Delighted to be able to report that, at long last, The Scene Club, a new Harry Stammers novel, is at proof reading stage. I’ll update you all shortly.
Delighted to be able to report that, at long last, The Scene Club, a new Harry Stammers novel, is at proof reading stage. I’ll update you all shortly.
Facebook. Love it, hate it or both. There’s nothing quite like it for putting you in touch with people. People who you’d be unlikely to bump into without it. Yesterday, thanks to Facebook, I met Craig Sams and through Craig, a charming young lady called Minnie Kemp. Craig is an interesting chap, for a whole host of reasons (look him up and you’ll see what I mean). He also happens to hang out on a Facebook page called “Original Modernists 1959-1966” where I met him a few days ago.
As some of you will know, I am researching The Scene Club for my next book. The Scene was a mod club in London’s Ham Yard during the early 1960’s, which is a bit of an understatement. Because it was probably the London mod club, along with The Flamingo around the corner in Wardour Street and a couple of others. Access to this famous little club was down a flight of concrete stairs in the corner of Ham Yard, behind The Lyric public house.
Ham Yard has recently been redeveloped and is now home to the rather splendid Ham Yard Hotel and a number of shops and restaurants built around a tree filled garden with a bronze sculpture by Tony Cragg. All very tasteful and, presumably, obliterating any sign of The Scene Club…
Fearing the worst, I paid the place a visit last week and was surprised to discover that the redevelopment stops at the entrance down to the basement formerly occupied by The Scene. The doors, at least, are still there.
Which rather begged a question or two. What is behind them? Does the basement still exist? Does anything survive of the club itself? And more to the point, how might I go about gaining access?
Fortunately, Craig supplied the answer in the form of Minnie from the hotel, who kindly agreed to meet us and to show us around the hotel basement (which she did – the hotel basement houses a very splendid bowling alley – one of a kind, apparently). This was all well and good except for one thing. It turned out that the green doors don’t belong to the hotel at all, but to the next building along. In fact, they belong to Grace, a bar and restaurant which has its front at 42-44 Great Windmill Street. So off we went to Grace and, after a rather awkward conversation with the bar staff, managed to convince David, the manager, to show us his basement.
The basement below Grace is divided into several areas, but on the right, as you go down the steps, is the ‘Milk Bar’. It is all beige leather and pink lights. Not very Scene-like, but something got us wondering. This is why I like to explore the venues that I use in my books. You just never know what you might find…
At the back of the bar area was a door, behind which was a passage and there were the steps up to the green doors that lead out into Ham Yard. What a thrill (if you’re into that kind of thing) to see them from the inside.
So far as we could make out, the area has been partly divided to form a fire escape (the wall, on the right in the picture to the left is recent). Having worked that out, we were beginning to wonder whether there was going to be much more to see, when I happened to look up. I really hadn’t been expecting it. There’s a false ceiling in the main bar area, so nothing much to see at all.
But just before you leave the walkway and re-enter the bar area there is a patch of original ceiling (picture, left). I recognised it immediately. It is the same type of ceiling that appears in the wonderful photographs of The Animals playing The Scene Club, recently discovered by Sanford Santacroce and posted by Sanford, generating huge interest, at Original Modernists 1959-1966. So we were close at least. But how close?
David, the manager at Grace was completely unaware both of the Scene Club’s history, and of the fact that his basement bar might just have played host to the likes of The Animals, Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Chris Farlowe and The Thunderbirds, The High Numbers (who later became The Who) and The Rolling Stones.
So there you have it. Did we discover the area formerly occupied by The Scene Club? Or is there another area beneath the Ham Yard Hotel still to be discovered by some intrepid explorer? I guess that only time will tell.
Many thanks to Craig Sams for making our visit happen, Minnie Kemp (at Ham Yard Hotel) David (at Grace) and Sanford Santacroce (for the historic pics).
I arrived in London early this morning for a (business) meeting in Victoria, so took the opportunity to drop by Ham Yard, which is a few minutes walk from Piccadilly Circus, off Great Windmill Street. The early commute into London was typically unpleasant. All twelve carriages on the train from Leighton Buzzard into London were packed and, with the warm weather refusing to entirely give way, the London Underground heaving as usual, and with a little less than an hour to spare, I very nearly gave up the idea at Green Park and stayed on the Victoria Line train.
In case you’re wondering (in which case you haven’t been paying attention), Ham Yard was the location of The Scene Club, one of the most important Mod clubs in London during the early sixties. Almost as importantly, it is a location in my next book.
