The Groovy Cellar was a neo-psychedelic club that occupied Planets nightclub at 52 Piccadilly, right next to Burlington Arcade in 1981. It launched on 15 May. The club was the brainchild of James Hall, the main DJ, who ran Roman Records in Fulham, and Clive Solomon, who managed a band called Mood Six. Hall had a passion for obscure sixties garage bands, while Solomon preferred more commercial later sixties pop. Nevertheless, there was enough common ground for them to agree on the basic Groovy Cellar concept, and they managed to hire Planets on Friday evenings.
>‘I wouldn’t call it a psychedelic revival myself,’ Hall once said. ‘It’s more of a swinging sixties night. I’m trying to capture the period before everyone fell on the floor stoned and wore tatty denim. You know, Twiggy, Diana Rigg in ‘The Avengers’, Regency Dress... Very, very English.’
One commentator described the Groovy Cellar as a vision of the past searching for a present; a kaleidoscope of clothes and music from 1964-68. ‘A typical visitor is the one waiting in the alley by the entrance. He sports a pair of desert boots, sunshine yellow drainpipes, hip belt, ruffled shirt, and a couple of well-placed gold chains ...The boys dress from The Regal (Kensington Market and Newburgh Street). Many of the girls are still rummaging around at Oxfam, though recently an outlet has been provided for them at Sweet Charity in Kensington Market.’
The Groovy Cellar was absolutely brilliant; there is no other way to describe it. Walking through the door was like stepping through some kind of sixties time portal. Along with period multi-coloured lighting and screens showing sixties film footage, came (what was to me) an entirely new genre of music. A lot of people would consider my life experience of night clubs pretty limited, but a friend of mine has since made his career in the music industry and has been to clubs of every kind all over the place. Yet he remains adamant that the best nights he’s ever had were at The Groovy Cellar during the first few months of its existence.
A typical evening there would start out at a pretty low tempo, with some lesser-known sounds being played while the crowd came in. And then the DJ would play Nobody But Me byThe Human Beinz, or maybe The Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Incense and Peppermints, and the dance floor would instantly fill up. After that, it would be packed through into the early hours. The club attracted a lot of the best dancers from the London mod scene, but a distinctive style of psychedelic dancing soon emerged, involving far more expressive and elaborate hand movements.
The other tracks I most associate with the club are:
The Action I'll Keep On Holding On
The Association Along Comes Mary
The Electric Prunes I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night
Shocking Blue Venus
The Creation Making Time
Jefferson Airplane Somebody To Love
Dusty Springfield Little By Little
The Castaways Liar Liar
The Rolling Stones She's Like A Rainbow
The Easybeats Friday On My Mind
The Flaming Groovies Shake Some Action
This latter record was, of course, a relatively recent release in 1981, but the sound was spot on.
The DJs also played a lot of early Doors, Velvet Underground and Traffic, Beatles material like Rain and Tomorrow Never Knows, later British beat, West Coast ‘garage band’ sounds and more popular classics from the psychedelic-cum-hippy era, like Arthur Brown, the Mamas and Papas and even the Monkees.
On the origins of another London club, The Clinic, this account survives. The date is 1981. Clive (The Doctor) recalled meeting Graham and Andy in Kensington Market. ‘I prepared a couple of DJ tapes for them called “Doctor Deepjoy’s Heavy Elephant Music Thing” and another called “The Seeds Invade the Earth” and they played it at the stall. I got hangin’ around and I was trying on some Paisley underwear and John (the Clinic’s organiser) and Andy were observing and asked me if I’d like to DJ. We started at the Phoenix (preceding the Groovy Cellar by two days and a week in duration) in May. I was playing my heavy psychedelic records and the thing just took off: I took the “Doctor” name from my tape. We thought we should have “The Clinic” built around the character. John got Gossip’s and we started with The Barracudas playing.’
