Friday, June 27, 2008

Crackers 1976: daytime soul sessions in London

The Way We Wore by Robert Elms recalls the soul/funk sessions at Crackers in London in the mid 70s. This was by all accounts a very influential club - at DJHistory, Norman Jay, Fabio, Terry Farley and Jazzie B all mention its impact on them. There are a couple of other interesting points here. Crackers was another example of how in the 70s and 80s gay clubs provided a haven not just for lesbians and gay men but for all kinds of musical sub-cultures (see for instance the role of Louise's as hang out central for first generation punks). And what of day time clubbing? - Crackers had a packed session on Friday lunchtime, and there seem to have been day time sessions in London from the 1940s to the 1970s - hard to imagine now that people could get away with skipping work for a few hours in this way. Anyway here's Robert's account:

'1976, that legendary summer just heating up, we were on our way to small, hardcore clubs in Soho and Covent Garden. Two or three times a week heading into town, unknow­ingly beginning the process of trendification which would alter the fortunes of inner London. Dedicated groups of young, over­dressed soul-searchers headed through the often deserted streets of an unloved and unlovely city as the daytime temperatures kept climbing and the air became dense with heat and expectation. The Lyceum on a Monday night, Sombreros in Kensington on Thursdays: the Global Village, where Heaven now is, on Fridays, the 100 Club on Oxford Street on Saturdays. Most notable and most potent of them all was Crackers on Dean Street, on the edge of Soho itself and at the very centre of a world.

Crackers, little more than another dodgy disco to look at, was one of the most influential venues of any year, and by late 1975, into the fabled summer of '76, it was at the core of this still largely secretive inner London scene. We, for me, meant two or three of the boys from Burnt Oak, who had really got into it and wanted to push on. And as soon as you got to places like Crackers, where the best dancers were, the most righteous young black kiddies from Tottenham and Brixton, the best-looking girls, the most knowl­edgeable music buffs, the most daring dressers, you just knew you were in the inner sanctum.

The licensing laws at the time were so puritanical and arcane that this small gay club had to provide food. So all punters were handed a slice of Mother's Pride and spam as they entered and you could see these sandwiches littered round the dance floor at the end of the night.

Amazingly the hottest session at Crackers was on Friday after­noon, twelve until two-thirty. This was a direct revival of an old sixties tradition, when Friday lunch-hour had been a prime-time slot at Tiles, a late mod club. The idea was that nobody does too much work on Friday afternoons anyway, so who's going to notice if somebody is not at their desk or behind the counter for a couple of hours, and they're dancing or preening instead. Indeed half the crowd at Crackers on Friday were in their work-wear, office suits with the ties tucked in the pocket, hairdressers' smocks or even schoolboy blazers abandoned at the door. Others who somehow had avoided the pressure to work or study, and could make a performance of it, were attired to the nines. A young crowd, predominantly aged from sixteen to twenty-one, gathered from all corners of London to duck into this doorway amid the tacky shops and kiosks of the wrong end of Oxford Street, down the stairs and into a packed, darkened room, pounding with tough, black American tunes and throbbing with that almost tangible confidence which says this is the place to be.

The dance floor itself, a small sprung wooden square, was strictly for dancers, and by that I mean dancers. Anyone who ventured on to the square at Crackers had to have steps, and the bottle to produce them under the gaze of the unforgiving throng. Some of the top guys at Crackers are legendary still: Horace, Tommy Mac, Jaba, and the daddy of them all, Clive Clark, a charming black guy who went on to become a professional chore­ographer, but started out scorching the opposition on Friday afternoons in Dean Street. When these boys were on the floor, a circle would form to give them an amphitheatre in which to per­form. They would then pull out moves and steps with a wickedly competitive edge, legs flying like lasers, some new twist or turn eliciting spontaneous applause from the closely watching circle. Unlike northern soul, with its dervish spins and flailing kicks, its wild amphetamine abandon, the southern style was tight and precise: feet made rapid tap movements, knees were bent, hips sashayed, shoulders rolled, heads bobbed. The whole effect was somewhere between boxing and bopping. And if you couldn't cut it, you didn't go anywhere near the floor. Around the square stood contenders and pretenders, who rated their chances but hadn't yet stepped into the ring. Some enrolled themselves at Pineapple, the dance studio which had recently opened up round the corner in Covent Garden. They pulled on sweat-tops and legwarmers to learn moves from ballet, jazz and tap, provoking the craze for dancewear which would result in dodgy thick socks around ankles a few years later. Others simply spent hours on council estate carpets, honing their footwork, their dips and turns while avoiding the furniture.

