Live Music In Kingston 1950s – 1970s

Gig Venues strand (see American Army for Work In Progress)

While many will be familiar with the Mississippi Delta’s reputation as the spiritual home of blues music, few appreciate that one stretch of the River Thames in Southwest London adapted American sounds and became its very own cradle of rock.

In the 1950s, with the country beginning to recover from war, young people began seeking ways to spend their new-found disposable income, and the concept of a teenager being born in the process. Television and cinema were enabling access to new ideas, fashion and music from across the Atlantic and the 1951 Festival of Britain marked a significant departure from post-war austerity, with millions across the country celebrating artistic endeavour.

Musically this period coincided with a British boom of traditional jazz characterised by a front line of trumpet, clarinet and trombone. Several Kingston venues helped to develop a scene in the town, inspired by this New Orleans sound. The Jazz Boat was a converted barge on the Thames, complete with sails; Norbiton was home to The Railway Hotel and Surbiton had The Bun Shop; while The Grey Horse on Richmond Road and The Fighting Cocks on Old London Road, in Kingston town centre, are two examples of old jazz venues still hosting live music today. As the trad boom took hold, esteemed names such as Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk, and Humphrey Lyttelton came to Kingston to play larger concerts at The Coronation Hall.

Simultaneously, many in the region began to be influenced by an altogether different Stateside sound. As rock ‘n’ roll began to infiltrate the airwaves, some were sourcing rarer records from American bluesmen. Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Reed’s form of electrified Chicago blues were an enormous inspiration to The Yardbirds, (formed from alumni of Hollyfield School on Surbiton Hill Road) and a springboard for Top Topham, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.

The Rolling Stones, based in neighbouring Richmond injected rock 'n' roll rhythm to the heartfelt soul of blues and became the 1960s R&B sound that later opened the door to heavier, psychedelic, and more experimental styles of rock.

As the decade developed, Kingston’s live music scene became a host to many innovators: The ABC and The Granada cinemas doubled up as major concert venues while The Cellar Club saw live performances from The Animals, The Small Faces and Cream.

Later came The Toby Jug in Tolworth, which typified the psychedelic and experimental direction popular music was headed, as Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, and David Bowie - publicly adopting the Ziggy Stardust persona for the first time in the Toby Jug in February 1972 - were among its headline performers.

Places of musical significance