Once upon a time a 'coffee bar' was an exotic place inhabited by beardy Bohemians and guitar-strumming, long-haired poets. No Wifi. No skinny lattes. Beats - or as the media dubbed them, 'Beatniks' (after sputnik, the commie implications made clear). Finger-popping groovy chicks with boyish haircuts. 'Hipsters' were a style of jeans - low-riding on the hipbone, tight around the ass and crotch but with a great expanse of denim fabric flaring and flapping down the leg.
I'd seen photos of such enticing, magical, possibly mythical places in Life magazine but this was the first time I'd got up the nerve to actually enter one. Me, I was in my sophomore year studying anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia. The year, 1966 - that history making, pivotal moment when Don Draper's slick world of futuristic modernism gave way to far out hairy Hippies eagerly awaiting The Age of Aquarius.
The coffee bar was almost empty except for two young women – both with long straight (ironed?) hair, mascara and wearing excitingly tight hipster-style jeans and slogan t-shirts. One girl’s t-shirt proclaimed ‘Make Love Not War’. Although only half way through my personal metamorphosis from cool Jazz Beat to long-haired, Native American headband-wearing Hippy, the two girls gave me a smile when I came up to the bar and ordered my coffee. Encouraged by this, suddenly, strangely bold, I asked the one in the ‘Make Love Not War’ t-shirt if she practiced what she preached. ‘Do you live far from here?’ she wanted to know.
Back at my place, as casual as could be, Make Love Not War peeled off her clothes and, with a smile, lay down on my narrow bed. I couldn’t believe my fate: all those years of fantasizing about casual sex and here it was lying naked on my bed and playfully, encouragingly, oh so invitingly, smiling up at me. Thanks to a lovely woman I’d met and fallen in love with the previous year, at a different college, I had finally (and very satisfyingly) lost my virginity. But monogamous sex within a long-term loving relationship was clearly not going to help the cause of the Sexual Revolution to which, since the earliest days of secretly stashing my Playboys in the garage, I’d sworn my allegiance
I too removed my clothes and lay down next to Make Love Not War. We kissed. We touched each other. It was great until it became all too clear that, despite her best efforts, I was never – not in a thousand years – going to achieve an erection. ‘Not to worry’, Make Love Not War reassured me while, with an easy but I couldn’t help thinking, in truth, disappointed smile (we had, after all, come some three stops on the Broad Street Subway and now she would have to reverse the journey) she put her clothes back on and then, with a wave, was gone.
Dejected, distraught, defeated, I stared blankly out my kitchen window. It was only after a few minutes I realized the woman who lived across the little alley which separated our brownstone buildings was washing her dishes and staring back at me. ‘What’s wrong? You look terrible’, she asked. Having spoken with her before, enjoyed her company when chatting between our respective windows – and perhaps because I knew she was studying to be a doctor – I blurted out the whole, sorry, tragic tale. ‘Come over for a drink’, she proposed.
I had utterly and completely failed the revolution. The most ultimately groovy, supremely liberated, politically and physiologically perfect Hippy chick had just a brief moment ago been lying absolutely n a k e d on my bed and I had let the movement down – failed, literally, to rise to the occasion.
Rebecca was about 22 to my (just) 19 years. She was Jewish, curvaceously, delightfully curvaceous, full of life and, after leaving me alone with my glass of wine for a few minutes, was now stood leaning against the frame of the living room door wearing a pink baby-doll nightie. We made love (yes, the right word for it) on the sofa, then on the floor. After some excellent food and wine we again made love on the bed and, splashing a great deal of water about in the process, in the bath.
‘Doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with you’ was her professional diagnoses. Twenty-five years later, in London, a sexual therapist I’d visited hoping that he would ‘cure’ my impotence – which persisted whenever my theoretical intentions to advance the good cause of the Sexual Revolution overshadowed my actual, impulsive, straightforward desires – concluded ‘I think your cock has more sense than the rest of you’.
I was not the only young adult in 1966 delightedly signing up for service in the cause of the Sexual Revolution. All over America and, indeed, all over the Western world, there were millions and millions of us Baby Boomers falling over ourselves with excitement at the prospect of doing just that. Doing it - with all and sundry and as casually as ordering a burger and fries in McDonald's.
