It began as a little basement club that acted as a shelter for jazz fans to dance while the bombs rained down on wartime London. It served as a cauldron for trad jazz, beat music and punk. Later, it helped birth Township and African jazz in the UK, as well as launching some key indie bands. The list of performers who have played there is as long as your arm.
And the 100 Club is still going strong today…
The venue at 100 Oxford Street was initially a restaurant called Mack’s when Victor Feldman, the drummer, and his two brothers began hiring the place on a Sunday to showcase their talent. Legendary tenor sax man Jimmy Skidmore joined them for the opening night on 24th October 1942.
The Feldman Club soon got a reputation among visiting GIs and natives alike as the place to go – and advertised itself with the slogan ‘Forget the Doodlebug – come and Jitterbug at the Feldman Club’. Glen Miller was one of many who came to play and listen at the basement of 100 Oxford Street, which happily formed a natural bomb shelter! Jack Parnell and George Webb also played, and by 1948 the venue was known as The London Jazz Club.
In the Fifties, the lease was taken over by Lyn Dutton, an agent who counted Humphrey Lyttelton amongst his clients. So popular was Humph that the club was renamed after him, which helped the place score one of its greatest early coups when his pal Louis Armstrong came to play there in 1956. Billie Holliday also came to hang out. Humph’s ‘Bad Penny Blues’, which hit the top twenty in 1958, sparked the trad jazz boom – and the club was right at the centre.
Humph and another regular, the Chris Barber Jazz and Blues Band, were getting too big for the little club, but the owners kept up with the public appetite for trad with the likes of Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and Terry Lightfoot. But by 1964, the club had changed hands again, fashions were changing, and the new owner Roger Horton saw that it was time to broaden the club’s appeal. It took the name of the Oxford Street address: The 100 Club was born.
Blues was on the menu: Chris Barber brought in huge American names like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Albert King and Little Brother Montgomery – as well as soul acts like Jackie Wilson. BB King turned up one night and got onstage to play with Roscoe Gordon.
British Blues and Beat acts were also well represented at the club – John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Animals, Alexis Corner… Taking it on, The Who, Spencer Davis and The Kinks also played here throughout the Sixties.
But the Seventies brought hard times for the 100 Club as they did for a lot of venues. Recession and the three-day week and the turning off electricity in the evenings made running the club seven days a week an impossibility. Things looked bleak for the 100 Club by the middle of the decade.
But then came the phenomenon that was to change music, and put the 100 Club right at the centre of the music world: Punk.
The 20th and 21st September 1976 saw the 100 Club host the first-ever Punk festival. The Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, The Damned, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Vibrators and Subway Sect all played: all were unsigned, and this was strictly for those in the know. The queue outside stretched for two blocks. Melody Maker called it correctly: “a new decade in rock is about to begin.”
And as a lot of other venues didn’t want anything to do with this new movement, the 100 Club became Punk’s undisputed spiritual home. What’s more, the 100 Club was still right at the cutting edge when the second wave of punk started, putting on bands like the Exploited, Peter and the Test Tube Babies and UK Subs and, as punk blended into hardcore by, say, 1981, bands like the Varukers and Crass.
The Rolling Stones were smart enough to know that this was a cool underground place to play at, doing a secret tour warm-up there in 1982 – as well as a tribute gig in memoriam of their keyboard player Ian Stewart in 1986. This was the Stones’ only gig from 1982 to 1989, so not a bad little boast for the venue. Paul Weller has also snuck back in for low-key shows to try new material. In 2007, it was also the venue for the last-ever gig played by a 100 Club stalwart, the much-loved libertine George Melly.
The 100 Club has hosted Saturday afternoon reggae sessions featuring Eddie Grant and Northern Soul all-nighters. During the 1980s, the it held Friday night sessions, putting on African jazz bands, many of whom were South African: it became a focal point for the anti-Apartheid movement in the UK and a meeting place for exiled ANC figures. Greats of African music like Fela Kuti, Youssou N’Dour and Hugh Masekela were among the regulars.
In 1992, the club was given another shot in the arm when an unheard-of band called Suede were showcased here, putting the club slap bang on the map for a new generation of bands and fans. Oasis, Catatonia, Kula Shaker, Echobelly, Travis and Cornershop were among the acts from this fertile indie period to play at the 100 Club.
The club is still going strong today, looking much the same as it did in the 1970s. Its place in rock legend is assured.