Tuesday, August 31, 2010

1960s Jazz and R'n'B in Blackheath

Interesting interview at Coventry Music History with Colin Richardson about the Jazzhouse Club in Blackheath, which he co-ran at the Green Man pub in 1962/63. As Colin recalls:

“The jazz club was held at the Green Man pub in Blackheath every Sunday evening, upstairs in what was euphemistically referred to as the "Banqueting Suite". It was a decent sized room, which originally had a tiny triangular stage across one corner of the room (though this was later enlarged to an oblong area which extended right across one end of the room). The 'house band' was the Ian Bird Quintet... Every week a different 'star' soloist would be booked... Tubby Hayes, Joe Harriott, Ronnie Scott, Don Rendell, Tommy Whittle... all the current premier league instrumentalists of the day. They all got paid the same fee...£5 (which was about 3 times what the resident musicians took home!) The resident band would play the first half, then, after the break, the 'star' would play, backed by the house rhythm section. Sometimes (depending on the whim of said 'star', the other guys would return for a jam session end to the evening. The atmosphere was always friendly, the audience usually around the 100 mark, depending on how strong a draw that week's soloist was. There was a bar at the rear of the room, but the audience, though enthusiastic, was always well-behaved and knew their jazz.”

Manfred Mann also played early gigs there with his band of the same name. In 1963, shortly after arriving in the UK from South Africa, he played a jazz gig at another club run by Richardson and friends at the Hackwood Hotel in Bromley. Soon he switched to R&B:

'Next time we saw him, he pitched up at the Jazzhouse one Sunday and told us he had switched to Hammond organ and was playing R&B as Manfred Mann (he probably deemed his real name, Lubowitz, too unwieldy). He suggested that we open a 'rhythm and blues' night, saying that they would play every other Friday for a straight 50% of the door take (such was his confidence that they would draw a good crowd, which turned out to be well-founded)...

On the first Friday, I turned up at my usual time of around 7 pm...30 minutes prior to opening the doors. Normally, on a Sunday, I would arrive to find maybe 15 or 20 people waiting in an orderly queue. On this occasion as I was approaching the venue, I noticed that there seemed to be a crowd milling around and wondered if there was a problem of some kind. As I got closer, I realised that it was 'our' queue...which stretched from the club entrance on the first floor, down the stairway, out the main entrance and around the block! Around 300+ fans were waiting (with incredible patience, it should be mentioned) to get in. We were, as they say, 'gobsmacked'! The gig was a resounding success and we cleaned up! Not every group did quite as well, but nevertheless, we always made money, whoever was on.

As fate would have it, the success of the R&B night, with its much larger crowds, was indirectly the cause of its demise. It happened thus: On Saturday nights at the Green Man, a slightly dubious promoter used to stage what he described as "A Battle of the Bands", when he would assemble a bill of 5 or 6 local 'beat groups' (as they were known then) who would 'compete' for the title of the night's best group. They would 'win' the prize money of about a tenner..the rest got zilch! The promoter, of course, always made a bomb! There were often minor scuffles on these evenings...nothing serious...but one Saturday a fight broke out and a knife was used...enter the 'fuzz', who promptly closed ALL the clubs down... even though we were unconnected and had never had any trouble on our nights... [the jazz club was eventually allowed to continue]

So, our venture into the world of 'commercial promotions' came to an end..but , at least we had made a bit of money, which we used to fund the formation of a 'big-band workshop', the brainchild of Clive Burrows, co-leader of the resident quintet. The rehearsal band eventually evolved into the New Jazz Orchestra'.

The Green Man at the top of Blackheath Hill, replaced with Alison Close housing in the early 1970s, was obviously an important local music venue. As mentioned here recently, it also hosted a folk club where Paul Simon played.

As for Manfred Mann (the man), he went on to have many hits with Manfred Mann (the band), and eventually bought a music studio at 488 Old Kent Road, called the Workhouse. Many great records were made on that spot, now covered by the Asda supermarket. Incidentally, Mr Mann/Lubowitz once lived in Southbrook Road, Lee.

Keeping the South London connection, here's Manfred Mann in 1967 performing the title song to the film Up the Junction (set in Battersea) - looking here like they pretty much invented Oasis's look!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I went there to see Judy Collins about 1964. She was unable to attend and was replaced at short notice by one Paul Simon. This was just prior to the release of the "Wednesday Morning 3a.m." album. I recall that "The Sound Of Silence" was badly received by the resident "Folkniks" who chattered loudly through most of the performance. They were however confounded when a few months later Simon & Garfunkel hit the bigtime. Often I wondered what became of the Green Man's fabric as I seem to remember the most beautiful Art Nouveau tiles depicting the legend of, I guess, Robin of Sherwood. Sadly many of these artifacts were destroyed in the 60's and 70's pursuit of the new.

Transpontine said...

Thanks for that, great story.

Vernon Allen said...

I never knew about the green mans connection with a folk club or with famous names such as Paul Simon ,manfred Mann ,tubby Hayes or Ronnie SCOTT playing there,
I just remember it as a trad jazz venue where the likes of
The black bottom stompers ,the frog island jazz band and
Johnny bastables chosen six used to play.
My mum and dad with his brothers and nephews were regular visitors there in the mid to late sixties until it closed for redevelopment and the local jazz scene move to the mitre in tunnel avenue.

Vernon Allen ,son of stan.
Former kidbrooke resident