My thanks to Douglas Ridgwell for below kindly reminiscing about a typical weekend in the early 60s – he can’t now remember the exact year – when he’d leave home in Walthamstow, East London on a Friday, head to a local dance, cross town into Soho for the Flamingo jazz all-nighter, and still had a Sunday packed with potential. I love the way Douglas captures both local history and the excitement and innocence of those days…
Have spent all week painting yet another Taylor Walker pub down Bow way, called the Bombay Grab (funny name), really dirty. Loads of pubs, loads of work, money not bad, 5/3d an hour. But now it’s the weekend, got to make the most of it. First a walk down Walthamstow High Street/market. They say it’s over one mile long, I wouldn’t know. What I do know is it has got one public library, an indoor swimming pool with public slipper baths, two schools, and a large variety theatre, two churches, two cinemas, two pubs, seven bespoke tailors, and over 200 stalls.
As I walk down the market I pass the Sarsaparilla stall, Brimley’s broken biscuit stall, Manze’s live eel stall, and Curlie’s tie and shirt stall. I decide to buy a black slim jim tie for tonight. Look in Stanley’s menswear, he’s got some great American button down shirts, but they are a bit pricey. Bump into a couple of mates coming out of the slipper baths, boy do they look clean! Arrange to meet them at seven o’clock, Chingford Station Buffet, for early drinks.
Go home have tea and get ready, Mum likes my tie. Get train to Chingford, have a Tollemach in the Buffet and then walk up the hill to the Royal Forest Hotel with its dancehall at the rear. They usually have a Trad jazz band, don’t mind Trad if it’s someone like Bruce Turner or Alex Welsh. Down about four pints of Youngers Tartan Bitter and have three hours of fun. Band is good with a good singer. The dance ends about 11pm and a few of us decide to make our way to the West End, the night is still young.
As usual we head for the Flamingo, there’s plenty of jazz clubs but the Flamingo is tops. To get in you have to go down a dark staircase leading to a basement and immediately you find yourself in a ‘sea of red’, everything is painted red, Heavenly Hell, great. There is a large dance area filled mostly with American GI’s, some of whom are dancing in their overcoats in about 85 degrees heat, how cool is that?
In front of the stage there are rows of chairs, where I sit and take in the music, and oh what music! Any given weekend you may hear, Ronnie Ross dueting with the awesome Tubby Hayes, or Phil Seaman making the drums talk or you might see Allan Ganley, Bill Le Sage, Don Rendell, Tony Kinsey, Dick Heckstall-Smith, the list is endless. It’s all just marvellous and all over too soon.
When the music ends we make our way up the red staircase to the street, the daylight hits me like a Kodak flash bulb. What to do now? Wander around Soho until the afternoon Blues sessions start? Go down Petticoat Lane, see some early bartering? Go back home to Walthamstow and have a Sunday hair of the dog in the White Swan. So many options and there is still Sunday night.
Upstairs and the Red Lion, Leytonstone I think, good music and lots of girls dancing around their handbags. Next week I might go to Ronnie Scott’s, he’s got the Bobby Jaspar Quartet coming over from Belgium, heard they are very good, can’t wait!
Cheers to cult underground literary fiend Joseph Ridgwell for brokering the above deal with his old man. Joe’s latest book, Burrito Deluxe, a fantastic road novel with two buddies looking for freedom and the lost elation and encountering a bizarre host of characters – a one-legged man, naked yoga practitioners, a wizard with half a beard – like a cross between On The Road and The Mighty Boosh, is out now, published by Leamington Books (check the deservedly fine reviews there).