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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The band played a form of jazz called mainstream which lay somewhere between the New Orleans style trad jazz and the newer styles.
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, 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.
There are some later photos from 1966 or 1967 featuring Henry “Red” Allen, a famous American trumpet player.
As was often the practice he is playing with a “local” group, the Alex Welsh Band.
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.
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.
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.