The Blue Note Club at 174a Roker Avenue, Sunderland was a popular venue in the mid sixties but it was fairly short lived. Although some of the top touring bands of the era appeared there in the twelve months or so that it was open, the club became more famous for contraception than for music.
The Blue Note was opened in September 1964 by a business man named Ray Grehan, who was involved in several other music ventures in the North East. The main room in the club was housed on the first floor of a large building, which was part of a terrace of houses and shops on the South side of Roker Avenue, not far from its junction with Church Street North. As well as local bands, such as the Junco Partners, well know national bands also appeared at the club regularly – the likes of the Mindbenders, Alex Harvey Soul Band and the Pretty Things.
I played at the Blue Note a couple of times with the Kylastrons, early in 1965. On one of these occasions I saw the Junco Partners for the first time. At that point in time they were the best band I had seen. They were all great musicians and the two singers, Ronnie Barker and John Anderson gave the band a charisma and energy that no other North East bands could touch.
At some stage during its lifetime, the Blue Note started attracting adverse publicity in the local press. It was frequently raided by the police for under aged drinking. It was one of the first establishments in the area to have a condom machine installed in the gents toilet. The bad press was not due to the existence of the machine but because the resident DJ, John Harker, encouraged club goers, over the house PA, to go to the toilet and get their “goodies”. The consequence of the police raids and the press involvement was that the Blue Note closed down, probably because it failed to get its license renewed.
Here’s what owner, Ray Grehan, said about the contraceptive dispenser business in an interview with the Sunday Sun: –
“I was trying to help out a mate who was selling contraceptive machines. I let him put the French letters in The Blue Note at Sunderland and within a week the council were threatening police action, accusing me of condoning the kids being at it”.
The machine had to go but Ray Grehan was left with the stock. One night he arrived at the club to find the DJ giving two away with every pint. Ray commented that at the time he was pilloried whereas in more recent times he’d probably get a medal.
After the Blue Note, John Harker went on to be a popular DJ in many of the North East’s clubs. He appeared in the eighties TV music show, ‘The Tube’ as resident DJ. Sadly, John died in 2008.
I’m not sure of the exact date when the Blue Note actually closed its doors but it reopened as an unlicensed venue in the spring of 1966 and its name was changed to Club Astec. Business was brisk in the summer of 1966, in particular during the period that some of the World Cup games were being played at Roker Park. I played regularly at the Astec with the Jazzboard and a lot of the crowd from the el Cubana came to see us at the club. Another popular Sunderland band that performed regularly at the Astec were Revolutionary Spirit. However the club lacked the atmosphere of its predecessor, the Blue Note and attendances fell off. The Club Astec did not last too long as an unlicensed venue.
Some adverts for the Club Astec: –