During the mid sixties, Newcastle’s Club A’Gogo was one of the top music venues in the North East. The ‘Gogo’ was to Newcastle what the Marquee club was to London. It is fondly remembered by musicians such as Eric Burdon, Brian Ferry and AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. The Gogo is probably best remembered for the few years between 1964 and 1967 when iconic British and American blues, rock and soul acts regularly appeared there; acts such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Spencer Davis, Wilson Picket and John Lee Hooker.
Unlike the Marquee and other well known London clubs, there is very little publicly available information about the original Club A’Gogo on the internet. There are, of course, many references to the Animals being the resident band at the club in the early sixties. The Animals also recorded a live album at the Gogo and even wrote a song about the place.
The Club A’Gogo has become an important part of Newcastle’s musical heritage, in particular over the past four years because of a renewed interest in the club’s history. Lots of ex-Club a’Gogo members and former visitors to the club in the mid sixties still regard it as a seminal part of their lives when they were in their teens and twenties. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the hundreds of comments made by some of those people over the past decade. If the Club a’Gogo was part of your life you may recognise some of the names.
The Club A’Gogo didn’t start its life as a venue for blues and rock bands. Although it opened up in the early sixties when Rock and Roll was becoming popular in the UK, the first music played there was a rollover from the previous decade – jazz.
Newcastle’s pre-Gogo jazz scene
Michael Frank Jeffery was a Londoner who, after a spell in the British army, came north to study at Kings College, Newcastle. Outside of Newcastle, he is probably best known as being the man who managed both the Animals and Jimi Hendrix in the sixties and early seventies.
Over the years Mike Jeffery’s reputation has become tarnished by allegations that he fleeced the artists he was managing and more recently by an unproven accusation that he murdered Jimi Hendrix. However, had it not been for Mike Jeffery, there would have been no Club A’Gogo and the careers of many well known musicians may not have turned out the way they did.
His 1957 venture, the University Jazz Club did well as a music venue. The club was only nominally linked to the university, with the profits going into Mike Jeffery’s pocket.
Unlike the New Orleans Club, it catered for dancers as well as those people who just wanted to listen to jazz. The audience it attracted was younger than that of the New Orleans with a mixture of students and non-students. Although there were several large dance halls in the town such as the Oxford Galleries and the Majestic (where the Beatles had their first live appearance in the city), there were only a handful of small, more intimate venues around at that time.
In 1959 Mike Jeffery opened the Marimba Coffee Bar on High Bridge, Newcastle (near its junction with Grey Street). By day it served Italian food and snacks but between 8 and 12 on a night time it became a private membership club with jazz being served up by some of the best musicians around such as the Emcee 4, Tommy Henderson’s Latin American Group and the Bernie Thorpe Trio. Unofficially, the jazz sessions at the Marimba continued long after midnight.
In March 1960 Jeffery opened a larger licensed jazz venue in Carliol Square called the Downbeat Club, which started to attract a more fashionable clientele that that of the New Orleans. Eric Burdon of the Animals was a member of a crowd that used to hang out at the Downbeat. In one interview Burdon described his bunch of friends as “like a motorcycle gang …… without the motorcycles ……. they were tough, hard-drinking and listened to American music”.
A few months after the Downbeat opened there were signs that Mike Jeffery intended to move away from jazz and cater more for an increasing number of rhythm and blues fans. In an interview with the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Jeffery suggested that he would be introducing a blues night at the Downbeat featuring an R&B band consisting of guitars, piano and tenor sax. Around the same time, he introduced Saturday afternoon record sessions for teenagers at the club. The Downbeat eventually succumbed to rock and blues music featuring local bands such as the Alan Price Combo (originally the Pagans), the Kylastrons and a Whitley Bay band called the Invaders, the first ‘non-Jazz’ band to play there.
In spite of dwindling audiences at the New Orleans and at the Downbeat on jazz nights, there were still plenty of traditional (trad) jazz bands and modern jazz combos doing the rounds in the north east. In the wider world jazz was still thriving. For instance, in 1961 there were three jazz performers in the top 20 all at the same time – (Dave Brubeck, Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk).
Birth of the Club A’Gogo
During the period that Mike Jeffery was running the Marimba Coffee House and the Downbeat club he formed a partnership with another Newcastle businessman named Ray Grehan, who at the time was the sales manager for a ticket machine company called Automaticket. Jeffery and Graham set up several limited companies for the purpose of running their three establishments – The Downbeat, Marimba and the El Toro (a club they had opened in 1961 above the Marimba).
In the latter half of 1961 Mike Jeffery and Ray Grehan had plans to open a larger, more prestigious club in Newcastle and had gone ahead with the purchase of a site above the Handyside Arcade on Percy Street.
However, progress with the new club was slow because, in addition to the purchase price, the pair needed a large amount money to convert the premises and fit it out the way they wanted. The club was to be the best in the city. As well as “live” Jazz and Latin American music there was to be a games room with roulette, meals and a late drinks license.
On 13th November 1961 the Marimba Coffee House and the El Toro club were destroyed by fire. The subsequent insurance payout from the blaze provided the funds that Jeffery and Grehan needed to complete their new club. The Club A’Gogo opened on 6th July 1962. According to Ray Grehan, the premises were purchased for the sum of £30,000 (the value of which is around £600,000 in 2017) and it took eighteen months before the club started turning a profit.