Behind the dancers, at the bar, at the back, the rest of the club grooved and swayed, perpetual motion. My place, as a young suburban boy, was way at the back, bobbing and watching and noting and loving every super-saturated, hyped-up little minute of it. And then, come half two, the last strains of Dexter Wansel or Charles Earland still swirling around your brain, it was out. Blink­ing against the light, the sweat freezing on your face as you hit cool air, into the rushing maelstrom of Oxford Street.

Leg it over the road to Hanway Street, a charismatic, piss-smelling dogleg alley, where up the stairs of an unmarked doorway was Contempo. Contempo Records was the epicentre of the London black music world in 1976, entirely contained in a room about eight feet square above a Spanish bar with an Irish name, in a forgotten street. On Friday afternoons it was the only place to buy the records the DJs had been spinning over the road at Crackers. So punters literally queued up the stairs, shouting out names of songs and artists, or listening intently to the sides which had arrived in crates from the States that day, deciding whether that was the one to invest in'.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great story, I worked in Crackers in Late 70's and my first job was selling tickets at the door for 0.50P per person on a Fridaylunch times to a bout 400 Black Youth.
The new style of music with hint of Jaz was new to me, the DJ was George Power.
It sure was a Great time.

Transpontine said...

50p - what a bargain! With unemployment on the rise perhaps we're due a daytime clubbing revival.

Anonymous said...

I was eager to get thru' your narrative on Crackers to see if you would give more... I never knew that Crackers started off on Dean street, I was a regular from the late 70's and as far I know, the top end of Wardour st. was the place to be on a Friday afternoon with George Power and the then warm up dj Paul trouble Anderson with the odd appearance of various guest deejays. The club was small, dress code was nil, except tight jeans,loafers,sleeveless tee's and a bear towel to wipe the sweat off your brow even if you were not big enough to get on the tiny floor, actually you did your thang where you stood as the club was so small, just like Gossips ( Dean st.) and Spats ( 21 Oxford st. with Paul Murphy / Ronnie L, who did 100 club at 100 Oxford st. , sadly has passed away ) . The vibe then was real music, many a toon was given its break at Crackers, Yellow Magic Orchestra,Dazz Band,Lonnie Liston Smith,Freeze,Clyde Alexander to name but a few of the tougher tracks that got you in the groove were caned at this club & I for one would be making my way back to Wembley with the rest of my 'crew' ranting on about how this track was badest or that person was the mightest dancer of the day. Incidently, you mentioned some dancers, Jaba, Jesus Christ ! Could that guy move! But what about Richard Butler,Warren,Michelle & Kirk, Gerry Barry from Idj & The Brown brothers ( Michael&Tony, who went on to form a dance troup and music group :The Pasadenas ) NOW THESE GUYS COULD DANCE !!! You mentioned a Clive Clark, was it not Antony Clark ( I know them both, Antony is a professional dancer ) with his dance partner Everton who more than often cleared the floor on many an occasion ! Oh, dem was da days , sadly the council got the place closed down and later on, from what I gathered from unknown sources , the building went up for sale. The Met and the GLC,I believe, as it was called back then, went on an all out purge of niteclubs in the Westminster area, nearly every place was shut down, curious still is the fact that the Soho porn clubs have stood their ground for decades..! They continue to thrive today under other guises no doubt... Black music clubs never stood a chance once popularity set in.However, I might add, that certain attitudes did change due to the behaviour of certain groups of people during the 80's... The Green Man pub in Great Portland st. Jazz fusion at its best after The Horseshoe pub ( AKA Jaffas ) on Tottenham ct R.d , sadly had to close. The list is endless ! Many great weekends dancing to Jazz spun by Paul Murphy & Bazz fe Jazz. I doubt if any other decade can touch those times , but one thing's for sure, if you raved, you had your moment, you lived it and it died, however the memory lives on when it is revived by the tracks played on the various radio stations every day and by pieces written on the internet, of which I am thankful , as I for one, 'was there', like all those mods,punks,soulheads,funkateers,or whatever you choose to call your tribe... Long live the memory and its 'feeling'.

