In the heart of West Hampstead, nestled on the first floor of the Railway Hotel, lay a cultural gem that resonated with the soulful rhythms of jazz and rhythm ‘n’ blues. Klooks Kleek, a venue steeped in musical history, captivated audiences from its opening on 11 January 1961, until its bittersweet closure on 28 January 1970. Let’s delve into the rich tapestry of Klooks Kleek and uncover its significance in the vibrant music scene of north-west London.

Origins and Influence

Named after the iconic 1956 album “Klook’s Clique” by jazz luminary Kenny Clarke, Klooks Kleek was the brainchild of jazz enthusiast Dick Jordan. Despite previous endeavours to establish a jazz club in the area, it was Klooks Kleek that flourished under Jordan’s stewardship. The club quickly became a beacon for both seasoned musicians and avid listeners alike.

A Haven for Jazz Aficionados

From its inception, Klooks Kleek boasted a lineup of stellar performances, with luminaries such as Don Rendell, Dick Morrissey, and Tubby Hayes gracing its stage. The club’s commitment to showcasing top British jazz soloists garnered widespread acclaim, fostering a vibrant community of jazz aficionados. Notable international acts, including the Polish Modern Jazz Quartet, further enriched the club’s diverse musical landscape.

The Rise and Fall

Despite its initial success, Klooks Kleek faced challenges in sustaining its jazz-focused programming. By November 1964, the club had bid farewell to its jazz nights, marking the end of an era. However, a brief resurgence in 1967 saw the club’s doors reopen for jazz enthusiasts, albeit temporarily. Legendary American jazz figures like Sonny Rollins and Max Roach graced the stage, alongside esteemed British artists such as Ronnie Scott and Stan Tracey.

Evolution into R&B Hub

Following the decline of jazz nights, Klooks Kleek underwent a transformation, embracing the burgeoning rhythm ‘n’ blues scene. The club’s intimate ambiance provided the perfect backdrop for electrifying performances by bands like Zoot Money, Ten Years After, and John Mayall. Live albums recorded at Klooks Kleek immortalised iconic moments in the history of British blues and rhythm ‘n’ blues.

In the vibrant musical landscape of Klooks Kleek, the emergence of rhythm and blues marked a pivotal moment in the club’s history. As the 1960s unfolded, the promoters astutely recognised the growing popularity of blues and R&B, ushering in a new era of electrifying performances and diverse musical influences.

Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames: Pioneers of R&B

In 1963, Klooks Kleek welcomed Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, whose dynamic blend of Louis Jordan, soft soul, and funk captivated audiences from their very first performance. Despite their jazz roots, the band’s foray into R&B proved immensely successful, drawing in crowds with their infectious grooves and soulful melodies. The band’s legendary manager, Rik Gunnell, recognised the club’s unique ambiance, allowing them to continue performing despite their skyrocketing fame.

The Graham Bond Organisation: A Musical Powerhouse

Sharing the spotlight with Georgie Fame, the Graham Bond Organisation solidified Klooks Kleek’s reputation as a hub for groundbreaking R&B performances. Led by the prodigiously talented Graham Bond on keyboards and saxes, the band boasted an impressive lineup that included Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and John McLaughlin. Their electrifying sets further fueled the club’s growing popularity, cementing their status as icons of the R&B scene.

The Rise of R&B Nights

With the overwhelming success of R&B nights, Klooks Kleek expanded its programming to accommodate the burgeoning demand. What began as a single jazz night evolved into a thriving R&B hotspot, with additional sessions introduced to cater to the enthusiastic crowds. From Monday to Thursday, audiences flocked to witness performances by legendary acts like Zoot Money, Rufus Thomas, and The Mike Cotton Sound, who became synonymous with the club’s electrifying atmosphere.

Musical Legends and Enduring Legacies

Throughout its heyday, Klooks Kleek played host to a myriad of musical legends, each leaving an indelible mark on the club’s storied history. From John Mayall’s transformative influence on the blues to Georgie Fame’s chart-topping success, the club served as a springboard for emerging talent and a sanctuary for seasoned veterans alike. Despite the passage of time, the legacy of Klooks Kleek lives on in the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to experience its magic firsthand.

A Testament to Musical Innovation

As we reflect on the legacy of Klooks Kleek, it becomes evident that the club’s contributions to the evolution of rhythm and blues are immeasurable. From its humble beginnings to its illustrious heyday, Klooks Kleek stood as a beacon of musical innovation, nurturing talent and fostering a sense of community among music lovers. Though the club may have closed its doors long ago, its spirit continues to resonate through the timeless melodies and enduring legacies forged within its walls.

A Showcase of Musical Excellence

Nestled within the Railway Hotel, Klooks Kleek emerged as a mecca for music enthusiasts, showcasing an eclectic array of talent that would shape the course of musical history. From the emergence of budding stars to surprise visits by legendary icons, the club’s storied legacy continues to captivate audiences and evoke memories of a bygone era.

Stevie Wonder and the Early Days

In the early 1960s, a young Stevie Wonder, then known as “Little Stevie,” graced the stage of Klooks Kleek, captivating audiences with his soulful performances. His appearances marked the transition from his Motown beginnings to his meteoric rise as a global superstar in the 1970s, offering a glimpse into the early stages of his illustrious career.

Icons in the Making

Klooks Kleek served as a crucible for emerging talent, providing a platform for artists on the cusp of greatness. Jon Lord of Deep Purple, then a member of the Artwoods, honed his craft at the club, while the nascent Fleetwood Mac, led by Peter Green, solidified their reputation as regulars in 1969. The club’s proximity to Decca Studios facilitated impromptu recording sessions, further enhancing its allure for budding musicians.

Legendary Performances and Memorable Encounters

From Cream’s electrifying sets to the soulful melodies of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Klooks Kleek witnessed an array of unforgettable performances that reverberated through the annals of music history. Surprise visits by icons like Jimi Hendrix added to the club’s mystique, creating unforgettable moments for both performers and audiences alike.

Enduring Influence and Fond Memories

As the curtain fell on Klooks Kleek, its influence continued to reverberate throughout the music world. Bands like The Moody Blues, The Alex Harvey Band, and Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, who cut their teeth at the club, went on to achieve national acclaim, leaving an indelible mark on the musical landscape.

Conclusion: A Tribute to Musical Innovation

As we reflect on the legacy of Klooks Kleek, we are reminded of its enduring impact on the world of music. From its humble beginnings as a local club to its status as a cultural landmark, Klooks Kleek remains a testament to the power of music to unite, inspire, and transcend boundaries. Though the club may have faded into memory, its spirit lives on in the hearts of all who were fortunate enough to experience its magic first hand.