Arriving at the junction of Ham Yard and Windmill Street, I was not optimistic that the basement formerly occupied by the little club that had played host to the likes of The Who and The Animals in 1964 had survived redevelopment. The buildings to the right and rear of the picture on the left are all new, the older buildings having been cleared away to create the new Ham Yard Hotel (the building in the background).
Happily however, as I entered Ham Yard and turned left, to the rear of The Lyric (the pub on the corner), there it was. Tucked away, in the far corner behind a wheelie bin and not exactly picturesque (I don’t think it was ever that – not even in 1964). The doors leading to the stairway down to the basement and the old Scene Club.
Of course, I’ve no idea what is down there now or whether any sign of the former club still exists. It’s been fifty years since The Scene closed its doors to the dancers, bands and faces of sixties mod London. But I’d very much like to find out. Even if there is no sign, it would be great to have a look around the old place.
Alas, that is for another day, if indeed it is possible at all and it may not be. Unless, of course, someone out there knows who owns/has use of the building now and can pull a few strings for me. There’s a pint in it!
My next book. At the moment it’s a soup of ideas. Churning around in my head. Waiting to congeal into something wholesome. A little thinner than I would like at this stage, to be honest. More a french onion than a hearty pea and ham. But good things come to those who wait and all that.
Anyway, venues. I’ve been thinking about them. Along with plots, of course. But I do like a good venue. They fire my imagination. Get the old creative juices flowing. As you may have noticed (if you’ve been paying attention). ‘The Shelter’ featured several, but most particularly the deep level air raid shelter at Belsize Park. There was Excalibur House in ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ and, of course, Building 41 at Bletchley Park, that most atmospheric of places…
So where next? I have several venues in mind for my next outing. One of them being The Scene Club in London. This little dance club and music venue was in Ham Yard, off Great Windmill Street in London’s Soho. The Scene Club had been a jazz venue in the very early sixties. Jazz – mainly traditional jazz – had been the music of choice for many young people before the advent of rock and roll. By 1963, the DJ’s at The Scene Club, most notably Guy Stevens (who went on to work with Island Records and produced The Clash’s acclaimed album, London Calling), had started to play rhythm and blues and soul records imported from the United States. Recordings by artists like Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Howling Wolf, Big Joe Turner and Chuck Berry. While many went on to become household names, in 1963 much of this music was new to Britain and to the British youth.
As a jazz club, The Scene was already the venue of choice for the emerging youth subculture known as modernism. The subculture had its roots in an small group of London-based stylish young men. They were labelled modernists (or ‘mods’), mainly because they listened to modern jazz but they readily embraced the new brand of music played by Guy Stevens and the other DJ’s at The Scene Club and elsewhere (at clubs like the Whisky a Go Go, La Discotheque, and Georgie Fame’s The Flamingo Club, all on Wardour Street).
Modernism was by no means the first such youth subculture in Britain. The mods were preceded by the teddy boys of the 1950’s, with their draped long coats and crepe-soled shoes, and the rockers and ton up boys who followed, who wore jeans, leather jackets and rode motor cycles. It has been suggested that modernism was, in part, a reaction against the fashion, aggressive stance and perceived ‘dirtiness’ of the rockers by the more style-conscious mods.
Undeniably, the scenes portrayed in the British press, through their coverage of several violent seaside confrontations between marauding mods and rockers in 1964, gives evidence to the rivalry that developed between the two subcultures. But in 1963 these rivalries were less distinct. Many of the bands emerging in London and elsewhere, adopted subsequently by the mods, had their roots in rock and roll.
Some, like The Animals from Newcastle, who played at The Scene Club in 1963, had never even heard of modernism. When I interviewed John Steel, the drummer of The Animals, in May 2006, he told me:
“We couldn’t really understand it. We were just a bunch of northern rockers. The fact is that we didn’t even know what a mod was until we arrived at The Scene Club. It was purely a London phenomenon at that time. When we arrived at our first gig [at the Scene Club], the yard outside was absolutely packed with Lambrettas and Vespas, you know. Loads and loads of chrome. Lights. Long aerials with foxtails. And guys in suits and parkas. We’d never seen anything like it. It just wasn’t anywhere else in the country at that time.”
The Scene Club was a tiny and, by all accounts, rather dingy venue. The entrance was via a doorway in a corner of Ham Yard and access was a via a flight of steps down to the basement.
“You went down a staircase, paid your money, had your hand stamped… and went into a rectangular room. As I recall the DJ was in a little box to the right of the entrance, but it was flush to the wall. In the right hand corner opposite the DJ was a bar, that only sold soft drinks (I remember cola that was made from powder and water, really horrible).”
