From the Starlight Rooms to the basement room
The strange thing about that place was that it wouldn't seem too out of place in today's London soul/ mod scene.
The strange thing about that place was that it wouldn't seem too out of place in today's London soul/ mod scene. But in it's day it was revolutionary in its approach to soul/ R&B music. In fact it was one of the only places in the country that you could hear R&B music back then. It was the sort of place that you think back and feel that you must have imagined much of it or exaggerated it in your own mind. And then you meet someone else who went and realise that it was no exaggeration at all. It really was that bazaar.
To put it into context you had to be on the soul scene in the late 70's, early 80's. The Northern Soul scene was suffering what was to be it's biggest slump. Many of us on the scene were getting a bit tired of hearing the same old records over and over again and many had even drifted away. I had started buying blues and R&B records just to hear something different, but there was no real 'scene' that I knew of where I could share these records with others. Then someone mentioned to me that Ady Croasdell and Randy Cozens had started a club (what was to become the 6Ts Rhythm and Soul Society) in a pub in Covent Garden (The Bedford Head) where they were playing something a little different.
Unfortunately I left it too late to make it to Covent Garden, but due to its success it soon moved to a pub in West Hampstead called The Railway Tavern. Above this pub was a venue called The Starlight Room. The first time I attended was with a couple of friends, Georgie and Phil from Cambridge. Phil drove us into Hampstead, and I was glad that he knew where he was going as we seemed to be passing through many back streets that all looked alike to me. But we soon arrived outside The Railway Tavern where, as with most soul nights around that time, there were the obligatory Lambrettas and Vespas parked out front.
I recognised the names of the DJ's, Randy, Ian Clark, Mick Smith, Tony Ellis, etc from other venues so I was expecting some Northern Soul, but boy was I in for a surprise. Some Northern was played, but it wasn't long before I was hearing records that I had not heard played anywhere else. And what made that night so refreshing was that the importance wasn't on the rarity, value or whether it was a 100mph stomper, but on the good time feel of the records. In fact it very soon got so packed that there was little or no room to dance anyway. People jumped, hopped and basically did what they felt like. The emphasis was truly on fun and this dictated the playlist, not some misplaced snobbery on behalf of the DJ. In fact just as importantly the DJ's also seemed to have a new vigour and their enthusiasm for the records they played was certainly infectious. And the punters lapped it up. They sang along at the tops of their voices to Huey 'Piano' Smith's "Don't you just know it". Little Walter's "My babe" had them strutting there stuff and Jimmy McCracklin "The Walk" became a huge favourite there. A record that I heard for the first time that night and moved into legendary status among the West Hampstead punters was Nina Simone "My baby just cares for me". It may be hard to believe following its later (and long overdue) commercial success but this record would send folk crazy. I remember people swinging from the rafters, forming human trains and any manner of things that would have sent your hard core northern fan into apoplexy if it had happened at any all-nighter. In fact the mayhem regularly caused concern for the management of the venue. But people truly knew how to enjoy themselves.
I soon learnt to get there early, get in a couple of pints (you were unlikely to see the bar again that night it was so packed) and park myself next to the DJ booth so that I could note the records played in the hope that I could pick them up cheap from a record dealer who had yet to discover the 6T's sound. I remember playing James Brown "Tell me what you're gonna do" to friends with a renewed enthusiasm. And the in joke about Bert Weedon became almost like the masons handshake among those in the know who went. (Not that I ever truly understood what that was all about, but that wasn't the point:-) And those that I dragged along never regretted going. They too were soon caught up in the adrenaline rush that was The Starlight Room.
Like all great things, the Starlight Room was very short lived. Ady went on to start the now legendary 100 Club all-nighters with Randy who is sadly no longer with us. Some of the DJ's are still going, some have retired from the scene. But anyone who went there will never forget it. Just mention the name to one of the privileged few that made it there and at a minimum you will get a affectionate smile. But most likely they will start chuntering on about the music, the packed venue and the great atmosphere that has never really been replicated anywhere since.