1966 was the year when the tropical storm of the steadily growing and increasingly unstoppable Sexual Revolution collided with the equally unstoppable demographic tsunami of the Boomers’ explosion into young adulthood. Factor in the whirlwind of panic and protest which was sweeping through American Boomers at the prospect of the draft (a jump to 400,000 US troops in Vietnam in 1966) and you have the makings of the perfect storm.
The times they were a changing and one such change was that the Sexual Revolution would now be under new management: liberated, let it all hang out, Make Love Not War Baby Boomers rather than the middle-aged, pre-Boomers like James Bond (probably born 1924) or the only slightly less fictional Hugh Hefner (born 1926). Only a few months now before 1967's 'Summer of Love'. But would I be up for it?
© Ted Polhemus, 2016
This is a slightly revised extract from my book
Everyone knows about Carnaby Street and the King's Road and their place in putting Swinging London and British fashion on the global map. But, although less well-known abroad, a rather run-down, three story ex-department store at 49-53 High Street Kensington - 'Kensington Market' - had at least as great an impact on the flowering of British fashion and streetstyle.
Whether we are talking about music, clubbing, cinema, restaurants, architecture, design or dress style, Britain has always been at its best when things start small - on a shoe-string - and thrive or die off in a process of Darwinian natural selection. Kensington Market was the definitive well-spring of such little to large British fashion and style innovations. For a few quid rental of a stall and a sewing machine taking up space on your kitchen table anyone could have a go at discovering if there were other people out there who shared their definition of desirable, must have style.
If someone had had the foresight to purchase one or two items from each and every stall in Ken Market they would have a complete exhibition of every imaginable (and many downright unimaginable) British styletribes - and a great many looks which defied categorization; expressing the unique style vision of one of Ken Market's many creative one-off eccentric talents.
Most stalls and little shops within Ken Market came and went but there was one persevering presence: Johnson's - originally 'Cockell and Johnson est. 1968'. Rock & Roll influenced but resistant to labelling - always a bit of this and a bit of that; always right even if you couldn't put your finger on why - Lloyd Johnson's shop was there right up until old Ken Market finally closed down in 2000. Johnson's was the jewel in the crown of the multiverse that was Kensington Market.
Some years back Lloyd Johnson put pen to paper to write a little summary of the history of his unique shop (shops - in 1978 there was a second Johnson's on the 'wrong' end of the King's Road). As well as helping me to identify many of the people in my photos from Ken Market and World's End (see Ted's Galleries, top right on the homepage), Lloyd has kindly agreed to let me post this potted history here on my website.
In 1967 I opened my first shop in Kensington Market - named 'THE HEAVY METAL KIDS' selling velvet jeans and leather jackets. The shop was very small measuring 8' x 12'. From the outside it looked like a silver submarine, the entrance was an oval hole - this was plugged and bolted at the end of each day. The interior was art nouveau style. The stock was housed in Victorian furniture. This modest start attracted the more adventurous customers in The Kensington Market.
We moved to a larger location within Kensington Market, built a shop with a classic shop front and renamed the shop 'COCKELL AND JOHNSON est. 1968'. This was a tongue-in-cheek jab at the established menswear stores in Savile Row and Jermyn Street (The establishment.) It had to be done, this was the 60s and we were young and having fun!
This ploy paid off. We manufactured shirts, jackets, trousers and knitwear. Our clientele grew and business was fantastic. Customers at this time included Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Yes, Roxy Music, The Nice, Spooky Tooth, Gary Glitter, Argent, The Kinks, Dave Hockney, David Bailey, Tim Curry from The Rocky Horror Show, various record producers and A& R men. If you were in the music business and wanted the image you shopped at Kensington Market and my shop was the leading light.
This period in England was grim and very difficult for big and small businesses alike. The coalminers and garbage collectors' strikes bought with them the introduction of the '3 DAY WEEK'. Electricity was rationed. Factories could only work 3 days a week and in some cases closed down for good. Finding it hard to get goods made I renamed the shop 'JOHNSON & JOHNSON' and went into the vintage clothing business. At this time nobody was selling vintage menswear from the 40s, 50s or 60s. I had the pick of the crop and we were quickly snapped up as the fashion magazines' favourite place to find an original & unusual look.