kittykat said...

Hey Guys just to let you know

Crackers is back for 2009! Every 2nd Friday of the month [9pm–3am]@ Club Surya - 156 Pentonville Road, N1 9JL.

George Power, Trouble and Fitzroy 'Da buzzboy' all on the decks alongside other special guests. Next event is the 12th June.

For more info check out the website www.crackersentertainment.com

Spread the word!

Anonymous said...

Bleached jeans.
Punk t-shirts, sleeves rolled up to the shoulders.
Black/blue suede 'pixie' boots
Horse riding boots.
Crown slippers.
Black army surplus jackets complete with epaulettes.
Ski jumpers.
Leg warmers.
Skin tight elasticated jeans.

Anonymous said...

WE ARE STILL KEEPING THE FLAME - AT HOME, EVRY NEW YEARS EVE! MY TUNES GET PLAYED TO DEATH AND MY KIDS AND GRANDKIDS ENJOY EVRY HOUR OF IT! DEXKITTEN & GROOVE GANG*R

Anonymous said...

hey! 1976 -you mention the "Burnt Oak Boys" being at Crackers are you talking about Jimmy Christian Mick hassett and Pete ? we use to meet up at times at Crackers on a Friday lunchtime and usually at the Global Village on Friday and Sat nights then down at the Kings Road "The Birds Nest" Saturday lunchtime and shopping in acme attractions and moss bros for old clothes etc
I was from Edgware/Burnt oak and met my now girlfriend at the Global we remet in 2007 only had to wait 30 years to get her lol
what great times and some great music and of couse then came the PUNKS we still do the gigs etc but the the summer of 76/77 was the best of times -so thanks for the memories,Rob

ams said...

we recently interviewed the original Crackers DJ Mark Roman, and done some mixes with him.. check out this link http://sixmillionsteps.com/drupal/node/1102

SN/JJ/DC (sixmillionsteps.com)

Anonymous said...

Being from South Wales,Crackers was just too far to get to for a friday afternoon,(though we did the shops on the Kings Rd for pegs.at Acme,second hand (it's called vintage now) American 50s suits,then there was johnson's,and was it caaled jones Bros etc.

Through reading about Crackers i see no mention of the DJ who built the foundations (crowd wise) of the club Mark Roman,you can check out a series of interviews with him and his music on http://sixmillionsteps.com.

regards
soulie.

Neil Dee said...

great to read guys!
Was at junction of Wardour with Oxford Streets
I loved dancing and dancing; had forgotten the Friday lunchtimes! Haha

Wernt many of us white guys who hogged the centre ;)
George 'Cash-Money' Power. LOL!!

Great times
Neil
Southgate

Anonymous said...

I was a regular on Fridays and Saturdays, from 1977 until it closed was it 1980? My brother in law had been the manager when it was named guy fawkes? in the early 70's I remember the two DJ's George Power & Paul Grature? I also remember the burgers that you got with your entrance fee, I also remember having to give a photo ID to gain entrance to the club. We used to take a change of clothing for when the slow dances came on, though one regular called Douglas just used to put a jacket on because he couldn't be bothered to wash.

Anonymous said...

I worked at crackers in the 70 s serving scampi and chips. wiced place,and yes you did have to have the moves to dare venture onto the Dance floor,anonymous london

Unknown said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, such memories!

I used to skip school and go to Friday lunchtime Crackers on my own, I made many friends as the weeks went by.

