Upper Cut Club, part 2 - hitting the deck

Wednesday, 31 July 2013


Last week we featured the rise of the Upper Cut Club on Woodgrange Road, in 1966, as east London's premier popular music venue.  We focused on the splendid array of talent that graced the former public hall during its first six months.

Part of club's original signage

This week we look at the second half of its short life, featuring both the bands that played there and examining the reasons for its sad demise.

The talent on display hardly diminished in the final months, although problems began to emerge because of the club's unsuitable location and cavernous size.

Last week we showed that having seen the impact the club was having, other promoters and club owners tried to muscle in on the Upper Cut's act and reputation, and perhaps damaged its commercial success.

The club closed a year, to the week, after it opened, amid recriminations and with a sad inevitability was transformed into a bingo club - the latest "hot" entertainment on the high street.


Site of the Upper Cut club, on Woodgrange Road
The club continued to attract top national talent in May and June 1967, following its first successful six months of operation. 

So, May saw Wayne Fontana, whether with the Mindbenders or not isn't clear and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones on a record promotion visit.  This is likely to have been for the Beyond the Buttons album.

He was followed rapidly by Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers and Scotland's answer to Bob Dylan, Donovan.  They all appeared on a free matinee gig, aimed at young teenagers, unable to drink alcohol  lawfully!

May also saw the Kinks, who had recently released Waterloo Sunset and Dave Davies' solo Death of a Clown. The Troggs post Wild Thing, but pre Reg Presley's crop circles obsession rounded the month off.

June featured Chris Farlowe, soon after both his chart topping singles Out of Time and Yesterday's Papers had been released.

July showcased "The Cream" (!), just as Strange Brew was being issued.  There was then the second appearance by local boys the Small Faces.  Ronnie "Plonk" Lane had just penned Itchycoo Park, which was released a couple of weeks later. 

Local boys, local venue and location: 
The Small Faces with Itchycoo Park
Whether it got its first public airing at this gig isn't clear; but it would have been highly appropriate, had it done so.  The inspiration behind the song is much disputed, but Wikipedia, at least, is happy to accord it very local origins.  The website says:


A number of sources claim the song's name is derived from the nickname of Little Ilford Park, on Church Road, in the London suburb of Manor Park, where Small Faces singer and song writer Steve Marriott grew up. The "Itchycoo" nickname is in turn attributed to the stinging nettles which grew there.  Other sources cite nearby Wanstead Flats (Manor Park end) as the inspiration for the song
The club then took a six week break, over the summer months, not surprisingly, perhaps.  But, the Stratford Express of 14 July offered an alternative explanation for the closure, when it announced: "Forest Gate police swooped on youngsters leaving Billy Walker's Upper Cut club and the Lotus dance hall on Saturday (the night of the Faces gig), in a bid to beat hooliganism."
 
Local shopkeepers had complained of vandalism and residents of noise and parking disruption caused by the club's patrons.  There was also chaos inside the club, as the Stratford Express continued:


After appearing at the Upper Cut on Saturday ... the Small Faces apologised to fans ... 'It was chaos on stage.  We couldn't concentrate', said leader Steve Marriott. Tough bouncers either side of the stage rushed across the front of the Faces to drag away screaming girls to safety.  In their rush, Plonk Lane's guitar was put out of tune and Steve Marriott's mike went dead. 
 Dozens of hysterical girls were treated by St John Ambulance men and one was taken to hospital after being trampled in the crush. 'We're very sorry for the kids who got hurt but it was so hot up the front that they fainted and had to be dragged to the stage to safety' said Plonk.
The club resumed activities in September, with some big names, notably The Tremeloes (just after Silence is Golden was released, but before Even the Bad Times are Good), "Sweet" Georgie Fame (after the release of Get Away and Sunny) and Unit 4 + 2 (post Concrete and Clay).

October saw massive US acts, Stevie Wonder (soon after I Was Made to Love Her) and Ben E King (for the first time).

November, however, really was the beginning of the end for the club; it suffered dwindling audiences and serious local competition. After the appearance of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers at the start of the month, the club was forced to offer cut rate "package" deals to draw the crowds.  So, tickets for the three gigs, featuring PP Arnold, Ben E King (second appearance) and the return of Eddie Floyd, could be had for just £1 - less than £16 at today's prices.

Local competition, meanwhile, was beginning to challenge the Upper Cut's hegemony in the area.  The Lotus club, on the opposite side of Woodgrange Road was able to offer the Moody Blues, the Foundations and Chris Farlowe, at cheaper prices, to challenge the Upper Cut around this time.


Leyton Baths got in on the act with reduced rates to see The Troggs and Georgie Fame and even the Railway Tavern in Stratford could offer competitive rates to see Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac and the Savoy Brown Blues Band over the coming weeks.

The Upper Cut staggered on, punch drink at the competition, with the Foundations (post Build me up Buttercup) as their last big gig; almost a year to the day after the exciting opening show, at the end of December.

The Stratford Express provided the Upper Cut's obituary in two parts.  Firstly, by way of editorial on 15 December, when it reported: complaining neighbours, parking problems, dwindling audiences and the departure of Billy Walker as its patron.  It announced:

The Upper Cut, East London's £200,000 'pop palace' may soon shut its door to beat fans - and it's their own fault. Disenchanted disc jockeys this week slammed the pop kids for their apathetic attitude towards top ten groups. ... Now the Upper Cut, once billed as 'the entertainment centre of the East End' may switch from catering for the mods ... to the mums!  Bingo is on the cards.
And sure enough, the final blow came in the next week's edition with the following advert:

Upper Cut, floored by Bingo
So, there it is - the sad demise of a short-lived local institution that can even today - 45 years on - stand proud in the history of British popular culture.