The shop was decorated in a suitable manner to reflect the vintage stock. Kitsch brick wallpaper & newspapers from the 40s, 50s & 60s papered the walls and the clothing displays were a constant source of fun. Among our customers were the young soul boys - now appearing in every corner of the country. Northern Soul was a growing scene and these kids wanted clothes that were different to the High street stores. At the same time Teddy Boys reappeared in London - a cult that first appeared with the arrival of Rock 'n' Roll in the 50s. We had our share of both these opposing youth cults.
We continued to sell vintage clothing and found more and more young customers buying and wearing the 40s and 50s vintage clothing. Seeing the supply of really top end stylish vintage clothing was drying up we started to manufacture again and searched the Midlands mill towns for dead stock fabrics from the 40s, 50s & 60s. Nobody else was doing this! Repro Retro Clothing had arrived along with queues at the doors of JOHNSON & JOHNSON. Business was good again after the lean early 70s.
Among the new clientele were some kids from Bromley, a suburb of London where David Bowie spent his early years at The Arts Lab. Siouxsie, Billy Idol & Steve Severn were destined to be part of the biggest music explosion since the 60s and Beatlemania.
We opened the new shop 'Johnsons the Modern Outfitters ' at 406 Kings Road in Chelsea, an area that was very popular in the 60s. Vivienne Westwood & Malcolm McLaren had opened a shop a few years earlier in the same area. I was making 40s 50s & 60s inspired clothing and was asked to make Mod clothing for the Who film Quadophenia. Sting & Phil Daniels the lead actors' clothes were made by Johnsons the Modern Outfitters and news quickly spread by word of mouth. The décor appeared to be that of a classic Victorian men's outfitters at first glance BUT! when you went into the basement of the shop it was a different matter!!!
The basement was grey dry brushed in two tones of grey. Fake cobwebs were sprayed hanging from the ceiling and an eerie Victorian barbers' chair stood in the corner for those who dared to try on the footwear which was pure ROCK N' ROLL! The chair became a big attraction because of the story of 'SWEENY TODD THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET'. A lot of new bands were being formed and the overspill from the New York clubs MAX'S KANSAS CITY and CBGB were moving to London. It was a happening place again. Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Stiv Bators & many more arrived to combat the music establishment, reinforcements for The Sex Pistols and The Clash, who were the new generation of British Punk rockers claiming the Rock 'n' Roll high ground. They were all LA ROCKA! Customers.
At this time, because of our involvement with Quadrophenia, we were being labelled as a 'MOD SHOP'. Not wanting to be limited in this way it was decided to start a ROCK N' ROLL label/brand and 'LA ROCKA!' was born. A small range of black leather jackets, leather jeans, black cotton jeans, jean jackets & biker boots were added to the constantly changing stock.
It was unbelievable: the queues at the doors of both shops grew and grew. When the stock was delivered it was sold out instantly. The clientele list read like 'THE WHO'S WHO OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS'. The new range of Rocker styles along with the new label LA ROCKA! were a huge hit…we were really please because we didn't want to be known only as a MOD shop. WE WERE A ROCK N' ROLL SHOP!! If we were to be labelled that was the label!
We now spanned three decades of Rock/entertainment icons among our clientele from Jerry Lee Lewis, Terry Dene , Billy Fury, Joe Brown, Madness, Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, The Cramps, Paul & Linda McCartney, Marianne Faithful, Sparks, Eddie Kidd, David Bowie, Hall & Oates, Blondie, Ringo & his son Zak, The Stray Cats, Jack Nicholson, Adam & The Ants, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Specials, Chelsea ,Johnny Halliday( The top French Rock 'n' Roll star), The Scorpions ( Top German Rock band) Tom Waits (see Down by Law film), Dave Edmunds, Chris Spedding, Rupert Everett, Daniel Day-Lewis, John Paul Gaultier, Paul Smith, John Galliano, The Boomtown Rats, Robert Plant & the guys from Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Chris Issacs , Steve Strange, Frankie Goes To Hollywood , Marc Almond from Soft Cell, Anthony Perkins, Billy Connolly & Tina Turner to name a few.
