Sunday, 31 January 2016

Kilburn National Club

This popular music venue was at 234 Kilburn High Road, on the corner of Messina Avenue. Many famous musicians including Johnny Cash and David Bowie played there. We look at the original building which was the Grange Cinema, and what happened when the National closed and was taken over by two different church groups.

Grange Cinema
The Grange was a large mansion standing in grounds of nine and a half acres and with a frontage to Kilburn High Road. It was the home of Ada Peters the widow of a wealthy coach builder who made coaches for Queen Victoria. Following Ada’s death in 1910, the property was sold. The new owner was Oswald Stoll, a major name in the entertainment world who had already built the London Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane, near Leicester Square. Stoll wanted to erect another Coliseum theatre in Kilburn. In fact, progress overtook him and instead of a theatre, the 2,028 seat Grange cinema opened on 30 July 1914. This remained the biggest cinema in Kilburn until the huge Gaumont State opened in December 1937 with over 4,000 seats making it the largest cinema in Europe. The Grange cinema finally closed on 14 June 1975.

Grange Cinema in the 1930s

Butty’s Club and Dance Hall
Michael ‘Butty’ Sugrue, who ran the Admiral Nelson pub in Carlton Vale Kilburn and the Wellington in Shepherd’s Bush, opened his club in the old Grange Cinema on 23 Feb 1976. As a Kerry man he particularly catered for the Irish community. He was a wrestler, circus performer and was known as ‘Ireland’s Strongest Man’, able to lift four 56lb weights attached to a cart axle and dragging a cart filled with ten men using a rope clenched between his teeth. Butty was also an entrepreneur and a great publicist, and he persuaded Muhammad Ali to go to Dublin to fight his sparring partner, Alvin ‘Blue’ Lewis in July 1972. Closer to home, he persuaded Mick Meaney a barman at the Admiral Nelson, to break the world record for being buried alive. In April 1968 journalists joined huge crowds to watch as Mick emerged after 61 days underground. There are video clips of Butty on YouTube:

Butty’s club ran until at least 1980 and so overlapped with the National Club.

Kilburn National Ballroom or the Kilburn National Club
The cinema became the Kilburn National Club which ran from 15 Dec 1976 until 1999. It was owned by the Wembley building firm of Patrick, John and Tom Carey. The Carey Brothers came from Tipperary. It was an ideal venue for bands and many important groups played there.

In July 1991 an application to demolish the Grange was turned down by Camden Council as earlier that year, English Heritage had protected the building by awarding it Grade 2 listed status. When the owners wanted to replace it with a new leisure complex in 1993, this was again refused.

The director Ian Softly, used the National for his film about the Beatles called ‘Backbeat’ (1994). The venue was used to show the Beatles in the Star Club in Hamburg.

The Kilburn National was closed in 1999 and the building remained empty for a few years.

Victory Christian Centre
The VCC, an evangelical group moved into the building in July 2001. They had previously been in 339 Finchley Road but needed larger premises as the congregation grew. The site in Finchley Road was the old International College building, which has since been demolished.

When Douglas Goodman and his wife Erica, took over VCC in 1996 it had fewer than 100 members. They started a new church in Wembley and increased the congregation to 3,000. Footballer John Fashanu and his family were among the worshipers. Members contributed 10% of their income and the annual income of the VCC was £3.5M. Pastor Goodman, who preached in an American evangelical style, was a former bus driver. He spent lavishly on Mercedes and Porsche cars and expensive holidays and had a large house in Collingtree Northants.

After a complaint, the Charity Commission carried out an investigation and closed the church for financial mismanagement in December 2002. In May 2004 Douglas Goodman appeared at the Old Bailey, charged with indecently assaulting young women members of the church. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG).
The building remained empty until a second evangelical group took over the site in 2003. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God began in Rio in 1977 and spread out across the world. Currently the old cinema is home to a UCKG Help Centre and the Church also has a large centre in the old Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park.

