Friday was the only decent day of weather here in the ‘Smoke’ last week, and so ‘London Shoes’ took advantage of the sunshine and ventured off ‘up-west’ to Leicester Square, to check out a brand new London attraction, which was only introduced a week ago.
Then following that – for the customary ‘cheeky’ beer, ‘Shoes’ went in search of the location of the site that was once the legendary music venue – the ‘Flamingo Club’ in Soho
Now – ‘Shoes’ doesn’t normally do the more popular touristy sites and locations, but made an exception for this particular initiative – simply because it was new, and seemed like a ‘happy’ sort of topic – something much needed in these current times.
So – first off, the main subject of this week’s London Shoes blog is the “Scenes in the Square” exhibit in London’s busy Leicester Square.
‘Leicester Square’ was formed 350 years ago, and today is one of London’s busiest tourist spots with an estimated 96 million visitors per year.
It is also seen as the home of London’s film world, with its first cinema having been opened way back in 1930, with its very first ‘red-carpet’ premiere in taking place in 1937.
Therefore, it is the ideal location for this new “Scenes in the Square” attraction.
“Scenes in the Square” is an exhibition of 8 bronze sculptures that depict some of the best loved film characters from the last century.
The sculptures are on display in and around the ‘Square’ itself – some of them are immediately visible, but there are a few that are not so obviously seen.
The “8” sculptures depict famous film stars and scenes from a selection of all-time great family films – and throughout the Square or in the surrounding buildings, you will find:- ‘Gene Kelly’ – from Singing in the Rain – ‘Mary Poppins’ – ‘Charlie Chaplin’ – ‘Oliver & Hardy’ – ‘Bugs Bunny’ – ‘Paddington Bear’ – ‘Wonder Woman’ – ‘Mr. Bean’ & ‘Batman’. This wonderful sculpture-trail was created by the ‘Heart of London Business Alliance’ in partnership with ‘Westminster City Council’ – and fully supported by the film industry and their studios.
From what I understand, these statues will be on display for at least the next 6 months, and the plan is to add more sculptures to the exhibition.
The display was only launched on 27th February, and its already pulling in the crowds during its first week, even despite of the awful weather – and it’s hoped that it will bring a bit of life and interest back to Leicester Square – which I have no doubt it will.
It’s especially enjoyable for children as they can have a photo taken of them sitting on a bench next to Paddington Bear or Mr. Bean, or standing next to Mary Poppins as she fly’s in on her umbrella – It’s also fun searching for the more obscurely positioned statues. A really great way to spend a couple of hours.
So – having sought out and spent time with Bugs Bunny, Mr. Bean, Paddington Bear and the rest of their pals – it was time for a much needed liquid refreshment – and so I wandered off in the direction of the ‘China Town’ quarter of Wardour Street in nearby Soho – an area I know & love very much, having worked for 4 years at Barclays Bank-Wardour Street branch between the years 1974 to 1978, from the age of 17 to 21.
However, my reason for returning there this time was for the specific purpose of tracking down a site that was once one of the most iconic music venues on London’s music scene throughout the late 1950’s and the entire 1960’s……the legendary “Flamingo Club”.
The Flamingo Club was pivotal for the rise in popularity of jazz and rhythm & blues music throughout London and beyond, and it was a favourite ‘haunt’ of all the top musicians such as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles & Jimi Hendrix to name just a few – it was THE place to be seen.
The Flamingo Club really came to prominence throughout the ‘Swinging 60’s’ and was renowned for its ‘all-nighters’.
It was responsible for introducing black music and booking black artists across a wide spectrum of musical styles including ska / soul / jazz / blue-beat etc – and as a result drew audiences from many different cultural ethnicities.
It also had a reputation of being a bit of an ‘edgy’ venue, with a ‘lively’ drug scene.
In fact, anyone that may have watched the recent tv drama about Christine Keeler & the Profumo Affair, may recall the scene where there was a violent fight between Keeler’s two lovers ‘Lucky’ Gordon & Johnny Edgecome – well, that fight took place in the Flamingo Club.
From 1962 through to 1965 the Flamingo’s resident band were ‘Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames’ – whose big selling ‘live’ album ‘Rhythm & Blues at the Flamingo’ was recorded at the club.
Throughout the 60’s all the top muso’s played the Flamingo Club – like:- Rod Stewart – Otis Redding – Eric Clapton – the Stones – the Beatles – The Moody Blues – Pink Floyd – Small Faces.
In the mid to late 1960’s the Flamingo Club was the hub of the Mod movement in London, and all-nighters sessions were an extremely popular attraction down there.
The Flamingo Club itself eventually closed down in 1972, but its upstairs then opened up as the ‘Whiskey-a-Go Go’ music venue, which was then re-named as the ‘WAG Club’ in 1981. In fact ‘David Bowie’ filmed the video for his 80’s hit ‘Jazzin for Blue Jean’ at the Wag Club.
In 2001 the entire music venue closed down for good – and eventually became a branch of the O’Neill’s Irish Pub chain, which it still is today.
A blue plaque is displayed on the exterior wall of the O’Neill’s pub, commemorating the importance of the Flamingo Club to the British music scene – and inside the pub itself there are several visible references to the venue’s historic musical past.
Obviously, it was only right that I take advantage of my visit to the site, by knocking back a swift ‘cheeky’ one there, in homage to the old venue – which went down very nicely.
Strolling back down Wardour Street on my way to Tottenham Court Rd tube, and the journey home – I just had to stop for a while & reminisce outside the old Barclays Bank branch where I used to work, over 45 years ago now (blimey, that makes me sound soooo old!!!) I worked there for 4 years, and me going there in 1974 could be described perfectly for me by Charles Dickens as ‘it was the best of times-it was the worst of times’– however, on reflection, the ‘best’ most definitely outweighed the ‘worst’, and I met & worked with a bunch of wonderful people, some of whom I’m blessed to say, I’m still good friends with to this very day .
So – that was my little London Shoes jaunt out this week – in the glorious and much appreciated Soho sunshine.
In my opinion, the ‘Scenes in the Square’ sculptures are well worth seeing for both kids and adults – a fun way to pass away a couple of hours.
Hope you enjoy the accompanying photos to this piece.
see below for a full gallery of all the photos from this “Scenes in the Square’ blog