The Club A’Gogo was situated on the second (top) floor of the Handyside Arcade building on Percy Street in Newcastle’s Haymarket area. In the early part of the 20th century the floor occupied by the Club A’Gogo had been a dental hospital. Later on it was the home of Newcastle’s Labour Club. At the time the Club A’Gogo was running in the 1960s, the floor below was a canteen for Newcastle’s bus crews. The building has long since been demolished and in its place stands the Eldon Garden Shopping Centre.
When the Club A’Gogo first opened in July 1962, local musician Mike Carr regularly appeared in the Jazz Lounge as part of the Mike Carr Trio or as a member of the EmCe Five. Latin American music on disc was played for dancers in the Latin American Lounge. After a few weeks Mike Jeffery started booking London based Jazz acts on a weekend. The first was the jazz trumpeter Alan Elsdon and his band on 3rd August 1962. For the rest of the year nationally known jazz acts were a regular feature at the club. These included: Tubby Hayes Quintet, Eric Delaney Band, Lenny Gatoff Quartet, Betty Smith Quintet, Ken Colyer, Ronnie Ross Quartet and the Harold McNair Quintet. In September 1962 the Tommy Henderson Quartet were first booked as a Latin American dance band. Later in the year they became the resident Latin American band for dancers in the Latin American Lounge.
Dougie Vickers, who was the Invaders’ drummer, remembers the band auditioning for Mike Jeffery. The Invaders were offered the gig at the Club A’Gogo but only on the condition that they added a sax player to their line up. They promptly found a saxophonist and began playing in the Latin American Lounge (later the Young Set) on Wednesday, Friday, Saturdays and Sunday nights. The Saturday night sessions would start at 12.00 midnight and end at 4.00am. Dougie recalls that on some occasions the queue to get into the club stretched around the corner to St James Park.
Throughout 1963 more local groups started appearing at the club; groups such as the Valiants, the Playboys, 16 Strings, the Von Dykes and the Delemeres. By the summer of 1963 there were definite signs that jazz was being phased out. Another local outfit that started playing on a fairly regular basis was the Alan Price Combo.
The first year in the life of the Club A’Gogo wasn’t without problems. The local Newcastle police force was taking a keen interest in Mike Jeffery and the goings-on at the club, in particular in connection with the gambling and the late night drinking. In an undercover operation in late 1962 the police obtained evidence of irregularities in connection with the way roulette was being operated – (the version of roulette at the Gogo was called Legalite). Mike Jeffery and Ray Grehan were prosecuted and were fined for offences under the Gaming Acts. In addition, undercover police posing as late-night Gogo customers tried to order food after normal drinking hours. None was available resulting in a breach of licensing laws. Mike Jeffery was taken to Court over the matter and lost his late night drinks license.
Due to the popularity of the Club A’Gogo in Newcastle, Mike Jeffery also opened a second Club A’Gogo at North Parade Whitley Bay on Friday 16th August 1963. Well known national groups were booked to appear at the Whitley Bay club as well as local favourites such as the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo, the Invaders and the Kylastrons
The first nationally known ‘pop’ band to appear at the club was the Swinging Blue Jeans on 24th October 1963. The Rolling Stones appeared a few weeks later on 8th November 1963.
Jazz at the Gogo formally came to an end on Tuesday 26th November 1963 with a ‘Modern Jazz Farewell Party’ featuring Mike Carr who was about to leave the northeast.
By the beginning of 1964 Mike Jeffery and Ray Grehan had parted company. In a newspaper interview some years later Ray Grehan claimed the split had occurred when he caught Jeffery skimming money from the profits of the roulette operation. Losing Ray Grehan was not a good thing for Mike Jeffery. While he had a flair for the show business aspect of the club, he relied a lot on Grehan’s business acumen to keep the Club A’Gogo profitable.
The following article about the Club A’Gogo and some of the north east bands that appeared at the club is from a the Courier (a Newcastle University publication) dated 8th October 1964: –
The Animal’s move to London meant that the Gogo was without a resident band. The void was filled by regular appearances from local bands the Invaders and Von Dykes plus a band from Carlisle called the VIPs (who some years later would become Spooky Tooth). Contrary to some stories, the Junco Partners did not immediately step into The Animals shoes as the resident band at the Club A’Gogo. It was midway through 1964 that the Juncos first started playing regularly at the club. Their first advertised gig was on 17th July 1964 along with another local band – the Vermen. Eventually the Juncos started appearing at the club more and more and they earned themselves the title of the Gogo’s resident band. They maintained this status throughout the golden period when the Gogo was Newcastle’s top venue.
Here’s another link to a great web page by rock historian Bruno Ceriotti about The Animals, including their days at the Club A’Gogo
1964 became the year that the Club A’Gogo started booking national and international acts on a regular basis. This was the start of the few years that were considered to be the Club A’Gogo’s hey day. The times that a lot of people will remember because of the atmosphere, the great bands, the music and dancing. As well as top bands performing on Thursdays through to Saturdays, for a while there was also a disc night named “Top Six” each Wednesdays for teenagers. In addition to the top touring and chart bands lesser known bands from London, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds and other parts of the country were also booked to appear. In July 1965 after Alan Price’s departure from the Animal he returned to the Gogo with his new combo and became a regular feature at the club for a few months. During the period from 1964, through to 1966 the Club A’Gogo became the place to be seen.
