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The club where The Who first rocked

From BBC - November 11, 2017

It's decades since the Ealing Club closed. With a capacity of 200 it had never made huge amounts of money. But the new film documentary Suburban Steps to Rockland recalls the club's remarkable role in Britain's booming R&B scene of the 1960s.

The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Animals all played early gigs there. But without a young Iranian who stumbled by accident into west London, the whole thing might never have happened.

Even at the age of 77, Fery Asgari still talks like a born entrepreneur. He admits to being "more or less semi-retired" although his business card still says senior property consultant.

In 1962 he took over and reinvented a small music club which was to have a bigger influence than more celebrated venues. Now Suburban Steps to Rockland tells the story of Fery and the Ealing Club.

He'd come to London as a teenager from Tehran. One day he and a friend left the Iranian embassy in Kensington and got chatting to a couple of English girls.

"We asked where would be a good place to study English and they said Ealing Technical College. I had no idea where Ealing was but we got on a bus and went there - and that was the next 10 years of my life."

The art school at the college could boast various bands, many in love with the blues.

"I found myself helping to promote the music nights but it was hard to find a venue because the music was so loud.

"Then I was walking near Ealing Broadway station and I heard jazz and I followed it down the steps and I found this little basement music club.

"Within a few weeks I was running the place. To start with we had jazz on Thursdays and Fridays and R&B on Saturday."

Fifty-five years ago tastes were changing. Writer Paul Trynka has studied a rich era for British music. "There was a really wide range of tribes at that time. They were all intertwined but they had different followers.

"So you got purists like Brian Jones of the Stones who had a passion for a British form of Chicago blues - which people then called R&B, though it's a long way from what we mean by R&B today.

"There was something like an arms race going on where musicians wanted to be the first to use a certain type of guitar or get a certain sound. Things were moving very quickly. People who wanted to be cooler than anyone else tended to like R&B. There was a rawness to it."

Asgari recalls R&B initially as entirely a student scene.

"To start with there were two big names who really drew the college crowd. Cyril Davies was a fantastic blues harmonica player who died early - I think probably people do not remember him much now.

"But Cyril played with Alexis Korner who was a genius with the guitar and later he used to do lots of broadcasting for the BBC.

"Students in those days were such lovely people - very well-behaved and not the way people became later. They did not have much money and they just drank cider. Saturday night it was five shillings to get in - that's 25p.

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