"Did you ever dream about a place you never really recall being to before? A place that maybe only exists in your imagination? Some place far away, half remembered when you wake up. When you were there, though, you knew the language. You knew your way around. That was the sixties....
No. It wasn't that either. It was just '66 and early '67. That's all there was....."
Sunday 16 June 2013
This Way To The Speakeasy
Co-managers of Speakeasy Roy Flynn and Mike Carey with female friends, 1967
Recently, I found this NME article from May 1967 about Swinging London club Speakeasy. It was a regular hangout for the musicians of the era. The club, located at 48 Margaret Street, opened in the late 1966, and soon became what Tony Bacon describes in his book London Live as Handy new watering hole, a prime early hours jamming post, and altogether useful hanging-out kind of place (p 101). The decor of the club was inspired by prohibition-era American speakeasies - it even had a fake 'front' - an undertaker's parlour. Another prominent feature of the venue was a portrait of Al Capone painted by Barry Fantoni.
NME article by Norrie Drummond (click to enlarge)
Managers Roy Flynn said in the NME interview:We want The Speakeasy to be a club which people really like to go to rather than the one which people go to, because it's the done thing. Soon, however Speakeasy would become absolutely out of bounds for ordinary people. As Tony Bacon writes: It became legendary as the club to which entrance was easy only for those with at least one hit record that week. 'Hard to get into? No , nearly impossible if you're not a member' wrote Penny Valentine in Disc, "and even harder because it's so full. Therefore try to latch on to a happy-hippie scene goer who belongs" (p 103).
Apart from being a rock stars' hangout, The Speakeasy was also, an uber-exclusive gig venue. In the article, The Soft Machine are described as 'resident group' and are pictured jamming with Jimi Hendrix. A stream of good bands performed at the Speak - wrote Tony Bacon - Hendrix's Experience was among the first in January 1967. Marianne Faithfull said that when she went there to see the great guitarist with Mick Jagger, Mr. Jimi tried to seduce her, whispering: 'What are you doing with this jerk, anyway?'. Cream appeared in August, just before jetting off for their first US tour with compere Frank Zappa introducing them as 'dandy little combo' (...)
Interior of the Speakeasy
The Speakeasy was also the key place to go if you fancied a jam.'There was a lot of blowing at the Speak', Charlie Whitney of Family agrees.'People like Ritchie Blackmore would just get up. Hendrix was always blowing there. Couldn't get him off! He didn't care what he played, either: guitar, bass, anything he'd be there. And with anybody. It was definitely the after-hours musician's place. Chris Welch from Melody Maker had another theory for the Speakeasy's popularity.'(It was) because of the tireless patience of the head waiter and the staff, who didn't seem to mind too much when Mr. Moon appeared naked letting off fire extinguishers, or Ginger Baker hurled the odd dinner at some rival who displeased him'. For some, however, it was all a bit too much. Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt, for example:'Rock groups meeting in expensive clubs that are difficult to get into? What's all that crap? (p 104).
Hendrix and entourage at the Speakeasy, 1967
Speakeasy aside, on the same page of NME as the Speakeasy article, there are two ads - one for cool clothing outlet Harry Fenton, and one for Lambretta.
Although it's hard to find any information about Harry Fenton, the ad is certainly impressive - it pictures a hip young man in double-breasted jacket - a dedicated follower of fashion, whom you'd expect to see on the streets of London in 1967.
The Lambretta ad looks, by comparison, pretty dated. Yes, the font at the top hints at 'flower-power', but the drawing of a mod and his female companions belongs more to 1965 rather than 1967 (apparently, in 1967 scooter sales in Britain had fallen dramatically, forcing Vespa and Lambretta to do aggressive ad campaigns. Vespa even tried to launch a trend for 'flower-power scooters' with psychedelic patters. Luckily, it didn't catch on).
Sources: NME magazine, issue from (week ending) 20 May, 1967 Tony Bacon, London Live, Balafon Books, London, 1999