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75 years on, iconic music venue is 100 not out

To celebrate its milestone birthday, a book about Oxford Street's 100 Club has been published. Dan Carrier flicks through its pages

15 February, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger performing at the 100 Club on Oxford Street

HEAD through the chaotic maelstrom of buses and brand stores on central London’s premier east to west thoroughfare, and when you reach number 100 Oxford Street, look out for the iconic trumpet sign. Walk into a nondescript office block foyer and then go down a flight of stairs. Step through a pair of battered swing doors, and you find yourself in a basement club whose walls seep history.

The 100 Club, that grand old dame of London’s music scene, enjoyed its 75th birthday last year and to mark this milestone a history told by those who have created it has been published.

100 Club Stories is by Ben Freeman and Sarah Cleaver of Ditto Publishing and produced in conjunction with sports clothing brand Fred Perry – a supporter of the club.

And while at times its status has been somewhat precarious – it was close to closure in 2010 – the book illustrates exactly why it had to remain open. Anecdotes and memories from key players and punters sit alongside pictures, posters, letters, bills – and letters demanding payment. One from Ronnie Scott, on headed notepaper from his club down the road at Frith Street, simply states: “Dear Roger, Where’s My Money? Yours, Ronnie.”

From Metallica playing live to Northern Soul all-nighters, trad jazz and punk, jitterbugging, reggae skanking, the Kinks, the Stones, mosh pits and Chas and Dave – it’s all here.

Louis Moholo performing at the 100 Club

Regular performer clarinettist Wally Fawkes recalls a drama student attending a school just off Fleet Street who would come in.

“Who was that actress? Joan Collins,” he writes.

“I used to see her there sometimes and I took her to lunch once. Sadly she ruined her chances with me by talking about Humphrey Lyttelton the whole time. A gross error on her part.”

Then there is the fax confirming a booking for Oasis, in early 1994 – the year they went global.

The offer is £250, with 70 per cent of the door minus a further £150.

“The PA is slightly rustic but it works,” they add. “In short, if you want full production, play elsewhere. If you want atmosphere, play the 100 Club…”

Roger Horton, whose son Jeff is now at the helm, reveals how his family first became involved.

“My mother was the secretary of a man called Ted Morton, who took advantage of the trad jazz boom to promote jazz concerts in town halls all across the country in the 60s.

“Ted took over the lease and started putting on all these bands which were very, very popular. I got a job helping out on the door.

“Ted Morton had this place for four or five years but he was an accountant as well and found that running his practice and the club was too much, so he sold the lease to me and my mother. I came in as manager and later on when my mum called it a day I took it over completely, before I brought in Jeffrey when I retired in 2001.”

He recalls how the British rhythm and blues scene exploded, usurping the trad jazzers, but the bottom line was to try as many different things as possible and see what worked.

“It is impossible to fill the place seven nights a week but you try to keep it as strong as you can,” he adds.

George Melly with Yank Lawson in the 100 Club office

“We had a dance night on a Monday where people were taught how to jive and jitterbug. Every type of music has been through here – people would approach us and if I thought they would do reasonable business they were in, whatever sort of music it was.

“You gotta pay the rent and you gotta pay the rates, week in, week out.”

Publisher Ben Freeman has been a regular over the years and Ditto have a reputation for work that Ben describes as part of “subculture”.

“I wanted to show the club in an interesting and different way,” he says.

This meant not simply trawling through gig photos, and saying: look, we have had some serious talent here – but instead considering its longevity.

“We wanted to capture the feeling of the fandom, the energy, the heritage,” adds Ben, who did the art layout. “We wanted to show what it is like to be there.”

They trace a thread from the 1950s to the present.

“There is something that has remained the same, from trad jazz through to punk gigs,” he says.

“No matter the genre, it has always had the same philosophy, the same energy. We did a lot of research. I went to the Time Out archives, and went through band after band to see who would be interesting to talk to. I wanted to cover as broad a range as possible. We hunted them down. We put out calls for people to come forward, we printed cards, placed them in record shops, left them at gigs, bars and clubs and we got a really good response.”

The club, being owned by one family for so long, meant such an archive existed and was accessible. The result is a wonderfully humorous, eye-catching walk through the social history of a landmark venue that has been a cornerstone of Britain’s music culture.

• 100 Club Stories. By Ben Freeman and Sarah Cleaver. Ditto Publishing, £24.99

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