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IN 1962, exactly 50 years before Stratford became the sporting centre of the world, Eddie Johnson and family took on the Two Puddings pub in Stratford. It didn’t augur well. Eddie was less than happy about leaving a solid job on the Docks. Chuck in the fact he had never pulled a pint and that his new boozer was colloquially known as the Butcher’s Shop (courtesy of white-tiled walls to facilitate the hosing off of spilled blood each morning) and it might have proved a brief tenancy.
Eddie, remembering those far-off days in conversation with Robert Elms at the Bishopsgate Institute last week, also remembers that he immediately felt he’d made a mistake. All the more remarkable that he remained landlord for almost 40 years. “I loved it on the docks: we didn’t make a lot of money but we could do more or less as we wanted.” Just as important to Eddie, he was becoming increasingly immersed in the left-wing politics of the time. Working as a tally clerk (the men tasked with checking the quantities of cargoes moving on and off the ships) he aroused the instinctive mistrust of legendary union organiser Jack Dash and his men. Of course, the tally clerks got their share of the contents of ‘accidentally’ broken cases to take home too, and Eddie soon became a trusted colleague, co-opted onto Dash’s strike committee. He was also being groomed to take over the dockers’ Distress Fund, a cause dear to his heart. Eddie had been politicised young, when George Lansbury visited his school (Smeed Road Infants in Bow) to speak to the pupils.
But with two young sons to provide for, wife Shirley was after something a little more secure for the family. Now Eddie was and is no soft touch. A streetwise East Ender, born in Limehouse and raised in Old Ford, he had done his National Service in the Royal Military Police. Back on Civvy Street, he ruefully recalls that he became: “a bit of a hooligan, getting drunk and fighting in dance halls”. It culminated in a near fatal stab wound to the stomach. During his convalescence he met and fell in love with Shirley, who steered him to safer pursuits. But even Eddie, a tall and imposing figure in his eighties and not a man to mess with in his early thirties, wondered what he’d let himself in for as he stood behind the bar the morning after his first Friday night in 1962.
Back in the docks voracious reader Eddie (favourites Orwell, Camus, Tolstoy and Hemingway among others) had been rubbing shoulders with surprisingly well-read dockers who casually namechecked Congreve, Kafka, Byron and Proust. In the Puddings, he was more likely to be leaping over the bar to nip drunken trouble in the bud with a couple of gentle digs. The older Johnson is sanguine about the violence (“it’s the bit I find depressing even now”) and indulges in none of the glorification of the East End gang scene that non-combatants too often fall prey to.
All the same violence and crime were unavoidable elements of East End life, with the Krays becoming occasional visitors. “I liked them,” says Eddie. “Especially Reggie, who was more the affable and easier to talk to of the pair”. Eddie was touched for protection money by the brothers, but swallowed hard and told Ronnie he could protect himself. The twins, to his relief, politely moved on. Meanwhile, on Monday nights at the Kentucky Club in Whitechapel (where Eddie was always stood a drink by the ever-charming brothers) other non-payers were being sorted out behind the scenes with a cement-encased shovel.
Of course there were all sorts of reasons that kept Eddie behind the bar until the turn of the millennium – and only then was he forced out by the machinations of the brewery. Top of the list was the music. The Johnsons had taken over the Puddings primarily to host music nights run by Eddie’s brother Kenny. The pub saw gigs by some of the biggest names in British music: the Who, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the Kinks and the Nashville Teens to name just a few, while the disco upstairs pulled in more punters (including Harry Redknapp who met his future wife there). One day Rod Stewart would be downstairs checking out the bands; another would see a young Van Morrison popping in after a Them gig and confiding to Eddie that he hoped one day to be famous.
Most bizarre of all, on the evening of 30 July 1966, a few hours after England had won the World Cup Final at Wembley, who should walk into the pub, order a pint, and quietly drink by himself whilst leaning against the bar but Jack Charlton. Eddie takes up the story, saying: “Norman was one of my most trusted barmen and never told a lie… [but he was] struck dumb and felt too shy to congratulate him on England’s victory!”