Mike Jeffery’s girlfriend during the early sixties was Jenny Clarke (now Stewart). In a 1992 interview with the Northern Echo, Jenny gave her views on the Club A’Gogo and the Newcastle music scene at that time. Here’s some extracts: –
“It was the summer of 1962 when the Club A’Gogo first opened. I had been working at the Marimba coffee bar on Shakespeare Street and then at the Downbeat by the Quayside when I met Mike Jeffreys [sic]. He had just dropped out of university to run the A’Gogo in Percy Street. It was above a café and an electrical shop in the old Handyside Arcade. We started going out together and I began helping out at the club. I was 23 and called Miss Jenny Clarke then. My job was to book the bands and make sure they were on stage at the right time – which was quite difficult especially if they were drunk or had met a girl! We all lived in a big house on West Avenue in Gosforth. It was like a big family; every night we would go out to the club together.
“The Animals were one of the first bands to have a residency there and played regularly before making it big with House of the Rising Sun and moving to London. It was really the first beat club in the North East and soon became the place to go. There were two rooms upstairs, one for the over-18s and one for the young set who weren’t allowed alcohol. The walls were black with fluorescent skylines painted on. Each band would play two sets, one in each room. I lived and breathed the club. My life was totally bound up in it. It was my work and my entertainment. I danced as I worked.
“All the big names played there; The Rolling Stones, The Who, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Eric Clapton. A lot of stars would do a concert at the City Hall first then come to the club afterwards for a jam session. Sometimes it closed at 2.00am, other times it just went on. There was always plenty of money, but the club was run very badly and in 1965 the receivers were called in. If it had been run as a business someone could have made a lot of money out of it. But it wasn’t about money; that just didn’t come into it. All the takings would be spent the next day. We’d buy a new sheepskin coat or a new dress and Mike liked his Morgans and Aston Martins. It was a very exciting time. I don’t think anything can compare with what the young people had then. It was all new. I think the advantage came from watching other people enjoy themselves. You were giving them the opportunity to see all these famous bands and that was fun.”
Mike Jeffery and Jenny Clarke drifted apart when Jeffery moved to London with The Animals. Jeffery was running several night clubs in Mallorca. He also had a share in another club in Paris called Le Club Fiche Maddie on the Rue des Dames, off Avenue de Clichy. Consequently his interest in the Club A’Gogo was diminishing. In 1966 the Club A’Gogo was sold back to Ray Grehan. During the time that he was the sole owner of the Gogo, Grehan was heavily involved in setting up casinos and gambling establishments all over the country so it is likely that he left the day-to-day running of the club, including the booking of bands to someone else.
Mike Jeffery went on to manage Jimi Hendrix and many other bands including Soft Machine, Goldie and the Gingerbreads and Eire Apparent. He met an untimely death in 1973 when an Iberian Airways DC-9 plane bringing him back from a trip to Majorca collided with another plane over Nantes in western France. The accident occurred two and a half years after Jimi Hendrix’s death in London. Mike was on his way back from Palma to attend a Court hearing when he perished along with other passengers and Spanish crew members in the crash. Read more about Mike Jeffery’s death here.
In 1967 the American Soul singer Garnet Mimms toured the UK backed by Scottish Soul Band ‘The Senate’. During his tour ‘live’ recordings were made at the Club A’Gogo and Sussex University. The recordings resulted in a live album which was released later that year. The session at the Club A’Gogo appeared on side two of the album.
For anyone who went to see Garnet Mimms at the Club A’Gogo on 18th May 1967, here’s a reminder of how good he and The Senate sounded that night playing ‘Roll With The Punches’: –
The Club A’Gogo eventually began to lose its popularity and went into a state of decline. According to one contributor to the Chronicle Live site, the Gogo lost its popularity after the opening of Sloopy’s (formerly La Dolce Vita) and this forced its closure in 1968.
For some the spirit of the Club A’Gogo died before 1968. In a television interview, Ronnie Barker, vocalist with the Junco Partners, expressed what he believed was the reason for the decline of the Gogo: –
“Well the Club A’Gogo only really had a period of about four years that was its heyday. Sixty three, four, five, six and the management changed hands round about sixty seven. And after that the artistic control or whatever you want to call it just went out of the window. They started booking sub-standard acts.”
Contrary to what Ronnie thinks, the Gogo gig listing shows that quality acts such as Cream, Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, Chris Farlowe and Long John Baldry appeared at the club in 1967 and 1968.
Unfortunately, booking top names didn’t draw in enough people to keep the club open. By 1968 the Gogo was losing its status as the top club in Newcastle and was finding it hard to compete with other venues in the town. At this stage the club was being managed by Derek Brown who also ran another music venue in the Newcastle area – the Blaydon Races. Whereas the Club a’Gogo was renowned for the top national and international acts that appeared at the club, the bands appearing at the Blaydon Races were mostly local.
