Welcome to The Speakeasy Club
MEMORIES OF THE SPEAKEASY
The Speakeasy Club in London was a wonderful place to see and be seen by each other in the 60s and 70s music industry, away from the prying eyes of sycophantic fans.
Pete Goodall the legendary veteran session musician who had a long history of involvement with the club reminisces and even has a few bits of memorabilia!
The criticism for my 2005 Thunderclap album stated not only “there wasn’t a duff track” but also “the spirit of Fitzrovia and Soho will live forever here”
Fitzrovia is that wonderful block in London which houses amongst other places the BBC Broadcasting House and Auntie’s other radio off-shoots and for many years from 1966 to 1979 the wonderful music biz club
Laurie O’Leary, the amiable club Secretary and experienced tour manager would have no hesitation in turfing out the gawpers, interlopers, HMRC officials, police constables or anyone else who failed to prove their credentials as part of the inner circle of musos, wives, sweethearts and groupies, managers, agents, bookers, promoters, pluggers, publishers, engineers, songwriters so long as they were known to him, his brother Alf, doorkeepers and barmen.
We all had membership cards………….
……but if you were in the in crowd you never had to show them!
Hidden at 48 Margaret Street (above) just off the top end of Regent Street and only a stones throw from Broadcasting House you’d be forgiven if you missed it. No sign necessary, the “Speak” never had to advertise itself. Lesser known was that the office was up amongst all the schmutter (this being the centre of the then wholesale rag trade) on the second ? Or was it the third floor. Every day you’d find the great late club manager Jim Carter-Fea, who had a number of other clubs round town, including The Pheasantry in Kings Road.
Every night of the week name bands and Artistes would pop down at midnight, one, two, three am for a plate of spaghetti a glass or two or more of red wine and a chat with whoever else was in. The booze wasn’t expensive although I can never remember buying a drink myself. In fact I think it was 1973 my then partner Vanessa and I had ALL drinks on the house all evening as the place was packed for our joint birthday party – Nessa was well known having started life operating the psychedelic liquid light show at UFO in Covent Garden and later the Roundhouse where Pink Floyd cut their milk teeth.
Jim took me under his wing – as well as being on of the so called “Session Kings” I would tour with visiting Americans, act as Victor Lowndes MD at the Playboy, and keep myself grounded as the college booker at Gale Managements the West End agency and Tremeloes management company.
Slowly this led to Jim and Laurie using me as a filter – Jim would pop into the agency with demo discs of dozens of hopeful bands …….
The death of a Speakeasy regular …….Rolling Stone Brian Jones July 2 1969
A strange twist came for Jim Carter-Fae, who knew Anna Wohlin (a good friend of Brian) before she met Brian: “The night Brian died I got a call form Anna, maybe about ten minutes after his drowning in his swimming pool happened. Somebody got the phone and put it down and she called me a bit later. Anna was very upset. She was moved out of the country and told to say nothing -so fast it wasn’t true. I don’t know who made her do this. Anna told me she had never seen Brian as happy as he was the night he died, with the way things were going with the band. She said that she had gone upstairs to sleep, then suddenly she came down. Frank (Brian’s builder and sycophant) and the nurse (who lived in ) were standing by the pool, Brian was there and they weren’t doing anything at all. Anna dived in and tried to fish him out. Brian was floating underwater in the pool and they wouldn’t help her at all. They were just standing by the pool watching. And after that Anna said everything disappeared from the house”.
Our world! Fun days and also very sad days. Too many people died young, but that’s another chapter in the story . Two days after this debacle The Stones played Hyde Park. Another regular (and a co-writer of mine) Pete Brown the Cream lyricist and his band Piblokto were due to play as support. Strangely they had a blazing row within the band the day before the gig and broke up – they never did play Hyde Park.
So who played the Speak?
There were two categories. On weeknights except mainly Thursdays I’m afraid to say we did what
everyone else in the biz did and ripped off poor unsuspecting groups from out of town who believed that by performing at the club they would morph into another Beatles Zep King Crimson Yes Hendrix Floyd or Stones. Of course so far as I know no-one ever came into the higher echelons of rock n roll that way. But we paid them £30 and they went happily on their way totally ignored, unliked and unloved!