The new shop established, we decided to expand and redecorate our shop in Kensington Market. The décor would be spooky & very Rock 'n' Roll. The changing rooms were shaped like coffins, a lot of fake marble was used along with purple crushed velvet and a church door was hung at the entrance. Several years latter this style would be come known as 'GOTH' and one of our customers became known as 'THE QUEEN OF GOTH' - Siouxsie wanted to shake that label and asked to be photographed in the new range of La Rocka! clothing. This range was based on the war in the Pacific and made use of both Japanese and American images.
A cover of The Face which featured our clothes was stunning and brought with it a host of new customers. We expanded the range to include the girlfriends of our male customers. WE HAD BECOME A CULT! People working for us were forming bands and were finding success in the world of music. . . For example, Billy Duffy (The Cult) and David Parsons (Bush) - both of their bands have become very big names worldwide.
Every year we would have a New Years Eve Party for our staff and customers at which the LA ROCKA! label's loyalty was cemented in FUN! Our loyal pop/rockstar clientele would play for free and we would give the money raised to The MS charity . . . Madness, The Stray Cats, members of The Pretenders,, The Flying Padovanis, Marie Wilson & Wilsonaires were amongst those that did us proud…The Rolling Stones came to see The Stray Cats and booked them as support for their forthcoming tour.
We added more Rocker inspired items to the already substantial La Rocka! Range…printed shirts ,tattoo knits, skull & crossbones knits, mohair sweaters , heavyweight sweaters and some more leather jackets….BUT with a difference! . . . we printed , painted and studded the jackets…the customers loved them . . . George Micheal, Alice Cooper, Dave Stewart & Annie Lennox all bought them….George Micheal used both of his jackets from us in his videos with Aretha Franklin….success again!!!!
I had this mad desire to do a gold Biker outfit to celebrate . . . guess it was Elvis's gold suit playing on my mind! Once again instant success!!…..though this time it was Lux Interior from The Cramps that bought the first outfit…..gold boots, gold leather jeans and gold leather jacket - he looked amazing!!!! . The fashion editor of The Face magazine was ecstatic when he saw the outfit. We got the front cover and four pages inside dedicated to the outfit…So I thought why not do silver as well! A similar thing happened , we got a phone call from Vogue: Could they photograph Liza Minnelli in the silver jacket for the cover of Vogue?
We continued with the best Rocker items of the La Rocka! range and expanded the Larocka! Brand to included wild velvet suits, fake fur coats and a huge variety of shirts in fantastic French & Italian fabrics - but all the time staying true to our 'ROCK N' ROLL ROOTS' the footwear was 70s inspired at this time…..TAKE THAT (Robbie Williams was a member- see the video ) the first huge British boy band bought the fur coats along with other items and used them in their video….OASIS also bought the fur coats…the new LaRocka! Items were established…
- LLOYD JOHNSON
THANKS LLOYD FOR SHARING THIS. AND THANKS FOR YOUR INSPIRING SHOPS AND CLOTHING. I'VE STILL GOT THOSE GOLD BOOTS - I've put them on a bookshelf and see them everyday.
THERE ARE LOTS OF PICS OF BOTH JOHNSON'S SHOPS IN BOTH NOV 2015 ALBUMS IN TED'S GALLERIES (SEE HOMEPAGE TOP RIGHT)
- TED POLHEMUS
It’s really late - so late that there is only the occasional passing car and not a soul to be seen. And this on Broad Street, the main north/south thoroughfare of downtown Philadelphia. It’s 1967 and I’m walking home with my flatmate and friend Andre - a budding, promising classical guitarist and avid player of the ancient Chinese game of Go. I’m studying anthropology at Temple University, near which we have spent the evening and from where we have about a half-hour walk home straight up Broad Street. We’re carrying two big grocery bags, which are full to brimming over with twigs from which the leaves - marijuana - have been removed. To be precise, Andre is carrying both big bags, as I am hoping that should the police stop us I can avoid rotting in prison for the rest of my life on the grounds that I’m just an innocent bystander. The fact that I’ve got waist-length hair, hip-hugging flairs covered in ‘peace’ symbol badges and am all too clearly a no good, degenerate, Commie-loving Hippy is something which I’m trying to keep from my mind. As we walk along, Andre and I chat about the meaning of life and struggle to affect as casual a demeanor as possible. At one point we glance back down Broad Street and realize that, as in some warped fairy tale, we have left a trail of marijuana twigs behind us.