A month later in July 1968 the premises which had formerly housed Newcastle’s most famous club had been transformed into a prize bingo venue.
Click here for an almost complete Club A’Gogo gig listing for the period 1962 to 1964
Click here for an almost complete Club A’Gogo gig listing for the period 1965 to 1968
Musician’s recollection of the Gogo
In an interview for Northstars, John Steele of the animals describes his early days at the Gogo: –
“Well, it was very exciting and at the a’Gogo you had two rooms; you had a young set room and what was called the jazz lounge. Originally that was the sophisticated jazz lounge but that developed into us (the Animals) becoming the resident band, and after a while, the policy changed to more commercial music and it was just heaving, jumping and in the young set room you would have bands like the Rolling Stones, who would come in and check us out in the other room.
We would be in the jazz lounge backing John Lee Hooker or Sonny Boy Williamson; I’ve backed people like Tubby Hayes and Tony Coe and as well as playing with Eric (Burdon) before we were called the Animals. I also played with Mike Carr at times, playing straight jazz, so there was this beautiful mix of music – modern jazz, R & B and authentic blues men coming over from America, with the new British music going on in the room next door. It was jumping, a fantastic atmosphere. Yeah it was great.”
In a 2010 interview, Eric Burdon was asked about his memories of the Club a’Gogo. This was what he said: –
“As soon as I finished my art studies, I was offered the job of designing the interior of a club project. It became the Club a Go-Go. It was my first and only job as a designer in the commercial world. The Club a Go-Go was a shining star of the northern British club world, which meant it also had to be a den of iniquity. It’s where the North East mob was born – they ran several clubs in the area. It was a mixture of teen heaven, with the devil running loose wielding a hatchet. It was the only place outside of one club in London that actually had a full-on gaming licence. It was very clear that the mob from London would take interest, as gaming back then was strictly controlled in England and only one club in London’s West End had been allowed the game of roulette. I have many great memories from Club A Go-Go. I remember when the late John Lee Hooker played there, he said to me: ‘Man, I’ve seen some wild stuff in my years but nothing like this. This is Newcastle Mississippi.’
Continuing with the same theme, here’s John Lee Hooker’s take on the Club A’Gogo, from extracts of his biography ‘Boogie Man’ by Charles Shaar Murray. John Lee Hooker recalls his first visit to the Gogo in 1964: –
” ‘You ever hear’a Newcastle?’ demands John Lee Hooker of a British acquaintance. The acquaintance fruitlessly racks his brain, mentally scrolling through a headful of half-forgot ten fragments of Delta lore. ‘Newcastle, Mississippi?’ he enquires eventually. Apparently not. ‘You ever been to Newcastle?’ Hooker asks again, somewhat impatiently this time. ‘Newcastle in Britain. Newcastle . . . boy, that was rough. There was a bar I played every night. It was rough.’
‘Was that the Club-A-Go-Go?’ the acquaintance asks, recalling a notorious dive founded in that fair city during the early ’60s – with decor designed by Eric Burdon, vocalist for the club’s original house band, the Animals – by Mike Jeffery, subsequently manager of the Animals and Jimi Hendrix. Hooker nods. ‘Fighting outside, ooohhhh! And inside. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘that’s it. I ain’t gonna play here no more.’ They were fighting like dogs! Little kids carryin’ knives an’ all the rest of it. . . shit. Oh boy, it was rough. Everybody say, ‘Hey man, this ain’t nothin’, they fight here all the time.’ I say, ‘Yes, ’n I be in the middle of it!’
To most Brits, weaned on lurid horror stories of American inner-city violence, there is something almost ludicrous in the notion that someone who had survived in the Detroit ghetto, more or less unscathed, for a quarter-century or so, could possibly be taken aback by a bunch of beered-up teenage Geordies. Nevertheless, what’s familiar is often reassuring, even if it may seem scary to outsiders. And what’s unfamiliar is often what catches you unawares.”
Then about his second UK tour: –
“Meanwhile John Lee Hooker was poised for his second British tour of 1964. If Roy Fisher (the manager of the British band – The Groundhogs who backed Hooker on his first UK tour) is correct, Hooker’s long-held nervousness concerning Newcastle in general and Mike Jeffery’s Club-A-Go-Go in particular may have its roots in one specific occurence during this jaunt.
‘It was without a doubt the best place that John played,’ says Fisher. ‘Yes, it did have its rougher element and I think he was kind of nervous about that, but it was really, really good. He was nervous in crowds, and because of the hit record, most places were jam-packed. In Newcastle it was big, and there were about eight hundred people packed into this place, which at that time in a club was a lot of people. The dressing room wasn’t at the side of the stage, it was at the back in the managerial offices, so to get him on stage we had to push him through the crowd, so I guess that’s probably what he means. In retrospect, I don’t think it was as dramatic as he thought of it at the time. Me, who’s not too tall, and John, who’s very very small – five foot seven – it was a problem to get him on stage, because we didn’t have any assistance, which at the time pissed me off as well. I had to manoeuvre him through this crowd. It was the first time in the whole tour that he hadn’t been on time to go on stage; most times, unlike many of the other blues singers I can recall, he was always very punctual. The band went on, they played their set, then they would play his intro music and he’d be standing at the side of the stage and then he’d come on. The Geordie reaction was incredible.’”
