The Ritz

The Ritz / Hive, West Cliff, Bournemouth
The original Southcliffe Hotel prior to the demolition of part of the west wing for holiday cottages
The Ritz ballroom and apartments on the west cliff, a stones throw from the pier and beaches

On the west cliff, a couple of hundred yards from the pier stood the Southcliffe Hotel. Originally dating back to the late 1800s when it was called South Cliff Villa, the hotel boasted sixty bedrooms, twenty bathrooms, hot and cold running water, central heating, an electric lift and commanding uninterrupted views over the bay, it would have been a desirable place to stay in its heyday. In the fifties a large part of the hotel was demolished to make way for holiday cottages and the remaining rooms were converted into apartments. Adjoining the apartments was a smallish ballroom with two bay windows and a garden area. In the early sixties it was christened The Ritz by the then owner, Mr. Starley, who hosted local jazz bands and small combos for dancing such as Tony Alton and his Music, The Malcolm John Five and The Kordet Combo from Dorchester. Behind the Ritz and over the South Cliff Road, was another hotel originally called the Beechcliffe Hall, which he also owned and renamed Starleys Hotel. It was this package of properties that a Mr. Wallen bought in late 1965.

Left to Right: Pip Wallen, local socialite Ken Baily & Len Wallen in the entrance of the Ritz

Len Wallen was born in Portsmouth in 1926 but moved to Oxford with his family when he was in his teens. He initially worked for Pearl Insurance, becoming their most successful salesman for which he won an award. He then changed tack and started up his own business selling tyres, eventually opening six shops around the Oxfordshire and Berkshire area. In 1965 he tired of tyres, sold his business and moved to Bournemouth where the family had holidayed in the past. At a loose end and bored with retirement, Len moved into the hospitality industry and bought the Starleys Hotel, which included the apartments across the road and the Ritz. From the very beginning the family pitched in, working at the hotel during the day and helping out at the club at night. Len’s wife Pip managed the cloakroom with assistance from Jean Beaumont, a woman called Patsy took care of the ticket office and the bar was managed by a guy called Brian with support from Len’s niece Kathleen, who moved down from York to help out. In case of trouble, two gentle giants, Eddie and Ray, were on hand to break up any altercations and throw out the troublemakers, and the whole operation was managed by Paul Clarke. Len’s teenage daughters, Hilary and Jackie, collected classes and would fill in when needed. 

It’s not until you see the Ritz empty that it becomes apparent how small the club actually was
The band take a break allowing the crowd to spill out into the garden for a blast of fresh air

Before re-opening on 26th February 1966 with The Trackmarks, Len oversaw a make-over, laying new carpets, erecting a new stage and stone cladding the front façade. Initially he booked local groups such as The South Coast 5ive, The Bossmen and The Nite People but soon brought in bigger groups starting with Adam Faith’s former backing band The Roulettes followed by The Paramounts and The Fourmost. As he settled into his new line of work, Len expanded his empire by procuring the Romantica Hotel at Cemetery Junction (now the Dean Court Inn) and the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis. In tandem with a young local promoter finding his feet in the murky world of the music business, Mel Bush, and input from his daughter Hilary who had her finger on the musical pulse, he brought the cream of the London rock, soul and blues scene to the south coast. With two venues just over fifty miles apart and a couple of hotels in Bournemouth where the groups could bed down for the night instead of driving back to London in the early hours of the morning, it was an easy sell to entice bands to the Ritz.    

A typical busy night at the Ritz, packed in like sardines but the crowd are loving it

On a good night it was almost impossible for the musicians to battle their way through the tightly packed crowd from the dressing room sited behind the bar, to the stage at the far end of the club. In the days before the smoking ban, the air would be thick with the fug of acrid smoke from cheap fags, making your eyes stream with tears and the heat generated from the proximity of tightly packed bodies ensured a very sticky experience. It would be a blessed relief when the doors to the beer garden were thrown open in the interval to ease the pressure and allow a much-needed blast of fresh sea air. In those pre-Health and Safety days, The Ritz could legally hold up to a thousand patrons. In the event of a fire, the fire brigade deemed it safe for people to exit through the two doors either side of the stage into the small garden and jump over the fence onto the path leading down the cliffs. In hindsight, that would have been a recipe for disaster, as the fence was a lot higher than most people could jump. That advice certainly wouldn’t hold today.

