The Flamingo Club

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The Flamingo Club
The Pink Flamingo
Address 33-37 Wardour Street
London
England
Coordinates 51°30′41″N 0°07′56″W / 51.5113°N 0.1322°W / 51.5113; -0.1322
Operator
Type Nightclub
Opened 1952 (1952)
Closed 1967 (1967)

The Flamingo Club was a nightclub in Soho, London, between 1952 and 1967. It was located at 33-37 Wardour Street from 1957 onwards and played an important role in the development of British rhythm and blues and jazz. During the 1960s the Flamingo was one of the first clubs to employ fully amplified stage sound and used sound systems provided by ska musicians from the Caribbean.[1] The club had a wide social appeal and was a favourite haunt for musicians including the Beatles.[2]

History[edit]

The 1950s[edit]

The club was started in August 1952 by Jeffrey Kruger, a London-born jazz fan, and his father Sam Kruger. Its first premises were in the basement of the Mapleton Restaurant in Coventry Street. Jeffrey Kruger's intention was to provide a centre for high quality music in comfortable surroundings. It was promoted as Britain's most comfortable club and male visitors were expected to wear ties.[3] The club acquired its name from the song "Flamingo" which was used as a theme tune by the resident band, Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists[4] and acts were introduced by Tony Hall. The club rapidly gained a strong reputation attracting visiting performers such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and in 1954, Billie Holiday.[3][5]

In April 1957 the club moved to new premises at 33-37 Wardour Street, where it initially remained primarily a jazz venue with Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes as members of the resident band.[3] The club became particularly well known for its weekend "all-nighters" staying open on Friday and Saturday nights until 6am, a practice which had started on an occasional basis in 1953.[6]

The Flamingo's management was taken over in 1959 by Rik Gunnell, a former boxer, market worker and bouncer who had previously run an all-night club at the Mapleton Hotel with the hotel's manager Tony Harris.[1] Rik and his brother Johnny launched regular all-nighters and the ethos of the club gradually changed.

The 1960s[edit]

The Flamingo was sometimes described as an intimidating place in the early 1960s, where gangsters, pimps and prostitutes hung out and fighting among customers was not unusual."[3] In October 1962, the club was the scene of a fight between jazz fans Aloysius Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe both lovers of Christine Keeler, which through a chain of events ultimately led to the public revelations of the Profumo Affair.[6][7]

By 1963 the Flamingo also became known as a centre of the mod subculture, where fans and musicians of both jazz and R&B music would rub shoulders. It also became recognised as a meeting place for famous musicians including members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and many others. An example of this is that on August 6th 1965, Brian Jones and Paul McCartney (with Jane Asher on his arm) attended a performance by The Byrds. The club was later renamed "The Pink Flamingo" but closed in 1967.[3]

Musicians and music[edit]

In the early days of the club artists such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and in 1954 Billie Holiday, all performed at the club.[3][8] Early line ups of the house band included saxophonists Joe Harriott, Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, drummer Tony Kinsey, vibraphonist Bill Le Sage and pianist Tommy Pollard.

Over the years the club succeeded in promoting the best in jazz, rhythm and blues also cross-over genres, mixing successful established acts with up and coming artists. Many of the emerging acts which the Flamingo promoted would go on to become respected music industry names.[3] The Flamingo became not only the venue for a 'who's who' of British rock and R&B, but also visiting American artists such as Stevie Wonder, Bill Haley, Patti LaBelle, John Lee Hooker and Jerry Lee Lewis. This melting pot of music industry talent often led to memorable jam sessions.