Another band that appeared at the Gogo in 1967 was Captain Beefheart. In his book about his days with Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, drummer John ‘drumbo’ French recalls the visit to the club: –
“We became lost trying to find this club, as we had driven up from London. It was late afternoon when we finally asked directions. I recall rolling down the window and asking some fellow on the street if he’d heard of the place. He didn’t understand me. I said it again and his face lit up: “Oooh, the cloob a goo goo.” He went on and on about how to get there. The brogue to my untrained ear sounded Scottish. I didn’t understand a word he said but the driver got it all. I thanked him and we drove off to the club. It was a medium sized club with a lot of thick dark tables with initial carved in them, and the smell of ale permeating the whole building.
“John French: Do you remember playing in the Club A’Gogo in Newcastle?
Jerry Handley (Beefheart’s bass player): I remember Newcastle, that’s where the Animals were from originally.
John French: They sounded Scottish, they had very strong accents. There were knife marks all over the booths. It was a rough looking place. They carved their initials in all the booths.
“The performance that night was quite good. By this time we were into our stride. I think the main problem with the band was that Don (Captain Beefheart) didn’t like to tour or perform. However it was the best thing for us.”
In an interview on the ITV series ‘Northstars’ (broadcast in 2002), Bryan Ferry recalled seeing the Junco Partners at the Gogo and playing there with his own band – the Gas Board. He remembered carrying the band’s gear from the Young Set across the landing to the Jazz Lounge. Ferry described the atmosphere at the Gogo as heavily charged and said it was the best club he had been to. He also remembered that the walls of the Jazz Lounge had a day-glo mural of a New York skyline. In fact, he helped the artist, a David Sweetman with the painting. In Michael Bracewell’s book – ‘Roxy – the band that invented an era’, Ferry is quoted as saying:-
“The Club A’Gogo was great. That was near the bus station. You’d go up these stairs, past all these bus drivers and bus conductors who had a tea room or office there, and the club was at the top. It was in two sections; there was what they called “Young Set” and then there was the “Old Set” or “Jazz Set”. So you had to set up in one part of it for the first set, and then you had to move all your equipment through to the other side – there were two rooms, in other words, and the second was more sophisticated. The first was bigger, maybe.
Later I saw all sorts of people there: Cream, the Spencer Davis Group, Wilson Pickett, Captain Beefheart – I was DJ at the club the night Beefheart played there.
There was this marvellous Jewish man called Myer Thomas, who was the boss of the A’Gogo. He was like a Sidney Greenstreet figure – this big, big man in a double-breasted suit. He was a great character – really scary. And some quite hard men used to go there – like gangsters; dressed in mohair suits, with beautiful girls – the best looking girls in Newcastle; quite tarty. It was really exciting – it felt really “It” to go there. beautiful girls …”
Also in the ‘Northstars’ interviews, Brian Johnson of AC/DC remembered seeing the Yardbirds at the Gogo but was kicked out as soon as Keith Relf appeared on stage because he was too young to be in the Jazz Lounge; Sting recalled seeing Jimi Hendrix and Rod Clements of Lindisfarne remembered being close to the stage when the likes of John Mayall and Alex Harvey appeared. He recalled meeting the same bunch of people around the stage area waiting for the bands to appear and remembered portraits of Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and John Lee Hooker on the walls.
Newcastle musician Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting recalls his teenage adventure at the Gogo: –
“The Club A Go-Go is above some shops in Percy Street, behind the Haymarket. It was originally a jazz club catering to the sophisticated tastes that developed in and around the university. The Go-Go is where the Animals had their residency before they hit the big time, and living proof that the Beatles miracle could be repeated, even in Newcastle. When I am fifteen years old, the first live band I ever see is there: the Graham Bond Organisation. It is a fortunate introduction. Graham Bond is a big -round–faced man with long greasy hair and a mandarin mustache. He plays Hammond organ and alto sax and sings in a gruff and passionate baritone. His band contains figures who will soon become legends: Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, who will become more famous as members of Cream, on bass and drums respectively, and Dick -Heckstall–Smith on tenor. The music is harsh and uncompromising and I’m not sure if I like it, but I have a strong sense that what is being played has a weight and a seriousness that will later be characterized and then caricatured as “heavy.” Graham Bond would later become obsessed with the occult and end his own life under a train in London’s Underground.
I go to see John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, again at the Go-Go, although I don’t remember which of their subsequently legendary guitarists was on duty that night. It certainly wasn’t Clapton, though it may have been Peter Green. But it wasn’t until December of that year that I really had my mind blown.
I would watch Top of the Pops with a religious devotion at 7:30 every Thursday evening. I loved this show with a passion. Almost forty years later I can still see a picture of the DJ, Jimmy Saville, standing in front of a large chart of the top twenty, circa 1966, and am able to sing a line from every entry. Such familiarity with the music of the time could not, however, have prepared me for the whirlwind, the tidal wave, the earthquake, the force of nature that was Jimi Hendrix.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience appeared on Top of the Pops in December of 1966 and changed everything. Hendrix had transformed “Hey Joe,” an old folk song, and propelled it by the elegant ferocity of his guitar playing into a sassy, bluesy vehicle of awesome power. His vocal was as sulky and offhand as it was passionate and openly sexual, and as the three-piece band stormed through the three minute song, I imagined everyone in whole country in front of their tellys sitting bolt upright in their chairs.
