular, is worthy of further mention and although not one my favourites his dedication to the blues is legendary as he is still playing with as much enthusiasm today as he was 35 years ago albeit in the States. Countless top guitarists including Eric Clapton and Peter Green have served their “apprenticeship” with the Bluesbreakers and as such John’s services to music has recently been rewarded with an OBE.
Klook’s all stars
Klooks was like an old Victorian drawing room, some 20 metres square and unlike other venues had no stage at all. The floor was carpeted, the walls curtained in red velvet and covered in flock wallpaper, all making for very good acoustics. There were no mixing desks, lighting rigs, sound/ lighting engineers or even sound checks, the bands just tuned up and played. It was a bit like a gig in your own front room and I often left with a stiff neck after peering over someone’s shoulder all night. All the bands had catchy names and flamboyant characters from zany Zoot to moody Mayall and of course superb musicianship. The music was actually quite varied from a jazzy Georgie Fame to the strict blues of John Mayall, the powerhouse Atlantic soul of Geno Washington and Chris Farlowe to Zoot Money who blended all the genres into his highly amusing sets. The Graham Bond Organisation were quite unique in that they were a four piece as opposed to the others who were generally 5-7 piece outfits and played the blues their own way incorporating original compositions, not usual at that time. They were also sadly quite short lived as bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker soon left to form Cream with Eric Clapton but not before The Graham Bond Organisation became the most popular and respected band of that era.
When someone good was on at one of the blues circuit venues it was a good excuse for an armada of immaculate scooters driven by equally immaculate mods to travel in convoy to the gig. Whilst all these places had their own special character and fervent supporters, for me, nothing could really match the sound, intimacy and atmosphere that was Klooks Kleek.
All good things……
By December 1970 music had moved on and Klooks Kleek ceased to be. However the club was renamed the Moonlight Club and catered for a new music scene spawning such stars as Family, Uriah Heep, The Jam, The Cure and The Who amongst others. Also in the early 70s Northern Soul was born in the Manchester region of the U.K and the Moonlight Club along with the 100 club became the “6Ts” for a night or two every month - the southern outposts of Northern Soul. Today Northern Soul is still as strong as ever.
After decades of live music The Railway Tavern, West Hampstead has now become a trendy bar playing today’s dance music, musicians have been replaced by DJs, artists in their own right such is the skill required to mix and scratch in time with the music. Ironically many of these DJs expertly mix 60s soul, R&B and 70s funk to a modern beat giving them new life and a new audience.
Useful web sites:
A really BIG thank you to Allan Ashton for submitting this article - certainly rolls back the memories! Please visit his website Electrodrums here
Allan lived and worked in London/south east until semi-retiring to Spain in 2004. Played drums in bands for over 40 years, Blues, R&B and a soul band called “Respect” for about 12 years. He now writes freelance for local mags in Spain and also in the US. Allan still plays regularly and runs the above site about electronic drums:
Far Out !!