Mick Fleetwood summed up the atmosphere, not just at Klook’s Kleek but all over London thus, “Ah, Swinging London – if one could only re-create that lost, heady air of freedom and opportunity that was sweeping over sleepy, stuffy London town during the mid-sixties.”
If you read a bio of just about any ’60’s British band, the name Klook’s Kleek frequently comes up. The club – at the Railway Hotel, West Hampstead, North West London – was started in 1961 by a jazz enthusiast named Dick Jordan. Drummer Kenny “Klook” Clarke had released an album called Klook’s Clique. Jordan – thinking of Kodak – felt that ‘K’s really stood out, hence, Klook’s Kleek.
The club started out as strictly a jazz emporium. But after a couple of years, it became evident that its survival depended on bringing in the crowd that dug the increasingly popular rhythm and blues. To Jordan’s surprise, some of the jazzers actually liked R &B.
In fact, there is a veritable Who’s Who of musicians that played at the club (which was right near Decca Records) – Little Stevie Wonder, Reg Dwight before he was Elton John, Cream, The Nice, John Mayall, Brian Auger, Fleetwood Mac, Christine Perfect. Several bands recorded albums there.
But the album I know best from that small, smoky little club that had “side tables with red gingham tablecloths with table lamps and orange colored bulbs” is Ten Years After’s Undead.
Ten Years After was another one of that legion of ’60’s British bands that trafficked in blues ‘n boogie. They were easily one of the highlights of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair with, among other tunes, an insane version of “I’m Going Home.” But where did that song come from?
Well, it was written by ace guitarist Alvin Lee and first appeared on Undead. Released in 1968 about a year before Woodstock, Undead was one of those albums you heard about by word of mouth.
What do I like about this album? Well, it sounds like it was recorded in a small club. I almost expect to hear the sound of ice tinkling in glasses tinkling in the background. And it’s jazzy and bluesy and very often exciting.
The first song is called, “I May Be Wrong But I Won’t Be Wrong Always.” The writing credit on the album goes to Alvin Lee but it’s actually a Count Basie song. I don’t think Lee ever played this jazzily again. In fact, the whole band swings, with a nice organ solo by Chick Churchill, all driven by Rick Lee’s (no relation to Alvin) drums:
The biggest criticism leveled against Lee in his lifetime is that he was flash, speed, blues scales – and no soul. I disagree. Yeah, he was hung up on being the fastest gun. I remember reading somewhere that he used to just practice playing fast. And yeah, he was sometimes sloppy. But I really loved his playing. If I want precision I’ll hire a robot to play. Can’t say he didn’t throw himself into it.
“I was a young guy with young energy, and that’s just the way I played,” Lee told Guitar Player magazine. “I decided to use my fast licks like a machine gun, with the effect of devastation. I kind of enjoyed that, and it seemed to get the audiences up.”
Next up – a nice slow blues, “Spider in my Web.” I don’t get it when someone tells me they’re not into blues. At least a little bit. To me it’s like you’re saying you’re not into sex. You could explain it me all day long. I’ll never understand:
Some of the guys had played together previously in a band called The Jaybirds. Supposedly they got the name Ten Years After, from forming the band ten years after Elvis Presley’s appearance on the scene. That could be apocryphal too, don’t know.
Alvin Lee’s parents were into the big band era stuff and so he grew up listening to that stuff. For a while there, Ten Years After were a nice mix of jazz and blues, only later moving on to rock. So after hearing this stuff and then hearing “I’d Love to Change the World?” For me, just not the same. I mean, it’s ok, but it doesn’t do much for me.
For your consideration, TYA’s version of Woody Herman’s “Woodchopper’s Ball.” A great number. Lee gets into a lick about 6:32 or so and keeps it going for the better part of a minute. If you want to watch the band blaze through a shorter version at the Marquee in London, check it out here.
Ten Years After broke up in 1974, right around when blues-rock was starting to lose its luster. They went their separate ways, doing side projects and reformed for a few shows in the Eighties. Lee left the band for good in 2003. I lost touch with what was happening with him and only heard his name again when he died in 2014.
The band re-formed with original members Chick Churchill and Ric Lee. In fact, they’re playing this Saturday night at the Rory Gallaher International Festival in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland. Wonder if I can still get a ticket?
Klook’s Kleek closed in January 1970. Its legend lives on.
- Alvin Lee – guitar, vocals
- Chick Churchill – organ
- Ric Lee – drums
- Leo Lyons – bass
Sources: Decca Studios and Klook’s Kleek: West Hempstead’s Musical Heritage Remembered. Dick Weindling, Marianne Colloms; Guitar Player Magazine; Wikipedia.