In 1959, The Ealing Jazz Club was a basement room opposite Ealing Broadway station, and it was reached by descending steep narrow stairs to an alley that leads out into a suburban street. On the left is a doorway that became a portal to the British R&B that re-invigorated the Blues and spread it to the world. Arthur (Art) Wood was a Blues fan from Ealing who sometimes sang with Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies in their band, later known as Blues Incorporated, and it is believed that in late 1961, Art suggested the Ealing Club as a possible venue for the music the guys were keen to play. Alexis and Cyril had been long-standing members of Chris Barber‘s band, where they mixed up a lot of Jazz and Blues, and the pair would play part of the set backing singer Ottilie Patterson as she belted out the Blues of Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie. They had also backed Muddy Waters and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as Chris invited top American Blues stars to tour with him, and this may have been the catalyst that inspired Alexis and Cyril to strike out and form their own band.On March 17th 1962, Blues Incorporated opened the Ealing Blues Club in that small basement room and began a chain of events that changed the musical world. Electric Blues guitar, pounding drums, passionate vocals and wailing harmonica would form the heart of this new music, at what ‘Melody Maker’ billed as “Britain’s first R&B Club”. Always generous to the enthusiasm of young players that shared a love of the Blues, the club had an ‘open-mic’ policy that saw many future superstars make their debut on their small stage. The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Pretty Things and Manfred Mann all got started there, and it gave a first taste of playing to a dedicated audience to Eric Burdon, who went home to Newcastle to form The Animals, to Eric Clapton who went home convinced that his destiny lay in the Blues, and maybe even young Reg Dwight, who went home and changed his name to Elton John. Art Wood introduced his kid brother Ronnie to the club too, and perhaps when the kid played there with his first band, The Birds, Ron dreamed of being up there with the Rolling Stones one day! Long John Baldry, Ginger Baker, Graham Bond, Jack Bruce, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Mitch Mitchell, John McVie, Paul Jones and Rod Stewart all played to the Blues-mad young people who came from all over the country as news of this new crucible of the Blues got around. They were inspired to use the language of the Blues to express life’s elations and frustrations, and its loves and losses, to new generations of kids and ultimately to the whole world, as the British Blues Boom exploded.
For several years, The Ealing Club played a central role in the London R&B scene, but it was soon copied by The Marquee, Kooks Kleek, the Eel Pie Club, the Crawdaddy, the Flamingo, the Ricky Tick and many more as dozens of new bands looked for places to play. Within months, there was a Blues Club in every city, and soon in every small town, as a circuit grew up that fuelled The British Blues Boom. The Ealing Club could only hold about 200 people, and by 1965 it was overtaken by bigger venues, so it closed its doors to R&B and re-opened as a casino, and later as a night-club. There have been a few rare live music events in the room, but many decades of near silence were broken recently when a group of local fans and musicians set up The Ealing Club, a Community Interest Company (not-for-profit organisation) to promote and perhaps re-open the club.
In 2011 they promoted six gigs, some at the old Ealing Club itself, to raise funds to install a proprietary Blue Plaque at the site, which was unveiled by Bobbie Korner (Alexis’s widow) on the 50th Anniversary of the original opening. The Ealing Club also arranged another Blue Plaque above the site of Jim Marshall‘s drum shop nearby, where Jim made the first of the amps that have carried his name to every major stage in the world, followed by a celebratory ‘Hootie’ which is now an annual event. They are deeply involved in the local film Festival, and promoting the local live music scene, not least with the Ealing Blues Festival every July, and gigs at the old Club have included a Tribute to Cyril Davies by some modern harp players. Blue Plaques are London’s way of commemorating sites of cultural importance, and it is hard to think of a place with more momentous global significance than The Ealing Club.
The University of Kansas Department of Musicology teaches a course on The Ealing Club as part of the story of British Blues, and the importance of what grew from those small beginnings is gradually becoming more widely recognised. The spark that caught fire in that basement room illuminated the world, and if there were to be a shrine to the re-birth of the Blues where the faithful come to pay homage, then the Temple should be at The Ealing Club.
Further information on The Ealing Club at http://www.ealing-club.com/