BIRTH OF THE BLUES – New Film Shines Spotlight On The Ealing Club Hailed As The Cradle Of British Rock

Fery Asgari (2nd left) with The Who at the Ealing Club in 1965. Picture: Fery Asgari and Ealing Club CIC

Tucked away down a side street across the road from Ealing Broadway tube station lies a tiny, London night spot, widely credited as the birthplace of British rock.

Hot, sweaty and damp, The Ealing Club, became a focal point for a new generation of fans and musicians inspired by American Blues artists like Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Muddy Waters.

The venue’s pivotal role in the development of The Who, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton is brought vividly to life in a new feature-length documentary, which premieres at the Doc’n Roll Film Festival in November.

Written and directed by Ealing-based Italian filmmaker Giorgio Guernier, Suburban Steps To Rockland, features many of the star names who first cut their teeth as live performers at the club.

Cream bassist and singer Jack Bruce shares his memories in one of his last broadcast interviews before his death in 2014 and there’s a typically memorable contribution from his bandmate Ginger Baker.

Eric Burdon, frontman of The Animals, features along with The Ram Jam Band R&B great Geno Washington and John Mayall of Bluesbreakers fame.

The Who’s Pete Townshend also appears in the film, giving a lecture about the Ealing Club to a rapt audience at a local theatre.

“As a former musician, avid vinyl collector and filmmaker, the idea of making a movie about this legendary venue was a no-brainer. It was a story I just had to tell,” Guernier says.

“The list of influential musicians who became associated with the club is absolutely breathtaking. Many of the first golden generation of British rock began their careers there,  or simply visited the venue, just to learn how to play the Blues.”

Part entertainment, part social history, the film explores a thrilling moment in the lives of young people who, having thrown off the shackles of the post-war years, were going out, experimenting and enjoying themselves in ways their parents would never have imagined.

The Ealing Club story begins when electric Blues pioneers Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies – deemed just too loud for the jazz crowd at the Marquee Club – began seeking an alternative venue.

With the help of Art Wood, brother of Ronnie, they convinced Fery Asgari, an events manager at the Ealing Club, to let them plug-in and Britain’s first Rhythm and Blues venue was born on 17 March 1962.

Korner and Davies’ Blues Incorporated, became the house band , performing with a changing roster of supporting musicians that included Baker, Bruce, Long John Baldry, Graham Bond and The Stones’ Charlie Watts.

Paul Jones, later of Manfred Mann, explains in the film how he along with other budding singers, including Mick Jagger, would gather at the front of the stage in the hope of being called up by Korner – who is often hailed as “the founding father of British Blues”.

Korner famously introduced Jagger and Keith Richards to Brian Jones at the Ealing Club, forming the nucleus of The Rolling Stones.

A young guitarist by the name of Eric Clapton would also join the Stones on stage for the occasional performance.

With audiences of up to 200 packed into its tiny space, the club quickly became known as the ‘Moist Hoist” – named after a tarpaulin erected to protect the musicians  from the condensation, which streamed down the walls and ceiling during crowded gigs.

Water and electrics don’t mix, of course, and performers literally took their lives in their hands, with electrocution a constant threat.

Paul Jones performing under the ‘moist hoist’ Picture: Fery Asgari and Ealing Club CIC

Shot through with nostalgia, thanks to a potent blend of archive footage and interviews, the film is given a modern twist through the use of sophisticated animation sequences.

Necessity proved the mother of invention as few surviving images and no contemporary video of those legendary Ealing Club nights could be tracked down for the project.

I decided to work on a few animated sequences to help tell the story,” Guernier explains. “It is a type of narrative texture that I had seen in other documentaries before.”
 
Guernier storyboarded the eight sequences and handed them to illustrator Paul Loudon and animator Federico Parodi.

Parodi came up with a collage technique which enabled the animated sequences to blend seamlessly with the overall mood of the movie.Guernier was delighted by the results and full of praise for Loudon and Parodi.

“They are both hugely talented,” he says. “It took us nearly five months to complete all the animated sequences and I’m now very proud of each one of them.”

Guernier will give a Q&A presentation about the film at the premiere at The Barbican on November 4.

Joining him on stage will be Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor, who played bass in the original line-up of The Rolling Stones at The Ealing Club.

Screen shot of animated sequence from the film CREDIT: 62 Films Ltd
Overtaken by competition from larger imitators The Ealing Club lasted less than four years before being converted into a casino and later a nightclub, now known as The Red Room.

Though still an active venue, live Blues is seldom staged at the venue these days and one of few reminders of the Ealing Club’s illustrious history is a blue plaque unveiled on 17 March 2012 – exactly 50 years’ after its historic opening night.

Suburban Steps’ Executive-producer Alistair Young hopes the film will help revive interest in Ealing’s rich musical heritage, which includes the legendary amp makers Marshall, originally based in nearby Hanwell.

The firm’s co-founder Terry Marshall is an associate producer of the film, and Mitch Mitchell drummer with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, worked in the original Marshall shop and performed at The Ealing Club on many occasions.

Young is secretary of The Ealing Club Community Interest Company – a not-for-profit organisation, set up to promote the history of the Club and live music in the borough.

“It’s no surprise that  Mojo credited The Ealing Club with the title of ‘The Cradle of British Rock’,” he says. “More than 50 years on we are still proud to carry forward the name associated with this legendary Ealing location.

“Our aim is to inspire and promote live music events while instilling greater pride in Ealing’s amazing rock heritage.”

  • For more on Suburban Steps To Rockland visit the film’s Facebook page here, or head to the 62 films website
  • Information on screenings is available from The Doc’n Roll Festival site here

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