Happy Birthday British rock and R&B, born 55 years ago tonight at the Ealing Club when Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts and Eric Burdon gathered around Alexis Korner
//Top: Entrance to Ealing Club stairwell with jeweller’s to its right, early 1960s. Photo: ealingclub.com. Above: The entrance as it is today//
“Suburbia is the breeding ground for the richest and most innovative cultural production of the 20th and 21st centuries” Rupa Huq, writer and MP for Ealing Central & Acton, 2013
An advert in the New Musical Express for a “Rhythm & Blues Night” staged 55 years ago today – on St Patrick’s Night, March 17, 1962 – sparked the British musical revolution which soundtracked youth culture in the West for decades.
The ad proved a lure for suburban London teenage r&b fans including Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, while Eric Burdon, soon to be vocalist with The Animals, hitchhiked the 300 miles from Newcastle to join them in witnessing the main performance by Blues Incorporated (in fact he and Jagger traded verses on stage during a rendition of Billy Boy Arnold’s I Ain’t Got You).
The recently-formed group’s line-up revolved around mainman Alexis Korner and fellow blues evangelist, harmonica player Cyril Davies, and included drummer Charlie Watts and singer Art Wood, the late older brother of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood.
Also sitting in was a blond wunderkind who could play like Elmore James – Brian Jones. Soon he, Richards and Jagger would form their own group and later be joined by Watts.
//Views down and up the stairwell from the club entrance, March 2017//
The Ealing Club had been spotted as a potential venue for investigations into black American urban sounds by Art Wood, then a student at Ealing Art School. He told Korner biographer Harry Shapiro: “It was a trad-jazz place, underneath the ABC tea room opposite Ealing Broadway station, a drinking club in the afternoon, but jazz in the evening.
“The musicians called it the Moist Hoist because of all the condensation that dripped on them from the street pavement lights above. The bands would put a tarpaulin across the top of the stage to catch the water.”
The place was known to Korner, whose family home was in the art deco estate Ealing Village, where I live. Amusingly, Shapiro tells how Korner became turned onto black American music as a teenager after hanging around with a “bad lot” who frequented the Village’s clubhouse and encouraged him in the theft of records from Shepherd’s Bush Market.
A blue plaque – unveiled by Watts in 2012 – marks the spot of The Ealing Club, and while this continues to this day as an occasional night at the Red Room nightclub, the venue from the outside appears distinctly unloved, threatened as it is by the huge development plans for the Broadway.
It’s a shame; there’s so much ballyhoo in mediagenic places such as Soho about saving here today, gone tomorrow addresses. Such is the churn that London lifers are accustomed to this process; the shrill voices are usually those of late-coming self-promoters. In my view the lower level of 42A Ealing Broadway should be treated as hallowed ground, as it would be if it were in, say, Memphis or Detroit.
Would that they know, but the courses of the lives of the thousands of commuters passing the dingy stairwell every day have been changed by the exciting exchanges first ignited here. These not only challenged the post-war status quo but also set in train a rapidly developing youth movement which, for a while there, had it going on, before white R&B ossified and rock music became the primary accompaniment to the selling of stuff.
Visit the current Ealing Club website here.
Buy copies of Shapiro’s excellent Korner bio here.