What was it that drew an American jazz pianist over from New York to a city street in Newcastle upon Tyne for the unveiling of a plaque honouring a long lost local music venue?
On the morning of 8th September 2022 a crowd of well over fifty people assembled on the pavement outside the entrance to the Eldon Garden shopping mall on Percy Street, Newcastle upon Tyne. Eldon Garden with its unremarkable facade was built in the late eighties to replace an elegant Edwardian building named Handyside Buildings that housed the Handyside Arcade, a well known Newcastle shopping gallery. But the crowd wasn’t there for the shops – it was there to celebrate the memory of an iconic sixties music venue called the Club a’Gogo, which at one time was a part of the Handyside Buildings. A lengthy campaign led by a Gateshead couple, Paul and Jools Donnelly to have the venue officially recognised had resulted in the mounting of a commemorative plaque on the wall outside the entrance to the modern shopping centre. The position of the plaque marked what was once the entrance to the Club a’Gogo.
As well as the Club a’Gogo, the plaque also paid tribute to the Handyside Arcade plus the two people who had founded the club – Ray Grehan and Mike Jeffery. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mike Jeffery ran a number of clubs in Newcastle including the Club a’Gogo. Although it was opened as a Jazz club in 1962, over the following years the Gogo gained its iconic reputation as a music venue by booking some of the best blues, rock and soul acts on the national gig circuit; acts such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, Cream, Spencer Davis, Chris Farlowe, the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Wilson Pickett and John Lee Hooker. In its heyday in the mid sixties the Club a’Gogo was the number one club in Newcastle attracting a mixed clientele, which included mods, students from Newcastle University and young people who were just there for the music and dancing.
After launching the career of The Animals at the Club a’Gogo in 1963, Mike Jeffery became the band’s manager. However, in the history of popular music he is probably better known as the man who managed Jimi Hendrix from 1966 until Hendrix’s tragic death in 1970. The Animals and Jimi Hendrix were undoubtedly the most successful acts that Mike Jeffery managed but there were many other well known artists under his wing. Some of the other acts that he managed were: Goldie and the Gingerbreads, the Alan Price Set, Soft Machine, Eire Apparent and New York band – the Third World.
Those who were there to witness the unveiling of the plaque included people who had once been members of the original Club a’Gogo during the period 1962 and 1968; local musicians who had performed there and others with a previous connection to the Gogo or were just simply interested in Newcastle’s musical heritage or the once thriving Handyside Arcade. Most in the crowd were local to the area but others had travelled far and wide. As well as from various locations in the UK some had come from further afield in continental Europe. There were also at least a couple of people from the States.
One of the Statesiders in the crowd was Amanda Trees from Brooklyn, New York who I’ve known since she first began posting comments on Ready Steady Gone a number of years ago. We’ve never actually met in person but over the years have communicated regularly via this web site, email and social media. When I found out details of a forthcoming plaque unveiling ceremony I passed the information on to Amanda. I never really thought that someone who lived so far away and had never stepped foot in the Club a’Gogo or even travelled to the UK before would be that interested in attending the event. But I was wrong. In spite of the absence of tangible connections to the club, Amanda was drawn to the site of the Club a’Gogo because of a spiritual connection to the man who founded the club – Mike (or Michael) Jeffery. She wanted to experience the “great energy and feelings of the place where Michael originated his music scene.”
Amanda had once been one of Mike Jeffery’s stable of US artists along with others such as Cat Mother & The All Night Newsboys and Jimmy & Vella. At one stage Mike Jeffery had wanted to bring Amanda to England as an aspiring singer/songwriter with a unique style. Unfortunately that never happened. Over five decades later when Amanda found out about the plaque she decided the time was right to make the 7000 mile round trip – “when the moment came that there was to be a Blue Plaque Ceremony taking place where Michael was from – I knew this was the calling, the exact right time to go”.
In her teens Amanda, under her birth name of Andrea Christine Martinez, trained as an actor. She found work mainly in off-Broadway productions and children’s theatre workshops. Her career as an actor moved up a notch when she was given a part in a long running American soap opera called “Love Of Life”. Under the name of Andrea Martin she played the part of a rebellious teenager Lynn Nelson.
Around this time Amanda decided to diversify and attempt a parallel career as a singer/songwriter. She was already writing songs and recording them on some home equipment.
At the height of Flower Power in 1967 she changed her name from Andrea Martin to Amanda Trees. The following year she was introduced by a showbiz colleague to Mike Jeffery who by this time had relocated from the UK to New York. The first time she met Mike Jeffery was in his East 37th Street office, New York. At first she was fascinated and mesmerised by his persona – a sort of spiritual gangster but later grew to know him as a shy, kind and reflective person.
