Stan Matthews is not only one of our most regular contributors to Memory Lane, but a life-long rock ’n’ roll fan, who has taken the time to compile several volumes detailing the history of Grantham’s live music and entertainment between 1900 and 2000.
He kindly leant a copy to us focused on the former Face Club on London Road, and there are so many nostalgic nuggets inside that we thought it worth a whole feature to share with you Stan’s meticulous research.
Known as the Grantham Rhythm and Blues Face Club, or simply The Face, it was opened by Brian Checkie Thompson in August 1964, in a large room and former umbrella factory above the Grantham Clothing Company on London Road. Brian was the son of a Great Gonerby butcher, who attended the King’s School in Grantham and then worked at Aveling Barford. It was his sporting prowess that first brought Brian local fame, and he played as goalkeeper for Brush Sports, Kettering Town, Peterborough United, Wisbech Town and Lockheed Leamington, before joining Grantham Town in 1965. A year later he gave the game up, and his musical passion took centre stage. Along with his wife, Barbara, they promoted entertainment dances and events at the Old Barracks Drill Hall in Grantham, as well as at a number of Nottingham venues.
When Brian decided to open the new club, it was reported in the Journal. It was described as a place ‘to cater for the young people of the borough on a Sunday evening, when generally, the town has not a lot to offer them’.
The Journal report continued: “The club, covering two floors, the upper of which is not yet in use, has a decor of jet black walls and ceiling, punctuated by a series of shaded lights surrounding a spotlight, to provide a ‘with it’ atmosphere.” Stan includes photos of masonry work on the ceiling of the room, complete with cherubs, which are still there today. It dates back to when the Masons used the large room as the Masonic hall. Umbrella manufacturers Kendall Ltd later moved in.
On the opening night of the club, Brian Checkie Thompson was quoted in the Journal as saying: “I think I know what the young people in Grantham want, and the rhythm and blues music in which we cater exclusively will attract them.
“We’re trying to create a club and an atmosphere here like the Cavern Club in Liverpool.”
It was to be open every Sunday, alternate Saturdays and Fridays, and one weekday. Brian was careful to add: “This will be a respectable club. The small percentage of undesirables in Grantham will not be admitted, and, if trouble does start, the troublemakers will be slung out.”
On opening night, August 30, 1964, scores of youngsters queued to be amongst the first to gain entry. Among them was 18-year-old Mick How, who told the Journal: “It’s just great! It’s about time we had something like this in Grantham.” He was joined by friends Terry Hall, 19, and Barry Squires, 16.
Also there were Mary Le Hair and Shirley Venables, both aged 16. Shirley said: “This place is decent. There are no toughs here.”
Sixten-year-olds Penny Harness and Vivienne Smith added: “We think the club will attract those people aged between 15 and 20 – and mostly Mods. We’ll definitely come again.”
Local group The Unit 2 were the first to perform at the club on its opening night. They comprised Mick Blankley on rhythm guitar, Mick Bacon on lead guitar, Ian Welby on drums, Graham MacKinder on bass guitar and vocalist Mick Lee.
A popular stop-off on the way to The Face Club was the Long Bar café, located just a few yards away on London Road. Friends would meet up there first and enjoy a cup of frothy coffee, while listening to popular records on the jukebox.
In September 1964, Screaming Lord Sutch, the popstar who founded the Monster Raving Loony Party and that year had fought Labour Party leader Harold Wilson during the General Election, came to perform at The Face Club. He was accompanied by his band The Savages, and the advert in the Journal highlighted that anyone who attended would also have the chance to be on BBC television. They were coming along to film a documentary on Screaming Lord Sutch’s life, and they captured local teenagers ‘in a frenzy’ at his presence.
Another notable act to perform at The Face Club were The Birds, described as ‘London’s greatest R&B group’. Their song Leaving Here reached number 48 in the UK charts.
Some may have seen a poster relating to the club, in which not only The Birds are billed but amazingly The Pretty Things, The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds. However, Stan has his doubts about how genuine this is, as he says no other publicity details can be found showing that these three groups ever played at The Face Club, although The Pretty Things and The Yardbirds did play at the Old Barracks Drill Hall in 1965.
Others may remember the Beat Preachers, formed in Coventry in 1963, who played at the club during its first year. Stan’s research has also uncovered a photo of The Intrepids, with Colin Haddock on guitar, Bob Leeson on bass, Keith Maxon on keyboard, drummer John Smith and vocalist Gerald Saddington.
The club was wound up after two years, with competition springing up in the town at The Granada, The Guildhall, The Old Barracks Drill Hall, The Westgate Club, and at the workers’ clubs of local manufacturers, including BMARC social club.
However, this certainly was not the end of Brian Checkie Thompson’s career in the entertainment industry, and in 1967 he promoted and presented a pop and rock festival in Spalding. On the bill were stars including Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Zoot Money and his Big Roll Band and The Cream with Eric Clapton on guitar and Ginger Baker, to name a few.
It is clear from Stan’s detailed research he is fond memories of Grantham’s live music scene. He has also compiled books on the history of the State, later Granada, cinema and theatre, and the history of the Old Barracks. Other volumes are on the history of the Grantham Dynamos, a very successful amateur local football club, and the Grantham Physical Culture Club.
As seen in the photo above, Stan himself embraced the ‘Teddy Boy’ style of clothing, with suede creeper shoes as blue as his jacket. He said: “I hope this will revive happy memories for many local pop fans of yesteryear. Keep on rocking!”