Some of the Bands who played at the Kilburn National

Aug 24
Mungo Jerry

July 24
The Bothy Band, a ‘BBC Live in Concert’ recording

August 7
Dexys Midnight Runners

April 28
Killing Joke

Feb 18
Inspiral Carpets

May 25
New Order

August 16
The Alarm

The Undertones

Dec 17
Echo and the Bunnymen

March 13
Psychic TV

March 19
Sigue Sigue Spuknik 

March 20

May 8
Big Audio Dynamite

Oct 23
The Smiths, recorded as the live album ‘Rank’

November 18
Cocteau Twins

Nov 25
The Mission

Dec 4
The Pogues

Dec 16
Jesus and Mary Chain

April 1
Simply Red

April 29
Spear of Destiny recorded for the ‘BBC In Concert’

Sept 17
Stiff Little Fingers

1988 and 1990
The Wolfe Tones, a very popular Irish band, regularly played at The National

April 29
Spear of Destiny

May 3
Happy Mondays

May 13
The Alarm

Oct 6
That Petrol Emotion

Nov 12
Ghost Dance

July 14
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Oct 2
The Alarm

14 December
The Sugarcubes, with Bjork
John McCooke, now of the 'Good Ship' in Kilburn High Road, said he was there standing next to Sinead O'Connor
Feb 20-22
The Waterboys

March 23
Sonic Youth

May 9
Pop Will Eat Itself

May 18
Killing Joke

June 28
Throwing Muses

June 29
Tin Machine, formed in 1988 and fronted by David Bowie

July 5
The Pixies

Oct 3
The The

Dec 20
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Primal Scream

Feb 20
The Mission

March 21
The Fall

March 26
The House of Love

June 30

September 19

October 24
Johnny Cash

Nov 1 and Nov 20
The Wedding Present

Nov 7-8
The Charlatans

Nov 27

March 6

May 12 and August 15

June 5
The Shamen

Oct 3

Oct 4
The Orb

Oct 24

Nov 1
James Taylor Quartet

Nov 7
Carter and the Unstoppable Sex Machine

Dec 5
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana

Dec 28
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

May 3
The Cure

May 12
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana

Sept 9
The Young Gods

Oct 26
The Happy Mondays

Dec 11
Manic Street Preachers

Dec 13

April 5

March 7
The Lightning Seeds

May 16
Super Furry Animals

July 10

Sept 12
Boo Radleys

Oct 9
Kula Shaker

Oct 11

Nov 20

Dec 10

March 2

April 26
Johnny Cash

April 25

Oct 24

Nov 28
Black Grape

Dec 18
Paul Weller

The National Club closed in the Spring of 1999.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

I Remember the Night Jerry Lee Lewis Played at the Kilburn State

Rock and Roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis was born into a poor family in Ferriday Louisiana in 1935. His musical talent was obvious from an early age and his parents mortgaged their house to buy him a piano. His mother enrolled him in the Southwest Bible Institute in Waxahachie, Texas, so that he would sing evangelical songs. But Lewis daringly played a boogie woogie rendition of ‘My God Is Real’ at a church assembly. The next morning, the Dean of the School called Lewis into his office to expel him. 

Years later Lewis was asked, ‘Are you still playing the devil’s music?’ He said, ‘Yes, I am. But you know it’s strange, the same music that they kicked me out of school for is the same kind of music they play in their churches today. The difference is, I know I am playing for the devil and they don’t’.

Jerry became known as ‘The Killer’ from a school nickname and as ‘the ‘wild man of rock’ from his high-energy performances of piano playing and singing. In 1956 he went to Sam Phillips’ Sun Record Studio in Memphis where he recorded ‘Crazy Arms’ which sold 300,000 copies.

On 4 December 1956, Elvis Presley paid a social visit to see Phillips. Carl Perkins was in the studio cutting new tracks with Lewis backing him on piano. Johnny Cash was also there. The four men did an impromptu jam session and Phillips left the tape running. These recordings, almost half of which were gospel songs, survived, and have now been released under the title the 'Million Dollar Quartet'.

Left to right: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash

In 1957 Jerry’s ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On’ became a huge hit in both America and here. The next song, ‘Great Balls of Fire’, was even more popular and went to Number One in the UK and US where it sold a million copies in the first ten days. 

Kilburn State
In 1958 Lew and Leslie Grade and the Rank Organisation arranged a six-week tour of Britain by Jerry Lee Lewis. The first night was at the Regal in Edmonton and the second was in Kilburn.