A trail which any even half-witted cop could easily have followed right back to the terraced house across from the university campus where this great adventure had begun. The details of how this had all come about - ‘We’re nice, well behaved, hard-working, middle-class students, officer’, the explanation taking shape in my mind’s eye as we reach the half-way point home and get excessively nonchalant when a police car cruises past - are not clear now, and may well not have been even back in 1967. Somehow Andre knew this guy who was studying Jazz guitar and financing his studies, as one does, by selling dope. And we’ve gone down to this guy’s apartment, which is near the campus, and the entire floor of the place is ankle deep in marijuana leaves and twigs - like autumn leaves to be raked up from a lawn.
It’s all too much for this one guy to cope with, and we’re offered a bag of twigs each if we will lend a hand and help with stripping away the leaves and bagging them up. Like old time agricultural workers we roll up our sleeves, fortified with sips of the tea which our new-found friend is boiling-up from the twigs. Although I’d smoked the occasional joint since arriving in Philly (kids today might find it hard to believe, but there had been absolutely no drugs in my high school) I’d never before drunk tea made from marijuana. I presumed it wouldn’t be very powerful but, when the room began to spin like Dorothy’s in Kansas, and when the great - seemingly increasing rather than decreasing - drifts of leaves and twigs began to be blown about by strange cosmic winds, I started to think otherwise.
At one point, needing a break from the hard slog of agriculture, we went out to a nearby Jazz club. As a young teenager back in Neptune, New Jersey who yearned for all things Beat, it had been my dream to escape to New York City where I would hang out in little Jazz clubs where black Jazzmen grooved and white chicks dressed all in black with cool haircuts beckoned. Now, for the first time, I was in such a world and, appropriately, stoned out of my mind.
Our friend the dope-dealer and would-be Jazz guitarist knew everyone, so we got in free and were given prime seats right at the front where some white sax player was wailing. And here’s the thing: when he would swoop up and down or left and right with his shiny, sparkling, effervescent horn, instead of the smooth, continuous movement one would normally expect, the path of the dazzling saxophone was caught up in little time-lag eddies, with the result that what one saw at any given second was a stacking up and superimposition of the moments from before. Wow!
And there were Beat Girls with long, ironed-straight blonde hair wearing low-slung jeans tight over their hard little butts, grooving on the Jazz. But our agricultural responsibilities obliged us to leave when the set ended, and we returned to the apartment to continue stripping the leaves and bagging them up. This went on for hours - during which time yet more marijuana tea was drunk, the room spun (but slowly and not unpleasantly) and the drifts of marijuana banked up against the walls and around the door frames, like snow in deepest winter.
And then, miraculously, suddenly, all the pungent leaves were bagged and stacked-up like some supermarket special offer display, Andre and I were thanked, given an enormous, overflowing bag of twigs each and, eyes still wide at the way moments and movement were strangely layered into a single Einsteinian instant, began our long trek home through a black North Philly ghetto which only a few years before had erupted in a race riot. When we finally did make it back to our apartment on Alleghany Avenue our affected nonchalance evaporated immediately and Andre and I both began shaking all over (and, it must be said, not in a cool Rock ‘n’ Roll way). Kindly, despite my cowardliness in refusing to carry one of the bags, Andre generously handed one back to me. Despite the late hour, we sat up a while longer sipping some more marijuana tea and making plans to, on another occasion, invite the two Hippy chicks who lived on the first floor up to share our DRUGS.