“A bit further to the left of the entrance was a passage to the cloakroom. Along the far wall to the left were booths, I think the first few times I went there you couldn’t see what was going on, but later they were opened up, I think this happened after a raid for drugs. And I think on the right hand wall between the bar and DJ booth were benches.
The rest was a dance floor (I seem to remember a pillar or two, but again I could be wrong). People stood around or danced. A lot of the time it was a case of being seen at the right place.”(1)
(1) ‘London: The Scene Club and Soho’, Geoff Green, Alice Fowkes and Chris H, http://jackthatcatwasclean.blogspot.co.uk)
The mod subculture expanded rapidly and by the mid sixties was driving mainstream fashion, popular music and art. To the original mods this was anathema and by late 1966 they were moving on and The Scene Club had closed.
As recently as 2008, the entrance to the premises and presumably the basement below, still existed behind an imposing steel barrier in the corner of Ham Yard (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJtTUf25ULA). However, in recent years Ham Yard has been developed and whether it still exists is unknown to the author. I am planning a visit to Ham Yard in the near future and will report my findings here soon.
If you attended The Scene Club, have any memories or pictures that you’d be willing to share, I would be delighted to hear from you. Please contact me via my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by leaving a comment here.
If you’re interested in my interview with John Steel of The Animals, you can listen to it here: – John Steel Interview, May 2006
After months (and months) of writing, the draft copy of Building 41, the third and final episode in the Harry Stammers Series, is now out for test reading and we are, pending any last minute hiccups, looking good for an April or May 2016 release. Of course it does all depend on what my beta readers think. If they spot any flaws, then some re-writing may be necessary and I’m already planning a few last minute tweaks – little things that I’ve spotted myself. But (and I don’t know how other writers approach this) I have reached that point in the writing cycle where, though I can read the book, I can no longer really see it. When you’ve read the same text, over and over again, you become a little blind to it (well I do), which is, of course, where the beta readers come in. This year, I’m welcoming two new test readers to the team, both avid fans of Harry Stammers & co. They both have packages winging their way to them as I write. Then, when all that is done, it will be the final proof reading and we’ll be done. Then, I suppose, I can start thinking about the next book…
I am not, as yet, entirely decided about which way to go. One idea that I’m toying with is to write a spin-off, using a minor character from one of the books. There are a couple of candidates, Chief Superintendent Simon Broadbent from ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ being one. I liked Broadbent. He wasn’t an entirely good egg. Not by the time I met him in The Battle of Wood Green, anyway. But then being gay and a senior police officer in 1977 can’t have been easy and I have been wondering about how he managed to advance to the heights of Chief Super. Of course, Broadbent bows out on a somewhat sticky wicket in TBOWG:
(Peter Owen says to Jimmy Dobson) ‘When you’ve done that, make arrangements for the Chief Superintendent’s suicide, would you? I hear that bent coppers usually prefer to throw themselves from the tops of tall buildings, rather than face the humiliation of a long prison sentence. And Chief Superintendent Broadbent is bent in more than ways than one.’
(Jimmy Dobson replies, rather ominously) ‘It will be my pleasure.’
But I never did discover what actually happened to him…
Then there is Alphonse Richelieu (also from TBOWG). A lot of you liked Alphonse. He is one of the characters that people most ask me about. Curiously, people seem suspicious of him, even though he appears, on the face of it, to be an entirely loyal friend of Rosemary Sellers. Some readers were convinced he was going to turn into a villain in the end… But what’s his back story?
So who knows where I’m going next? I certainly don’t! If any of you would like to know more about Broadbent, Alphonse or any of the other characters from the books, feel free to email me. I’m open to all suggestions!
Anyway, it is back to Building 41 for me – I’ll update you all soon.
Just back from a most enjoyable and informative evening at the Chiltern Writers Group (http://chilternwriters.org). It is always a little nerve wracking joining a group for the first time (well, I find it so) but I must say that they were very welcoming and I now can’t wait for the next event.
Tonight’s talk was by Dave Sivers (http://www.davesivers.co.uk), a local crime fiction writer who has had tremendous success, particularly with with his Archer and Baines novels. I read the latest in the series – “Dead in Deep Water” – shortly before Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m presently reading the first (typical of me to do things in the wrong order) “The Scars Beneath The Soul“, both available in Kindle format from Amazon. I’m a big fan of crime fiction – I’ve just finished Ian Rankine’s “Saints of The Shadow Bible” (the latest in his Rebus series) – and I must say that I’m enjoying Dave’s second Baines and Archer outing just as much. Possibly a little more in fact because, of course, the Rebus books are set in Edinburgh (with which I am unfamiliar) whereas Dave’s books are set in the Aylesbury Vale, a little closer to home. I do recommend them. If you like crime fiction, you’ll love them. Trust me.