I also talked my way into a job at Daddy Kool recordshop when i left school so I listened to reggae during the week and continued my Crackers sessions on Fridays with George Powell and then 100 club lunchtime on a Saturday. The female reggae soulhead, that was me. What a fab trip down memory lane.

Sonia Laviniere said...

Well I have to say I was one of the ladies at 18 years old going down to crackers in my lunch hour. This write up has brought me right back and it describes the dancing down to a t - very accurate and beautifully written. The great DJ Paul Anderson famously played his usual unique style of music - wonderful, we had to wear flat shoes we called graNNY Shoes - so we could run there and back to work. It was brilliant. xxx

Elle said...

So sorry I didn't get to experience Crackers ~ I must have missed it by a whisker! Worked in Wardour Street from around 74 to 78ish! Went to Louises, Sombreros, Chagaramas, Global Village, Bang 'n all the punk venues to follow! Would get discs from Daddy Kool but sadly never went to the other gaff either!

Anonymous said...

We use to go Sundays 12 pm to midnight it was school of dancing learn all the latest dance move . I remember Chicago had nothing on us . Bunch of guys coming in with there bags towels and extra shirt ! It was a dance INSTETIUT . Me and my friend venassa walker use to dance and dances . Good days !!

Anonymous said...

Ah yes I remember it well. Bunking off school before the lunch bell, getting the bus to the circus and dancing down Oxford Street where the shops were playing soul/funk grooves to get myself in the mood. Arriving at Crackers early you could get a good spot, by a speaker near the dance floor and it was pleasantly cool. As the crowds filled up George would get you dancing - a warm up - and Paul would get the serious dancers moving. I'd watch mesmerised, as the 'real dancing' flowed and sashyed, could I do that too? Hot and sweating I get a drink from the bar, then I hear the beginnings of a song that sent the crowd crazy. Running/grooving back to the dance floor to strut my funk. It was always over too soon... Then I'd hike over to Groove Records to buy some tunes. What a way to end the working week...

Anonymous said...

Just came across this commenting lark, after dropping some on the global village, on fair I include a piece on crakers as well as I am part of history as is everyone who ventured uptown back when clubbing was in your blood..
77' I reckon was my first experience of crakers and some time after I started going george and paul were the reasons as george had the banter and both of them had the vibes to keep us on the floor grooving till it was throwing out times..how strange thenmit was to ush down to mcd's with a change of clothing in order to look the part just to get in for 50 pence, mind you it was worth every penn y and some. Bunking off school was the only reason for it, yeah crakers was worth that extra homework and trouble. The dresscode, straight legged or drain pipe jeans by pepe, fiorucci or levis, chinese slippers or electric blue or black wink,e picker suede books from carnaby street, come winter, the. Chinese padded jackts came out and the cropped military navy blue jackets which stank to high heaven when we sweated or if it rained...
Punk tee-shirts were in as well, mind you if you had the cash to spare, the velvet slippers were a neat finish to your outfit...what we had to do to fit the part....
The music, ah the music, ruyichi sakamoto's rioting in lagos was what every hard dancer wished for and george had an exclusive which I feel sure he would always leave til the end of the session, just to taunt us...we were hungry for tunes back then, and it was a lesson for all.
Manu dibango guru city, oh my word, it still sounds as good now as when george used to play t at crackers, william devaughn be thnkful for what you got, what a sweet meelow groove, one the ladies will always remember...as for the male slags amongst us, casanova by coffee was awarning if ever there was one...yep plenty of tunes came out of crackers as well as memories which include spats,ronnie l at the 100 club, gossips over here in dean street, the horseshoe aka jaffas, green man, whisky a gogo or for the late comers, wag...
Like I said, all part of us making history...kids today, what will they be writing about in 30-40 years time...

Excuse my punctuation, by the way I am shuffling my feet to Firecraker, if you went to Crackers, you'll know what ''choon'' I'm on about..!
Peace and love to all clubbers.
Rich mack

Anonymous said...