We'd love to hear from anyone who was lucky enough to experience any of this great local cultural heritage. 

If you were there - please either leave some thoughts in the Comments box below, or contact us and we'll be delighted to call, record and relay your recollections on this site.

Selected Upper Cut gig list - May - December 1967

Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders
Sat 6 May - Wayne Fontana - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Sat 13 May - Terry Reid - gentlemen 8/6d, ladies 7/6d
Sun 14 May - "To celebrate their latest Columbia disc, a personal appearance by Rolling Stone, Bill Wyman" - gentlemen and ladies 5/-
Sat 20 May - matinee - 2pm - 5pm -  "For the 12's to 17's, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, with special guest Donovan" - "Absolutely free"
Sat 20 May - (evening) - Kinks - gentlemen and ladies 9/6d
Fri 26 May - Graham Bond Organisation - gentlemen and ladies 6/-
Sat 27 May - The Troggs - gentlemen and ladies 9/6d

Sat 3 June - The Turtles - gentlemen and ladies 9/6d
Fri 30 June - Chris Farlowe - gentlemen and ladies 8/6d

Sat 1 Jul - The Cream (sic) - gentlemen and ladies - 8/6d
Sat 8 Jul - "Return of" The Small Faces - gentlemen and ladies 8/6d

Sat 9 Sept - The Tremeloes - gentlemen and ladies 9/6d

Silence is Golden - self 
awareness from the Tremeloes?
Sat 16 Sept - "Sweet" Georgie Fame - gentlemen and ladies 9/6d
Sat 30 Sept - Unit 4 + 2 - gentlemen and ladies 8/6d

Sat 7 Oct - Stevie Wonder - gentlemen and ladies 12/6d
Sat 21 Oct - Ben-E-King - (no price shown)

Stevie Wonder
Lotus Club:  Sat 4 Nov -The Moody Blues - 7/6d,  Tues 7 Nov - Foundations - gentlemen and ladies 6/6d

Sat 11 Nov - John Mayall and the Blues Breakers - (no price shown)
Sat 18 Nov - PP Arnold - gentlemen and ladies 9/6d
Weds 22 Nov - Ben-E-King - gentlemen and ladies 7/6d
Sat 25 Nov - Eddie Floyd - gentlemen and ladies 7/6d
Special offer: all three of the PP Arnold, Ben-E-King and Eddy Floyd shows, above, for £1.  These were effectively the last big shows, but one.

PP Arnold, part of cut price, 
package deals, signalling end for Upper Cut


Ben E King - two local 
shows, in swift succession

Desperate cut price deals 
advertised in Stratford Express

Competition from Leyton Baths - Sat 18 Nov - The Troggs - gentlemen and ladies 7/6d; Sat 25 Nov - Georgie Fame - gentlemen and ladies 7/6d

"Sweet" Georgie Fame, appeared at both
 Upper Cut, and local competition
Competition from Bottleneck Blues Club, Railway Tavern -  Angel Lane Stratford (not to be confused with the recently shut down, and soon to be re-opened as Forest Tavern pub, by Forest Gate station) - Fri 22 Dec - Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac - (no price shown); Sat 29 Dec - Savoy Brown's Blues Band - (no price shown)

Competition from Lotus Club, Woodgrange Road - Sat 23 Dec - Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds - gentlemen and ladies 10/-

Out of Time? nearly was for Upper Cut,
as Chris Farlowe appears at
 the Lotus on 23 December
Sat 30 Dec - The Foundations - gentlemen and ladies 10/-
This was to be the last "big name" appearing at the Upper Cut club

Foundations - last big band at Upper Cut
Fri 29 December - advert in Stratford Express, announcing Upper Cut club to re-open soon as a Bingo hall

For conversions of some of the prices and some context for this listing, see last week's article, below.

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 2013

Upper Cut (1) - a summary of the emergence of the first six months of the club (December 1966 - July 1967) July 2013

Upper Cut (2) - a brief survey of the second, and final half year of the club's existence (August 1967 - December 1967) July 2013
Georgie Fame, The Tremeloes and Unit 4 + 2 - (September 1967 at the Upper Cut) October 2013

When Stevie Wonder played Forest Gate - (October 1967) November 2013

Mouthwatering musical fayre on Woodgrange Road - (November 1967) December 2013

Club bills for the Upper Cut's two Decembers - (Decembers 1966 and 1967) January 2014

The Upper Cut beds down - (January 1967) February 2014

Essex comes to Forest Gate - (February 1967) March 2014
Stax comes to town - (March 1967) April 2014

A mixed bunch at the Upper Cut in April (April 1967) May 2014

Upper Cut - May 1967 (June 1967) June 2014

Summer of Love in Forest Gate (Summer 1967) August 2014

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

1 comment:

  1. I played in The Trend, a soul/R&B band from Canning Town - Norman, Frank, Phil and me - and I certainly remember playing at The Upper Cut because I had to set my new amp at a Spinal Tap volume 11 so that my also new Vox Continental organ could be heard - on stage! - in that vast venue. We backed The Soul Sisters and various permutations of The 'Original' Drifters as well as playing in our own right, so it was either us alone or as a backing group. If the former, at a talent evening, maybe? Does someone remember? Michael Claxton

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