Tag Archives: Soho

An evening at Ronnie Scott’s

Although we booked a week in advance for Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Gerrard Street, Soho, London, there were no tables left for either the 6p.m. or the 11 p.m. show. This was not surprising. The band of the night, the Ronnie Scott Legacy Band, rarely performs and the club is always heavily booked. So for 20 pounds we reserved places “at the bar” or “on the side”. Imagining a rush for a few square inches of standing room in mosh-pit crush, or two inches of elbow room at the bar, we arrived ahead of time and with a sizeable queue of other early-birds, ran the entry gauntlet. First we passed the front door security where our names were checked against the guest list and we were warned off using phones and cameras, then through the cloak-room check-in, then through a reception team, where our names were checked against another list and lastly to a charming waitress who showed us to our places “on the side”.

Ronnie Scott's
Ronnie Scott’s

Low ceilinged, dim and small, the club has the feel of the classic jazz basement but with none of the smoky closeness or the worn, shabby look. Ronnie Scott’s is chic, plush, hip and very, very cool. Its colours are black and red with the occasional hint of chrome. The dark walls are hung with black and white photos of the stars and superstars who have made Ronnie Scott ’s an icon among music clubs. There are two semi-circles of tables, lit with red lamps, at the centre of the room, close to the stage. At the back of the room, the bar is small and discreet with low lights and tones. The seats “on the side” are tiered in rows, behind benches, also lit with red lamps, for drinks and for those who choose to dine.

Ronnie Scott’s offers two menus, one for each show, and three courses. The choices are good, with four or five options for entrees, mains and desserts. The dishes we chose (the cod and the duck) were excellent. The wine list looked tempting but we by-passed it for the cocktails, which were simply irresistible. The Fitzgerald and the Mojito, each with a little cube of absinthe soaked sugar fizzing away in their depths, tasted delicious and were very potent.

The evening’s support band, the Ronnie Scott All Stars, consisting of drummer, bass player and a brilliant pianist/vocalist, were very, very good – a powerful build-up and a great lead-in to the main performance. The audience was peppered with people who looked as if they might well have been around in the days when the club was a basement in Gerrard Street and snippets of over-heard conversation behind and beside us suggested that most were devout fans of jazz and of Ronnie Scott. The anticipation was palpable and the sense of occasion awesome. When the Legacy Band appeared, there was a roar of cheering, whistles and long applause. With Mark Fletcher on drums, Tim Wells on double bass, Pat Crumley on Saxophone and that stalwart of so many of Ronnie Scott’s own quartets, octets and combos, John Critchinson, on the keyboards, the music was magnificent. In a voice that is cultured English at its smoothest and, yes, sexiest, John Critchinson introduced the band and the numbers, reminisced just a little, tossed out some of those one-liners and asides and re-told some of those old jokes that Ronnie Scott was famous for. For everyone, club debutants and old lags alike, the magic of Ronnie Scott’s the club and Ronnie Scott the man was alive again.

Ronnie Scott’s

On October 30, 1959, in Gerrard Street, Soho, London, saxophonists Pete King and Ronnie Scott opened the modest basement jazz club which was to become a major influence on British music and survive for over half century as a mecca for jazz musicians and fans from all over the world. 2030

Soho, London Travelstripe
Soho, London Travelstripe

When the club opened Ronnie Scott was already a jazz legend on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the earliest British musicians to adopt the bebop style of Charlie Parker, he had played for over a decade alongside such greats as Johnny Claes, Ted Heath, Cab Kaye, Tito Burns, John Dankworth, Jack Parnell, Victor Feldman, Hank Shaw, Phil Seaman and Tubby Hayes. He had won the approval of great jazzmen like Charles Mingus who said: “Of the white boys, Ronnie Scott gets closer to the negro blues feeling, the way Zoot Sims does”

From the start, the impact of Scott and King’s new club on the British music scene was enormous. Not only did it expose the local musicians and fans to Trans-Atlantic influences such as Zoot Sims and Sonny Rollins, but it also promoted domestic artists like Tubby Hayes, Dick Morissey, Ernest Ranglin and Stan Tracy. Ronnie Scott’s rapidly became legendary. When the lease ran out on the Gerrard Street basement in 1965 and Ronnie Scott’s moved to its present location it continued until 1967, under the name of “The Old Place”, as a venue for emerging local talents, among them Eric Clapton.