Under Elms’s enthusiastic probing, Eddie regales the packed Bishopsgate audience with anecdotes spanning 50 years, though the Radio London presenter would probably admit that Johnson pretty much interviews himself. There is sadness in the stories of course: Shirley has passed away, and so has the third of their four sons, Eugene. And many of the characters who people the memoir have gone, with Eddie musing that “Every other month seems to bring a dreaded invitation to yet another funeral.” But even there is humour. As the coffin of Jackie Bowers (“a friend and one of the best barmen the Puddings ever had”) rolls slowly towards the furnace, ‘Fire’ by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown began blaring from the crematorium speakers. An echo from the sixties heyday of the Two Puddings.
Like so many pop lives it ended sadly young. Yet for East End star Marc Bolan it wasn’t his own excesses that brought his death, but a tragic accident.
Mark Feld was born in Hackney in 1947, the son of lorry driver Simeon and Phyllis. He was tiny, standing just 5ft2in, but had no illusions – he knew that he was a star just waiting for his moment. That moment would be a long time coming though.
Mark would come up to Soho to see his mum on her fruit stall in Berwick Street Market, and he was soon spending as much time in the record shops that fringed the stalls. He soaked up the American rock and roll that was filling their racks and soon the charts – although you couldn’t hear it on the radio of course: Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley and dozens of others, though his first musical experiments were with that peculiar British hybrid of skiffle music, popular in the UK charts of the late 50s. Years later, Bolan would remember sneaking into the legendary 2i’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, where British stars such as Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard and Wee Willie Harris were honing their acts.
Mark had always been destined for stardom. Helen Shapiro, who would reach number one in 1961 at 14, remembered him well. At the age of just 10, East Ender Helen and her brother Ron formed a band which “included Marc Bolan, who was nine and lived down the road. He was called Mark Feld then and was very chubby and very into Cliff.”
Cliff Richard, along with Billy Fury and Rory Storm ruled the charts. But Shapiro, appearing on a bill with an unknown band called The Beatles in 1963, could see the writing on the wall. “I thought: ‘Uh oh, something is changing,’” she remembers.
Pop music moved incredibly swiftly in the 60s. The pair were just a year apart in age, yet Helen topped the charts in the years before the Beat Boom and Marc in 1970. By then, Beat music, flower power and the hippies had come and gone and the pop stars were now rock musicians. Steve Marriot was no longer fronting cheeky Stepney popsters the Small Faces but the much heavier Humble Pie, while Steve Winwood had gone from the Spencer Davis Group to Traffic. They were interested in ‘progressive’ and experimental music, focusing on albums and very sniffy about singles. Some canny musicians spotted a gap for singles artists and Marc – a veteran yet still only 23 – was perfectly placed to exploit it.
He had served a long apprenticeship. After leaving school at 15 ‘by mutual consent’ he had scratched a living as a model. Pick up a catalogue for long-defunct clothing store John Temple from the early 60s and you will see a moody Feld smouldering out from the pages. He also appeared as an extra in TV show Orlando, dressed as a mod.
He cut a series of demos for EMI and others. It’s fascinating to hear the evolution of his voice today (you’ll find many of the recordings on youtube.com). A 1964 cut of Mark singing Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind reveals an American accent halfway between cut-glass and cabaret (think Adam Faith, Eden Kane and John Leyton). By the time he was demo’ing Hound Dog with the early Tyrannosaurus Rex a few years later, the voice is sliding into the trademark Bolan whining drawl.
Luckily for Mark, the A&R men weren’t interested, giving him crucial years in which to develop his own voice. It wasn’t the only change. Mark Feld became Toby Tyler (the name nabbed from a Disney film of 1960), Mark Bowland and finally Marc Bolan. As mod faded, Marc’s hair grew longer and the music more experimental. After a brief stint with the group John’s Children Bolan formed a new band, Tyrannosaurus Rex, with Steve Peregrine-Took providing percussion and bass to Marc’s vocals and acoustic guitar.