From Top to Bottom: The Trackmarks, The South Coast 5ive & The Dictators, three local bands bring the punters into the Ritz before Len brought down the big guns from London

In the golden age of nascent progressive rock and the blues boom, Jethro Tull, John Mayall, Taste, Colosseum, Yes, Chicken Shack, The Nice, The Groundhogs, Ten Years After, Spooky Tooth plus the bluesmen Otis Spann, John Lee Hooker and Freddie King all plied their trade to an appreciative, if somewhat cramped audience. On one memorable evening in October 1968, Fleetwood Mac honoured a long-standing booking and gave an electrifying performance to a sell-out crowd while their single “Albatross” sat on top of the charts. In February 1969 they were back with brand new Orange amplifiers. Usually they turned up with a hodgepodge of battered and mismatched gear, but now they looked positively posh. Obviously the dough from a number one single had reaped dividends. However, it made no difference to the Mac. They were the same down-to-earth, blistering blues band as before and the hottest ticket in town.

Another date of note in May of the same year saw the blues legend Howlin’ Wolf visit the club with the John Dummer Blues Band. Despite the great man being in his mid-sixties and his sidekick of many years Hubert Sumlin not making the trip, the Wolf gave one hundred percent, crawling around on his hands and knees, blowing a mean blues harp and howling like a man possessed. When he finally left the stage running with sweat, he shook hands with mesmerised fans as he made his way back to the dressing room. An unforgettable experience.

One gig that failed to materialise was the eagerly anticipated homecoming of the original King Crimson. The band were booked to appear on 26th September 1969, but on the night in question the disappointed punters were told that they had pulled out at the last moment due to illness. An advert appeared in the Bournemouth Echo the following day apologising for the no-show and it was hoped that there would be a rescheduled date, but it wasn’t to be. King Crimson didn’t return to Bournemouth until June 1971 when they played the much larger Winter Gardens, but by then it was a totally different line-up with local boys Greg Lake and Michael Giles long gone and Robert Fripp being the only original member left.

Eden Roc, a four piece band from Yorkshire, pictured here playing the Ritz in June 1969

Three months later on Saturday 16th August, The Edgar Broughton Band played the same night as the 1969 ‘Bournemouth Regatta Beat Group Competition’. As The Ritz overlooked the area where the competition took place, Edgar thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of the makeshift stage and decamp to the beach after their show and put on a free gig. The Broughton’s had a past rep for playing rabble-rousing freebies from the back of lorries at festivals and benefits, which sometimes ended in cases of civil disobedience and the odd punch up. True to form, later that evening the band and Edgar’s mum and dad (they were his roadies) humped the gear down to the beach west of the pier and proceeded to play. This being Bournemouth, they only managed a couple of raucous anthems before the boys in blue turned up and pulled the plug. It was fun while it lasted.  

The exterior of the newly refurbished Hive had a garish black and yellow paint job

At the turn of the decade Len spent £5,000 on a revamp by adding arches, lowering the ceiling and brightening up the old oak panel walls with a lurid purple, red and yellow striped colour scheme (apparently he was colour blind). The club re-opened with a new name, The Hive, and a new identity catering for a disco clientele with live music relegated to weekends. By then the up-and-coming bands of the last couple of years had become headliners in their own write, upped their fees accordingly and decamped half a mile down the road to the much larger Winter Gardens. Now that the emphasis had changed to dancing around handbags and hiring pop groups such as White Plains, Edison’s Lighthouse and Cupid’s Inspiration, the hairy hoards recoiled in horror and took their custom elsewhere. Sure there was the odd blast of Satanic heavyocity from Black Sabbath and Black Widow, memorable gigs from Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash, plus a masterclass in guitar wizardry from Gary Moore with the Irish trio Skid Row, but it wasn’t enough to sustain the interest and the regulars from previous years gradually drifted away. In the spring of 1971 Len even tried to attract a biker crowd by introducing a rock ‘n’ roll night every Thursday, but The Wild Angels, The Houseshakers and bands of their ilk failed to pull in enough punters to make it viable.

