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 about it got us excited. Craig later admitted to feeling it too. This is why I like to explore the venues that I use in my books. They do that to me every time. Something just felt right. Like an echo…
At the back of the bar area was a door, behind which was a passage. It was when we passed through it that we knew we were in the right place. There were the steps up to the green doors that lead out into Ham Yard. The entrance to The Scene Club, from the inside. What a thrill (if you’re into that kind of thing).
So far as we could make out, the area formerly occupied by the dance floor at The Scene Club 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 exactly the same 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.
David, the manager at Grace was completely unaware both of the venue’s history, and of the fact that his basement bar had played host to the likes of The Animals, Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Chris Farlowe and The Thunderbirds, The High Numbers (apparently – who later became The Who) and The Rolling Stones.
I suggested that he might like to think about a reunion gig down there. It’s a thought…
So there you have it. Many thanks to Craig Sams for making it happen, Minnie Kemp (at Ham Yard Hotel) David (at Grace) and Sanford Santacroce (for the historic pics).
(click to view larger images)