The Scene Club Rediscovered

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.

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(the doors to The Scene Club are on the left)

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.

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Basement at Grace, 42-44 Great Windmill Street

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…

 

 

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Steps leading up into Ham Yard

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).

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Passage to the rear

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.

 

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Patch of original ceiling

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.

The Animals at The Scene, (Sanford Santacroce)

The Animals at The Scene, (Photograph: Sanford Santacroce)

 

 

 

 

 

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More original ceiling

 

 

Eric Burdon, The Scene Club (Photograph: Sanford Santacroce)

Eric Burdon, The Scene Club (Photograph: Sanford Santacroce)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grace, Great Windmill Street (below which was The Scene Club, London)

 

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.

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Grace (formerly The Scene Club)

 

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)

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Another passage at the rear

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View down into Ham Yard from the roof of Ham Yard Hotel

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45 Responses to The Scene Club Rediscovered

  1. What memories! Although my parents wouldn’t allow me to go “up west” at exactly the right time, so I missed being a part of it. Knew all about it, though!

    • Andy says:

      Thanks Lesley. I missed The Scene the first time around too… My wife Trish reads your books and loves them. I’ve been too busy writing (and exploring basements in central London!) to do much reading lately. Perhaps I’d better take one of yours with me on the train next time I go into London 🙂

  2. Adam Cooper says:

    Hi Andy
    Great article – I often have a look at those entrance doors when in London…. and sigh!
    I write a fanzine aimed at the Mod / 60s crowd named “Heavy Soul!” and would love to include parts of your article and maybe an interview with you about the book?
    Can all be done via email…
    Do you think that would be possible?
    Many thanks
    Adam Cooper
    http://www.heavysoul45s.co.uk

    • Andy says:

      Hi Adam and thanks for making contact. Yes, please do use the article and I’d be delighted to do an interview for you. The next book (my fourth) will feature The Scene and a fictional band, based around an interview I did with John Steel of The Animals, a few years ago, in which he talks about coming down to London and playing at The Scene. No title yet and still researching. Hence my little visit to Ham Yard. But I’m sure there’ll be plenty to interest your readers. You have my email address… andy@andymellettbrown.com

  3. Ian says:

    Well done Andy on getting down there – I’ve tried with the staff in Grace but no luck.
    Couple of anorak questions :
    On the Ham Yard street level is the entrance the door on the left? and once through it do you descend the brown coloured stairs in your photo, to go through the green doors, along the passage and down a second set of steps? There’s a well known pic of Mods on the steps with a poster for the Scene above their heads.
    No sign of the famous alcoves then?
    Do you know what the Milk bar is used for – private functions maybe?
    I’m sure you know this but if you google ‘Cy Laurie Jazz Club’ you’ll get pics of it pre-Scene days.
    Any idea what is happening down in the Flamingo basement these days?

    • Andy says:

      Hi Ian. Yes, the entrance down to the basement is via the doors on the left. The third picture down (the slightly yellow one) is the view up the stairs to the inside of the doors. There are now several passages along the back of the basement and further stairs which I think are all original. Craig said that the toilets are where they were originally too. No sign of the alcoves, although there was a recessed area near to the stairs up to Grace. The interior of the downstairs bar area (now called “The Milk Bar”) has, of course, been completely refitted – so quite difficult to work out exactly what was where. According to David (the manager) they use the bar for functions. There is live music at Grace – upstairs only, though, I think. But the Milk Bar is big enough for a small intimate gig – maybe a couple of hundred people with a small stage, although visibility wouldn’t be great. Thanks for the info on Cy Laurie’s (yes, I did know, but I’ll take another look). Not sure about The Flamingo. Perhaps I should turn my attention to that next. Let me know if you discover anything. Regards.

      • Craig Sams says:

        There was an alcove, very elegantly decorated but a separated space to go for a snog.

