The Flamingo Club

The Flamingo Club

The prestigious Flamingo club in Soho, London, marked an era from 1952-1967 and was probably the most renowned venue of Rhythm and blues and jazz scenes in London.

It was opened by music impresario Jeffrey Kruger, also owner of the record label Ember Record, a label that was mainly dedicated to jazz, but also to R&B, rockabilly, soul and those sounds of American or African American origin.

The Ember Record and The Flamingo club, therefore, had always followed parallel paths, nurturing each other: Kruger promoted his artists in his club and thanks to this he discovered new ones.

You can still find, if you are lucky, collections of the music played at the Flamingo:

– Tony Kinsey, Jeff Kruger’s Jazz at the Flamingo(1955),

– Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo(1964).

The Flamingo was conceived as an exclusive and elegant club, with a proposal for high-level music; the tie was required for men and everything was designed for a first level reception and a very selected audience by a “bouncer” at the entrance.

Among the guests who performed there were Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday; here many musicians were hunting for new sounds and to attend the best jazz and R & B concerts that the old continent had to offer, as well they came there for the best and lively dance parties!

In 1953 The Flamingo moved from the basement of the Mapleton Hotel to a new location on Wardour Street, becoming one of the most renowned clubs in London, where the elegant evening party people stayed until 6 in the morning to drink cocktails and dance.

Many described it as a club full of gangsters who brought with them their entourage of prostitutes, in short, as a very lively environment that, in addition to good music, also offered turbulent evenings.

In fact, this is how the exclusive clubs of Manhattan are described in gangster films: jazz background, beautiful women, double-breasted suits and fistfights.

It is said that one night there was a fight between two of the model Christine Keeler’s lovers: the Jamaican musician and drug dealer “Lucky” Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe; but the model also had a liaisons with the British Government Minister John Profumo and it seems that from this episode of the fight, the fuse of the scandal known as “Profumo Affair” lit up, and it overwhelmed the politician.

But certainly, The Flamingo was not only this: it was born with the aim of promoting jazz, soul and R & B music and never failed to its origins, to become a renowned meeting place for many British and international artists of the time as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, Patti LaBelle, Steve Wonder and many others.

It was also frequented by the Mods who used to go there dressed in their Italian tailor suits and Loafers to dance all night long on their favorite music.

In short, The Flamingo, later renamed The Pink Flamingo, between the 50s and 60s was an important center for the growth and diffusion of jazz and R & B, a meeting place for world-famous artists and a stage for the best bands in circulation, until its close in 1968.

The cultural meltinpot of “Mingo” (as it was called by the affectionate), laid the foundations for that strong anti-racist feeling that then characterized the culture Mod and Skinhead.It was also a meeting place for many American soldiers, perhaps because most of the music played there came from the USA.

And this kind of music was a strong attraction for Mods.But it must be said that the Flamingo was not born as a Mod club, nor can its importance be reduced to a club for Vespa and Lambretta riders, but it is sure that many members of this subculture have tried to venture into that famous basement that was so much talked about.

It must be said that, reading the various testimonies of those who at the time recognized themselves as Mods, it seems that the Flamingo had for them a certain attraction, especially for the easy availability of drugs inside there, but that also intimidated them.

First of all, the audience of Mingo was made by people aged 30 and above, also, as we said, it was not uncommon to find yourself in the middle of cruel fights, so let’s say that as young Mods were certainly  attracted to this so interesting place, the Flamingo’s usual attenders did not take kindly to those little boys looking for some buzz.

If those walls could speak, they would tell us about crazy evenings, champagne cups held by jeweled ladies, elegant double-breasted men and wild parties that nowadays are hard to imagine.

Today this place so important for the history of music is remembered with a plaque in Wardour Street that says:

“The home of Jazz and Rhythm and Blues.Founded by Jeffrey S.Kruger MBE, a pioneer in the British Music Industry ”

And perhaps it is right that some things end up while they are still at their peak, before going to meet an inevitable decline, especially when they are so characteristic of an era that will never come back.

And it is also nice that a club like The Flamingo, so inaccessible to most, remains surrounded by an aura of mystery and that those crazy parties have been consumed within four walls that have kept secret everything that happened inside, since there were no phones to take pictures and document everything.

But maybe it’s better this way, it’s better to be able to keep dreaming of such a romantic golden time.

 

 

 

 

Words by Federica Diaz Splendiani