JB at the jazz club

John Bignell was sometimes a little unhelpful to posterity when it came to identifying pictures. You might get a penciled note on the back of a print or a short phrase on a batch of negatives. Sometimes you have to ask someone if you can find someone to ask or just make an educated guess. I started this post with a handful of photos of people dancing to a jazz band and they looked like they were having a good time.Dancing at the Six bells 03 - Copy

The room doesn’t look like a club, more like a gallery or some curtained off room in a municipal building but by comparing details of the ceiling and wallpaper with a picture that was labelled I came to the conclusion that all the photos were taken in the same place – an upstairs room at the Six Bells pub in the King’s Road.

RBKC-528

The trees visible through the window are still there. The Six Bells still exists too as part of the Henry J Beans chain of bars but there’s no jazz upstairs these days. These pictures were taken about 1959. Jazz was still popular then, more popular than rock’n’roll in some circles. Across the road there were plenty of students at Chelsea College and Chelsea School of Art all eager to drink and dance. As I’ve said before (see the Art School Dance ) the 50s was the decade when people started to have serious fun again after years of wartime danger and post-war austerity. The students and others in these pictures had grown up in “interesting” times and they were ready to party. An even bigger party was waiting for them in the next decade but they didn’t know that yet.

Dancing at the Six Bells 01

They were still conventionally dressed but starting to loosen up. Look at the women in the centre of the picture with her head thrown back. Or this group:

Dancing

The band is the Mike Martin Band. They’re in a formal pose in the picture by the window but in the others they’re looking far more abandoned and have been joined by their vocalist Pat Adams who can be seen better in the picture below with his back to the audience.

RBKC-521 - Copy

The band played a form of jazz called mainstream which lay somewhere between the New Orleans style trad jazz and the newer styles.

Six Bells jazzRBKC-525 - Copy

The club at the Six Bells was run for several years by musician and cartoonist Wally Fawkes. As well as being a musical associate of George Chisholm and George Melly, Fawkes is also known as the creator of the cartoon strip Flook.

Flook

Flook, a talking animal whose exact nature I was never able to fathom had a series of satirical adventures scripted by Melly, Barry Took, Humphrey Lyttelton and others which was featured in the Daily Mail when it was still a broadsheet.

Six Bells

There are some later photos from 1966 or 1967 featuring Henry “Red” Allen, a famous American trumpet player.

Red Allen 1908-1967 with Alex Welsh Band 1960s

As was often the practice he is playing with a “local” group, the Alex Welsh Band.

Red Allen 04

You can see from the background that some effort had been made to alter the decor of the room. Did Fawkes create the illustrations himself?

Sadly, Red Allen died soon after his British tour in 1967. The club itself didn’t last much longer despite the nights devoted to blues and other more popular forms of music. But it had a good run. You can find some memories of the club at: http://www.sandybrownjazz.co.uk/forumsixbells.html

And we can also remember through John Bignell’s photographs the nights of music and dancing in an upstairs room at a Chelsea pub.

RBKC-524 - Copy

Is that the woman we saw dancing on the left of the first picture, with Pat Adams taking a breather in the background underneath a strange looking painting? Once again Bignell demonstrates his talent for picking a good moment.

Postscript

I scanned most of the pictures myself, some from negatives. A couple of the others I had to convert from TIFFs which adds to the slightly grainy or overexposed look to some of the images. Also Bignell was working in a dimly lit smoke filled room. But I like them anyway.

I found the picture of Flook online but I can’t remember where. Sorry to the owner.

Postscript to the postscript

As well as writing this blog I also do a few pieces for the K&C Libraries blog. Here’s my latest one: http://rbkclibraries.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/empty-spaces-part-2-the-writing-on-the-floor/

They let me do my own photography.


5 responses to “JB at the jazz club

  • joe

    thank you Dave, brilliant capture of a wonderful evening. Keep up the great work. Your time machine looks like it took a lot of hard work to do. Your descriptions of the images make for a great read, full of fascinating facts and warm humor. I just recently found your work and have shared it with the rest of my family. Keep it up!

  • Michael Gall

    It seems that Joe has said it all David but…(thinking)…(still thinking)…no no no he actually has said it all.

    This local history source that you are building is a wonderful thing.
    Thank you.

  • Debbie Robson

    Thanks once again for your wonderful photos. It was a really great time, the late 50s to early sixties. I was a baby unfortunately (born 1956) but I find the era fascinating. I nearly put the Six Bells in my manuscript The Grey Silk Purse as I came across the pub in my research on Chelsea – which is of course how I came across you David!

  • Phil addison

    David…how delighted I was when my partner Sue Ward discovered your site….The first jazz band to play at the Six Bells in 1959/60 was the Mike Martin Band of which I was a founder member….The personel in John Bignal’s wonderful photos are Mike Martin alto/clarinet,Phil Addison trumpet (that’s me folks),Mike Hogh trombone,Mourice Wrixton tenor,Gerry Green drums,Robin Walton bass, Derek Gilby piano and Pat Addams vocals…..what a great time that was every Wednesday night…..We got a writeup in the Telegraph as I remember and that opened the door to all the other bands,Trog and sandy brown etc.

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