The Flamingo Jazz Club which operated out of a dingy basement in London's Wardor Street, Soho in the late 1950s and the first half of the 1960s, has become legendary amongst cultural buffs of that city. It has been featured in a number of articles and documentaries like the BBC's Soul Britannia, which looked at the history of Soul music in the United Kingdom. The Club is also a sweet memory of those of us who when teenagers spent our weekends in its sweaty bowels.
Although if one reads the odd article on the Flamingo Club that appears these days, one may get the impression it was a Mod club.* Whilst half true this is far from the actual story, it is true the more adventurous Mod's who inhabited London's West End back then, gradually became regulars at the club and by 1963 the music played within the Flamingo was entirely within the Mod tradition. However, this is a chicken or egg conundrum, as the claim could equally be made that the Flamingo was a major influence on the music that became inherent within Mod culture rather than the other way around. No, the Flamingo was much more than a club where members of the youth cult known as Mod's hanged out, it was the precursor of the ethnic melting pot London was to become and this was reflected in the sounds played within the club.
Indeed ask any old Mingolian why their anti racist roots are so firm; and it is a fact few who were Mingo regulars ended up as racists, they would not reply with the names of the great men and women of the civil rights and anti racist movement, nor from having been racially abused themselves, but because for a short period of time their roots lay within that dingy Wardor Street basement lovingly known to its regulars as, 'The Mingo.'
There were two main Soho clubs in the 1960s that could be exclusively called Mod hangouts, The Scene in Ham Yard and the Discotheque in Lower Wardor Street. In both of these clubs the sounds were American R&B with a touch of Jazz and West Indian Bluebeat. Whilst today's media may claim the soundtrack of the Mod era was provided by the likes of the Who, Kinks, and Small Faces, I don't recall ever hearing any of the music of these bands being played within any of the West End Mod hangouts. Although Millie Small, Prince Buster, Barrett Strong, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Smith, Bo Didley, and Cannonball Adderley were regularly blasted out, bouncing off the ceiling and out into the street.
However for many Mods, neither of these clubs were a touch on the Mingo, the Scene was elitist, look at me, am I not a face type of place, edgy, with an undertow of violence lurking beneath the surface, which often erupted outside in Ham Yard. Whilst the Disc as it was known, was more of a rough and ready joint, it had old mattresses along one wall, more welcoming that the scene; and for me it provided a taster of what was to come, whilst the music was black, the cliental of both the Scene and Disc were almost exclusively white.