Sometimes the bands would stay in cheapo hotels in Sussex Gardens Bayswater (near Paddington) and next day tour all the West End agents. Poor souls …..you always knew. Jan our receptionist would say “There’s a group in reception”. Mick Eve, the other booker, leader of Gonzalez and former sax player in the Blue Flames and I would look at each other and raise an eyebrow. I’d ask Jan “scruffy or smart casual”. If the reply was “no” it meant scruffy – no presence or charisma. “I’m sorry” Jan would say to the petitioners “there’s no-one available at the moment would you like to leave anything? And sure enough there was another grotty demo disc to listen to …………..now were we being mean or did the bands not understand that generally the biz doesn’t work like that ……….and remember these were the out-of-town Acts that had got as far as being not unpleasant background to the bonhomie and spaghetti in the “works canteen” I’ve still got some of those demos!!
Here’s one of Jim Carter-Fea’s “internal” note to everyone in the music business in London’s West End ………delivered by hand by yours truly, which of course meant a chat at every agency and management office!
The Great and Good
On Thursdays (mainly) various combinations of the British and American rock “great and good” would take the stage. Here are some of the acts that played on their way up, breaking into the stratosphere or already established “special nights”. Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, The Byrds,King Crimson, Joni Mitchell,Ike and Tina Turner,Vanilla Fudge, The Brian Auger Trinity, Amen Corner, Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, Herbie Goins, Eyes of Blue, Eric Burdon, Georgie Fame.
One combination of us so called session musicians (i.e. those of us who actually played on recordings – several rhythm tracks in a three hour session plus calls to myself at the agency and others) would get together and play. Most if not all of us were skilled pros; we loved and played jazz, latin (particularly Mungo Santamaria and his ilk), and most of us could read music. Inevitably we were the arrangers musical directors for west end shows and large cabaret clubs (I had a great time running the music for some time at the Playboy) world class touring Artistes and producers of many tracks which were issued by the major record companies under the name of a selected vocalist or songwriter / musician and performed by a mix of available musicians from the inner core in central London.
Gonzalez was one such combination of available talent – with 5 horns and a full rhythm section you’d never know who would be available.
Blaze was another – no idea who’d be playing but it always worked ……..never recorded under its own name but various combinations of Gonzalez and Blaze stalwarts could be seen nearly every week ……..always a good way of trying people out who had the confidence and thought they could “do it”. All sorts would get up and jam along – sometimes drunk or stoned. I well remember Ginger (Baker) getting up one night obviously a little the worse for wear and gradually slowing down – but no-one noticed – they were too busy negotiating or simply relaxing after a gig. One of my proudest moments was my early hero Chuck Berry jumping up on stage putting his arm round my shoulder and yelling down the mic “Peter IS rock n roll”. Praise indeed from a master and very very humbling.
Offshoots of stalwarts
A brief history of Kung Fu Fighting
There were so many – one such person was Carl Douglas. This is how things worked …….Carl was an excellent session singer and amongst others was one of the guys Mick Eve could rely on to turn up and sing with Gonzalez. When it came to doing an album Carl would turn up at my place and do some of the writing with my late lamented flatmate Roy Davies, a brilliant keyboard player and graduate of the Royal College of Music …….but Roy is a separate chapter! Carl had come up with an idea of a lyric about Kung Fu Fighting. All it needed was a simple tune – basicly two chords the same as “Something in the Air” verse but funky and a chinesy cheesey flute line plus a few huhs and hars nicked off “Working on a Chain Gang”
“That song is not going on the album” said several members of the Gonzalez collective! “It’s a pop song” and so Carl took the song to Pye records. An album was cut including Kung Fu Fighting, which was then promoted as a single. Now I was touring the world with Percy Sledge and his all-American band at the time. At one venue the DJ announced (in German – we were in Trier) as the last record before we kicked off “It’s Number One – Kung Fu Fighting”. I phoned London from the hotel (no cellphones in those far away days) and was told to get home to organise the players for a twelve piece to tour with Carl. I had a month to do it ………so a dep(uty) was put in Whoosh – back to London, open address book, pick the musicians, the tour manager and three weeks rehearsals later in the ballroom of the Park Hotel Ealing we were opening in Paris! Suffice to say that all musicians were part of the Gonzalez collective ….oh with a different horn section………
One of the best highlights of life at “The Speak” was the night James Taylor simply got up and played alone with his acoustic. A few of us down in the Apple basement had heard and played along with James but he was an absolute total unknown. The night was supposed to be the wheeling out of Yes (arguably one of the most pretentious of the progressive rock bands – twiddly guitar, high voice and non standard timings) who duly played their first set to the usual level of audience indifference apart from their manager David Hemings who’d set up a production company called Hemdale.