The newly revamped interior of the Hive, note the lurid purple, red & yellow colour scheme

By the summer of 1974 Len was under pressure to sell Starley’s hotel, now named the Capri, and the Hive, in preparation for the building of a brand new all-purpose concert and conference centre with bars, restaurants and a swimming pool. Before that could take the place, the council slapped a compulsory purchase order on the Court Royal next door which was owned by the National Coal Board and the National Mine Workers Union. Since 1947, the convalescent home had been a respite centre for Welsh miners sent to the coast to recuperate from chest problems caused by coal dust and injuries from mining accidents. As the case rumbled through the courts, the power of the unions proved too strong for the Tory council and they won. The council appealed the verdict and took their fight to the Labour Secretary of State for the Environment and lost again. The building is still there, but now it’s a hotel run by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, Arthur Scargill would be proud. While all the wrangling and toing and froing was dragging on, Len leased the Hive back to the council who converted it into the Anchor Bar, an emporium for dispensing warm, overpriced lager to sunburnt holidaymakers. Finally in 1983 the whole area was flattened, condemning the home of many unforgettable nights to a burial under a red brick mausoleum called the Bournemouth International Centre.

As for Len, he bought a further five hotels, including the Bay on the west cliff which also fell foul of the Bournemouth Council and was torn down in 1998 as the BIC supposedly needed another car park, to this day it is still a plot of waste ground. He finally retired in 2006, but sadly died in 2018 at the ripe old age of ninety two. Unfortunately there isn’t a building left to pin a blue plaque on, just a car park and bin store, but for all the people that were regular Ritz goers, Len’s legacy is a head full of happy memories.

Aerial shot of the Hive, note the holiday cottages to the left, the Court Royal miners retreat to the right and the newly named Capri Hotel (formerly Starleys) at the rear
Summer 1983, the site is cleared to make way for the Bournemouth International Centre
The view today, the Court Royal Hotel partly obscured by the big wheel and dwarfed by the Bournemouth International Centre behind (This photograph and below John Cherry)
Where the Ritz once stood, now a car park for the BIC, the Court Royal Hotel still standing

Special thanks go to Len’s daughter Hilary Goodinge for background information and the majority of the photographs.  

If you have any memories you would like to share of the Ritz, please use the contact box at the bottom of this page.

Bands of note that played the Ritz and Hive:

Amen Corner (Andy Fairweather Low and company had four top ten hits)

Andromeda (A psychedelic rock trio, they also recorded an album under the name of The Five Day Week Straw People)

Assagai (Afro-rock band, three members from South Africa and two Nigerians)

Audience (Art rock band from London)

Bakerloo Blues Line (A blues trio, guitarist Clem Clempson joined Colosseum 2)

Band of Joy (Robert Plant on vocals & John Bonham on drums)

Bee Gees (Grammy award winners, world domination with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack)

Blackfoot Sue (Rock band, had a number four hit with “Standing in the Road”)

Black Sabbath (The Grand Wizard’s of Satanic heavy metal)

Black Widow (Rock band from Leicester that used similar satanic themes and imagery to Black Sabbath)

Blodwyn Pig (Mick Abrahams new band after Jethro Tull)

Chicken Shack (Stan Webb and the boys)

Christie (“Yellow River” anyone?) 

Clouds (Scottish, keyboard led rock trio)

Cupid’s Inspiration (One hit wonders with “Yesterday Has Gone, local boy Gordon Haskell was a member for a short time)

Dantalion’s Chariot (Zoot Money, Colin Allen & Andy Summers post Big Roll Band psychedelic experiment)

Dozy Beaky Mick & Titch (Minus Dave Dee)

East of Eden (The” Jig A Jig” hitmakers)

Edison Lighthouse (Another one hit wonder with “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”, Tony Burrows on vocals)

Edgar Broughton Band (Counterculture rabble-rousers)

Family (Top prog band, had three hit singles, released seven albums and local boy John Wetton was a member)

