A legendary selector (DJ) and one of the first black club owners in Britain, Count Suckle had an incalculable impact on London and UK culture. His nights and clubs were epicentres for an international clientele. He helped Jamaican music to become established in Britain. Operating from the heart of the West End of London during the early 1960s, Suckle introduced Jamaican ska to British audiences, making the music a favourite among mods. He subsequently owned the Cue club (later the Q club) in Praed Street, Paddington, one of the longest-running and most popular venues catering to black Londoners.
Born Wilbert Augustus Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, Count Suckle – so called because he suckled on his mother’s teat for longer than is considered usual – was blessed with business acumen. As a teenager, he began providing the sound system selectors with American records. Suckle purchased them from sailors docking in Jamaica and sold them on for a profit. In 1954, at the age of 23, he decided to move to London, stowing away on a ship with friend and fellow soundman Duke Vin. Together, they made the 22-day journey to Britain.
Upon arriving in England, Count Suckle moved to Notting Hill. His major complaint was that he couldn’t find music to dance to, so he and Duke Vin drew from their experiences in Jamaica. Duke Vin built the first soundsystem and Suckle followed suit. They would rent out their equipment and play at house parties and shebeens; their rivalry led to dramatic soundclashes against each other, the first at Lambeth Town Hall in 1956. Initially playing American RnB, they soon began to play Jamaican records. They brought new sounds to London, importing freshly cut Jamaican dubplates and incorporating them into sets alongside pop and RnB.
Suckle’s reputation for spinning commercial tunes gave him an edge over rivals. He won his first booking at the Flamingo Club and before long, he was the man to see. His music collection and his sets were widely popular. This led to his residency at Soho's Roaring Twenties and soon-to-be-famous faces, like Mick Jagger and Elton John, became very loyal fans.
The UK's emerging talent was profoundly influenced by the rhythms of the dance. However, door policy was an issue; black clientele were often denied entry. Suckle used his success to persuade the management to allow patrons of all races into the club.
50 CARNABY STREET
50 Carnaby Street in London's Soho district was the site of several important music clubs in the 20th century. These clubs were often run for and by the black community, with jazz and calypso music predominating in the earlier years. From 1936, it was the Florence Mills Social Parlour run by Marcus Garvey's ex-wife Amy Ashwood Garvey as a meeting place for black intellectuals and political activists. In the 1940s it was the Blue Lagoon Club. In 1950, it was briefly Club Eleven, and from the early 1950s it was the Sunset Club. From 1961, it was occupied by the Roaring Twenties nightclub. In the 1970s it was Columbo's. It is now a Ben Sherman shop.
Amy Ashwood Garvey
From the early 1950s it was the Sunset Club, a racially mixed club where jazz was played until seven in the morning. American GIs were regular customers, as they were in many London clubs in the 1940s and 50s. Caribbean music became more important in the club and the Russ Henderson Steel Band, the first steel band in Britain, formed late 1952, played their first gig there. The influential Trinidadian musician Rupert Nurse was a bandleader at the club from 1954. According to Duke Vin (Vincent Forbes), by 1959 the Sunset Club was one of the five main Caribbean music clubs in London, the others being the Contemporanean in Mayfair, club 59, Flamingo and Club 77. The proprietor of the club, Gustavus Alexander Leslie, filed for bankruptcy in December 1959.
The Roaring Twenties opened on 4 July 1962, Count Suckle (Wilbert Augustus Campbell) was the first DJ at the club and also the bouncer. Suckle claimed in 1974 that "the club wasn't opened for black people, it was owned by Jewish people and it only catered for Jewish kids. I was the only black guy there because I was the leading DJ at the time and they wanted a popular 'front' figure to pull in the crowds so I was hired". Suckle complained: "There weren't any black owned clubs then. The places in the West End where black kids used to go were white owned. Some of them used black staff as a 'front'. After his followers began to demand admittance, however, the management was forced to change its "whites only" admittance policy and soon it was a mainly black club.
Drug use was common in the club. Count Suckle recalled, "I left the Twenties because it was rough ... it was just a dump. It was a drugs scene, dope pushing, young kids smoking dope, people fighting, the police raiding the club, hundreds of young black kids taken to jail y`know! I just couldn`t stand it." One former Mod remembers a less oppressive atmosphere with a few white Ska-lovers being admitted who saw perfunctory police raids during which small amounts of drugs were dropped on the floor then picked up again when the police had gone with nobody being searched or arrested.
Initially the music was a combination of R & B, soul, and bluebeat/ska. Later, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Georgie Fame played there. Other early 1960s visitors included British R&B pioneers Cyril Davies All Stars, the Who and the Animals. Later in the 1960s, Lloyd Coxsone the sound system operator performed. Every Sunday was fashion night when everyone was expected to wear a suit and tie. Malcolm McLaren thought the name was a reference to the U.S. television show The Roaring '20s which was popular in Britain at the time.
In the late 1970s the name changed to Columbo's. Lloyd Coxsone continued and was joined by Denzil Exodus. Bob Marley played in 1975 and the club featured an autographed picture of Peter Falk as the TV detective "Columbo" on its walls. The club was mentioned in the NME Guide to Rock & Roll London in 1978 and is thought to have closed in the early 1980s.
For Carnaby Echoes, legendary DJ Lloyd Coxsone, who played at the Roaring Twenties in the 60s and 70s, returned to the basement of what is now a Ben Sherman shop with a sound system and playlist related to the club. He was joined by Denzil Exodus, Mikey Foreigner and others. The film also includes extracts from interviews with Count Suckle, who started the club in 1961, and Island Records artist Tony Washington, who was a frequent visitor.
CUE CLUB (Q CLUB)
The Q Club. Situated in Praed Street, Paddington, its doors opened in 1964. It became a definitive venue of the London night and Suckle demanded that patrons dress well.
Muhammed Ali, Stevie Wonder and the Commodores would all walk through his door. The Q Club always played popular music to the tastes of the crowd, while also splicing sets with the newest records from Jamaica. The club closed its doors in 1980 and while Suckle could have amassed a fortune from his venture, his love of gambling saw his wealth squandered.
In 1970 Count Suckle ran Q Records, a short-lived subsidiary of the Trojan Record label.
Lambeth - "No Colour Bar" Dance (1955)
Discrimination was not illegal, and it wouldn't be until the 1965 Race Relations Act outlawed operating a colour bar in a pub or club. In theory, the 1965 Race Relations Act outlawed operating a colour bar in a pub or club, but in practice there were numerous loopholes and no easy redress.
A full-scale overhaul of legislation in the 1976 Race Relations Act included the setting up of the Commission for Racial Equality. Suspicions remained, however, that many clubs operated a quota system, welcoming a small number of black people but denying entry to others once the quota had been reached.
Vintage Documentary: Blues Parties & the closure of Black night clubs in London, UK - 1980
REFERENCES & LINKS
Count Suckle - Sound System Pioneer - Waking The Dead - READ MORE