It’s the middle of winter and the day known as Blue Monday, and of course I’ve got the Blues – Who doesn’t at this time of the year. In fact I’ve got the Blues all year round. I was first introduced to The Blues when, as a young man, I found out that I shared a hometown with one of the greatest and most famous Blues musicians of all time. John Mayall and I were both born in Macclesfield, Cheshire, a small town in the North of England most notorious as the home of Hovis bread and Silk mills. But that connection with John Mayall has guided my musical appreciation all my life and now, as a London Blue Badge (or should that be The Blues Badge) Tourist Guide, I’ve guided people with similar interests around some of the sites and sounds that have made London a Blues capital in it’s own right.
British Blues are alive and kicking to this day, and many of the most famous musicians on the planet started their musical careers playing the Blues in some of London’s Clubs. Think of Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones all starting their careers in small clubs in the early 60’s . Much has changed since 1962, the year that saw the founding of The Ealing Blues Club by Alexis Korner / Cyril Davies, generally acknowledged as being the event which was the catalyst for the current British Blues scene.
Legendary venues such as Eel Pie Island Hotel, an island in the Thames that was a magnet for the 60’s generation or The Marquee Club which became one of the most important central London venues on the Blues circuit where, in the Sixties, the new generation of British R&B bands including the Rolling Stones who played their first-ever live performance on 12 July 1962 performed, and The Roundhouse on Wardour street have long since disappeared, but now 60 years on from those heady days, London Blues are back in town with a new clientele, new clubs and new bands to entertain.
Anyone touring London can be inspired by the past glories as well as finding great places to go for an evening of Blues and entertainment and here’s a list of some of my favourite places still associated with the Blues.
London’s iconic 100 Club has been trading under the same name since 1964 and has put on live music since 1942 as the Feldman Jazz Club amongst other names, earning it the title of the oldest independent venue world wide. Throughout the decades the venue has championed all manors of groundbreaking scenes including the blues of Muddy Waters and BB King as well as mod stylings of The Who and The Kinks in the 60s. Now located on Oxford Street, but still playing the Blues on a regular basis along with a wide range of other genres.
Eel Pie Club
The natural successor to the infamous Eel Pie Island, just down the road in Twickenham, the Eel Pie Club opened in the Cabbage Patch pub opposite Twickenham railway station in 2000 and offers 2 to 3 British Blues performances per month. The aim of the club is to preserve and continue the heritage of Rhythm & Blues in the area. In 2009 the club received the accolade of being voted “Best place to hear Blues in England” by the Guardian newspaper.
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club
Ronnie Scotts is most famous as a jazz club that has operated in Soho, London since 1959. The club opened on 30 October 1959 in a basement at 39 Gerrard Street in London’s Soho district. In 1965 it moved to a larger venue nearby at 47 Frith Street. Jimi Hendrix’s last public performance was at Ronnie Scott’s, in 1970. You can still hear the Blues at Ronnie Scotts at their famous monthly Blues Explosion evenings.
“Ain’t nothing but the Blues” Bar
Known as London’s original Blues bar, since 1993, the “Ain’t Nothing But the Blues” bar in Kingly St, has been playing host 7 days a week to both local and American acts, with jam sessions on Monday and Sunday. It’s a mecca for blues musicians and fans from around the World who come to this buzzing Soho venue for it’s amazing intimate atmosphere. It’s a great place to while away a Sunday afternoon listening to great blues jam sessions and hanging out with a friendly, eclectic crowd.
The Blues Kitchen
The Blues Kitchen has 3 central London locations, in Camden, Brixton and Shoreditch and is another really well known Blues haven operating since 2009. It’s a bar, restaurant, music venue and club all under one roof playing some of the best international blues and soul artists seven nights a week. It even has free entry from Sunday through to Thursday. Their list of artists that have performed is pretty impressive and has included such leading lights as
Gary Clark Jr, Seasick Steve, Mud Morganfield (Son of Muddy Waters), Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, and Wayne Kramer (The MC5).
The Blues has been the influencer of many of today’s genres of music and the summer of 2022 is certainly going to be something to look forward to for music fans of all genres. ABBA are reforming with the aid of avatars to perform a series of concerts at a purpose-built venue near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Sir Elton John will be playing Hyde Park, another venue that has hosted some of the world’s greatest musicians over the years. And if you happen to be able to get tickets for the Royal Albert Hall on May 7th & 8th 2022, you’ll be able to see Eric Clapton perform at a venue he has played over 200 times and refers to playing there as “playing in my front room”.
So you see – there’s nothing to be sad about in London this year, not in January and not anytime, there’s always something to enjoy.
And if you’ve enjoyed this blog, you might well enjoy “London Blues”, a walking tour of some of the sites featured in the article.
Featured image by Jonathan Cohen
About the author:
Jonathan Cohen is a London Blue Badge Tour Guide specialising in making people smile. His tours are fun, engaging and informative and he enjoys nothing more than discovering new whisky bars to take people to on his “Whisky & Ride” chauffeur-driven tour of London. He’ll happily accept a few bottles of Lagavulin 16-year-old in lieu of a cash payment whether you take this tour or one of the more conventional tours of London he organises. You can contact him on his website or his Instagram page.