On the 25 May 1958 he played at the Kilburn State, and I was there! The 4,000 seat cinema was sold out that night. The lights dimmed and there he was in a shocking coloured suit and a black ribbon-tie. The noise was deafening: the Irish girls behind me were screaming, ‘Great Balls of Fire, Great Ball of Fire, Great Balls of FIRRRE!’ But the other half of the audience were shouting: ‘Go home cradle snatcher! and, ‘How old is your old Lady!’ After performing a few numbers, the noise got louder and louder.

Between numbers, Jerry remained calm and sitting quietly on the piano stool, he took a comb out of his pocket and combed his long curly hair. Then he launched into another song, kicking over the stool and pounding the piano with his hands and the heel of his foot. But when the uproar became overwhelming, he suddenly walked off stage and the show was abandoned half-way through.

What was all the fuss about?
Reporter Ray Berry had been at Heathrow to cover the arrival of Jerry Lee Lewis. He asked a young girl who she was; Myra Gale Brown replied, ‘I am Mrs Lewis’. Jerry said she was 15 and they had married a few months ago and were very happy.

The next day in the fashionable Westbury Hotel in Mayfair, Jerry Lee was shown a copy of the Daily Herald. There was a large photo, taken at the airport the night before, of Jerry Lee and Myra Gale embracing, and in bold black letters the words, “ROCK STAR’S WIFE IS 15 And It’s His Third Marriage!”

Jerry and Myra, 1958

But Berry found out that Myra was Jerry’s cousin, the daughter of his bass player J.W. Brown. She was 13 years old, Jerry was 22. Their marriage had taken place in December 1957, at Hernando, Mississippi, where it was legal to get married at age 12, with the parent’s permission. It was Jerry’s third marriage but he was a bigamist, as his divorce from his second wife was not finalised until the 13 May 1958.

The press were merciless in their pursuit of Jerry Lee. ‘The People’ called for all teenage subjects of the Crown to boycott Jerry’s concerts and thus, ‘show that even rock and roll hasn’t entirely robbed them of their sanity’. The Daily Mirror published a picture of the loving couple and interviewed Lewis. He admitted he hadn’t got Myra’s parents’ permission and that he was still married to his second wife at the time. ‘I guess you could call the mix-up a technical hitch. My manager is straightening it out.’ 
Myra said ‘I love Jerry dearly, I would marry him again, a million times.’

On 25 May in the House of Commons, Sir Frank Medicott asked Iain Macleod, the Minister of Labour to explain the grounds for allowing Jerry Lee Lewis a permit to tour Britain. Medicott said: 
‘Is my right Hon. Friend aware that great offence was caused to many people by the arrival of this man, with his 13-year old bride, especially bearing in mind the difficulty that others have in obtaining permission to work here? 
Will he remember also that we have more than enough "rock-'n'-roll" entertainers of our own without importing them from overseas?’

Jerry playing with his unique style

After just three shows the tour was cancelled. At 2:15 on Tuesday afternoon on the 27 May, Jerry and Myra Gale left the Westbury Hotel through a side door. Limousines carried them to the airport, where photographers and reporters were waiting. Leading Myra Gale past them, Jerry Lee picked up a paper at the airport news stand and glanced at the headline, which proclaimed that France’s new premier had averted civil war. 
“Who’s this De Gaulle guy?” he said loudly as the newsmen caught up with him. “He seems to have gone over bigger than us.”

The next day the press were waiting for him at Idlewilde Airport in New York and he and Myra were blinded by the flash bulbs. Hurrying away, they flew on to Memphis that afternoon. Thinking that it might placate the press, Jerry decided to remarry Myra the next weekend. He and Myra drove south to Ferriday Louisiana where the second ceremony was took place.

In America the bad publicity and scandal almost finished Jerry’s career, as his popularity quickly faded and he had little success in the charts. Banned from radio shows, his live performance fees plummeted from $10,000 per night to just $250.

His career was resurrected in the 1960s and he continued to tour. In fact, he rose from the ashes again and again, first as a country artist, later as a miraculous rock ’n’ roll dinosaur who could still tear the place up and play the piano with his feet. Mick Jagger once waited to get his Jerry Lee albums signed; and backstage John Lennon dropped to his knees and kissed Jerry’s feet. The feeling wasn’t mutual: “I never did care for the Beatles all that much, to tell the truth,” Lewis later remarked.

Many years later while interviewed for his biography, Jerry looked back at his life and said;
“It was brutal, I tell you. It was killin’.” And then, in the next breath: “It was ­beautiful.”