Musicians who played at the Flamingo in the 1960s include John Mayall, Eric Clapton,[9]Alexis Korner, The Rolling Stones, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Zoot Money, The Big Roll Band, Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, Peter Bardens, Shotgun Express, Rod Stewart, Bobby Tench, The Gass,[10] Carmen McRae, Brian Auger, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker[1] Steve Marriott and the then newly formed Small Faces,[11]

Cultural influence[edit]

Through the resulting melting pot of music, fashion and social cross-culture, the Flamingo played a small but important part in the breakdown of racial prejudice in post-war British society[12] and the club was one of the first UK venues to introduce ska music to a white audience, with performances by Jamaican born musicians such as Count Suckle.[1]

Owners and managers[edit]

Jeffrey Kruger[edit]

Main article: Jeffrey Kruger

Jeffrey Kruger established Ember Records in 1960, and later the TKO Group. He became a leading music promoter and was awarded the MBE in 2002 for services to the music industry. Kruger died in Florida in May 2014, aged 83.[13]

Rik and Johnny Gunnell[edit]

Rik and Johnny Gunnell, who took over the club in 1959, later set up a management and booking agency in Soho. Together they manaaged artists such as Zoot Money, Geno Washington, Long John Baldry, Cliff Bennett,Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Rod Stewart,[2] Slade[14] and Gass.[15]

In January 1966 Gunnell and his brother opened the Ramjam Club named after Geno Washington's Ramjam Band) in Brixton High Road, London S.W 9. Otis Redding made his British debut there, and The Animals and The Who played the club as favours to the Gunnells. During 1967 Rik Gunnell managed the artist rosta at The Bag O'Nails, Kingly Street, London, W1.[2]

Later the brothers joined The Robert Stigwood Organisation[2] and in the late 1960s, Rik Gunnell took over Robert Stigwood's offices in New York and Los Angeles.[2] He also set up an après-ski venue in Kitzbühel, Austria. Rik Gunnell died in 2007.[1]

Discography[edit]

  • Tony Kinsey Jeff Kruger's Jazz at the Flamingo (1955). Decca DFE 6253[16]
  • Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo (1964). Columbia 33SX 1599[17]
  • John Mayall Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton 40th anniversary Deluxe Edition [disc 2 tracks 14-19] (2006). Decca 984 180-1.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Rik Gunnell obituary". The Guardian.com. 18 June 2007. Retrieved 2012-12-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Rik Gunnell obituary". Telegraph.com. 22 June 2007. Retrieved 2014-12-01. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Bob Solly, Absolute Beginnings, Record Collector no.399, March 2012. pp:48-56
  4. ^ The Ember Story. JeffreyKruger.com Retrieved 16 May 2014
  5. ^ David H. Taylor. The jazz clubs
  6. ^ a b Another Nickel In The Machine: The Flamingo Club in Wardour Street and the fight between Johnny Edgecombe and 'Lucky' Gordon
  7. ^ "Johnny Edgecombe fired the gunshots that precipitated the Profumo affair of the 1960s". The Daily Telegraph. 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  8. ^ David H. Taylor, The jazz clubs
  9. ^ "John Mayall With Eric Clapton/Blues Breakers". discogs.com. Retrieved 2014-12-08. 
  10. ^ Leslie Fran (2009-01-28). Interview with Bobby Tench. Blues In Britain. pp. 18, 19, 20 Vol 1 issue 94. 
  11. ^ Jeffrey Kruger, The birth of the Flamingo: the Ember Records story
  12. ^ A blast from the past: Rhythm, Blues and Anti Racism, Live at the Flamingo
  13. ^ Spencer Leigh, Jeff Kruger: Businessman who opened the Flamingo Club, which was at the epicentre of the British jazz and r’n’b scene, The Independent, 23 May 2014. Retrieved 23 May 2014
  14. ^ "The Slade story: from roots to boots". blogspot.com. Retrieved 2014-12-01. 
  15. ^ Joynson, Vernon. The Tapestry of Delights - The Comprehensive Guide to British Music of the Beat, R&B, Psychedelic and Progressive Eras. Borderline. p. 325. 
  16. ^ "Jeff Kruger's Jazz at the Flamingo". 45cat.com. Retrieved 2014-11-27. 
  17. ^ "Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo". discogs.com. Retrieved 2014-11-27. 
  18. ^ "John Mayall With Eric Clapton-Blues Breakers". discogs.com. Retrieved 2014-11-27. 

External links[edit]