38 Priory Street and all that

HattrellPrioryStreet 138, Priory Street is a celebrated address in Cheltenham lore, the site of a basement club run by the doughty Mrs Filby, with her daughters Jane and Ann. This elegant, anonymous house became a vibrant centre of the local music scene, where the young Brian Jones turned up on his bike, sometimes with a guitar, from the age of 15. Filby’s Basement, as it was usually termed, hosted many visiting musicians. It helped establish the city as a welcoming location, which helped Brian Jones building up vital musical contacts; later, with housemate Dick Hattrell, he ran his own house-rent parties, persuading visiting musicians back to his own flat. It was at Filby’s that Brian met John Keen, who would be one of his main musical collaborators before he moved to London; Brian also took his regular girlfriend Valerie Corbett to the club. When I visited Jane Filby recently, along with John, we looked through some of the old guest books and uncovered Brian’s signature, along with Valerie’s ; it’s a poignant reminder of their relationship, for Valerie bore, as Sympathy For The Devil reveals, Brian’s second child, given up for adoption, in what was then a horrifyingly mundane family tragedy.

I interviewed Jane Filby several times; she was part of the fallout after Valerie’s pregnancy, hence her description of Brian as “A big shit. Or rather, a little shit. He wasn’t very tall.” (Jane had only heard the local rumours that Brian had abandoned Valerie after her pregnancy, although paperwork uncovered by Graham Ride suggests he had offered to marry her).

Incidentally, although the young Brian Jones had a claustrophobic childhood, always overseen by his formidably smart but domineering father, he did escape to the basement from the age of 15; we know from Ann’s boyfriend, Graham Keen, he turned up there, with guitar, in 1957 or even earlier.

Please describe the basement – what did it look like?

“Well we were all teenagers… my mother made it possible for us to bring our friends home, and were able to congregate in the basement of the house, first of all around a billiard table, finally there were so many of us that the billiard table was sold, and we were able to have our first jazz sessions in the basement. Finally we’d be open four nights a week.”

How did it grow, and who were the original musicians?

“The original jazz band was schoolboys from Cheltenham Grammar and their colleagues – John Picton was the grammar school boy., and there was John Lewis, John Keen, basically all my sister’s friends to start with. She brought them home, they did their homework in the house upstairs, then more and more friends came around. As it got bigger and bigger, friends invited other friends, but it was never open to the public, we had a book people signed in on. We had squash at four pence a glass.”

You had a string of well-known musicians made their way to the club, didn’t you?

“We didn’t have to look for entertainment, we had it on our doorstep. We had Lonnie Donegan, Temperance Seven, Acker Bilk drop in at Filby’s. The opportunity came when the big bands came to town, so we’d invite Chris Barber back, Mick Mulligan, Ken Colyer, Terry Lightfoot.That was the nice thing about it. We never thought of them being famous people . And Brian Jones was just one of the punters. He went off and did what he wanted to do. Now everyone’s picking on us as where he started, but really he was only a punter.”

Main photos here include: the building today, and a period shot of Dick Hattrell, standing, in front of John Keen’s band, at the basement. John Keen originally filled in for leading local jazzer Bill Nile, but in 1961 played regularly with Brian, for both jazz and blues gigs. The current photo is John Keen and Jane Filby, reunited in Cheltenham. Finally, the guest log shows Brian’s signature, most likely from the night he first met John, as well as the signature of Valerie Corbett, who has since died.

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