Newcastle in the mid to late sixties had a vibrant night life which, outside of London, was probably the best in the country for wining, dining, dancing, music and gambling. There were around a dozen night clubs with top acts appearing in the city every day of the week. It’s no wonder that London gangsters such as the Kray twins were keen to get in on the action. Those of us of a certain age will remember clubs like La Dolce Vita, Greys Club, the Cavendish and the Club A’Gogo.
But who were the men and woman who owned and ran the north east’s iconic clubs and kept us entertained throughout the sixties? In 2011, north east photographer and author, Ian Wright who now lives in Las Vegas, had the bright idea of organising a get together for the people involved in the sixties club scene. The reunion took place at the Jazz Café, Pink Lane, Newcastle hosted by Keith Crombie who was involved in the day to day running of several Newcastle clubs back in the sixties.
Some of the other people there were Wally Nash (now a business man living in the USA) who managed the Marimba for Mike Jeffery and later the Blue Note in Sunderland for Ray Grehan; Sandford Goudie who owned the La Strada clubs in Sunderland and South Shields; Trixie Sullivan who was Mike Jeffery’s secretary and personal assistant (at the time he managed Jimi Hendrix), vocalist David Macbeth, Teddy Berg – owner of Greys Club, Barabara Berg and Joan Tenniswood who both worked at the Club a’Gogo in the sixties. Another of those in attendance was Marcus Levey, who with his two brothers ran La Dolce Vita before selling the club to the Bailey Organisation in 1965. Marcus now lives in Leeds and is a professional artist.
There were one or two musicians there including Dougie Vickers who was the drummer in the Invaders, one of the first non-jazz bands to play regularly at the Club A’Gogo from around 1963. Also present was jazz singer Germaine Stanger wife of the late Nigel Stanger. Nigel, along with Chas Chandler was responsible for planning and building the Newcastle Arena (now the Metro Radio Arena). Nigel was also an excellent saxophonist who along with Germaine performed with the Newcastle Big Band. Yours truly got an invite because the Ready Steady Gone site was the catalyst that helped Ian Wright to get in touch with some of the guests. Having said that, I did play regularly as a resident musician at three of the Bailey clubs (including La Dolce Vita) during 1966.
Rumour had it that the ex-Club A’Gogo bouncer Dave Findlay and his brother Tommy were going to put in appearance. In the event they failed to show up, probably much to the relief of the host Keith Crombie. I did overhear a conversation in which one of the guests asked the other if he had been present at the Gogo on the night that Dave Findlay knocked out Keith Crombie’s teeth!
Some of the guests hadn’t seen each other for decades so there was a lot of catching up to do. Amongst those talked about were two men who were heavily involved in the north east club scene in the sixties – Mike Jeffery and Ray Grehan. Mike Jeffery, owner of the Club A’Gogo and manager of the Animals and Jimi Hendrix was killed in a plane crash in 1973. Ray Grehan, who owned various night clubs including the Blue Note in Sunderland and the Crescendo Club at Whitley Bay, passed away about eight years ago. Without the contribution of these two men the club and music scene of the north east would have been considerably different.
Here’s a reminder of some of those Newcastle clubs and venues and where they were. The top map is an old street plan of the city with the various venues marked with coloured dots. Below is a modern day aerial view with the same locations marked – (some of the original buildings have now gone).
The Club A’Gogo
The Club A’Gogo opened in 1962 and ran for just over six years. The club was initially owned and run by Mike Jeffery who went on to manage The Animals and Jimi Hendrix. Ownership changed hands around 1966 and eventually the Gogo closed its doors two years later after the Bailey Organisation opened a disconightspot called Sloopy’s above the La Dolce Vita
The Club A’Gogo was situated on Percy Street, Newcastle on the top floor of a building which was also above the famous Handyside Arcade (or Arcadia as it was sometimes called).
After it’s demolition, the building was replaced by the Eldon Garden Shopping Centre. The position of the doorway to the club was below the pedestrian walkway that links the Eldon Square complex with the Eldon Garden Shopping Centre near the entrance doors.
Read more about the Club A’Gogo on this link.
The Downbeat was another of Mike Jeffery’s clubs. It opened in 1959 and ran for around 6 years. Initially the Downbeat was a jazz venue but towards the end of its life it featured mainly Rhythm & Blues bands.
The Downbeat was situated in Carliol Square, Newcastle not far from Worswick Street bus station. The building that held the club has long since been demolished. It was originally the Clergy Jubilee School, which opened in the early part of the 19th Century
Read more about the Downbeat Club on this link.
The Quay Club
The Quay Club, which opened in 1965, was a popular venue in the sixties. The club was situated on the ground floor and in the basement of an old building on the Side, almost opposite the Crown Posada public house. The original building has been demolished and has been replaced by a modern block, which now houses offices and a restaurant.
In its hey day the Quay Club was a popular late night watering hole for both local and national musicians after completing their own gigs in the city.
Read more about the Quay Club on this link.
Greys club is one of the few Newcastle Clubs that has been running since the sixties. The club, which is in Greys Court at the bottom of Grey Street, has had several makeovers since opening as a cabaret club in the early sixties.