Wow! What the fuck was that?
It seemed only days later that he would be booked to appear at the Go-Go. The excitement in the town is palpable. I am technically too young to gain admission to a nightclub, but because of my height I can easily pass for eighteen. I have brought a change of clothes in my schoolbag, a pair of Levi’s and a white Ben Sherman shirt with a -button–down collar. These are the “coolest” clothes I have, and look fine under my school overcoat. I change out of my uniform in the toilets at the Central Station, trying not to breathe. The lavatory is foul with the pungent stench of urine and sadness. I dress with mesmeric slowness, not wanting to drop any of my clothes on the filthy floor, beneath a faded Ministry of Health poster warning of the dangers of VD. Some hope! I still haven’t come close to having sex. There are no girls at school, and most of my evenings are taken up traveling home on trains and buses. When I do get home, I usually have a punitive amount of work to do, and when on those rare opportunities I do meet girls I am painfully shy and haven’t a clue what to say. But the other reason is music; I already have my passion. I stow my bag in the lockers at the station and set off at a brisk pace for Percy Street, breathing in the crisp air of the evening in grateful gulps and anticipating something extraordinary.
There is a long queue stretching around the corner. I tuck myself into the end of the line and wait. I imagine I’m one of the youngest people there, although my height allows me some anonymity in the crowd. They are mainly boys, dressed much the same as me, although a few dandified “exotics” have managed to purchase Afghan coats and are sporting droopy Zapata moustaches and spiffy desert boots. The girls all have the same style, hair parted severely in the middle and falling in lank sheets to the shoulders of black leather coats. There is an atmosphere of seriousness, though, that pervades the crowd, as if we are about to witness an event of high cultural significance. Hendrix will play two sets. I manage to scrape in for the first one, which is fortunate, as I would have had to find some convincing excuse to stay out so late for the second. My parents have no idea where I am, and I have no wish to tell them. One of the dividends of my alienation is that I don’t have much explaining to do and am pretty much left to my own devices.
The club is tiny and I secure a pitch for myself halfway between the stage and the back wall. I will have no trouble seeing. The band of course are late. The crowd waits patiently.
They say that ‘if you remember the sixties, then you weren’t there’.
Well, much the same could be said of this gig. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was an overwhelming, deafening wave of sound that simply obliterated analysis. I think I remember snatches of “Hey Joe” and “Foxy Lady,” but that event remains a blur of noise and breathtaking virtuosity, of Afro’d hair, wild clothes, and towers of Marshall amplifiers. It was also the first time I’d ever seen a black man. I remember Hendrix creating a hole in the plaster ceiling above the stage with the head of his guitar, and then it was over.”
Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band was a popular recording and club band in the mid sixties. Band leader Zoot Money recently recalled playing at the Club A’Gogo in the sixties: “I was based in London, but the clubs of Newcastle were quite famous and I got a booking in 1964 at the Go Go for my Big Roll Band. It was the home of The Animals and over the years we got to know them very well. I wanted to create an impression so asked for a bottle of Newcastle Brown with port chasers. On stage as part of my act I would climb on top of the Hammond Organ going crazy. Unfortunately, I’d had one too many bottles of Brown and was a bit unsteady. The ceiling above the stage was made of wooden slats to give it that Hawaiian feel. I grabbed on to the slats to steady myself, but instead pulled the whole lot down. They certainly remembered me that night. I’m pleased to say the management were not put off and I played the club on many occasions, often swapping with The Animals as we used to alternate between two venues in Newcastle.”
Alan Price and Eric Burdon wrote a song about the Club a’Gogo for the Animals.
The lyrics are as follows: –
“My baby found a new place to go
Hangs around town at the Club-a-gogo
Takes all my money for the picture show
But I know she spends it at the club-a-gogo
Let’s go babe, let’s go, I love you, come on, yeah!
It’s one of the coolest spots in town
You take too much tho’ it’s bound to get you down
She’s got a boy-friend they call Big Joe
He’s a big shot at the club-a-gogo
Babe, come on, let’s go, let’s go babe, yeah!
Now they play the blues there every day and every night
Everybody monkeys and they feel alright
Ask my friend, Myer he’ll tell you so
That there ain’t no place like the club-a-gogo
Let’s go babe, ah let’s go, come on it’s alright, s’alright, s’alright
I guess I can’t blame her for goin’ up there tho’
The place is full of soul, heart and soul, baby
It’s alright dad, John Lee Hooker, Jerome Green,
Rolling Stones, Memphis Slim up there, Jimmy Reed too baby,
Sonny Boy Williamson baby”
The “Myer’ mentioned in the third verse is, of course, Myer Thomas. As for the “Big Joe” in verse two; this is what Eric Burdon had to say about the song in an interview for the New Musical Express in February 1965: –
” ‘There is no Big Joe’ said Eric. There was a slight lull in the conversation as he reflected slowly. ‘Y’know, there is a guy called ‘Dave’ – he’s the fastest thing on two legs I’ve ever seen when it comes to a scrap.’ He (Eric) climbed into his sheepskin and made for the door. ‘He’d make a very interesting match for Cassius. I’d put money on Dave, he’s the greatest!’ “.
