'A social club for The Beatles': return to rock'n'roll clubland

In the Sixties and Seventies, tiny clubs played host to the biggest music stars. Now some of them are reopening. Nick Hasted drops in

The blue plaques by the unassuming door off Carnaby Street which leads down to the Bag O'Nails give clues to the history locked below: "Jimi Hendrix Experience played here 25.11.66", and "Paul McCartney met Linda Eastman here 15.5.67". Descending into the basement, through the wood-panelled alcoves of the long, low club to a deeply recessed, dark stage, a chill runs through me. It's hard not to conjure Hendrix playing a foot away, two months after touching down in England.

When the Bag O'Nails reopens next month, it will join a growing trend for such frissons of historical hip. Clubs that were presumed long lost, from Swinging London haunts such as the Bag and Scotch of St James to Liverpool's equally iconic post-punk breeding ground Eric's, are attempting to come back to life.

"It was like a social club for The Beatles, they would come down after working in the studio," says Giovanni Baldino, who has worked for over a year to restore the Bag O'Nails. "We've kept the same styles and layout. The stage is original, we haven't touched that. If you close your eyes, you can imagine Paul McCartney was sitting there."

A mile across London's West End, The Scotch of St James reopened in near-secrecy last year. A tatty moose-head, shot in 1915, is at the head of these stairs. The animal was in a similarly unfortunate state when George Melly visited for a snapshot of the new pop-club scene in 1965. The raised, roped-off table reserved for The Beatles and Stones when Melly visited showed the demarcations of the new pop democracy. The Scotch, Bag O'Nails and rivals such as the Cromwellian were members-only playgrounds for the era's fiercely talented working-class elite.

"It's very challenging," admits Baldino. "We're not going to be able to reproduce the sort of music that was played in the Sixties, because there's no one out there that can actually come up with it. We want to revamp the Bag O'Nails as a music club, but it's 2013." Grant was more bullish late last year. "We had ambitions to make it a renaissance – to have musicians first, and then an eclectic mix of characters. I didn't want it to become a mausoleum to the past. Jack White has played down here, Mark Ronson." Stepping into the Scotch's basement did feel like cracking open a pharaoh's tomb. During two nights there I talked to rebellious tenants facing eviction from south London's Aylesbury Estate as well as a heavily Hendrix-influenced R'n'B band, Melody Nelson. But the powerful ghosts of the 20-year-old Pete Townshend and Dave Davies holding forth in its discrete booths haunted its present. Dark again this week in uncertain circumstances, the building's second life as the Scotch already seems in doubt.

When New Order's ex-bassist Peter Hook returned to Manchester's clubland last year, he turned Factory Records' old offices into the Factory club. In Liverpool, across the road from the steady heritage business of the rebuilt Cavern in Mathew Street, the 2011 reopening of Eric's, the breeding ground for local bands such as Echo & the Bunnymen and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark between 1976 and 1980, has provoked fury from its old patrons. "Eric's is dead… don't dig it up," says Big In Japan's Jayne Casey.

Ethan Allen, the club's music booker, is unapologetic. He remembers stumbling into what had become an anonymous beer-cellar for the pub upstairs. "We realised that this was Eric's. If you walk into the dressing-room, all of the graffiti's there from the Seventies. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, thinking, 'in this room, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones have played'. And you think, 'what a waste, that it's just being used for storing beer and dirt'." Unlike London's historic private clubs, Eric's has rejoined Liverpool's regular gig circuit.

None of these clubs can mend their broken pasts, or repeat them. But, like the 1811 Napoleon cognacs left temptingly on display in the Bag O'Nails, experiencing them is a strange sort of time-travel that's hard to resist.

The Bag O'Nails relaunches on 1 March, and formally reopens in April (www.bag-o-nails.com)

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam