The Upper Cut Club, part 1 - the rise

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


One of the most notable features of Forest Gate's history was the appearance, and rapid disappearance twelve months later, of the Upper Cut club, on Woodgrange Road; 1966-67. It hosted every big name British pop music band of the time, except the Beatles, and not a few huge American stars, during its brief existence.

The Upper Cut site, on Woodgrange Road,
 taken long after its demise - in 1991
England had just won the World Cup, thanks in large part to three West Ham stalwarts: captain Bobby Moore, goal scoring hero Geoff Hurst and mid field maestro Martin Peters; and local boy heavyweight boxer, Billy Walker, British and European title challenger, was at the top of his fame and fortune.


Walker, with his brother/manager George, and outside financiers, spent £200,000 on transforming the former skating rink in Woodgrange Road into what the Stratford Express in December 1966 called "a plush big beat palace" (see photo). The site, incidentally, had previously been that of the Pawnbroker's almshouses, local public hall and a few cinema manifestations, featured on this site over recent weeks.

Initially, the club was to open four nights a week, with heavyweight boxer, Freddie Mack and his group, as the resident support band. Anybody with even the most passing interest in 60's pop music, however, would today be amazed at the range of talent that passed through the Forest Gate club. 

We will be covering an edited list of the bands to appear there, over two parts - this week and next; together with some images of the artists and adverts for the club.


Little could anyone at the time anticipate the longer-term significance of the place and the acts it was to host. Certainly the Stratford Express did not appreciate its later importance, when it announced "Go-go girls, canned music, cine films, top beat groups and an amusement arcade" would be central features of the Upper Cut club.  "Promoter, George Boyle, said 'we want to cater for mums and dads as well, who just want to use the club for a quiet drink"!


The gig list for the opening week - reproduced - is stunning. 

The club was opened by The Who, who had recently released My Generation, and Substitute. The price was £17/6d for "gentlemen" and 15/- for "ladies" - £14 and £12 at today's prices - see later. 

Fabulous opening week's line up - December 1966
The Stratford Express reported the gig:

"To the frenzy and delight of more than 400 teenagers, The Who ended their act by smashing up their equipment and vanishing from the stage in a puff of blue smoke from amplifiers."

The Who, club openers - December 1966
The star-studied opening guest list included Billy Walker, former West Ham born boxing champion and Olympic gold medallist, Terry Spinks, England and West Ham football heroes, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurts and young DJ Annie Nightingale.

Boxing Day, a few days later, had The Jimmi (sic) Hendrix Experience, presenting a matinee gig, for the princely sum of 5/- (£4 today) for both "gentlemen" and "ladies".  It was while waiting to appear on stage that Jimi wrote Purple Haze, a fact recently commemorated by Newham Council, by the erection of a memorial plaque (pictured) on gates outside the site of the former club. 

Jimi Hendrix's matinee gig at the Upper Cut Club,
 Boxing Day 1966. Purple Haze's first public
 outing - all for five bob!


Recently installed Newham Council plaque,
 celebrating the birth of Purple Haze
Jimi was simply the warn up act for The Pretty Things, who are still producing remarkable performances today - were the headline act for Boxing Day night - at 10/- for the "ladies" and 12/6d for "gentlemen"!

Within 10 days, local band, the Small Faces made their first of two appearance at the Upper Cut (their recent hits had included: Whatcha Gonna Do About It, Sha-La-La-La-Lee, and All or Nothing).  The Stratford Express faithfully covered the occasion, which attracted 2,000 fans:
Girls screamed and burst into tears as the Small Faces came on to the stage and during their half hour act the stage was guarded by eight 'bouncers'. Over a dozen girls fainted.
We just kept playing said guitarist 'Plonk' Lane after the show. 'All we can see is girls and pretty underwear carried across in front of us.
This was the group's first home-town appearance for more than six months.
 They spent the afternoon rehearsing at the Woodgrange Road club and then went for a meal at Plonk's brother's Stratford cafe.
Below is an edited version of the first six months gigs, taken from adverts in the Stratford Express; the sections in quotation marks are taken directly from the adverts, themselves. 

Next week we will cover the remaining six months, together with an explanation of the demise, of the club.

It is difficult to know where to begin in outlining the highlights; but among them must surely be: TWO appearances by Jim Hendrix (one on 28 January, in the evening, following his better known Boxing Day gig), the great soul day already featured on this site (Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley and Booker T and the MG's -matinee for 10/-, evening performance 17/6d - on 18 March), The Who (opening night), Animals (Christmas Eve), Small Faces (6 January) and  Jeff Beck (28 April).  The most surprising performer, perhaps, was "Top British comedian" Dick Emery (31 March).

