Jeff Horton – 100 Club – interview

Jeff Horton from London’s iconic 100 Club talks to LTW reporter Carl Stanley about the history of the venue and how close it came to closing.

LTW: Hi Jeff – it’s great to see the 100 club still putting on some fantastic nights of music as when I first met you a couple of years ago you were right in the middle of trying to save the club from closure, its been a busy and I suppose stressful time for you in those couple of years hasn’t it?

Not as stressful as when we were going down the pan!

2010 was, without question, one of the worst years of my life up until the October, when so many people found out the club was going to close and came forward to help, even in the smallest way.

The support from people, everybody, was incredible and something that will live with me forever.

Paul McCartney playing a live show at the Club to highlight it’s importance. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, writing to our landlords to explain the Club’s significance to London’s arts and music heritage and how important to London it was. The Craven Braves manager Rob Ryan starting the ‘Save the 100 Club’ facebook page which eventually had over 20,000 people sign up to. George McCallam’s film raising awareness about the plight of the Club featuring many names in music and was seen by thousands on YouTube.

All the people, ordinary people, that called in and sent in their best wishes (and money orders and cheques) from all over the world….it was incredible how much the club meant to people right across the board.

Then, perhaps most significantly of all, Richard Copcutt, the CEO of Converse UK and a drummer in a punk band that played here in the early ’80s (The Soldiers of Destruction) coming to meet me, along with Cheryl Calegari (head of marketing for Converse UK) to see if there was anything Converse could do to help. And of course the subsequent partnership arrangement we now have with them stemmed from that .

Out of all that adversity came, for me, a total restoration of faith in people. Up to that point, I’d seemed to be constantly surrounded by people and institutions with their hands out, giving nothing back. I’ve not cashed any of those cheques and money orders by the way.

They’re filed away in a safe place, a constant reminder of people’s consideration and kindness, and that you can’t take your eye off the ball for a single minute.

LTW: Sponsorship was the key but there was no help from the state for the 100 Club as a small business was there? Despite the Government’s claims of backing such small bushinesses, did you feel let down a little on that score – especially as the 100 is a total one off as a club and integral to the history of live music in the UK?

No, there was no state help forthcoming. I can’t say I felt let down, as I didn’t expect any state help in the first place. I knew the only way out was if a benefactor or sponsor came in.

There was no way I wanted to lose my independence either. When 20,000 people state on a facebook campaign, almost to a person, that the club’s independence is paramount you have to listen. No one from any of the big corporate music groups got in touch anyway.

And even if they had I probably would have just killed the brand anyway. It would maybe have given us another year or two extra, but eventually, I believe, people would have voted with their feet.

Only I and one or two other people know what makes the 100 Club tick. The thought of selling out to keep going, and then a year or two down the line reading and hearing people talk about how the 100 Club ‘used to be a great venue’ gave me nightmares. It would have added insult to injury.

LTW: So how close did we come to losing the 100 Club?

It came very, very close to closing.

I’d made a decision at the end of Sept 2010 that the club was going to close at the end of the year. I figured that if we could get through until New Year’s Eve, we might just be able to pay off what was outstanding to our creditors.

If not, there was a very good chance that someone may have been able to prove we were trading while insolvent, and then the companies that we owed money to, could come after me personally as that would have meant we were not protected by our Limited Company status.

It was a very worrying time. That period just happens to be, coincidentally, our most profitable trading quarter so I took the gamble. And I’m glad I did.

The Sir Paul McCartney gig earlier this year looked an amazing night, though with the club being one of those classic tight/small venues it must be quite hard when you have family and many friends wanting to get in

I didn’t really have any input into ticketing for that show. That was handled by Marshall Arts who look after Paul McCartney. We got a small guest list, but yes, there were many, many people that wanted to come obviously. That happens all the time here.

But the ticketing for that show was very clever in-so-far as the ticket alone wouldn’t allow you entry. All the names of people that bought tickets were also on a database, and you had to prove, through ID that you were the ticket holder on the database too.

Ever since the Club was threatened with closure a lot of major artists have stepped onto the stage from Paul McCartney to Paul Weller. Alice Cooper, Blur, Nas, Plan B, Spiritualised, Hugh Laurie, Toots and the Maytels, as they always have done throughout the Club’s history.

And look at those names! The club’s diverse music policy lives on, which is hugely important.

LTW: Checking out the impressive 100 Club website the club seems on top of it again with some great gigs coming up, the recent Nas gig stands out. Do you find that artists like Nas actually have a good idea of the club and its legacy?

Not sure how familiar Nas was with the 100 Club name, but he wanted to be part of the amazing Represent Festival, which highlighted 9 different genres over 9 different days. One of the things that we’re trying to achieve in partnership with Converse is to attract some different forms of music that we’ve not previously been associated with.

Rap is one of them. SBTRKT, who headlined the Electronica night, ticked that particular box too.

Also on the site is a history section and what a history, from the early Jazz scene up its been pivotal to the UK’s music scene’s but do you think that it could happen again, and the 100 club be at the birth of something new like it has time and time again through out the 20th century

If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have fought so hard to keep it. Converse must think along the same lines too, to have stepped in like they did.

LTW: So, what’s your own taste in music then Jeff? Having the 100 Club you must get to hear almost everything but what scene did you come from in your youth and what do you listen to these days?

The first of many times I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise was seeing the Small Faces perform Tin Soldier on TOTP in 1967.

The sound, the look, everything was magical to a 6 year old lad that was mad about music. My dad used to bring home boxes of singles from the pirate station (as it was then) Radio London nights here and give them to me. I had my own record player, so he tells me, from the age of about four, and I used to spend hours playing them. My mum told me that I knew which record was which even though I couldn’t read.

I was mad about Bowie in the early seventies and bands like Mott the Hoople, but then came 1976 and the Punk era. I remember being at this crappy under 18’s disco in Dorset (my parents moved us from London in 1972) and being bored out of my mind. I was there because there was nothing else to do, when the DJ put on ‘Anarchy in the UK’.

It was the moment the world turned to colour and someone switched the lights on. I can still see that moment, like it was yesterday, frozen in time in my head today. The people, the stage, the bars, the tables everything. I had never heard anything like it before. It was THE most exciting era musically or otherwise, I’ve ever lived through.

The Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Buzzcocks, then later on the Subs, have all had a massive influence on who I am and how I think to the present day. Joe Strummer has remained my idol. Punk kicked Britain up the arse like nothing has done since. I loved the Specials and two tone, then followed bands like New Order and The Fall.

I loved the Madchester era and also the Britpop era which followed a few years later. The 100 Club was a predominant part of that as it was with punk.

LTW: And lastly you’ve had the club about 30 years- how many more years would you like to keep running the 100 Club? Have you got any future plans you’d still like to achieve with the club?

I always try and look forward. The time for reflection is when you’re sat on a beach somewhere nice (hopefully) in later life. Right now, I’m fairly fit, I still enjoy what I do (though the ever increasing regulations on Health and Safety and Risk Assessment piss me off) and I wake up every day thankful that I’m still in business and able to pay the mortgage.

I’m not here as much in the evenings any more but I still think there is lots to do, and lots of opportunities out there for the 100 Club.

My dad was here for 36 years before me, and I’d like to try to reach that milestone at least, and go beyond it.

Find out more about the club on its website.

Interview with Carl Stanley. You can read more from Carl on LTW here.

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  1. Saw The Au Pairs at the 100 in the 80’s. So glad it’s still about.

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