Flamingo Club (London)
|The Pink Flamingo|
|Address||33-37 Wardour Street
The Flamingo Club was a nightclub that operated 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.
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 jazz in comfortable surroundings; it was promoted as "Britain's most comfortable club", and male visitors were expected to wear ties. Shows were introduced by compere Tony Hall, and the club acquired its name from the tune "Flamingo", used as a theme by the resident band, Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists. Early versions of the resident band included saxophonists Joe Harriott, Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott, drummer Tony Kinsey, vibraphonist Bill Le Sage and pianist Tommy Pollard. The club rapidly gained a strong reputation, attracting visiting performers such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and, in 1954, Billie Holiday. Kinsey's band recorded an EP, Jeff Kruger's Jazz at the Flamingo, in 1955.
In April 1957 the club moved to new premises at 33-37 Wardour Street, where it initially remained primarily a jazz venue; Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes were members of the resident band. 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. 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 its manager, Tony Harris. Rik and his brother Johnny Gunnell launched regular all-nighters, and the atmosphere of the club gradually changed, with it being described as "an intimidating place in the early 60s, where gangsters, pimps and prostitutes hung out, and fighting among customers was not unusual." 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.
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 meet together. Through the resulting melting pot of music and fashion, it is suggested that it influenced the breakdown of racial prejudice in post-war British society. The club also used sound systems provided by Jamaican-born immigrants such as Count Suckle, and helped introduce ska music to a white audience. Bands who performed at the club regularly in the early and mid-1960s included Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames - who released an LP Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo in 1964 - Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, and Shotgun Express featuring Rod Stewart. The club became recognised as a meeting place for famous musicians, with members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and many others all being regular customers. Brian Jones and Paul McCartney (with Jane Asher in tow) turned up on August 6th,1965 to watch the Byrds. Later Steve Marriot's newly formed Small Faces "tried out", to little acclaim, on a weekday night, to cries of "That's not the Flamingo music, man." despite Steve's great "soul" voice. It became the venue for a who's who of British rock and R&B, and many visiting Americans, including Stevie Wonder, Bill Haley, Patti LaBelle, John Lee Hooker and Jerry Lee Lewis, performed there. The club was later renamed The Pink Flamingo, but closed in 1967.
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. He died in 2014. Rik and Johnny Gunnell set up a management and booking agency in Soho before Rik Gunnell took over Robert Stigwood's offices in New York and Los Angeles in the late 1960s. He later set up an après-ski venue in Kitzbühel, Austria, before his death in 2007.
- Bob Solly, Absolute Beginnings, Record Collector no.399, March 2012, pp.48-56
- "The Ember Story" at JeffreyKruger.com. Retrieved 16 May 2014
- David H. Taylor, The jazz clubs
- Jeff Kruger's Jazz at the Flamingo at Discogs.com
- Another Nickel In The Machine: The Flamingo Club in Wardour Street and the fight between Johnny Edgecombe and ‘Lucky’ Gordon
- Obituary, Rik Gunnell, The Guardian, 18 June 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2012
- "Johnny Edgecombe fired the gunshots that precipitated the Profumo affair of the 1960s". The Daily Telegraph. 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2010-10-06.
- A blast from the past: Rhythm, Blues and Anti Racism, Live at the Flamingo
- Jeffrey Kruger, The birth of the Flamingo: the Ember Records story
- John Pidgeon, The Flamingo Club, Rock's Back Pages, 29 July 2009
- Sixties City - Soho, the beating heart of Swinging Sixties London