From September we intend running a "This week in 1967 at the Upper Cut" section in the Arts and Ents pages of this website for a year, featuring an appropriate advert from the Stratford Express, a contemporary photo of some of the bands playing and a You Tube clip of one of the bands' more famous numbers.

Sit back, relax, get nostalgic - and enjoy the club's first six months' guest list!

1966

Weds 21 Dec - The Who - gentlemen 17/6d, ladies 15/-
Thurs 22 Dec - Easybeats - gentlemen 12/6d, ladies 10/-
Fri 23 Dec - Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich - gents gentlemen 15/-, ladies 12/6d
Sat 24 Dec - Eric Burden and the Animals - gentlemen and ladies 20/-
Mon 26 Dec (matinee - 2.30 - 5.30) - The Jimmi (sic) Hendrix Experience - gentlemen and ladies 5/-
Mon 26 Dec (evening) - The Pretty Things - gentlemen 12/6d, ladies 10/-

1967
Small Faces - 6 Jan act, 2,000 fans to see
 the local boys, who then popped down to
Plonk's brother's caff in Stratford for a bite to eat!
Fri 6 Jan - Small Faces - gentlemen 12/6d, ladies 10/-
Sun 8 Jan - The Mindbenders - gentlemen 7/6d, ladies 6/-
Fri 13 Jan - The Four Pennies ("The fabulous beat singers, with that special sound") - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Sat 14 Jan - Terry Lightfoot's Jazzmen - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Fri 20 Jan - Sounds Incorporated ("The world's no 1 instrumental group") - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Sat 21 Jan - The Fourmost" ("Vocal harmony at its best") - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Fri 27 Jan - Jimmy James and the Vagabonds - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Sat 28 Jan - The Jimi Hendrix Experience ("American top soul singer and guitarist extraordinary") - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d

Fri 10 Feb - The Rockin' Berries ("The sensational TV and recording group") - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Fri 17 Feb - The New Pirates ("The late Johnny Kidd's group") - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Sat 18 Feb - The Honeycombs - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Fri 24 Feb - David Essex - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d

Local heart throb, David Essex - just
 7/6d for the ladies on 24 February!
Thurs 2 Mar - "Radio London's top DJ, Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart" - gentlemen and ladies 6/-
Sat 18 Mar - Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave, Booker T and the MGs and Arthur Conley - matinee show - gents and ladies -  10/-, evening show - gentlemen and ladies - 17/6d

Otis promotes the 18 March soul gig
in a photo from the New Musical Express
Thurs 23 Mar - Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart - gentlemen and ladies 6/-
Fri 24 Mar - Eric Winston Band - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Thurs 30 Mar - Barron Knights - gentlemen and ladies 6/-
Fri 31 Mar - "Top British comedian" Dick Emery - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d

Sat 1 Apr - Dave Berry - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Sat 8 Apr - Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Sat 15 Apr - Alan Price Set - gentlemen 9/6d, ladies 8/6d
Sat 22 Apr - Nina Simone - gentlemen and ladies 15/-
Fri 28 Apr - ("Singing his latest hit, Hi, Ho, Silver Lining") Jeff Beck - gentlemen and ladies 6/-
Sat 29 Apr - Prince Buster - gentlemen 9/6d, ladies 8/6d

Lotus Club - 22-26 Woodgrange Road

Across the road from the Upper Cut club was the Lotus Club, above what is now the 99p Stores. That had previously been a snooker hall and has housed a number of music/dance clubs subsequently, over the years. 

The Lotus Club, itself, ran for over 40 years - from the early 1960s. In its time it hosted many big named groups. Doubtless spurred on by the Upper Cut's successes , it began to advertise its own gigs in the Stratford Express, intermittently, during the year of the Upper Cut's opening. It offered Mary Wells on 18 April, to be squeezed between Alan Price and Nina Simone, at the Upper Cut.

Mary Wells appears over the road,
 at the rival Lotus Club on 18 April
Tues 18 Apr - Mary Wells - gentlemen and ladies 6/-

Ready reckoner price guide!
The Bank of England offers an on-line inflation ready reckoner, which we have adapted to show the cost, in current prices, of visiting the club then.  Basically a £1 in 1966 would now be £16, taking on board inflation.  So today's cost of entry would be:
Then  Now
£1         £16
17/6d     £14
15/-      £12
12/6d    £10
10/-      £8
8/6d     £9
7/6d     £6
6/-      £5
5/-       £4


A bit of surviving club memorabilia
Back catalogue


This site has published a number of articles on the history of the Upper Cut club: the first detailing the time when Otis visited it, in March 1967. This post was followed by two, recording the first six months and the final six months of the club's existence.