In the interval a well spoken American (ehm I know – an oxymoron to most Brits) got up sat on an amplifier and sang songs from his first album, which, from memory, was being mixed at the time. I thought no-one would listen but you could have heard a pin drop. ……… except a bunch of hooligans – a group called appropriately The Social Deviants – decided to destroy the peace. But not for long as they were threatened with annihilation by the Canadian manager of various acoustic acts chatting to Mark Bolan.
James went down an absolute storm – he has always had an attention to detail verging on OCD but hey why not and it’s served him well over the years.
Cheech ‘n’ Chong
Other more unusual events that I recall included the alternative comedy duo Cheech n Chong getting up (all this was totally informal; they were on tour in the UK and just happened to be there) and going through their paces. And how we all laughed. They imitated the part of hairy stoned idiots brilliantly and made a welcome change from the crash – bang – wallop of the motley £30 band having their break.
Screaming Lord Such
Another memorable event that got some of us into terrible trouble was the launch of the Monster Raving Loony Party. For non-Brits, this was a spoof political party set up by one of the original London rock-n-rollers from the late 1950s, Dave Such, who self-styled himself “Screaming Lord Such”. Dave was a consummate showman and would come on stage in a coffin performing a ghoulish act, and years before the metal bands had developed “satanic” images but towards the late 60s / early 70s his star was fading and he needed to bolster his zany appeal in some way. So he formed his political party and would turn up at any event in his signature leopard skin top hat and long flowing black hair making a spectacle of himself. He certainly got the media’s attention. When he started the Party Dave, his roadie, my flat mate Viv Prince of the infamous band The Pretty Things and I set off (having first notified the press) to still enormous stickers (posters) all over the front of Apple Records in sedate Saville Row in the heart of Mayfair. This was I guess around midnight. But Macca was working and came out to find the whole of the front of his building covered in “Vote for Monster Raving Loony Party” posters ……..he was furious and we fled ……..to The Speakeasy carrying buckets of paste, posters and large brushes.
We kept our ammunition quiet till whatever band it was had a break then hey presto there we were on stage pasting their amplifiers and drums and covering them with posters.
Laurie O’Leary was not amused and banned Such and Viv for a while. I carefully merged into the general gloom and chatted to some journalist at the bar about the terrible behaviour of some rock stars. However Laurie was over-ruled by boss man Carter-Fea.
I lost count of the number of times I played at the club – it was my second home and Jim Carter-Fae really took me under his wing – I think (well I know from conversations years later)- that he thought I was the “most together” of the “class of 1967” …..which is probably why I’m still alive when most of my friends are dead from that era ….the heyday of UK rock …..just post-Beatles; a very musically eclectic time as the monthly playbills I still have in my scrapbook show.
KEEPING THE SPEAKEASY ALIVE
One thing we never did and with hindsight we really should have done at the time was to set up a record label.
Well in 2005 nearly 30 years after the pinnacle of the club’s success as the music biz’s club I decided to do just that and we now have the emerging and totally on-line SPEAKEASY RECORDINGS.
As with the club I’ve included a number of “wannabe” Artistes on the label, all of whom are high quality, together with a number of Artistes from the heyday of the Speakeasy including THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN, GONZALEZ & from THE SETTLERS singer VALERYAN all of whom had number one hits in UK and overseas!
We are also adding Gerry Temple, who made the wonderful rock n roll album for Micky Most backed by Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. This was to have been the first Led Zeppelin album until Gerry left for Canada resulting in Robert Plant taking over the microphone.
Gerry Temple (right) with Pete preparing to go on stage at the first Gay Liberation Ball 1969. Steve Moorhouse later to join the MC5 to Pete’s left.
Gerry spearheads signing of other Artistes from the Joe Meek stable, including three albums from John Leyton of “Johnny Remember Me” fame
Jet Harris, the solitary late ex bass guitarist founder member of The Shadows, who had several major hits including
The Man With The Golden Arm
has had his last album signed, as has Vince Eager, spearheading the Larry Parnes stable of Artistes being re-recorded by Western Star productions and licensed to Speakeasy.
Deep Purple Appreciation Society
…..and finally Pete is negotiating for the last album recorded by the fifth Beatle and close friend Tony Sheridan who has never left Hamburg and sadly passed away in March 2013.
Tony Sheridan with Pete appearing at the 100 Club London in the 1990s
All of the musicians on these releases are veterans from the halcyon days of The Speakeasy and like good wine the vintage has certainly improved with age
…………The ghosts of Fitzrovia will
not fade away ……..
© Pete Goodall Speakeasy Productions April 2013