Fleetwood Mac (A guaranteed sell-out. By far the most popular band to play the Ritz, they made five appearances, one while “Albatross” was sat at the top of the charts)

Freddie King (The ‘Texas Cannonball’)

Gary Wright’s Wonderwheel (Gary was a former member of Spooky Tooth)

Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band (Geno! Geno! Geno! Always a big draw)

Graham Bond Initiation (Renowned organ grinder and sax player) 

Gypsy (Quintet from Leicester, released two albums)

Heaven (Brass rock band from Portsmouth, made one album, Brass Rock)

Herbie Goins and the Night-Timers (Popular soul band)

Hot Chocolate (An appearance by the hugely successful band before the hits)

Howlin’ Wolf (The legendary Wolf thrilled a packed crowd)

Jackson Heights (Bassist Lee Jackson’s band after The Nice split in 1969)

Jethro Tull (Martin Barre had just replaced Mick Abrahams on guitar)

Jimmy James and the Vagabonds (Very popular soul band)

Jody Grind (Obscure prog rock band)

 John Lee Hooker (The delta bluesman played the club twice)

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (With future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor on guitar) 

Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon (An American vocal soul group, had a hit with “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartbreak”)

Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum (Excellent jazz / rock band, made four appearances)

Juicy Lucy (Blues rock band with Glen Ross Campbell from The Misunderstood on pedal steel guitar)

 Juniors Eyes (Guitarist Mick Wayne played on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Junior’s Eyes backed Bowie on his first album)

Killing Floor (Blues band made two albums, Mick Clark on guitar)

Liverpool Scene (A poetry rock band)

Love Affair (Teen sensations, five top twenty singles and a number one with “Everlasting Love”)

Man (An excellent Welsh jam band)

Manfred Mann Chapter Three (This short lived, but interesting band, came after the hugely successful Manfred Mann and before Manfred Mann’s Earth Band)

Marmalade (Scored eight top twenty hits)

 Mary Wells (Motown star who had a big hit with “My Guy”)

Max Romeo (“Wet Dream” anyone?) 

Medicine Head (Blues rock duo who recorded for John Peel’s Dandelion label)

Mr Bloe (Who were these guys? Apparently “Grooving with Mr Bloe” was a studio concoction and there was no such band)

Osibisa (Afro rock band from Ghana)

Otis Spann (Muddy Waters pianist on a solo tour)

Pete Brown and His Battered Ornaments (Brown penned lyrics for Cream)

Picketty Witch (Don’t know what to say, words fail me)

Principal Edwards Magic Theatre (A collective of fourteen musicians, poets, dancers plus a lightshow, how on earth did they all squeeze onto the small stage)

Quiver (Country rock band formed by guitarist Tim Renwick, became successful when they teamed up with the Sutherland Brothers)

Renaissance (Classically inclined prog rockers)

Rainbow Ffolly (Their one album, Sallies Forth, tanked at the time, but is now highly collectable)

Savoy Brown (A London blues band formed by guitarist Kim Simmonds)

Simon Dupree and the Big Sound (A soul band from Portsmouth that had a top ten hit with the psychedelically inclined “Kites”, then became Gentle Giant)

Skid Row (A seventeen year old Gary Moore with his trio from Ireland)

Slade (Noddy and his chums before the hits)

Stone the Crows (Colin Allen returns home with his Scottish band mates) 

Strawbs (Folk rock band and still going strong)

Spice (Forerunners of Uriah Heep)

Spooky Tooth (Popular prog rockers)

Status Quo (Boogie rock specialists)

Steamhammer (Blues band, guitarist Martin Quittenton performed with Rod Stewart and co-wrote “Maggie May” & “You Wear it Well” with Stewart)

Supertramp (Prog rock band, Bournemouth born Richard Palmer-James was once a member)

Taste (Rory Gallagher’s trio only appeared once unfortunately)

Ten Years After (Before Alvin Lee took Woodstock by storm)

Terry Reid (Reid was in-line to become Led Zeppelin’s vocalist) 

The Action (A well thought of Mod band)