      • fred.frames says:

        The doors to the Scene were on the right. You’d go down one flight to a landing that led down left to the short entrance. The box was on the right and the two swing doors led straight in, record booth on your right by the doors. Nobody who is writing about the place could ever have been there.

  4. Simon says:

    With only the 100 club left as one of the 60’s iconic venues it would be fantastic to open up another authentic venue.

  5. Adrian Stern says:

    Don’t forget it was Cy Laurie’s too!

    • Andy says:

      Thanks for the reminder Adrian… Knew about Cy Laurie’s but must admit I haven’t really looked into it, prior to The Scene. Will do so. Cheers.

  6. Ian Tait says:

    Been snooping round the doors at Ham Yard many times to try and catch a glimpse or some of the aura from the club . Would love to go in and have a look about and soak up some of the nostalgia , or even better a night of R’n ‘B , coke and fab faces ! That would be groovy !!

    • Andy says:

      It would… the Milk Bar is now very modern but there was definitely a bit of vibe down there, even with all the pink lights (!). It was a weird moment, spotting those patches of original ceiling. Bit of a time warp thing. I get that with buildings sometimes, which is why I always try to find (and explore) the places I use in my books…

  7. Stephen Bell says:

    I visited The Scene on a number of occasions in 1965. I used to catch the last tube on the Northern Line from Clapham North. As I was only 16 and my parents were rather strict, I used to shimmy down the drain pipe and escape! I would return in the early hours of the morning, after walking home from the West End. What I could never understand was how few people were in the club by the time I got there. I found out later that everyone had left to go to the Marqee Club, which stayed open much later. I did try and get in the Marqee, but was refused as I still looked like a youngster. Very exciting times.

    • Andy says:

      Hi Stephen. Did your parents ever find out that instead of being tucked up in bed, you were wandering the streets of London?!? 🙂

      • Stephen Bell says:

        Hi Andy, Fortunately my parents never found out. My Dad had a short temper so I am pleased to say on this occasion I avoided a good clip round the ear plus!

  8. Alvaro "Dimples" Rubio says:

    What a nice reading! Thanks for sharing. I’ve really enjoyed it. I was at the entrance once some years ago “chasing ghosts” but never thought the basement was still there! Would be great to locate Sandra, the resident DJ at The Scene Club. She sure has many great memories but no trace of her since those days. Really looking forward to read your book. Greetings from Spain.

    • Andy says:

      I really wasn’t certain that the basement would be there either, Alvaro. Imagine how surprised I was when it turned out that not only is it still there, but it’s still in use (as a bar). I’ve not heard about Sandra before. Might be worth asking on “Original Modernists 1959-1966” (Facebook page)…

      • Alvaro "Dimples" Rubio says:

        Many people think Guy Stevens was the resident DJ but it seems he only did one night per week, Tuesdays I think. Rest was Sandra who DJ ed down there. Later on came James “Doctor Soul” Hamilton as resident.

        • Andy says:

          Alvaro, the ‘Sandra’ you remember was Sandra Black I believe. Not sure what became of her…

        • Stewart says:

          Guy Stevens was the DJ on Sundays when I used to go to the Scene. I remember him drinking scotch out of the bottle whilst the music was playing. On several occasions the Animals followed on.

  9. Darryl says:

    http://youtu.be/fnrBLdKoZcI

    A few minutes of trad jazz and the interior of Macs rehearsal rooms in 1962. Macs rehearsal rooms apparently went on to become the Scene.

  10. Eddie Piller says:

    A few years ago I attempted to persuade the current owners to allow me to host a Scene Club tribute gig but to say that they weren’t interested is an understatement. I did feature the doorway in a short film made about Soho a couple of yewars ago called A Mod’s Guide to Soho (or something like that). Having dj’s at the Whisky A GoGo as well as a venue that was the original Tiles (in 1982) I thought it would be a fitting tribute to organise an allnighter at the Scene. Also, Guy Stevens did only host pone night a week, although I had been told it was a monday!