So amazing reading these comments. Was actually looking for global village and found this. Pretty much all of my class from holland park school ended up at crackers friday lunchtime. Dance Sisters Jane & Rosamund mashed up the stage as did peter francis. The best dancers in london where there.sweet.

Anonymous said...

You lot r bringing back great memories 4 me. I used to work in top shop n went crackers every friday lunch time that I could 75-76. Along with monday at lyceum n global village saturdays night n 100 club saturday afternoon. George power was brilliant - I still love n listen to all the old tunes.

Anonymous said...

Just came across this site,in the 70s i used to go to crackers with my mate on a friday night.

Anonymous said...

Friday night was night for me and a few mates from Wembley in 75/6. Saturdays were at Contempo Records and clothing from the Kings Road at Antiquarius. Lots of other clubs around Soho and Bank Hols at The Ballyhai in Margate.

Anonymous said...

Contempo Records..ahh bliss. Used to go there every other Saurday weekend at least. My mate Everton and I after he had dragged me out of bed. Park the Hillman Imp outside on double yellows while listening to stuff that would come out 6/8 weeks later in the UK. Kept looking out of the window for wardens coming along. Then having to shoot of so wwe would not be late for our match! Ev, long gone now rest his 'soul'. Great memories especially with the guys serving who also edited the B&S magazine.

Anonymous said...

Those were the days, a lot of the British Jazz funk scene was created at Crackers. Incognito; Soul to Soul; light of the world; La Famille; to name a few began by going to Crackers. It was only one of a few clubs to allow Blacks to listen and dance to American Black music as there was a colour bar in a lot of the clubs in the west end at the time. As already mentioned some of these clubs were gay and lesbian clubs and I use to go to El Sombreros which had a great mixed straight and gay crowd. These were trail blazing times in the 70's and we would not of had the likes of Hot Gossip if it were not for clubs like Crackers. George Power and Trouble Anderson spun the wheels and ballet Rambet recruited some of its best from here. I used pineapple to hone my skills before going into battle. Dennis and I were a deadly partnership if I recall. You dare not go on the black square floor unless you had the moves. A lot of jazz and contemporary dance was performed. George and Anderson are still going and some of us are keeping
the flame via meet ups. Anon

Anonymous said...

Wow! memories...bunking school for Crackers on a Friday afternoon and I wasn't even old enough to be in there in the first place. Mum never found out and because I wasn't allowed to go out in the evening, Crackers was the place to be to listen to all the funky grooves!

Anonymous said...

Yea so many great DJs at crackers, Mark Roman, and of course the Nicky Price the man who introduced George Power to the scene. He built the the club up on Tuesday nights and Friday lunch times and introduced the Sundays. what happened to him his tunes where wicked I remember him playing brass construction for the first time in the uk and it was Nicky Price who introduced me and the other dancers to jazz funk great days and that djs

teebud737 said...

Part of the Luton Clique that came up thru 'Nicklson Bill' we battled Tottenham 'Yids' on the train getting
to Gossips (Later called Spats) lol! Once inside nothing mattered but 'Moves' it was like intelligence gathering to take back to our local 'Funk' scene, I wasn't privy to alot of names save George Power and Paul Anderson and a lil light skin guy I next saw on Soul-Train (Normski) I think lil John or Tommy as described by someone else as he also had the ballet moves, Class is what it was and I am privileged to say I was part of a special time in underground history,Majic. Anthony Butler

teebud737 said...

Great reply just as informative as transpontine', always leaves ya wanting more specially when you can relate, I was one of those youngers trying to glean asmuch as possible before 2pm saturday afternoon get back to Luton and practice fa hours whateva I could improve on. 1luv theFunkisinamood!

Anonymous said...

I’m hoping someone might be able to help me… I’m trying to track down contact details for Mark Roman the former DJ at Crackers – read your article and would love to contact him if possible.

Thanks for any assistance you might be able to provide.

Kind regards
Chris - rippers75@aol.com

Allan best said...

Wow great memories i used to shop there every saturday bought lot of top tunes there.still have most of them.walkin up stairs and seeing all those 45s stacked everywhere.brilliant