The Alan Bown (A minor r&b, cum psychedelic outfit from London)

The Alan Price Set (The ex-Animal)

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (Crazy alright, had a surprise number one with “Fire”)

The Easybeats (Ausie pop band, guitarist George Young was the elder brother of Angus and Malcolm Young of AC/DC)

The Equals (Eddy Grants group had a number one with “Baby Come Back”)

 The Foundations (Mixed-race soul band and chart toppers with “Baby Now That I Found You”)

The Fourmost (From Liverpool, had three top ten hits)

The Gods (Local boy Lee Kerslake on drums)

The Greatest Show on Earth (Recorded two albums, Norman Watt Roy of The Blockheads on bass)

The Groundhogs (T. S. McPhee’s boys)

The Herd (Peter Frampton’s teeny bop band, three big hits)

The Houseshakers (A retro rock ‘n’ roll band who backed Gene Vincent, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry on UK tours)

The Iveys (Became Badfinger and had hits on the Apple label)

The John Dummer Blues Band (Dummer went on to form Darts who had eight top twenty singles in the late seventies)

The Mick Abrahams Band (Mick’s band after Blodwyn Pig)

The Move (Purveyors of ‘Brum Beat’, hit big with nine top twenty singles)

The Nashville Teens (“Tobacoo Road” hitmakers, John Hawken their keyboard player was born in Bournemouth)

The Nice (Keith Emerson’s pre ELP trio)

The Palmer James Group (Local band with John Wetton and Richard Palmer James)

The Paramounts (Became Procol Harum) 

The Peddlers (Parkstone boy Roy Phillips on organ)

The Pioneers (Ska pioneers)

The Pink Fairies (Hometown gig for drummer Russell Hunter)

The Pretty Things (Phil May brings his r&b renegades to The Hive)

The Room (The resident house band, released one album) 

The Roy Young Band (Apparently pianist Young was offered a job with The Beatles by Brian Epstein)

The Roulettes (Adam Faith’s old backing band)

The Shame (An early Greg Lake band who recorded one single)

The Spencer Davis Group (Arrived with a new line-up after the Winwood brothers split)

The Spirit of John Morgan (A psychedelic, heavy blues rock quintet) 

The Sweet (Made an appearance before they were glam)

The Syn (Bassist Chris Squire & guitarist Peter Banks joined Yes)

The Timebox (Guitarist Ollie Halsall & bassist Clive Griffiths went on to form Patto)

The Tremeloes (Twenty one top fifty hits and two chart toppers)

The Wild Angels (A retro rock ‘n’ roll band)

Thin Lizzy (Phil Lynot, Brian Downey and Eric Bell, huge hit with “Whiskey in the Jar”)

Third Ear Band (Instrumental, improvisational quartet)

Tir Na Nog (A progressive folk duo from Ireland)

Traffic (Stevie Winwoods new outfit after the Spencer Davis Group)

UFO (Heavy metal band, bassist Pete Way was living in Christchurch when he died in September 2020)

Uriah Heep (Very ‘Eavy…very ‘Umble, Bournemouth drummer Lee Kerslake joined in 1970)

Van Der Graaf Generator (Prog rock noiseniks)

War Horse (Band formed by Nick Simper, Deep Purple’s first bass player)

Wild Turkey (Bass player Glenn Cornick’s band after he left Jethro Tull)

White Plains (One hit wonders with “My Baby Loves Lovin’”)

Wishbone Ash (Twin guitar attack from this foursome)

Wynder K Frog (Frog was Mick Weaver, a respected exponent of the Hammond organ)

Yes (One Ritz appearance by the progsters)

Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band (Zoot and the Rollers home town gig)

37 thoughts on “The Ritz

  1. A very impressive history of a much-missed venue. I used to visit The Ritz every weeke and was fortunate to see so many of the bands listed, The Nice, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, The Strawbs, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and many, many more. Thank you for sharing the history but the wonderful images too. It was a special time and The Ritz Ballroom is a special part of the time.