    • Andy says:

      I don’t think they’re interested now either, Eddie, more’s the pity. However, I gather that the Milk Bar is available for private hire…

  11. Eddie Piller says:

    oops, spelling!

  12. Mark Orridge says:

    As a fan of the period and music and also a student of Archaeology, I would say that your article is a great piece of research. We saw the building works happening in Ham Yard whilst visiting London and thought that they would obliterate any surviving Scene Club features but, you have proved otherwise. I live in hope of one day excavating the site of the Brazenose street Twisted Wheel in Manchester!

  13. Paul johnson says:

    I often went to London and would Allways visit ham yard, (the place does have a vibe) the building works were going on and I was ready to pounce on a bit of the building if they demolished it…lol.

    • Andy says:

      It’s interesting how certain buildings convey a vibe or a ‘feeling’. I often find that they do. As though what happened in them is recorded in the bricks and mortar. You walk into them and you can almost hear the playback…

      • Paul johnson says:

        They certainly do, a sort of residual energy, if only someone had the forsight to record a few nights there back in the 60’s. Just a recording of the people, music playing, the conversations, dancing, residents of the club who were in bands etc, top faces like micky tanner, and Peter meadon, etc, Sandra the DJ etc, can only imagine what it was actualy like to be there in its heyday..

        • Darryl says:

          I once read somewhere that an American news crew had recorded some footage inside the Scene club and around Ham Yard. Dont know how true it is, but maybe someone could verify it.

          • Paul johnson says:

            That would be cool.. I know there were photos taken, easily found on Google etc.. hope someone can come up with the info…Ile try to research it.. I’m sure there must be some footage somewhere. ..

  14. Ricky M says:

    Excellent research, I’m another Ham Yard skulker!

    An R&B / soul night there would be epic. .

  15. Fred Frames says:

    One of the original Scene mods wrote and published a short story about the club in a magazine called Metropolitan, sometimes in the 1990’s – the mag was published in Manchester.

  16. Kate says:

    Hi Andy,
    My mum worked at The Scene, behind the bar and in the cloakroom sometimes. Witnessed it all!
    Thanks for the great article, I’ll show it to her.

    • Andy says:

      Hi Kate,

      Should bring back some memories for her. As will the book, when I finally get there. Watch this space (it’s a work in progress)!

      Andy

  17. vaneim says:

    In the article it says that the doors to The Scene were on the left,; they’re weren’t, they were on the right. Eddie Piller makes the same mistake in his Youtube film.

    • Paul johnson says:

      I’ve heard that before…imo there should be a plaque outside. .esp considering the well known people who frequently went there and bands that played there and the fact it is THE most infamous MOD club in the world…

  18. Paulette says:

    My Dad ran the bar in the Scene Club with his brother. As I was only born in 1962, my parents sometimes took me along in the pram and kept me out of sight! Dad designed and built the booths in the club. The Manager at the time was Lionel Blake, he was also a bit actor. You’ll see him as one of the German scientists in ‘Operation Crossbow’. He lived with us for a time.
    I’ve been searching all over the internet for pictures of the Scene Club’s interior as Dad talks about it often and I think he’d like to see it again, this is the first time I’ve managed to find a few pictures. I’ll be showing Dad and Mum tomorrow. Dad will be s 78 this year and Mum will be 76.
    If anyone has pictures of the interior of The Scene Club back in the early 60s, I would love for them to share them so I can show Dad and Mum. It would make their day!

    I look forward to obtaining your book Andy!

  19. Hi , I used to go to the scene all the time . Saw long john Brawdy there, he had some nasty body guard types, really unnecessary, as we were used to chatting to the groups, the Animals, Georgie fame and the blue flames , endless lists of what became top bands
    In reply to the guy who mentioned a film was possibly made there, yes there was , I was there that night .
    A guy I was seeing at the time called Denzil, showed reporters around all the London clubs including the scene, and the disco in streatham , the article was in the glossy magazine of the Observer newspaper. Hope this helps . My name was maggie newton at the time .

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