We've featured a brief history of Upper Cut club, on Woodgrange Road, on this site a number of times in recent months - including our recent chat with the club's big name "owner", Billy Walker (see here).
This week we feature a less famous local impresario, but one who, without doubt, had a much greater and longer lasting influence on the music scene in Forest Gate, East London and further afield - Kenny Johnson. We caught up with Kenny recently and chatted about his Forest Gate days and in particular his greatest local legacy, the Lotus Club.
|Lotus club, above Courts on right of photo, |
with Xmas decs - 1983
During the Second World War the premises were used as a base and bar for the Home Guard and the place where children's rations were dispensed by the Ministry of Food.
|Kenny Johnson keeping an eye on the Lotus cloakroom|
|Undated ticket for a Lotus disco, for 12.5p!|
When the Palais closed for a year for refurbishment, around 1960, Kenny spotted a gap in the market and opened the Jive Dive, in a house in Earlham Grove (number 193), next to the Royal Mail sorting office, in 1960, in what had previously been the Earlham Grove Dance Academy.
|Kenny outside the Jive Dive, |
successful enough to allow a jag
|Kenny (with beard) on the door of the|
Jive Dive, with friends and relatives
The Jive Dive seemed to fulfil a real need in young people; it was the time of the 'mod', and young East Enders were, in those days, the most fashion conscious in the world; rendezvousing in Forest Gate every weekend and going to our club, they would have a few drinks and then dance their socks off in the basement. There was no trouble and the customers were a lovely crowd.The venue proved a great success, but the resultant crowds were understandably less popular with the residential neighbours, and so the brothers closed it as a venue and looked elsewhere for music promotional opportunities.
Ever a man with an eye for a show business opportunity, Kenny spread his impresario wings wider, and put on regular and very successful gigs in the upstairs of Stratford's Two Puddings pub - later run by his brother Eddie - as the Big Beat Club.
He promoted events at other local venues, such as West Ham Town Hall, The old Eagle and Child pub on Woodgrange Road and the Spread Eagle, in Tottenham, West Ham Baths (where Jerry Lee Lewis was to play for him - see photos), Shoreditch Town Hall, Dagenham, Harlow and Croydon. And then very much further afield in the UK, in Liverpool and elsewhere, where his dad and uncle would help with the management of the events.
|Jerry Lee Lewis gig, promoted by|
Kenny Johnson, 1964
|Jerry Lee Lewis, playing I'm on Fire, |
recorded the night before his West Ham
Baths gig. The video can be found on
|Jerry Lee, with some of Kenny's friends|
and family prior to the Romford Road gig
He bought the lease of the ballroom, and reopened it, as the Lotus Club, in 1962. He brought to it one of Britain's earliest discotheques (the original having been pioneered at the Two Puddings), and began to attract some decent bands, to provide live gigs. It soon became the most popular haunt in North East London and Essex.
|A night at the Lotus, with Tommy Bruce on mike|
|'You Really Got Me' - Kinks gig for £70|
- the price of the band, not the ticket!
|Kinks, dedicated followers of fashion|
|Small Faces: rehearsed in Two Puddings,|
starred at the Lotus
|Lotus, Stratford Express advert 3 November 1967|
But, just as he was about to do so, the Walker Brothers nipped in, cut a deal with the liquidators' owner, Norman Aaronshon, and the Upper Cut opened, as local competition for the Lotus. Kenny stayed put.
He says he bore the brothers no malice, and his friendship with Billy, which had gone back to the time when they sparred with each other at West Ham Boxing club, in Plaistow's Black Lion pub, remained unaffected.
Other big names continued to appear at his club, including local boys David Essex and Joe Brown, big name British groups, like The Hollies. Pretty Things Manfred Mann, the Animals and Searchers, along with transatlantic stars like The Temptations, Little Eva and John Lee Hooker.
Kenny's most fondly remembered gigs featured Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Mary Wells (which attracted his biggest ever turnout).
|Lotus advert for the Club's biggest|
gig, Stratford Express 17 April 1967;
|600 adoring fans flock to Kenny's |
favourite gig, to hear Mary Wells' My Guy
|Screaming Lord Sutch ; Jack the Ripper|
- at the Lotus Club. Video can be found on YouTube here:
The Club, however, was hit by changing licensing regulations from the late sixties, which affected admission criteria and imposed stricter health, safety and fire escape regulations (no more 600 crowds!). These restriction gradually adversely impacted on the type of band the Club was able to attract, and thus, on its popularity.
22 December 1967
|Kenny in the 70's, when|
Lotus club in full steam
|The Lotus Club, in its 70's manifestation as a casino|
Kenny now lives by the Essex coast, is a regular visitor to Forest Gate and maintains his fitness by weekly tennis sessions, a passion he embraced half a century ago. Recently, together with brother Eddie, he has promoted a couple of Sixties revival nights at Stratford Town Hall, putting on bands of the time, to the great delights of attendees of the time! We will happily promote any future events they promote!
|Kenny today: "Anyone for tennis?"|
We would be delighted to hear memories from any attendees at Lotus club events, or indeed anyone of the "scared" audience, featured in the clip from the Screaming Lord Sutch gig!