During the seventies it was run by David Macbeth, a popular northeast singer in the late fifties and early sixties.
The Mayfair Ballroom
The Mayfair Ballroom opened by the Mecca organization on 12th September 1961 and continued to be a major venue in the city for 38 years. It was situated at the junction of Newgate Street and Low Friar Street. The Mayfair finally closed its doors in August 1999 and was later demolished to make way for the Gate Leisure Centre. During the sixties, seventies and beyond the Mayfair hosted some unforgettable nights featuring many of the top chart and touring bands of the era; bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Queen, Black Sabbath, The Clash, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy and Nirvana, to name just a few.
Read more about the Mayfair Ballroom on this link.
La Dolce Vita
La Dolce Vita was situated on Low Friar Street not far from the Mayfair Ballroom. The club was opened on 6th February 1963 by the Levey brothers from Wallsend. La Dolce Vita included a large cabaret lounge with seating for 500 and an illuminated glass dance area in front of the stage. The club was taken over by the Bailey Group in 1965.
In October 1968 the Bailey Organisation opened Sloopy’s disco above La Dolce Vita. By this time the Club A’Gogo on Percy Street was in decline and the opening of Sloopy’s was probably the final nail in the Gogo’s coffin.
La Dolce Vita went into decline in the seventies and had several name changes before finally closing its doors as a venue in 2002. The building which housed La Dolce Vita still stands but now contains luxury flats.
Guys & Dolls
The Guys & Dolls club is less well known than some of the other Newcastle clubs of the early to mid sixties. It was situated on the forth and fifth floor of a building at 1 Pink Lane, opposite Bowers restaurant. The Guys & Dolls ran as an unlicensed venue and described itself as a ‘coffee dance club’. The club ran for about five years and closed around 1966.
The building that housed the Guys & Dolls is still standing.
The Marimba Coffee House
The Marimba Coffee House on High Bridge, Newcastle (off Grey Street) was another venue opened by Mike Jeffery. The Marimba opened in 1959 serving Italian food and snacks during the day at prices students could afford. However at night it became a private membership club with jazz being served up by some of the best musicians around. These included Tommy Henderson’s Latin American Group and others such as the Bernie Thorpe Trio and Mike Carr’s Emcee Four. Unofficially, the jazz sessions at the Marimba continued long after midnight.
The Marimba was open for just over a year before being gutted by fire. The building that housed the Marimba no longer exists. That building and those surrounding it were demolished and have been rebuilt.
The Majestic Ballroom
The Majestic Ballroom on the junction of Westgate Road and Clayton Street was originally built as a cinema. In the late 1950’s it was converted to a ballroom and became the Majestic. During the late fifties and early sixties the “Maj” was a very popular venue for dancing. A Cumbrian group – Rue & The Rockets were the resident band at the Majestic for a number of years and had a massive following in Newcastle.
The Majestic Ballroom is probably most famous for hosting the Beatles very first appearance in the city on 28th January 1963. Other acts that appeared at the Majestic Ballroom in the sixties include; The Moody Blues, The Kinks, The Spencer Davis Group, The Hollies, Van Morrison and the Small Faces.
The Majestic closed as a music venue in 1967 and became the Gala Bingo Hall. When the bingo hall closed in 2005, the Academy Music Group bought the building and converted it back to a music venue.
‘Change Is’ opened with a flourish on 9th February 1969 with a promise of first class entertainment from the best acts around. The club was situated on Bath Lane, Newcastle and was spread over three floors with a reception, a disco and a cabaret room, all with curved walls. The lavishly decorated premises had once been the Piccadilly Club, which was run by Dennis Stafford who was later jailed for the 1967 murder of Angus Sibbett in the notorious ‘One-Armed Bandit’ case.
The opening of the club was preceded by an intense advertising campaign in the local press involving some quite off-beat and quirky adverts: –
‘Change Is’ was financed by comedian, Bob Monkhouse who teamed up with Newcastle entrepreneur Ronnie Markham in an attempt to open a club that would offer something different to the many other clubs in the city at that time. The concept was that the club would not be the same from one week to the next. It was said that the floor levels could be permutated fifteen different ways and that the décor could be changed at will by projecting images onto the curved walls. The sound system was said to be second to none.
Things started to go wrong the following year when Bob Monkhouse found out that Ronnie Markham (who later rebranded himself as the hypnotist – Romark) had been helping himself to the club takings and cooking the books.
The club closed as ‘Change Is’ and reopened as Bloomers.
The Oxford Galleries
The Oxford Galleries opened as a ballroom in 1925 and was a popular haunt for dancers through to the late sixties. From then on it changed from a dance hall to a night club and over the years had various names – Tiffany’s, the Ritzy, Ikon, The Studio, Central Park, Diva, Liquid Envy the latest being Club LQ.
The Cavendish Club at the bottom of Grey Street opened as a nightclub in the early sixties and became part of the Bailey Group. Along with La Dolce Vita, the Cavendish featured some of the best acts on the cabaret circuit. When the Grey Street premises closed in the mid-seventies, the New Cavendish opened at the site previously occupied by ‘Change Is’ and ‘Bloomers’ on Bath Lane.
Here’s a few other pictures that should bring back the golden age of northeast clubbing: –