Henri Leproux: Club owner who took over a mini-golf course and turned it into France's equivalent of the Marquee or the 2is

 

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The Independent Online

While several UK venues played their part in the emergence of skiffle, rock'n'roll and pop in the 1950s and 1960s, across the Channel Le Golf Drouot was the undisputed birthplace of rock music in France.

The brainchild of Henri Leproux, the "Paris temple of rock" occupied a unique place in French popular culture, its status akin to the 2is coffee bar or the Marquee Club in London's Soho. Its clientele included Johnny Hallyday, who in 1960 brought an acetate of his debut EP, "Laisse Les Filles", to be added to the Seeburg jukebox that had been the main source of entertainment for the teenagers frequenting the establishment since 1958.

In 1961, Albert Raisner filmed the first instalment of the pop TV show Age Tendre Et Tête De Bois at Le Golf Drouot. The following year, Leproux inaugurated Le Tremplin Du Rock, a weekly battle of the bands, a format he'd borrowed from Hey, Let's Twist!, the film about New York's Peppermint Lounge. It continued for nearly two decades and contributed to the emergence of acts such as the Madagascar sibling sextet Les Surfs, the Brian Jones lookalike Ronnie Bird and the singer Sheila – of Sheila B Devotion fame – in the 1960s, and Magma, Ange and Trust, three French groups who went on to international careers in the 1970s and beyond.

Le Golf Drouot also hosted debut gigs in continental Europe by the Who and Davy Jones & the Lower Third – yet to become David Bowie – in 1965 and Free in 1969 and was a regular haunt for rock'n'roll pioneers Gene Vincent and Vince Taylor as well as the British musicians employed by Taylor and Hallyday, particularly the drummer Bobbie Clarke.

The son of a taxi driver who regaled him with tales of ferrying Maurice Chevalier around Paris, Leproux was fascinated by showbusiness, and started collecting autographs after landing a bar-tending job at Le Lido on the Champs Élysées, where he showed his business acumen by organising cocktail-mixing contests. He landed a job at Le Golf Drouot, an indoor mini-golf course above Le Café d'Angleterre brasserie in the 9th arrondissement.

Leproux turned it into a chic tea-room, Le Cup Of Tea, where he crooned and tinkled the ivories, but had more success playing rock'n'roll records bought from US soldiers and putting on gigs. Word of mouth turned Le Golf Drouot into the place to be, rammed with up to 600 teenagers. It became something of a brand, its battle of the bands sponsored at various times by French commercial station RTL or music monthly Rock & Folk, but it fell foul of licensing laws and closed in 1981, by which time 6,000 groups had appeared there. A plaque was unveiled earlier this year on the outside of what is now a fast food outlet.

PIERRE PERRONE

Henri Leproux, entrepreneur: born Paris 22 January 1928; married (one son); died Paris 12 June 2014.

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