Dave spoke at length tonight about his experience publishing books in Kindle format (I picked up loads of tips). Hearing about his success has reminded me that I have done no writing at all for best part of a month now. Which is probably the longest break I’ve had since I started writing “The Shelter“. It’s been good to take a break – I feel like I’ve cleared my head a little – but I’m now itching to get cracking again.
I’ve promised myself to have “Building 41″, the third in my Harry Stammers Series, done and dusted by the summer, which gives me six months to complete it. Achievable if I dive back in but I’d better put a move on or it will be more like November again. Watch this space!
Just had to share this with you all. Today, I received a message from Chris Kennedy, who I met for the first time, a week or so ago, at my book launch. Chris purchased a copy of ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ and, having read the book, sent me some comments earlier today that left me.. well, speechless. He has very kindly given me permission to reproduce some of them (slightly abridged below, for brevity):
“I just finished The Battle of Wood Green today. I absolutely loved it. I read the last 200 pages last night and this morning and couldn’t put it down… The characters are brilliant. They were quite dark and sinister in many ways – self-obsessed, power hungry, intelligent, divisive. Smith was an enigma and I liked that it was difficult to judge his real motives. In fact I was kept guessing and thinking of the possibilities and outcomes throughout the book and never knew exactly how things would pan out, which is why I wanted to get to the end to find out.
I had a love/hate relationship with Liz Muir, not because I didn’t think she was a good character. I thought she was an amazing character. The love/hate thing I think derives from the fact that I could relate to her in many ways. She was a good person, with good motives but had a tendency to self-destruction in her decision making as if she was almost “cursed”, or under a spell. She was impulsive and became caught up in a life that led to her acting in many expedient ways, to buy her time. I really liked the fact that you could almost watch her life spiral out of control and how there was a degree of inevitability as the story progressed. I felt for her in the way that she felt completely suffocated and compromised and was totally powerless to do anything about it. However, perhaps her decision making was subconsciously based on her obsession with Peter Owen and, in a way, she was addicted to the lifestyle of a secret agent (Stockholm Syndrome type thing) even though it brought her much pain and grief.
Dobson was a beast. He certainly added to the darkness and lowest qualities a human can possess.
I really liked the thread of blackmail,and emotional manipulation throughout the book. It provided a sense of hopelessness which had a major impact on the characters actions. I think this made it easier to be empathetic and compassionate towards the characters. I am not only thinking about Muir and Broadbent here, but Owen too, as you could see that he really loved Muir and felt completely betrayed.
I liked how the perception we have of the institutions, Police, Government, MI5 etc as being the all seeing, protectors of the noble interests of society with high standing individuals is taken apart here. (Your characters) are psychopaths, greedy and self-obsessed people who have many personal motives.
I could say a lot more…but overall the characters and the story were gripping and they intertwined really well. Also…it was a good insight into the political climate during the 1970s.”
I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to get feedback like that. As a new and inexperienced writer, I’m never certain that my characters will be understood in the way that I intended them to be. Or, indeed, that they will be real enough to jump out of the page and trigger thoughts and feelings for my readers, as they do for me. It gives me a real buzz to know that for one reader, at least, I have managed something approaching that.
Chris’s thoughts on Liz Muir are especially insightful. Watching Liz’s life spiral out of control, is at the heart of the book, and I just love his suggestion that it was “as if she was almost ‘cursed’, or under a spell“. I hadn’t thought about it quite as a ‘spell’ Chris – Liz tends to see it as ‘destiny’, I think. But perhaps one man’s spell, is another woman’s destiny – either way, you are bang on the money.
Sincere thanks to Chris for taking the time to message me with his thoughts. He absolutely made my day.
I am happy to report that the launch of ‘The Battle of Wood Green’, on Friday evening, went WONDERFULLY well. Fortunately, the books turned up (just in time) which was something of a relief. And also fortunately, a great many of them were sold on the night (more, in fact, than in the whole of the first week following release of ‘The Shelter’).
Everyone seemed to enjoy the 70’s theme – the cheese and pineapple on sticks went down a storm, although 200 ‘vol-au-vents’ proved to be a little over optimistic…
Thanks must go to everyone who helped with the evening – including the young man on my right (in the picture) who, for those of you who don’t know him, is my number one son Tom. My sincere apologies for my crimes against fashion – whereas Tom went for the Status Quo look (but he has an unfair advantage), I resorted to a pair of paisley flares (never a good idea). I promise to return them to a place of safety without delay.
