Plaque honours Jeffrey Kruger, pioneer of Soho’s Flamingo Club
The live music venue in Wardour Street hosted everyone from Billie Holiday to Georgie Fame
13 June, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya
Jeffrey Kruger brought many jazz greats to the heart of Soho
HE was a pioneer of live music venues in the West End and now the founder of the Flamingo Club has been celebrated on a blue plaque at the site. Jeffrey Kruger brought some of the biggest names in jazz and blues to the famous venue in Wardour Street.
Top musicians from the United States, including Billie Holiday, played at his club at a time when the Musicians’ Union had a ban on foreign acts. The plaque was arranged by Mr Kruger’s daughter Loraine Lewis and her husband Garry.
Ms Lewis said: “I feel not enough artists and music pioneers are acknowledged so, for this reason, I set a goal to honour and celebrate The Flamingo Club.
“We must never forget these artists and pioneers and their contribution, whether they are major stars or those that work behind the scenes as it is one of the hardest industries to compete in.”
Graham Lentz, a friend of Mr Kruger’s, told Westminster Extra: “It was almost easier to name people that didn’t perform at the Flamingo Club… Everyone performed there, from Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott and Sarah Vaughan in the 1950s to Georgie Fame and Chris Farlowe in the 1960s.”
The club was originally founded in 1952 in the basement of a restaurant in Coventry Street, before moving to Wardour Street. It is believed that even Muhammad Ali, back then known as Cassius Clay, once visited the club. Mr Lentz first met Mr Kruger, when he was doing research for his book The Influential Factor about the history of Mod culture and they remained friends till Mr Kruger’s death.
The plaque in Wardour Street
He said: “Anybody who is successful in the entertainment business is going to ruffle a few feathers along the way and Jeff was no exception. He was very direct, a very straight talker. He was old fashioned in that he gave you his word that he would get something done, then that was good enough, he did it. You didn’t need a handshake.
“That was something that was quite unique about him.”
Recalling their first meeting when he was researching his book, he said: “A lot of what he told me opened my eyes as well as to just how important the place was. It was a vitally important club through 1950s and 1960s.”
Mr Lentz said: “Jeff was unique at that time as he was one of the few people who managed to get around the Musicians’ Union embargo on non- British musicians and singers playing in the UK.
“It was very difficult to get musicians from America to come, but Jeff somehow got around that. He was shrewd and very successful. In a small way he was never quite given the credit that he deserves.” Though Mr Lentz was too young to visit the club himself, he recalled conversations with Mr Kruger about the punters.
He said: “It attracted a varied crowd, they had an early session and an all-nighter session. There was usually a jazz musician playing early, which would attract modernists. Then at around 11, when acts like Georgie Fame and others played rhythm and blues, the audience completely changed.
“It was one if the places where American GIs used to come for entertainment. At 11, you had around 300 young mods pouring out the club into Wardour Street, and there would be 300 GIs and others waiting to come in – and the whole lot was controlled by one doorman. When you think about what you have to go through today, its quite extraordinary.
“The place is just so steeped in history, not just from a musical point, but from a cultural point of view as well.”
He said the unveiling of the plaque had been “quite emotional”.
“I know how much it meant to Jeff. I know he would have been absolutely delighted that his club and name have been recognised as a permanent marker there.”