When Stevie Wonder played Forest Gate

Wednesday 6 November 2013

In our second monthly glance back at the golden year of the Upper Cut's existence, we feature some of the acts that appeared at the Woodgrange Road club 46 years ago -  in October 1967. (see here for the September 1967 feature).


1991 photo of the former Upper Cut
 premises, before they were demolished
 to make way for Channel Rail tunnel link

The adverts, below, from the Stratford Express, promoted the gigs, whose biggest names of the month were undoubtedly Stevie Wonder and ex-Drifter, Ben E King.

Rescued memorabilia from
 original Upper Cut club premises

Blind since birth, 13 year old Stevland Hardaway Morris broke on to the world music scene as twelve year old Little Stevie Wonder, with his US  Motown hit Fingertips, in 1963.  He was still only 16 when he appeared at the Upper Cut Club on 7 October 1967, with UK hits Uptight, the Bob Dylan classic, Blowin' in the Wind and A Place in the Sun already under his belt.


He had just issued his biggest UK hit, to date I Was Made to Love Her, and dropped the "Little" from his name by  the time of his Forest Gate gig on 7 October. 

Stevie Wonder, soon after
his Upper Cut appearance
  Tickets were 12/6d per head, about £10 at today's prices!

Stevie Wonder, playing Fingertips
 in 1963 in a Motown gig - four years
 before his Upper Cut appearance

He has recently chalked up his fiftieth anniversary in show business and was most recently seen at the Jubilee concert, outside Buckingham Palace, in 2012.  Although he has not published an album for eight years, two are scheduled for 2014.

Two weeks later, on 21 October, Ben E King made his first appearance in Forest Gate.  His greatest successes were probably already behind him by the time he appeared at the Upper Cut.  

The Ben E King advert,
 from the Stratford Express

 Born in 1938, he joined the Drifters - where he made his name, twenty years later, before striking out as a solo singer in 1960. It was with the Drifters that he cut classics like There Goes My Baby and Save the Last Dance for Me.

A 60's publicity shot of ex-Drifter, Ben E King

King is perhaps best known for his solo versions of Spanish Harlem, Stand by Me and Don't Play that Song - all of which he recorded five years before his Forest Gate date, but which he would have undoubtedly played on Woodgrange Road.

Ben E King, performing one of his
 biggest hits, Stand By Me, in 1961

 He has continued singing since, without ever rescaling the heights of his 60's fame.

October 1967's main offerings at the Upper Cut featured the Orlons, an American R&B outfit from Philadelphia.  In 2010 they became the first US Top-100 charting group to have a career spanning 50 years.  Quite what this means, however, is unclear in a business with frequently changing band line ups.  By 2010, three of the original line up of four were dead!

Advert for
 the Orlons gig

The original Orlons line-up,
 three of whom are now dead

The group had a number of hits with, even by pop music standards, odd titles, including Bon-Doo-Wah, Shimmy, Shimmy and perhaps their biggest seller: The Wah Watusi.  All had been recorded by the time of their Forest Gate appearance, and would doubtless have featured in the 28 October performance.

The Orlons, performing the
 Wah Watusi, during a 60's gig

We would love to hear from anyone who was at these gigs, or indeed at any of the Upper Cut's great occasions.  Drop a line in the comment box, below, or contact us, via e.mail, if you'd like to contribute.

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


  1. I'd be interested in meeting anyone who went to the Upper Cut club during its brief life, or has any other memories of the 50s/60s/70s/80s music locally in East London. For a radio music documentary on East London Radio

    1. Hi I realise its been a while since you placed your request but only just found this site.I was a frequent visitor to the Uppercut with my mates,driving up from Thurrock on our scooters,see many great acts there,best night being the stax volt show and stevie wonder,Somewhere I still I have the programme for the stax volt show although still trying to locate it!We used to follw all the bands so greta to see acts like the who,small faces etc.

    2. Hi, Colin, thanks. If you can dig up the programmes and scan over, we'd love to add them to the site!

  2. ....my email is ian@eastlondonradio.org.uk

  3. I’m related to Billy Walker, my maiden name was Linda Walker and my grandfather was William Walker. I know he went to my grandads funeral with his mum and brother. I would love to have a chat with Billy about our family . If he would like to contact me, I can be reach at Lynnythelamb@hotmail.com.


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