The History Press 2014
A look back on two musical landmarks paints a history of West Hampstead’s cultural landscape.
Save for those who were there, not many people remember today that the legendary Decca Studios, where lots of famous records were made between 1937 and 1980, and the Klooks Kleek rhythm-and-blues club, which ran its soirees from 1961 to 1971, co-existed in a door-to-door proximity. But musicians cherish their memories of the two spots, even though only a few of them had seen the inside of both, as those haunts’ stories, strange as it is, didn’t overlap much. So here’s a logical reason to keep them separate in this tome and throw the narrative threads from one to another only occasionally, in the same way the wires were thrown when artists like John Mayall needed to preserve their on-stage performances for posterity. Such an approach can be confusing, especially in the absence of the names’ index and the lack of a straightforward plot, and it results in a puzzle where various bits and pieces require mental rearranging for the entire picture to reveal itself, yet that wasn’t the authors’ point.
By focusing on the studio, seen through the prism of old documents and memories of Decca workers as sourced from press interviews, and on the club, whose behind-the-scenes moves come from the Klooks Kleek’s co-founders Dick Jordan and Geoff Williams, the book’s writers Weindling and Colloms actually create a panorama of the part of London they operated in. Perhaps, here’s why the most arresting part of the tome is one telling the story of The Railway Hotel and West Hampstead Town Hall, the two buildings that housed them, because there’s a genuine continuity in it and a reflection of what was going on in the British capital, and beyond the city, in the era it took to swinging and well before that. The same goes for the music-related tales whose span exceeds the actual existence of its subjects and embraces not only the earlier and latter times but also things which didn’t happen there like the bands that couldn’t make it to the Kleek for various reasons, briefly explained in these pages, or happened outside of those walls, although commentaries on some of the artists’ further development, fleshing out the sub-chapters, feel a needless extra. It’s very unlikely that any reader of it doesn’t know what had become of Tom Jones after – and that’s what matters in the context – he cut “It’s Not Unusual” at Decca.
It’s facts like this, or explanations of the spots’ names, not the studio performers’ pictures from the ’90s and ’00s, that render the text interesting, while the pictures from the club greatly complement its patrons’ recollections, yet in certain places deeper research might have added spice and substance to the trivia: thus, “a recording” whence Henry Lowther cut a gong sound for his "Child Song" was a PINK FLOYD one, whereas the account of the Kleek team’s brush with the Krays spikes the story nicely, and the list – with dates – of all the musicians who played there is impressive. Of course, the well-known tales are spun here, too, because Decca’s rejection of THE BEATLES is as an integral part of it all as LED ZEPPELIN’s only concert in its neighboring venue. More so, it’s an indelible part of the London’s cultural heritage, but the book only sketches it out – a valorous endeavor which needs an expansion and a whole new interweaving of its strains in order to become as riveting as the truth behind the tome is.