Words Peter West
Illustrations Luke Stuart
1942 was a prodigious year in terms of musical talent. It saw the birth of Paul McCartney, Brian Jones, Ian Dury, Brian Wilson, Jimi Hendrix and Carole King to name but a few. It was also the year that a new musical venue was born, one that went on to achieve legendary status around the world: the 100 Club.
Situated at 100 Oxford Street, it started life under another name: The Feldman Swing Club. In fact, let’s back track, it was originally a downstairs eatery called Mac’s Restaurant. One September evening in 1942, Robert Feldman, a jazz performer and enthusiast, happened to call into the restaurant and as he looked around he began to see the potential of the space. “I thought to myself, this would make a nice little club.”
The enterprising Feldman negotiated with the owner of Mac’s, recruited top jazz musicians and opened for business on October 24, 1942. The Feldman Swing Club soon became known as the place for the best jazz music and dancing, in particular, jitterbugging. This new type of jive, loved by American servicemen, wasn’t welcomed in some of the more upmarket, smarter clubs because of its energetic and physical style.
The Feldman Swing Club quickly became a success, largely by making itself accessible to the average working man price-wise and through attracting exciting performers. These included Ronnie Scott, Johnny Dankworth, Benny Goodman, Stephane Grappelli, Kathy Stobart, Ray Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Mel Powell, Art Pepper, Humphrey Lyttleton, George Melly and others.
Jazz continued to be at the very heart of the club through the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s (it’s still going strong today), but to reflect broadening musical tastes, the Feldman Swing Club changed its name to the 100 Club in 1964, drawing inspiration from its address, 100 Oxford Street: the Who, the Kinks, the Animals, David Bowie and the Spencer Davis Group were just some of the names who appeared in the newly-named club.
Then came the ‘70s and Punk arrived with its hard-edged style and anarchic attitude. The 100 Club hosted the first ever Punk festival in September 1976. Unbelievably, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Buzzcocks, the Vibrators, Subway Sect and Siouxsie & the Banshees all performed for the first time in the capital at the 100 Club. The festival proved to be a defining event as other venues were wary of Punk. The 100 Club seized the initiative and championed the movement which some would argue changed the face of music. The Sex Pistols went on to record a live album at the club. At about this time, Reggae sessions and the likes of Eddie Grant, Steel Pulse and the Mighty Diamonds also began to feature at 100 Oxford Street. Into the ‘80s and the beginning of the 6Ts Northern Soul All-Nighter gigs at the 100 Club. South African township music also thrived at the venue at this time, with many musicians appearing who couldn’t perform in their own country because of apartheid.
The following decade saw the 100 Club start to showcase indie bands and performers like Suede, Oasis, Travis, Catatonia and Kula Shaker throughout the ‘90s. Indie music is still welded to the 100 Club today.
The 100 Club has always been a great testing ground for bands and musicians. Many secret concerts and warm-up shows have taken place to try out new material by the likes of Paul Weller, the Rolling Stones, Blur, Paul McCartney, Mark Ronson, Alice Cooper and Metallica. The 100 Club likes a laugh, too. Comedy stars like Al Murray, Harry Hill, Arthur Smith, Bill Bailey and Mark Lamarr have appeared on special comedy nights.
Given its enthusiasm for musical diversity and many other forms of entertainment, it seems unthinkable to ever consider the 100 Club would cease to exist. But in late 2010, owner Jeff Horton admitted the venue faced closure because of increasing overheads. A Facebook campaign, Save the 100 Club, helped raise awareness of the club’s plight and, in February 2011, Converse announced a sponsorship partnership and the 100 Club was saved!
Thousands of performers have strutted their stuff at the 100 Club, and it would have been impossible to have listed more than just a fraction of them here. So apologies if a particular favourite has been omitted. But perhaps the most important thing is that the legendary venue will continue to nurture new talent and be a home for established stars. A unique, intimate, sticky (despite the air conditioning) space, where enthusiastic audiences can enjoy and celebrate so many fantastic musical genres: here’s hoping the 100 Club will still be going strong in 2042 when it will be 100 years old. Now that will be some party!