After the launch on Friday, it was off to a friend’s house sale/party on Saturday evening for another bout of book signing (thank you KTM for a great evening). Met some lovely people, introduced lots of them to the adventures of Harry Stammers, sold yet more books and ended up eating MacDonalds with three lovely ladies at 1am (proof, if it was needed, that I do know how to treat a lady!).
Then, finally, rounded off the weekend with a trip to the cinema today to see The Imitation Game (courtesy of Janice and Ian – thanks guys). If you haven’t seen it, you really should: – (https://www.facebook.com/imitationgameuk) – Good performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly and a pretty accurate portrayal (I think) of the Alan Turing story – great stuff.
Thanks to everyone who has bought ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ in the few days since the book’s launch. I am delighted to report that sales of ‘The Shelter’ have also increased since TBOWG’s release – so thank you to ALL my new readers. As always, comments, questions and suggestions are always welcome. Hopefully, I can now take a breath and get on with book number three…
It is Friday 21st in five days time and the launch of ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ is now just around the corner. Which is all terribly exciting. Except that I don’t yet have a single copy of the book (they haven’t arrived from America). I was getting a bit jumpy about it and so I emailed Createspace who told me not to (worry about it) because my order (and I quote) ” is scheduled to ship with an estimated delivery date of November 18, 2014″. That’s three days before the launch. Great. That put my mind at ease, I can tell you…
I must admit to having made no progress at all with ‘Building 41’ this week due to being so busy with preparations for the launch. Thanks to Janice Issitt (in particular) to Trish (of course) and to Liz and Steve we now have THE MOST FANTASTIC 70’s window, for which my contribution has been a 1978 Philips G11, colour television set (‘The Battle of Wood Green’ is mostly set in 1977).
The TV is hooked up to a Raspberry Pi computer, enabling it to play 70’s clips etc – it proved quite awkward to convert the Pi’s composite output to the RF required by the TV set. But I managed it in the end (thanks to Daniel at MKARS for helping we with the Linux settings).
The window is just marvellous. We had crowds outside all day Saturday, reminiscing about the 70’s. It’s got to be the best window in Leighton Buzzard right now – almost worth a trip just to see it.
The event itself is going be a cracker (if my books do, actually, turn up). I do hope you can make it.
(Photography courtesy of Janice Issitt)
While in North London yesterday with my friend Janice, I paid a short visit to Vale Road N4. The northern end of this little road, is mostly terraced housing. When I was a kid, the houses were semi-derelict and, on one side, were eventually cleared and replaced by modern (and rather ugly), red-bricked council houses. On the other side, the old houses were retained – I’m not sure why. Perhaps the Council had a limited budget. The southern end of Vale Road is/was mostly industrial. Several well known manufacturers had their factories there including Maynards (the sweet people) and Accoson Limited (who make scientific instruments and who are now based in Harlow, Essex). I say ‘mostly’ because in between the Maynards sweet factory and the ‘Derby Works’, a large factory where The Power Flexible Tubing Company were based, was a special school at which my father was caretaker.
It is rare now to find a school with a resident caretaker – school estates management and maintenance was privatised long ago (more’s the pity), but in the days of my youth most schools had a ‘school keeper’ and often, like us, they had a house on site. In our case, it was a small cottage with three bedrooms – it didn’t gain an inside toilet until I was into my early teens, as I recall. I lived there from shortly after my birth until I was sixteen. Sometime after I left, the school was closed and the whole site cleared.
I have been back a few times since then and seeing the place is always a somewhat surreal and slightly unsettling experience. All of the buildings in Vale Road that I remember as being present when I was a child are still there, looking almost exactly as they were. Except my house and the site of the Vale School which is gone, completely. As though it has been erased, quite deliberately. Even the signs on the walls surrounding the site are still there, along with the strange, black water tank attached high up on one of the factory walls – it used to overlook my bedroom (nice!). And yet the house, the school buildings, the gardens, playgrounds, swimming pool – everything within the site’s perimeter, in fact – has vanished altogether. Very odd.
Anyway, for Janice’s benefit (I think she found it hard to believe that there was ever a house and gardens on the site – which, incidentally, is now a container storage yard and car park) here is a then (1977ish) and now picture: –
The lovely young lady on my left is Sandra (now Sandy), my girlfriend at the time. The chimneys in both pictures are the same.
And here is me standing in what was the drive up to the main school. In 1977, about ten feet in front of where I am standing, and about ten feet up, was my bedroom. Very weird.