Ace Of Clubs – A Celebration Of The 100 Club

Digby Fairweather tells the story of the tenacious popular music venue in Oxford Street, London, still open after nearly 80 years

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This October, on Monday the 24th to be exact, it will be 80 years since the sound of live music was first heard in the basement of 100 Oxford Street, London. Since then, under the name 100 Club, and quite a few others before that, it has acted as a home to music – not dull, everyday music but the sort that is happily pleasing itself and its friends. For most of the time it was jazz of one kind or another, then blues, R&B, punk, soul, reggae and so on. The important thing is that the 100 Club is still there and it very nearly wasn’t, which is why this pleasantly chatty book, assembled with typical enthusiasm and good humour by Digby Fairweather, is called a celebration, not a requiem.

What saved the 100 Club? First, branching out into those other genres, then some heavy financial assistance from big business, notably Fred Perry, and finally a huge and permanent reduction of the club’s business rates by Westminster City Council. This was made possible by the Localism Act (2011) and is in recognition of the long history of the club as a cultural venue.

It’s a fascinating story, told here mainly in the words of the present proprietor, Jeff Horton. His argument was that the millions of pounds handed to the government each year by monster music festivals depends ultimately upon performers nurtured in grass-roots places such as the 100 Club. He pursued it subtly but doggedly as far as parliamentary committee rooms and this was the result.

Apart from that, the book dwells mainly on the happy jazz times, when the club was crowded most nights with fans dancing to Dick Charlesworth, Terry Lightfoot et al, and the world of British jazz was full of characters. Cue the anecdotes! I’ll give you just the one of these (because you should buy the book). It comes from more recent times and involves Roger Horton, Jeff’s father and predecessor in the hot seat.

Roger was in the club’s office when there was a knock at the door and in came a tall black man with long dreadlocks.

“I’m afraid all the reggae nights are booked,” said Roger.

“I am from the Inland Revenue,” replied the visitor.

It seems that everyone who ever entered 100 Oxford Street has something to say about it, so I might as well join in. Compared with the wonderful collection that Digby has assembled, this is practically prehistoric: I was aged about 14 when my school pal Ivor Thomas and I counted up our cash and figured we could afford a half-term visit to the Feldman Club (as it was then called). It was empty when we arrived at the advertised starting time of 7.30. By the time any music got played it was about 8.15. The band, eight of them altogether, included Ronnie Scott, Hank Shaw and, I think, Dave Goldberg. The tune they began with was I’ll Remember April. By the time everyone had taken quite a few choruses each, fours with the drums etc, about 45 minutes had elapsed and we had to leave to travel back to deepest south-east London. That put us off the place for quite a while, but fortunately not forever.

Ace Of Clubs, A Celebration Of The 100 Club, compiled and edited by Digby Fairweather. Brewin Books. Available from thejazzcentreuk.co.uk, price £12.95. ISBN 978-1-85858-728-8