Open for just a year in the '60s, the Upper Cut club had many greats perform on its stage—and it's where Jimi Hendrix wrote "Purple Haze"
Tucked away in the rough streets of what was then the far east end of London stood a nightclub that attracted some of the biggest musicians in the world such as Nina Simone, and Jimi Hendrix. The Upper Cut Club opened its doors for just 12 months between 1966 and 1967.
The club is truly remarkable for the fact that it hosted such huge British and US musicians despite being open for such a short time, and not least for being located in the neighbourhood of Forest Gate, in the historically working class borough of Newham—instead of the dizzy heights of the West End.
"Hendrix's show was a bargain too, with tickets costing just £5 in today’s money"
It was in the dressing room of the Upper Cut club, while awaiting his performance that Hendrix finished the lyrics to his iconic song “Purple Haze”. The song has been named as one of the greatest songs by Rolling Stone of all time, while Q Mag has listed it as the greatest ever recorded.
While Britain was—and is—no racial utopia by any means, it did allow for African-American musicians coming from the segregated States to, as John says, “walk through the same front door as the white acts”. This is what encouraged and made London so appealing for fledgling musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, as it offered some respite and a change from segregated US clubs and music venues.
The opening line up in December 1966 featured The Who as the headliners. The club also played The Small Faces in January 1967, before hosting legendary jazz artist Otis Redding in April.
A Stratford Express newspaper cut-out covering the opening party of the Upper Cut, December 1966. Courtesy of local history blog: E7NowAndThen
The legendary Nina Simone then played a gig in April 1967, before the Club also hosted Stevie Wonder, and Eric Clapton.
The club’s venue once used to be Forest Gate Public Hall, and from 1902 until 1966 it ranged from being a theatre, a cinema, and a skating rink, before the stars of the US jazz and blues scene descended to play to adoring crowds.
Gladys Letty, was a Forest Gate resident in the 1960s and 1970s, and she fondly remembers going to the dance at the club as a 24-25 year old.
“We lived just around the corner from The Upper Cut so it was great that we didn’t have to drive to attend shows. During the mid-60s there were some really good singers so we took advantage of seeing them.” Gladys recalls seeing acts such as Eric Burdon & The Animals, The Spencer Davis Group, Booker T & The MG, and Nina Simone.
“I wasn’t into the teeny bopper stuff [soft rock and pop that was popular in the 50s and 60s] and the [acts] I saw [at the Upper Cut] were more funk and blues than many of the other acts that appeared.”
But she couldn’t get in to see some of the most famous acts to grace the club’s 6ft stage like Jimi Hendrix in addition to some “of the other US groups because those tickets went fast”.
A surviving example of club memorabilia. Courtesy of local history blog: E7NowAndThen.
Barbara Hollis, who was 21 when the Club opened its doors on Woodgrange Road, went there almost every Saturday night for the duration of its establishment. She recalls that before it became the Upper Cut, it was a roller skating rink, which she used to go to as well.
“The atmosphere was great, and many good nights were had there—I saw The Who there as well.” By the time the Club closed, Barbara had moved to the US, but found its closure sad nonetheless.