Fans gather outside the 100 club in Oxford Street, London where the Rolling Stones performed on 1 June 1982. (Photo by McNeill/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

The iconic history of London’s 100 Club

Steve Morris recalls the iconic Oxford Street basement club which has housed London’s evolving music scene since the Second World War

If it weren’t for the small sign, you would hardly notice that one of the world’s most iconic clubs is tucked away in the basement of 100 Oxford Street, London. It looks as though it is a regular door to an office, but go down those stairs and into the dark confines and you are where heroes have played: The Stones, The New York Dolls, Eddie Grant, The Who to name but a few

I have a history with this club. I went to see a punk band there in 1979 when I was 17 years old. I can’t remember who it was, but I do remember leaving the gig minus my teeth and with my lip split from end-to-end. For some reason, and I still don’t know why, I passed out during a particular song and my friends took me outside and got me home.

But back to the history. The club started out in 1942 as Feldman’s Swing Club and it was a favourite with American GI’s during the jazz era. Glenn Miller played there.

With each new musical scene, the club evolved. The blues arrived – Muddy Waters played, as did Bo Diddley and BB King. Then it became the birthplace of UK punk in the 70s.

One of the reasons it is so successful is that it has been in the hands of the Horton family since 1964, first Roger and then Jeff, whose independent mindset has made the club a haven for all kinds of artists. In 2010 financial pressures were immense and a fund-raising campaign and a gig by Paul McCartney helped keep the place going.

When you go into the club it really is a timewarp. The stage is the same one built by the Hortons in 1964; it is far from corporate.

Ady Croasdell has been keeping the fire burning for Northern Soul since 1981 with his regular all-nighters at the club. He explains why appeal has faded: “It’s one of the few links with our musical past and heritage that is left: a perfect example of a basement (as most were) nightclub with the stage as the focal point for live music and the customer can watch in relaxed proximity with a drink and toilets at their disposal; the music comes first.”

Speaking of the toilets, for some time there was a Chinese takeaway sandwiched between them, which gave the club added appeal.

Ady’s Northern Soul nights continue to draw the punters, but perhaps he’ll never have such famous people working for him as he did towards the start of his club nights. (Shane MacGowan was the cloakroom attendant at one point and according to Ady he was very good he was at it too.)

In some ways, the 100 Club has been a part of keeping Northern Soul going. “I moved the 6TS Rhythm ‘N’ Soul Club there in 1981 with great support. The fact that the club has been in the same family’s hands all those years has meant we’ve been able to make it the longest running club, possibly in the world.”

Rumour has it there was a tunnel under the club so that people could escape the Blitz

I spoke to Rat Scabies, the legendary drummer of English punk band The Damned, about the punk scene of the 70s. Rat played in the infamous 1976 punk festival at the club that ran over two days and featured bands such as The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks and Siouxsie and the Banshees. If you counted everyone who said they were there it would add up to thousands, but Rat told me there were only a handful of people – maybe 12 or a maximum of 30 – who actually turned up. But this small group acted as the catalyst for punk rock in the UK.

The people there were there were just a small group, but they were all the people that actually had heard of and had anything to do with punk rock. They were sympathetic to it. I didn’t know at the time that it was going to be so big but there was something in the air; something that said that this was different and it might really take off.

Rat again paid tribute to the club’s owners and said that the club’s independence has meant that bands who couldn’t get a gig elsewhere could get to play at an iconic venue.

At many venues you can’t really get in without going through a booking agent and that if booking agent doesn’t like the look of you, you’ve got no chance. But you can hire this historic venue for your band so you don’t need to go through a promoter to play there. It’s a really independent venue that is open to lots of different types of gig.

But what’s it like to play there?

It is such a funny place to play. It’s got that great long stage which is really narrow. I feel sorry for the singer because when I get my kit set up there’s not enough room to stand in front of me. It’s the one time that I get to be right out front, so I love the place. It’s got a special atmosphere. There is something about having so many bands and acts that have played there over the years and the sweat and the grime and the magnetism of all the people that have stood there, it rubs off, it hangs in the air.

For me the magic is that sense of history. You can almost see those GIs dancing with the English girls. And rumour has it that there is a tunnel from the club down to the underground station so people could escape the bombing during the Blitz.

Both Rat and Ady predict a big future for the 100 Club and other smaller venues as people will be desperate to play and to watch live music again. “If you are not at the 100 Club, you’re nowhere,” Ady told me.

Each morning when I shave and look in the mirror, I’m reminded of the 100 Club. I had my mouth stitched up and crowns put in, but they’ve never quite been right and so I’ve got a big gap between my teeth. Each morning when I see that gappy smile it takes me back to 40 years ago when I went to one of my first gigs. It was one I will never be allowed to forget.

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