Meanwhile, the reputation and success of Ronnie Scott’s, Frith Steet grew. Duke Ellington played here. The Who’s Tommy premiered here and tragically, it was at Ronnie Scott’s that Jimmy Hendrix gave his last public performance. Music videos, films, TV shows and radio programmes were recorded at Ronnie’s , earning Scott his 1981 OBE “for services to jazz”. In May 1995, Van Morrison and Georgie Fame, both frequent performers at the club, recorded the album “How Long Has This Been Going On” here, with Pee Wee Ellis on the saxophone.

Throughout this period, Ronnie Scott played on in various groups, most of which included keyboards player John Critchinson. As the clubs Master of Ceremonies, he was famous for his repertoire of jokes. At this time he also did session work, including the solo on The Beatles Lady Madonna.

Ronnie Scott died in 1996 and Pete King continued to run the club until, finally, in 2005, it was sold to theatre impresario Sally Green.

The club’s reputation and popularity continue. It attracts music lovers and jazz aficionados of all ages from all corners of the world. It is still a popular haunt of many old patrons from its early years including big names of music and show business. Ronnie Scott’s has recently re-opened after extensive renovations and re-organisation, to accommodate the hundreds of patrons who cram into it every night. It now offers 2 sessions, from 6 to 10.30 p.m and from 11p.m. 3.a.m. There are mutterings out there among the old guard that the ambience, spontaneity and spirit of Ronnie’s have been lost in renovation. Is it true, I wonder?

Find out in Travelstripe’s next post – A Night at Ronnie Scott’s.

Soho, London

With its cosmopolitan mix of people and its many diverse bars, restaurants, clubs and cafes, Soho is one of the most interesting corners of London. It is also one of the oldest areas of the city.

Soho Travelstripe
Maison Bertaux

Soho was part of Westminster Abbey’s lands until was appropriated by King Henry VIII as a hunting ground. The name comes from the hunters call to signalthe sighting of a prey.

The first Soho settlers were aristocrats, driven from the city of London by the Great Fire of 1666. As its popularity with the gentry declined, Soho saw its first wave of migration, mainly from economic and religious refugees, like the French Protestant Huguenots who settled there in 1685. By the 1800s, Soho was home to many different ethnic groups from all parts of Europe, as well as political fugitives like Karl Marx. Many of the descendants of these first settlers still live in Soho and new migrants have continued to arrive over the ensuing centuries to make their homes alongside them.

The prettiest and most peaceful part of Soho is undoubtedly Soho Square. The Square centres on a shady green pocket handkerchief park, with a statue to Charles II and a wooden summer house, built in 1875. The first houses on the square were built by the city aristocrats. St Patrick’s and the French Protestant Church, both established in 1893, are the legacy of 19th migrants.

Greek Street, named after Greek refugees from the 17th Century Ottoman invasions, still has buildings which survive from that period. Also sited here is the House of St Barnabas for destitute women, which dates back to1746. Soho’s most famous establishment is La Maison Bertaux. Established in 1871, it is the oldest patisserie in London. 1663

Soho, London, Travelstripe
China Town

Gerrard Street, now the location of London’s China town, was originally won in a duel by Baron Gerard of Brandon and developed as part of the first aristocratic settlement. As they drifted away to the more fashionable West, rents dropped and migrant communities, including French, Italian and Jewish moved in. After World War II, thousands of agricultural workers from Hong Kong arrived. In 1985, in recognition of the significance the Chinese Community the City of Westminster renovated Gerrard Street in oriental style and made it a pedestrian zone.

Old Compton Street is Soho’s high street. The buildings, bars and restaurants in and around Compton Street are steeped in history and in stories of the people who lived and visited there, including great artists, writers and musicians. Its oldest shop, now the Algerian Coffee Stores is here. Next door to Bar Italia, in Frith Street, is the house where Mozart stayed with his family from 1764 to 1765. Above it is the room where John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in 1926. Ronnie Scott’s, over the road, has been the venue for nearly all the big names of jazz since it opened in 1959. The French house in Dean Street was a haunt of Maurice Chevalier and General De Gaulle.

Soho is a fascinating area, easily walkable and with hundreds of great spots to take a break, both indoor and outdoor, when you can walk no more . There is always something to do, see and learn in Soho.