The band’s debut album, released in 1968, was very much of its time, ethereal and with an eclectic grab bag of cultural references. My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows had as its closing track a Bolan-penned poem, Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love), read by DJ John Peel. Marc had probably never met an Inca, nor an ‘Afghan Woman’ (side 2, track 2), though he might have visited Virginia Water (side 1, track 5), but the important thing was that the band was on its way.
Peel was playing Tyrannosaurus Rex on his Radio 1 show, though they still weren’t bothering the charts. But beneath the corkscrew curls and hippy stylings, there was a laser focus on the success that had long eluded him. Bolan dispensed with Took, whose drug taking had reached career-derailing proportions, and drafted in Mickey Finn – a far less talented musician but he looked great on stage.
No record label would be so patient, but EMI imprint Regal Zonophone allowed the band to make four albums with producer Tony Visconti, each barely touching the charts. The fifth, T Rex, was the turning point.
After Ride a White Swan made number two in the chart in 1970, Marc boiled the sound down to a tighter version of the rock and roll he had loved as a child. Hot Love and Get It On, Telegram Sam and Metal Guru – the hits kept coming, eight singles in the top over the next two years.
John Peel was appalled by the blatant tilt at success, though he later admitted that his famous falling out with Bolan saw fault on both sides. But if a long time coming, success was fleeting. New stars were topping the charts – Slade, David Essex, the Bay City Rollers. A distraught Marc took solace in food and alcohol and his elfin good looks disappeared as the pounds piled on.
Salvation was to come from an unlikely direction. In 1976, a whole generation of musicians would be swept away by the rise of punk. Marc, with nothing to lose, embraced it, going on tour with The Damned and wowing audiences who had grown up on his singles. Ironic it may have been, but Bolan’s long years in music gifted him a musical virtuosity the punk acts could only dream of.
Better was to come. TV producer Muriel Young put him in his own TV show, Marc, which went out just as kids were arriving home from school, and brought the new bands such as The Jam to a young audience, as well as Marc’s famous duet with old pal David Bowie).
Marc was a success once again. But by the time that appearance with Bowie went out (20 September 1977) he was dead. Driving home from a West End drinking club, Bolan’s girlfriend Gloria Jones lost control of her car, and the Mini struck a tree. Marc was killed instantly.
Oliver writer Lionel Bart
by John Rennie
Lionel Bart’s music ranged from his greatest success, Oliver!, and musicals like Lock Up Your Daughters and Blitz. His songs such as Living Doll, Rock With The Cavemen and Little White Bull gave chart hits to British rock’n’roll stars like Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele. It was a curious hybrid – but it had its roots in East End soil.
Bart was born Lionel Begleiter in Whitechapel in 1930, the 11th child of a Jewish tailor, and it was his childhood that formed his songs. “Oliver! was a strange marriage of the Jewish music of my barmitzvah and the street cries of my childhood,” he recalled. “Fagin’s music was like a Jewish mother hen clucking away!”
It was a colourful background, but one Bart was fond of embellishing still further. Many of his friends talked of his constant rewriting of his childhood, a habit which drove the ghostwriters of his biography to despair.
Certainly, although he never learned to read or write music, there were early signs of musical ability. Aged six, one of the young Lionel’s teachers told his father that the lad was a musical genius, and his proud dad bought him a violin. Lionel soon got bored with the discipline required and dropped his lessons.
At 16, he decided his artistic future lay with painting, and won a scholarship to St Martin’s School of Art. That didn’t last either, though. He was expelled for “mischievousness”, but didn’t regret leaving the lonely life of the artist in his garret. “I like a good mob working around me,” he explained, an esprit de corps that would be fulfilled in the huge musical productions that were to make his name.