Anyone who went to the Gogo at that time would know Eric Burdon was referring to bouncer, Dave Findlay.
During his short career, Jimi Hendrix only played a handful of gigs in the north east. One of them was at the Club a’GoGo on 10 March 1967, a week before the release of ‘Purple Haze’. His first hit -‘Hey Joe’ had first appeared in the charts 3 months earlier. By the time of the GoGo gig, Hendrix had built up a solid reputation in the music press and was receiving accolades from famous musicians, such as Mick Jagger.
Hendrix played two sets at the Club A’Gogo; the first in the Young Set and then a late set in the Jazz Lounge. Five weeks earlier he had played at the Cellar Club in South Shields and had surprised the audience by ramming his guitar into the ceiling above the stage. Hendrix repeated the stunt at the Gogo and left his guitar suspended in the hole he made in the ceiling.
Club goers’ recollections
My own personal experiences of the Club A’Gogo were limited to a handful of gigs I did there and late night visits to the Jazz Lounge; I played there, both in the Young Set and the Jazz Lounge with two bands; the Jazzboard and the Village. The first time I played there was with the Jazzboard two days before Christmas in 1965. The place was absolutely crammed and there was an electric atmosphere, in particular in the Jazz Lounge. I’d not been to the club before and this initial visit gave me a real taste for the place. Unfortunately, due to band commitments and the fact I lived in Sunderland, I was never a regular weekly visitor to the club but when I was with the Jazzboard in 1966 we often went to the Jazz Lounge after our own gigs in the Newcastle area had finished. Some of the bands I saw at these late night sessions were Graham Bond, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (with Eric Clapton), Geno Washington and not forgetting Newcastle’s favourite band, The Junco Partners.
Around this time, there used to be a black guy who sat in with a lot of the visiting bands on conga drums. I think he must have kept his drums at the club and brought them out if he got the nod from the band. The stage in the Jazz Lounge wasn’t very high and you could get quite close to the musicians.
People who frequented the Gogo in the sixties will also remember some of the characters who worked at the club. Tommy Crumb, a bald guy who usually wore a leather coat, looked after the door on ground level with several others. The club in general was run by Myer Thomas who is mentioned by name in the Animals song ‘Club a’GoGo’.
Amongst other things, Myer Thomas (mentioned by Bryan Ferry above) used to manage the stage logistics and the smooth running of the bands’ performances. I can remember him once telling off our keyboard player, Jimmy Hall, for smoking on stage. Other names that people remember as working at the club were Big Phil, Keith Crombie and Keith Young.
A couple of the better known bouncers were the Findlay brothers – Dave and Tommy. I recall waiting to go into the club late one night when a guy came running out of the door hotly pursued by Dave Findlay. The guy ran along Percy Street and Dave tried to head him off by jumping onto the bonnets and roofs of a row of parked cars.
Ex-club goers that have contributed to the Chronicle Live site remember the mod clothes – herringbone jackets and hush puppies and other gear brought from City Stylish. Another shop that sold clothing to the Newcastle mods was Marcus Price who had a shop a few doors along from the Club A’Gogo. Here is an extract from Michael Bracewell’s book – ‘Roxy – the band that invented an era’. Marcus Price says:-
“Mike Jeffery , who actually owned the A’Gogo had done social studies at university. He then had an older man who fronted it, who was from a retail background – Myer Thomas; he had a deadpan manner, and used to pop into the shop for ties. Initially Mike had a coffee house, and then he translated that into a club – the A’Gogo. He was up-to-the-minute you see.
The A’Gogo became a bit like the Cavern in Liverpool. Women’s styles at the club varied – some of it was flash Newcastle, but a lot of the time it was just sweaters and jeans. Slightly better dressed in the older “Lounge” section. The hair was that Kathy McGowan kind of thing. Black pullovers. Ben Sherman shirt dresses. Little Levi jackets ….
They put on a lot of American stuff – John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson – mainly blues. Then we had the local stuff – the Animals, of course. Also Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart when he was just starting off, Julie Driscoll, Eric Clapton. The Junco Partners were the resident group..”
From the same book, artist Stephen Buckley who was at university with Bryan Ferry recalls: –
“The premises of the A’Gogo must have been a warehouse of some sort, originally. There were two very large dance areas, coming up from a central staircase, and there was a vicarious danger about it, as well. I suppose I went there three or four times a week; and it had a late night license. But curiously enough it was the dancing that was the thing, rather than the drinking. One wasn’t getting drunk, one was dancing. I saw the Stones and the Who.”
Fellow artist Tim head, who was also part of Ferry’s crowd says: –
“We used to go to this wonderful club, the A’Gogo, which was very near the university in the Haymarket. That’s where all the R&B bands would play – I saw Hendrix play there; in fact he came back to a student party with us. Bryan did some DJ’ing there later.
They specialised in R&B – Geno Washington, the Who. The Club A’Gogo had these steep steps going up to it, and I remember a guy being pulled out by the bouncers – as I was going back into the club this poor guy was being hurled down the stairs and thrown into the street.”
