Ealing: the Cradle of British Rock

JimmyJust heard that ITN London are running a short slot on the Ealing Club at 6.20 tonight; hence it’s a good opportunity for some memories of the club from a key observer of the Rolling Stones story: James Phelge.

Phelge achieved some notoriety thanks to the presence of his name on the pseudonym for early band compositions: Nanker Phelge. The other half of the pseudonym is heavily influenced by him, too, for along with Brian, and later Keith, he was a key exponent of Nankering: the mocking of straights and jobsworths. Phelge is also the best possible witness to the Stones early days; he lived with them at Edith Grove, helped define their lifestyle, and participated to the full in all the craziness.

Phelge is such a crucial¬†witness, objective and observant, that I’m sure we’ll return to him.But in the meantime here are his memories of Ealing, the club set up by Alexis Korner, and Cyril Davies, specifically to host electric British blues. Without it, maybe the Stones would still have happened, maybe Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page would still have played blues, and maybe David Bowie, who went down in the early days, would still have become a star. Maybe English rock music would have taken off, and maybe America would have learned to appreciate its own blues scene. But it would have taken them all a lot longer.

The Ealing Club continued for many years, but the most crucial period probably ran from March to May 1962. In May, Alexis and Cyril’s band moved on to the Marquee, a venue right in the heart of the music business. Has any other venue but Ealing been so influential, based on so short a time?

James Phelge on Ealing

“I had this friend Micky, and was mucking about playing with him, I made drums out of tins, he’d gone over to the Ealing Club and he introduced me. It must have been after March 62 I would think, it was not long after it opened, maybe April, I went down there and that was he first time I saw Alexis Korner. He had a 335 or some kind of semi acoustic, and that was the first time I saw him. There weren’t that many people there. I would say, you would have been lucky if there was 30. But 15 of them were in the band. That’s how it was.

“There was plenty of room to hang around. Alexis would stay on stage, he wouldn’t just announce the song, he would tell you all about it, when the guy who wrote it was born. Alexis could tell a story, he was an entertainer, very chatty.

“If you went to the bar and got a drink you could sit right back in the front again, there was always plenty of room on floor.. There were weats round the side for around 30 people. Usually you have around five people on stage, then about four or five others going to get up and guest. Mick Jagger if he was there would get up and do a couple of numbers, and maybe Paul Jones, and Graham Bond was there, so it was like that. And when you went back next time the band would be completely different, there might be Dick Heckstall Smith and a different singer, a different bass player and drummer, and it went on like that.

“I was friendly with a few of the drummers, I remember meeting Charlie Watts there and talked about drums, then suddenly he wasn’t there, Ginger Baker took his place, so I got friendly with Ginger and used to help him set his kit up. Ian Stewart came down and played a couple of time, there were other piano players, and of course Cyril Davies, so there was a lot of musicians floating around. Then later we went to the Marquee to see Alexis Korner up there, and the Stones did their first gig there. They weren’t very good.

“I saw Brian quite a few times, playing slide guitar, I don’t recall him playing all night. Mick I saw a few times. I was oh, not him again, we thought he was very amateurish and unsure in those early days.

“I went almost every week. The interior was dimly-lit, the stage was one step up, if you stood on there the ceiling wasn’t much higher, a tall guy would be close to banging his head. The stage was probably as wide as this [room], maybe 12 feet. It was fairly long, you’d come off the stage to the dancefloor that was covered in red lino or something, then there was a step up to the bar area, and bench seats on the side, ’60s dancehall seats.

“As it went on, it got better, and it got more [busy]… it didn’t ever get that big, I’d say they got up to 50, 60. All of a sudden we had some students start coming in. They were definitely a whole lot younger than the trad guys. I got talking to them… I was a beatnik style person at that point, done the Aldermaston March and all that crap. And at some point… all the guys were dressing differently, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, this guy called Pretty Mick… they dressed Ivy League. Eric’s hair was combed back. I never saw Eric play guitar there, though.¬†That group of people I would determine as being the first sight of the mod generation.”


Photos are of James today, in Surrey (where else, for an old mod?), together with shots of the entrance to the Ealing Club today, with Giorgio Guernier – who’s directing a documentary of the club, and Martin Stewart of ITN, plus Alexis Korner’s initial line-up, with Keith Scott on piano and Andy Hoogenboom on bass, in a contemporary ad publicising their move to the Marquee.



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