Amanda was totally different to the other American acts that Mike Jeffery managed. Nevertheless he was keen to sign her and from then on took an interest in her development as an artist. According to Amanda, Mike Jeffery had a clear plan of how he wanted to present her to the world. The plan definitely didn’t include her touring as a support act for some of his better known artists.
While her future career was in the planning stage, Mike Jeffery introduced Amanda to the most famous member of his stable – Jimi Hendrix. Because of Hendrix’s reputation as a serial womaniser Amanda was understandably worried about how the introduction would affect her career prospects. Subsequently Mike Jeffery warned Hendrix off and told him that he should treat Amanda as someone who needed guidance, both musically and spiritually. Amanda and Jimi Hendrix became good friends, sometimes playing their guitars together for hours on end. Other times with Hendrix on a Martin 12 string guitar and Amanda on an electric piano. When she started recording in a studio Hendrix was never far away.
In 1968 Mike Jeffery and Jimi Hendrix jointly bought a nightclub in Greenwich Village, part of which they intended to convert into a studio in order to keep Hendrix’s future recording costs under control. A year later the plan changed in favour of the premises exclusively becoming a recording studio. The Electric Lady Studio at 52 West 8th Street was born. Amanda says she was involved in the project at an early stage and was told that she would be recording at the studio when it was completed.
Amanda Trees subsequently recorded an album entitled “Amanda”, which was released by Poppy Records in January 1972. However, only one of the ten tracks was actually recorded at Electric Lady. The album credits show Mike Jeffery as director, executive producer and spiritual advisor. At the time of the album’s release Poppy Records was on the decline. Little money was spent on promoting “Amanda” and consequently it flopped, leaving Amanda’s career as a recording artist very much in doubt.
The final straw came a year later when her manager and influencer Mike Jeffery perished in a mid air collision over France. He was one of the 68 passengers and crew who lost their lives on a Douglas DC-9 en route from Mallorca to London Heathrow on 5th March 1973.
The death of Jimi Hendrix in September 1970 had been a huge blow but now with Mike Jeffery gone Amanda had lost two of her closest spiritual mentors. Her source of income also came to an abrupt end. The unfortunate set of circumstances made it exceptionally difficult for Amanda to progress as a recording musician and she fell back on her many other talents to make a living in New York.
It’s almost fifty years since Mike Jeffery died and Amanda’s dreams of becoming one of his major recoding artists were dashed. So as a 21st century New York musician, what is Amanda Trees up to now? She continues to perform in New York bars and restaurants playing jazz and other music, mostly on piano. Her current gig is at “Caravan Of Dreams”, a Bohemian vegan restaurant in Greenwich Village. In addition to her music she also does occasional acting work and modelling.
Over the last decade she has co-written a musical play called “Alice Are You?”, a modern day Alice in Wonderland adventure set in the world of modern showbiz and tech. Amanda starred as Alice in the production. She has also scored music for a variety of films including “Transgender” by author/poet Gladys Justin Carr and Natascha Engelmann.
Nearly five decades after the release of Amanda Tree’s inaugural album “Amanda” she recorded a new album of self penned songs called “A Box Of Crayons”, which was released in 2020.
Influenced by her past connection to Mike Jeffery’s and Jimmy Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studio she has recently created her own mini “Electric Lady” home studio in her New York apartment where she is busy recording her own compositions.
Both of Amanda’s albums are still available on various internet sites. Her music past and present can also be heard on Youtube. As long as this is the case and she continues to produce music and perform her name will live on.
Similarly, Mike Jeffery will be immortalised through the heritage plaque on Percy Street, Newcastle. Future generations may not recognise his name or know how he introduced great music to Newcastle. Neither may they be aware that he managed the career of Jimi Hendrix one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music and probably the most celebrated musician of the 20th century. But they will see Mike Jeffery’s name on the plaque and will be able dig deeper if they so wish.
I’ve no doubt that in years to come when Amanda looks back, one of her favourite memories will be her trip to Newcastle upon Tyne to witness the unveiling of the plaque honouring, amongst other things, the Club a’Gogo and Mike Jeffery. She will also recall that on the same day that the plaque was unveiled it was announced that Queen Elizabeth II had died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. The following day in London Amanda was able to witness in person the aftermath of the death when thousands of people assembled in the capitol to pay tribute to the Queen.
Only Amanda will know if she was able to connect spiritually to Michael Jeffery, the man who truly believed in her – and she in him.
Ackowledgements and sources: –
Without the efforts of Jools and Paul Donnelly over the past couple of years there would have been no heritage plaque unveiling to write about.
Brian Wheeler’s article about Amanda Trees in the June 2020 edition of Shindig magazine was a great insight into Amanda’s early career.
Newcastle Evening Chronicle – for their reporting of the unveiling ceremony,
Newcastle City Council for their video coverage of the event.
Finally thanks to Amanda Trees for her assistance in putting this blog together. Her video coverage of the trip to the UK can be seen here: –
Trip to Newcastle
Trip to London