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Celebrating The Ealing Club - West London's alternative to the Cavern
THESE days, the basement in the West London suburbs is an unexceptional bar, The Red Room.
Years ago, however, it was where a group of young musicians began an infatuation with American blues and ran it through a Marshall amp. It is where Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first met Brian Jones, sparking the early days of The Rolling Stones.
Now, its role in the history of British pop culture is being cemented with a new documentary commemorating The Ealing Club and the British R’n’B scene that evolved from it.
Suburban Steps to Rockland, an independently funded film about the pioneering club and the music that it spawned, is the brainchild of a collective of Ealing music fans.
Under the guiding hand of Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, who took over the club in 1962, The Ealing Club turned from a traditional jazz venue into a cornerstone of the inimitable Sixties counter culture.
Alistair Young, a Northfields resident, has been involved with the project since he became interested in Ealing’s musical history at a town hall exhibition two years ago.
The Ealing Club, he says, has as much cultural significance as Liverpool’s Cavern Club, which has become a place of pilgrimage for international Beatlemaniacs.
“Liverpool is celebrated for Merseybeat, but West London was the birthplace of heavier guitar. It’s not a coincidence that a walk down the road was the Marshall shop.”
The beloved amplifiers had not yet become an institution, and the sonic boom they produce is what helped the transition of the Ealing groups into what we now know as rock’n’roll.
The film’s director, Georgio Guernier, says the story of The Ealing Club is one that has caught the imagination of music fans beyond West London.
“It has to be considered important to every music fan around the world, who wants to know how British rock was born.”
The film, which cost only £8,000 to make, has been funded by the generosity of a handful of contributors through the website Kickstarter.
Giorgio says donations have come from music fans in South America, Germany, France, Italy, Scandinavia, Canada, USA and Japan.
After moving to Ealing from Italy, he had no idea of the significance of the borough.
“When I moved to Ealing, I didn't know anything about the story of the Ealing Club," he said.
"I have always been into rock music, but, honestly, this name (and its story) never happened to catch my attention.
"So, when I came here I thought Ealing was just a safe and very wealthy borough in West London. Being a music fan, I soon started searching for a local venue where I could catch live music.”
It may have opened doors to musical history, but Giorgio’s original search for a local live music venue proved fruitless. It’s a common frustration among Ealing residents, says Alistair Young, and it’s something he hopes will change as people learn about the borough’s history.
Inertia from the council and a lack of anywhere to accommodate live bands has pushed musicians further east, to find somewhere to perform, and it’s something that local publicans and landlords have the power to change.
“It’s not just about the blues—it’s about live music,” he says. “Ealing doesn’t have a venue for that.”
Alistair thinks a change in attitude needs to come from the British music industry, to breathe life into smaller clubs and make live music local again.
“Venues like the O2 have marketing power. We need to fight our corner of the market,” he says.
Ambitions for Suburban Steps to Rockland go beyond making the rounds of international film festivals. They involve bringing live music back to the suburbs.
Bob Salmon, artistic director of the Ealing Blues Festival, agrees the film has a wider significance.
“The documentary is just part of a bigger picture," he said.
"If we can inspire other organisations to promote other aspects of Ealing's heritage, as we have done, then there is a chance that Ealing may receive long overdue recognition.”
Bob was born in Perivale Maternity Hospital and spent his early life in Hanwell, where his parents had a flat on Elthorne Avenue.
Despite his lifelong connection to the borough, Bob says Ealing is a place misunderstood by its residents, its modern folklore buried beneath a bland exterior.
“Heritage is important for people's sense of identity," he said. "I think 'Ealing' as a community isn't quite sure about what 'Ealing' means.
“The first famous musician I became aware of as having lived in Ealing was probably Dusty Springfield. This would have been about 1964 when I was 13. I liked to think that I came from somewhere where famous people came from.”
Hers is a name that comes up in conversation with Alistair Young, who talks about a girl who worked in an Ealing Broadway record shop before going on to achieve worldwide adoration.
She’s more associated with Americana, he says, and it’s a misconception that hampers Ealing’s reputation.
The Estuary accents of The Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton, and the blues rock crowd that shaped Swinging London is the primary focus of Suburban Steps to Rockland.
Giorgio says the film, to be completed in November, has interviews with many musicians whose work shaped the subcultures of the 20th Century and who talked fondly of The Ealing Club.
“I did it with people like Pete Brown (lyricist for Cream), Eric Bell (founder member of Thin Lizzy), Mike Watt (Minutemen, now bassist for Iggy Pop and The Stooges), The Undertones and Chris Barber, just to name a few,” he said.
The film is scheduled for release in April 2014, and Alistair Young believes that, with its release, West London could become a new destination for music tourists hoping to see the place that spawned their favourite acts.