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    1. It was special to a lot of people of a certain age Gray. Sounds like we were at quite a few of the same gigs, the Howlin’ Wolf night will live with me for ever, a true legend. John

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  2. Hi, just discovered this info! My parents met at the Ritz and my Mum also worked there when it was the Hive checking in coats I think, her name was Ann Macklin. I can remember vaguely being sat in a corner where she worked when very young on one occasion. She managed to get me the Tremoloes autographs on a huge circular beer mat like promotional poster and it took pride of place on my bedroom wall when young. I can aldo remember having Emperor Rosko’s autograph (DJ). I wish I had more info butnever really asked my Mum anything else about her youth which is a shame but do know it was an important part of hers and my Dad’s younger courtship.

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    1. Hi Elayne, thank you for your story. The Ritz was an important meeting place back in the day, as well as a fantastic music venue and I’m sure many couples met there and went on to make lives together, just like your mum and dad. John

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  3. First time a young keyboard player from a North Wales Blues band called Raw Blues saw Fleetwood Mac probably 1968 July /August Totally amazed when I saw them unload from TWO transit Van’s and then an unforgettable performance still outstanding in my memory today at a youthfull 72 yrs.Feel privileged to have been on holiday at Bournemouth then.

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    1. Hi Iwan, without fail Fleetwood Mac always put on good show at the Ritz, I’m just glad I was there to see most of them. John

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  4. Went to The Ritz underage still at school I remember seeing Amen Corner and others I cannot name .I remember the small bar drinking cider and the police raiding it never got caught also a pal from school Maureen worked in the cloakroom used to tell us who would be on at the weekend .Happy memories dancing and meeting boys !

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    1. Brilliant, I was just sixteen when I first went to the Ritz, things were a lot more innocent in those days, John

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  5. Oh , such happy , if somewhat noisy , carefreedays. I’m nearly 74 and still living in my hometown of Bournemouth.

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      1. Thanks for the comment Alexander, Hillary helped with Len’s story and kindly lent me photographs for the blog, John

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  6. Have you any photos of the herd and amen corner when they were playing at the Ritz peter frampton though a banana skin at me I kept it for years

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    1. I’m afraid all the photos I have of the Ritz are on the blog thanks to Hilary, Len’s daughter. If any one out there has any more and would like to share them, please get in touch, John

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  7. I don’t see Elias Holk, backed by Still Glade and Graham Stoker in your list of bands. I sold the poster of this gig at The Ritz on 21st january, I think it was 1970 (I have a photo of it). The guy who bought it has a hotel on the West Cliff dedicated to rock music. I was a student in Bournemouth and saw most of the blues bands in your list, great memories.

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    1. Hi Gary, I never came across this gig in my research so I will be interested to see a photo of the poster, I will drop you an email. The band were Elias Hulk and I suspect the other band were Bram Stoker not Graham Stoker. The guy you mentioned owned the Bourne Beat hotel on the west cliff and you are right, the walls of the bar were covered with old posters and other memorabilia. Unfortunately he sold the hotel a few years back and sadly auctioned the lot off. John

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  8. Simon Dupree came from Portsmouth, not Southampton. Saw them on a snowy night in Portsmouth when only them and headline band Small Faces turned up.

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    1. You are correct Gary, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound came from Portsmouth not Southampton as stated. I shall amend the information accordingly, thanks for getting in touch, John

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      1. I still have Keith Moons drumstick that my Dad got from there,,,, my Dad is Paul Clarke who managed The Ritz approx 1963-68

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      2. Thanks for getting in touch Donna, has your dad seen the site ? I would be interested to hear if he has any stories about the Ritz. John

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  9. I am 80 tomorrow and spent every Saturday night during1950s dancing to Tony Altons band he was a great guitarist .Later moved to London and used to see Zoot Money at Klooks Kleek in Hampstead

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    1. Happy birthday Kay. I heard Tony Alton was one of the best guitarists in town back in the day and he gave Robert Fripp guitar lessons for a short period, John.

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  10. Super article, brings back so many memories. I was a regular in the very early ’60s, just before the boom in “pop” music really took off.

    The Ritz then hosted more jazz oriented groups, as I remember it. I still vividly recall it as the place where I first heard a vibraphone being played.

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