These posts were followed by almost monthy updates on who played at the club, that month, 47 years previously. The final blog is a record of a recent meeting with former boxer, Billy Walker, the name under whom the club exisited, on his memories of it and Forest Gate almost half a century ago.

Below is a list of those blogs: the hyper links are the titles of the articles, and when hit upon should give access to them. The dates (in italics) are the time covered by the blog and the date in bold are the months the blogs were posted.

Although the content, and some of the comments on the individual posts, is pretty definitive, we'd love to hear any memories readers may have of the gigs, or corrections they could make to the copy. Just post in the Comments box, below.
When Otis played Forest Gate (March 1967) May 2013Upper Cut (1) - a summary of the emergence of the first six months of the club (December 1966 - July 1967) July 2013Upper Cut (2) - a brief survey of the second, and final half year of the club's existence (August 1967 - December 1967) July 2013Georgie Fame, The Tremeloes and Unit 4 + 2 - (September 1967 at the Upper Cut) October 2013When Stevie Wonder played Forest Gate - (October 1967) November 2013Mouthwatering musical fayre on Woodgrange Road - (November 1967) December 2013Club bills for the Upper Cut's two Decembers - (Decembers 1966 and 1967) January 2014The Upper Cut beds down - (January 1967) February 2014Essex comes to Forest Gate - (February 1967) March 2014Stax comes to town - (March 1967) April 2014A mixed bunch at the Upper Cut in April (April 1967) May 2014Upper Cut - May 1967 (June 1967) June 2014Summer of Love in Forest Gate (Summer 1967) August 2014

Golden Boy, Billy Walker's Forest Gate memories September 2014

10 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for a great article. After nearly 50 years the Otis/Sam & Dave and the Nina Simone gigs still stand out as favourites for me, partly due to the great atmosphere in the club. My parents skated there as teenagers. Martin Smith

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very good article. Thanks. I was at the Boxing Day 1966 matinee gig at The Uppercut, with my mate Steve Jolly. Hendrix played a great set (of course) but the advertised Pretty Things did not appear. Instead we saw John Lee Hooker, solo, and Zoot Money with (I think) his band Dantalian's Chariot. JLH was amazing, and very cool, wearing a sharp mod-style suit. I remember thinking it was a cheap entrance ticket for a wonderful bill. Best Boxing Day ever, thanks to boxer Billy Walker.

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  3. Hi all. I'm writing a feature about the Upper Cut Club for the Newham Recorder and would love to speak to people who attended some of the memorable gigs there. If you can help, please get in touch by emailing janine.rasiah@archant.co.uk or calling 020 8477 3893. Thanks, Janine

    ReplyDelete
  4. The Lotus had been a success since the early 60s long before the Upper cut was
    even thought of and the Lotus certainly wasn't spurred on by the venues short lived
    success.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Roger Ford 02.07.2016

    I remember going to see Stevie Wonder, but when we got there he wasn't on and the early Pink Floyd were on playing Arnold Lane. Stage was all red lights. Brilliant night. I also remember seeing Gino Washington around xmas time, but havn't seen them listed. I met a young lady there and 2 weeks later we were going out and eventually married. Great times.

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  6. Great memories, and astonishing story! A friend of mine lived above Barretts Shoe Shop opposite the Upper Cut, and was offered 2 free tickets to see the Who there. Can you believe it; I was unable to go as it was licensed and I wasn`t old enough - what a missed opportunity! John

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  7. I was a regular patron at both the Lotus and the Upper Cut. At the upper cut I saw Stevie Wonder, Ben E King, John Mayall Blues Breakers, PP Arnold and many others. I saw Alan Price at the Lotus. At the time many of the clubs were renowned for fights as well as the entertainment. However, in all the times I visited these venues there was never any trouble inside or out. Great days.

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  8. Went there often, saw Hendrix,Focus,John Mayall with Mick Taylor,Kinks,Prince Buster.My band played there four or five times.Great venue,sadly long gone.

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  9. Remember going to the uppercut with my mates and also the lotus ,great nights two of the most enjoyable was stevie wonder and the stax volt show,although we did see many of the other bands like the who,john mayall,small faces and the preety things etc.Met Dick Taylor of the Preety Things while visiting friends on the Isle of Wight,he goes to the guitar club in ventnor where dick taylor frequents and also plays across the island with his band ,nice to meet him

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, we are looking for participants for an oral history project on forest gate's cultural heritage, if anyone would like to be involved who has memories of the Upper Cut Club or other venues and places of art + entertainment in Forest Gate please get in touch!

      George@ech.org.uk

      Eastside Community Heritage

      Thanks.

      Delete

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