One thing he did acquire during his studies was that name. His bus journey from Whitechapel to the West End every day took him past Barts Hospital, and Begleiter reinvented himself as Bart.
After National Service, Bart set up in business with his RAF pal, John Gorman. With a borrowed £50, they started a printing firm in Hackney. But business was never Bart’s forte – this was the man who later sold the million-spinning smash hit Oliver! for a paltry £15,000, and poured in £80,000 of his own cash in 1965 in a vain bid to save the flop musical Twang!!
Tommy Steele and Soho’s 2 I’s
Anyway, music was changing, with big bands giving way to rock’n’roll, and Bart was spending time up West, mixing with young hopefuls like Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard in Soho’s 2 I’s coffee bar. At the same time as he was producing his first stage show, Wally Pone of Soho, which debuted at the Theatre Workshop in Stratford, he was banging out the hits for Britain’s answers to Elvis. It came easily. He claimed to have written Living Doll in six minutes on a Sunday morning – about twice as long as Cliff took to sing it!
But what came easy, went easy too. Bart was hugely generous with his cash, a legacy, he reckoned, of his gambling father. “There were endless arguments about money,” he said. “I hated money and had no respect for it. My attitude was to spend it as I got it.”
By 1972, Bart was bankrupt, with debts of £73,000, and a huge drink problem. What cash hadn’t been ripped off by casual acquaintances had been poured into unsuccessful stage shows. Often, his pals saw the warning signs in his shows long before he could. His friend Noel Coward, on reading the script of his Quasimodo, remarked: “Brilliant dear boy. But were you on drugs when you wrote it?”
But towards the end of his life, attending Alcoholics Anonymous, and with a percentage of the profits from the stage revival of Oliver!, Bart was reconstructing his life. And Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of that revival, made one of the most telling quotes on Bart’s death. “Of all the people in this business who have had ups and downs, Lionel is the least bitter man I’ve ever come across. He regrets it, but he’s never been sour, never vindictive.”
But although East End boy Harry found fame in the Tin Pan Alley Days of fifties London, he was already decades into a career that had begun in the Thirties, making portraits of everyone from Noel Coward, to HG Wells, to Errol Flynn. Along the way he had captured the great bandleaders of the 1930s (including Whitechapel’s Bert Ambrose) and snapped the early and sparsely attended London gigs of Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, as well as debs and Dukes. And in a wartime departure from glamour, he had worked in reconnaissance for the RAF – a low-tech operation involving hanging out of the side of the plane with a handheld camera.
The Bow boy (his dad worked for London Transport and his mum was a dressmaker) left school at 14 and headed straight into an apprenticeship in Fleet Street – four years learning his trade at the London Art Service. He had an early brush with glamour, as he remembered years afterwards. “A dapper stranger in a sharp suit sauntered into the studio and said, ‘The model agency sent me to do the Brylcreem advertisement’. We took a few head shots of him to match the art department’s layout, which were in due course used in the national press. He agreed to the usual model fee of one guinea, and I asked his name for our files. ‘Flynn’, he said jauntily, tapping the ash from his cigarette. ‘Errol Flynn’.”
Today’s photographers use digital cameras that can hold hundreds of images and slip into a pocket. But back in the early days of rock and roll, even compact film was a distant dream. Harry had to capture the best of a two-hour gig, featuring half a dozen artists, with just half a dozen plates. Hammond, though, always seemed to get the killer shot.
In the fifties, Hammond was alone in creating portraits of the American rockers who would inspire the Stones, the Beatles and the rest. Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane and many others were immortalised in stunning chiaroscuro shots. And when the British answer came along, Harry was on hand with camera. Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, Billy Fury and the rest queued up to have their pictures taken by the man who had captured their heroes.
His retirement was a long one but there was still music – his own. Not Ambrose, Sinatra or Buddy Holly this time – Harry taught himself to play the violin, as well as indulging his loves for vintage cars, poetry and chess. He died in 2009, aged 88.