Showing at the Photographers Gallery in London at the moment is Soho Nights, an exhibition of photographs of London nightlife in the 1950s.
There’s a group of 1957 pictures taken by Ken Russell in the Cat’s Whisker (above), a Soho coffee bar, with a quote from a Daily Mirror article Teenagers of Soho (1.4.1957): ‘It’s so crowded the girls “hand jive” to the band as there’s no room for dancing’. The suggestion seems to be that hand jive developed because that was all there was space to do – wonder if that’s true?
The Cat's Whisker was in Kingly Street, and was an important venue in the skiffle scene - see this 1957 article from Time Magazine: 'Into umbrous, ill-ventilated underground caverns, seemingly as necessary to life as the air-raid shelters where some of the visitors were born, thousands of bemused young Londoners squeeze nightly to stomp and holler their approval of Britain's latest musical mania: U.S. rock 'n' roll, commercial hillbilly and folk music, warmed over and juiced up in a mishmash called skiffle... To the Soho hipsters who swelter and suffocate for it in the Cat's Whisker, the Côte d'Azur or The Two I's, skiffle is brand-new'.
There’s also a series of photographs taken by Charles ‘Slim’ Hewitt at Cy Laurie’s trad jazz club in 1954 (examples below). They were originally taken for an article featuring the club in Picture Post magazine that is included in the exhibition, ‘Blue Heaven in the Basement’ (10.7.1954) : ‘it is a hypnotic, ecstatic, musical experience… There are no non-partisans. The dancers are expert and frenzied… On Friday nights there is always a queue of black and blue jeans quietly intent on forcing the “House Full” sign’.
The exhibition includes a whole series of shots that were not used in the Picture Post piece and they are very striking and timeless – multi-racial dancers in jeans, striped tops, bare feet.
Cy Laurie’s Jazz Club was held downstairs at Mac's Rehearsal Rooms at 41 Great Windmill Street, Soho, and opened in 1953 - see previous posts on this scene.