Pop music: Fame at the Flamingo: golden years in Soho

Georgie Fame and his band were regular performers at a nightclub that was a catalyst for British music in the early Sixties. He looks back at the scene of his best years in London with James Maycock.

The early Sixties: political scandals, mods, defecting spies, the Pill, and TV shows such as Ready, Steady, Go. The class system was crumbling, sexual morals were changing and American clothes, comics and music, especially black music, were in demand. And Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames were performing regularly at The Flamingo, Wardour Street, between 1962 and 1965.

This bawdy Soho nightclub played a small but important part in the intrigue and excitement that generated the atmosphere of the first half of the Sixties. Fame recalls that "there were only a handful of hip young white people that used to go to The Flamingo. When I first went there as a punter I was scared. Once I started to play there, it was no problem."

The club closed at 6am, enabling musicians like Alexis Korner to play there after performing elsewhere. Christine Keeler finished working in Bond Street at 3am and often dashed over to Wardour Street for the next three hours. Fame remembers that half the clientele were West Indian while "the other half were black American GIs mixed up with a few gangsters and pimps and prostitutes". The West Indian "Lucky" Gordon, and Johnny Edgecombe were, according to him, "both involved with Christine Keeler down The Flamingo". "Lucky" Gordon's brother, "Psycho" Gordon, occasionally joined Georgie Fame's group on stage.

As well as being captivated by jazz and such blues musicians as Willie Mabon, Fame was one of the first white artists to be intrigued by ska, sniffed at by the British music press. He heard it in Jamaican cafes in and around Ladbroke Grove, and his trumpeter, Eddie Thornton, was Jamaican.

His group also performed at The Roaring Twenties, a nightclub off Carnaby Street run by Count Suckle, an influential Jamaican DJ. Fame says: "Suckle had a fantastic record collection. He used to get direct imports from Memphis and the Caribbean ... all the old bluebeat stuff was being played in the clubs where we played."

Fame made firm friends with many black American soldiers who visited the Flamingo. They would play him the latest jazz and blues releases from America, three of which affected him so powerfully that they inspired him to move from the piano to the Hammond organ. Hearing "Midnight Special" by Jimmy Smith, "Grooving With Jug" by Gene Ammons and Richard "Groove" Holmes and "Green Onions", the seminal single by Booker T and the MGs within two days convinced him he had to change.

Fame describes the Flamingo as "a great breeding ground". The lauded British jazz musician Tubby Hayes and the Johnny Birch Quartet, which included Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, who later launched Cream with Eric Clapton, often performed at the club. Members of Duke Ellington's orchestra and Count Basie's group, when touring England, were also drawn to it. Fame remembers one face in the crowd: "Cassius Clay, as he was then, came down when he first fought Henry Cooper. Cassius would come into town and say, `Where do the brothers hang out?' He'd be told they all go down The Flamingo."

During these years, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames completed a forbidding but exhilarating schedule. As well as performing at Klook's Kleek, Ricky Tick's and The Scene during the week, they would often appear in two non- adjacent counties on Saturday night. "We'd be coming in from playing an American air force base somewhere in Suffolk and we'd throw the gear back in the wagon and drive back to London and get back to the all-nighter in time for our set. We did the one o'clock and the 4.30am set. The guys would open the way through the crowd for us and help us carry the shit on to the stage." A stabbing at the Flamingo prompted the American air force authorities to ban servicemen from the nightclub, which would soon throng with mods.

"Yeh Yeh" was originally recorded by the Latin percussionist Mongo Santamaria, but the jazz singer Jon Hendricks added the lyrics and performed his version at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1963. Fame bought the album of this concert and the song was soon added to his repertoire. His own recording of it reached the top of the British charts in January 1965, displacing "I Feel Fine" by The Beatles. His success led to less frequent performances at the Flamingo, which today he confesses was "my greatest time in London".

In 1966, Rik Gunnell, the owner of club and manager of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, persuaded Fame to dissolve his group and concentrate on a solo career, "Mitch" Mitchell, the drummer in the Blue Flames, was hired to join Jimi Hendrix's group the day that Georgie Fame and Blue Flames disbanded. Fame was not overjoyed at some of the material he was expected to record as a solo artist, but it did give him the opportunity to tour with Count Basie, an experience he describes as "terrific".

Today, Fame, who was christened with the name of Clive Powell, exudes a boyish charm and commands respect from his musical peers. For the past 10 years he has worked intimately with Van Morrison's projects as well as performing his eclectic style of music with his own group, which now includes his two sons, Tristan and James. He has recently recorded with Bill Wyman and regularly plays with big jazz orchestras in England and on the Continent.

His passion for the power of the blues, jazz, ska and Sixties soul music remains undimmed: "When I do gigs in England I have a lot of young people coming up and asking me to take the back off the Hammond organ to look inside it because they can't believe it makes that noise. They've all been raised on that digital nonsense."

George Fame performs at the Jazz Cafe in Camden on 20 and 21 January, price pounds 12 at the door, pounds 10 in advance (0171-344 0044).

Suggested Topics
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all