Avril Leitch recalls clubbing at both the Downbeat and the Gogo: –
Our Saturday nights started at The Muscle-In under the railway arches, then the Club a’Gogo until midnight then we’d follow the Animals to the Downbeat before walking home at around 5am. across the Town Moor.
The Downbeat became a bit of a druggy place with ‘bodies’ lying around the floor. But the Animals were brilliant – each number would last about ten minutes. The walls were painted red or black and the light bulbs were black.
The Club a’Gogo was certainly the place to be and I remember preferring listening to the Animals in one room than to the Rolling Stones in the other. There was a bit of a gambling room in one corner, I remember. The Stones were new boys then – I danced with Mick Jagger!
Our hands were painted with invisible ink so we could come and go without having to pay again.”
Anne Wilson (previously Cotton) recalls some of her experiences at the Gogo: –
“My twin sister and I went to the Gogo from 1962 then for a short period, to the Downbeat. Once we started going to the Gogo again we just couldn’t stop. We were known for our dancing. If you went to the Gogo you’d remember us. Sometimes a record was put on as request for ‘the Cotton twins’ because no one was dancing and we never minded being the only ones on the floor. It would encourage others to get up and the evening would start.
The Gogo was our lives. We went there at least three times a week . Over the years we made many new friends so having no one to go to the club with was never a problem. You’d walk in and were bound to meet up with someone you knew.
I’ve read articles about people who supposedly went to the club but no one mentions ‘Frenchy’. I find that strange. He certainly was a big part of the Gogo scene as well as the Finlays. The last time I saw Frenchy was 1966 in the Quay Club. I’d heard he was going to prison. He certainly didn’t look happy.
Of course you can never talk about the Gogo and not mention the Junco Partners. They were so good. We had great evenings dancing to their music. First in the ‘Young-set’ and later in the Jazz Lounge.
There were many very special evenings when groups got together and played together. I remember Long John Baldry and the Spence Davis Group (before they were famous). We were really annoyed that we had to queue outside ‘our’ club to see a group we’d been listening to for quite a while. Of course fame also meant they stopped coming.
The night the Stones came to the Gogo Mike Jeffery told everyone to leave them alone as they’d come to enjoy themselves. Later that night we were asked if we wanted to go to a party and were taken in a jeep to what was then The Quay Club – but it wasn’t open at that stage. We sat at the same table as all the Stones, everyone talking away and left at 4.30. It was something to talk about at Art College the next day. Whether anybody believed me or not is another thing!”
Alan Brack, a regular at the Club A’Gogo, remembers the club more for the DJs and the records they played than the bands that appeared there. Here’s what Alan has to say about the Gogo:
“It was by far the greatest club in the UK, even the planet for that matter and that’s an understatement! The Marquee (London), Pink Flamingo (London) … Twisted Wheel (Manchester), Mojo (Sheffield) etc. etc. – eat ya heart out! We all know about the list of every great band or artist that played there but sadly we tend not to mention the awesome, overwhelming, mesmerising dance and soul music that shook and vibrated the club dance floor to its foundations! Many a time the club members would be disappointed when the DJ switched off the music and announced the next act no matter who it was and that’s a fact. They were still in groove for the next belter. How on earth could an act follow the scintillating, fabulous, obscure rare foot stomping shattering soul / ska / Stax/ rhythm & blues music? – No contest!
Here’s a few unquestionable examples that shook that floor to its foundations Don Covay (Sookie Sookie); Rufus Thomas (Willy Nilly); Homer Banks (Sixty Minutes Of Your Love) – by far the best soul song ever; Willie Mitchell (Ever Things Gonna Be All Right); Shorty Long (Function At The Junction and his fantastic Shantilly Lace); Soul Brothers 6 (Some Kind Of Wonderful); William Bell (Never Like This Before ); Sam & Dave (You Got Me Hummin’).
The most anticipated and probably the best gig there was Hendrix. Only his Woodstock appearance eclipsed that unforgettable night at the Gogo. Some other great gigs were when the great Robert Parker played there in September 1966. Also that month Cream played their first Newcastle gig at the GoGo – I can remember the poster. I can also remember when Johhny Kidd from the Pirates died and the DJ played tribute.
I still stand by my word that this club was a venue that was noted mainly for the music played by the DJs – amazing obscure floor shattering mesmerising dance belters. That’s what made this legendary club.”
Another ex-Gogo regular remembers manager, Myer Thomas at the time that the Animal’s ‘House of the Rising Sun’ had been released. Every night he would announce its progress up the charts. Myer eventually moved out to Majorca where Mike Jeffery together with Keith Gibbon opened a night club named Sergeant Peppers in the Plaza Gomilla, Palma.
ChronicleLive, often features people’s memories of the life and times of the Gogo and is well worth checking out.
The number of comments received about the Club A’Gogo is testimony to the popularity of the club in the 1960s. Contributors to the the ‘Comments’ section below are mostly ex-Club A’Gogo members and club-goers. I am very grateful for their input and for helping to keep the memory of Newcastle’s greatest club alive.
If you have any memories of the club, please feel free to scroll to the bottom of the page and leave a comment.
If you would like to include a photo or photos with a comment, please send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and attach your photo(s).