How many musicians have nervously got up on the Preview stage for the first time, and how many of them have gone on to be semi-pros and professional entertainers, and how many people have they brought pleasure to over the years ?
Years on and new acts are still coming along with semi-pros and professional musicians creating a great evening of top quality entertainment and still for free.
How it all started
Now days 'Open Mic Nights', 'Comedy Nights' and other stages for musician and entertainers to perform are all around town and everywhere.
But back in 1984 'The Preview Club' was the first club of its kind. The only clubs around Southend were either Traditional or Contemporary Folk Clubs, and 'Sing Around' folk gatherings. All these clubs were folk orientated, there was a need for a stage for all the other artistes i.e. blues, blue grass, classical, old standards, original numbers, jazz, rock, ex band members and of course some folk. Then the idea of cabaret came to mind, why shouldn't the club also have other types of entertainment such as impersonators, comedy, sketches, poets etc. Also noting how the folk clubs were low keyed it would need some razzmatazz and so Preview was born.
Articles went in the papers in the search for new talent a couple of months before the start of the club. Jeremy Reynolds was one of the first people to contact me and was a great help in those early days. There was also a wealth of talent about that were all excited to be at the birth of this new style of club. Right at the beginning there was Paul Dawson, Bob Johnson, Charlie Scott, Dave Upton, Simon Arnold, Chris Gibson and many many more. If I try to mention them all I'm bound to leave somebody out, so I'll stop here.
The aims of the club then were pretty unique:
A mixed music club covering all styles of music and other types of
entertainment. A club to give a chance for new and established musicians to preview their music. A free club, for people of all ages and of all means.
Later as the club grew we introduced the guest spot to give a chance for
the best acts to do a full set. This incentive has helped many an act to develop into great entertainers. We also decided to make sure the club wasn't cliquey and made an effort to have a chat with all new members to help create a warm atmosphere. These are still the same aims today.
We were a new style of club right from the off and even now we are still quite unique.
Preview opened on Thursday the 8th of March
in the upstairs room at 'The Railway' in Clifftown road. The room was a bit dingy then and we soon out grew it and moved to a plush larger room above 'The Park Tavern'. Some time in 1985 we moved to The Spread Eagle in Prittlewell where we created a proper stage, backdrop, lighting and a PA system. Then in November 2011 we moved to the much larger basement room at the RNA where we built a new larger stage, curtained the wall, installed surround sound using four speakers and made a it the great venue it is today.
We had already introduced some floor lights to create a bit of ambience right from the start. This was unheard of in other clubs. This was our real 'Cabaret' time. We had two impersonators Carol Sant doing a good Margaret Thatcher and Phil Cornwell who has gone on to bigger things, 'Dead Ringers' for instance. I can still remember his Michael Caine impression on the Preview stage. Also we had the odd monologue from Bob Johnson and Jack Cannon etc. I even did a 'Dame Edna' sketch. Dave Upton did a 'Nina & Fredrick' song where he sung both parts and was dressed half as a woman and half as a man.
Later came other great comedy songwriters such as Dennis Ahern with the 'Canvey Island' song and the wonderful all time great poem 'The Stinging Nettle'. Then a bit later the brilliant songwriter Tony Winn with comical songs and poems such as 'Rubbish' as well as some great serious numbers. Bands have come, gone, reformed, reunited and returned, one being: Crazy Fingers, Blue Union, Mud Slappers, May West Cowboys, C.I.A and now The West Brothers with Alan West still playing superb lead guitar.
Over the years we've had some unusual acts and instruments, like the guy who turned up with a Hurdy-gurdy, Tony with his props e.g. 'The Lion sleeps tonight', Ray Smith on banjo with a furry animal popping over his shoulder whilst singing 'How many sides has a sausage'. Then there was Captain Indecisive who opened his jacket to reveal his Captain Indecisive T shirt and then couldn't decide if he should play. On the theme of unusual instruments, we've had Lutes, Cello, Turkish chanters, a full size Irish Harp, Bagpipes, Lowland Pipes, Hammer Dulcimer, an Aussie with a Didgeridoo, a Lagerphone, a Glockenspiel, a type of Barrel Organ, an African plucking instrument, Bongos from around the world, and I bet there's more that I can't remember.
Dick Turpin started coming to Preview in about 1986 when he was 79 years old. He was an outstanding Magician performing tricks like asking a member of the audience to sign their name on a fiver and later it would appear wrapped in cellophane in the centre on a whole lemon that was cut in half in front of us. But that wasn't his only skill; he also played the Hammer Dulcimer really well. He was now 80 and one week he turned up at the club with a Hammer Dulcimer that he'd made himself out of scrap wood and bits and pieces he'd found and It played beautifully.
Another special guest, the famous Will Gaines from the U.S.A. hoofing the blues has made several appearances. Will has danced with such bands as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton & Cab Callaway, Alex Welsh, Humphrey Lyttleton etc. and such artistes as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Earther Kitt, Nat King-Cole, Stephen Grapelli, Sacha Distelle, Ronnie Scott etc. And performed everywhere from 'The Cotton Club, N.Y. to The London Palladium on a Royal Command Performance.
It was from Preview that 'The Club Riga' was born after our 10th anniversary bash. Doug, Martin and Steve could see the need for a permanent larger venue for bands. Preview was happy and very successful at the Spread, but why not start a new club, just for bands. The Sportsman Bar of The Cricketers was found and so we set up 'The Riga Club'
Over the years Preview has put on numerous special event and at other venues. The club has been involved with 'The Old Leigh Folk Festival' since the start. Performed at 'The Old Leigh Regatta', done joint gigs with 'Riga' and many others. Including 1997 “Behind Bars Concert” at Hollesley Bay Prison. I have to say they were captivated by our performance.
For a while Preview also hosted a Thursday Jazz Night. We had some great bands like Kenny Baxter's Quartet, Graeme Turners New Shoes, The Claire Harper Quartet, Graham Hunter's Funky Few, Dave Dearle's Roaring 20s Jazz band to name but a few with occasional guest appearances such as Digby Fairweather. It finished in 2003.
Over the year Preview has raised money and put on many concerts for charities sure as 'The UNICEF African Appeal', 'Anne's Trip', 'Comic Relief', 'Children in need', 'India Disaster Fund', 'Tsunami' and several for 'Cancer research' besides helping with musicians for St Mary's Fete and for the Rochford Scouts Bar B Que.
Comedy & Pantos
Although Preview is mainly a live music club now days, we do still welcome some comedy and put on the occasional 'Comedy Night'. Over the past 14 year we have put on an annual Panto (strictly for adults) which are hard work but worth it to see the audience in hysterics. Producing videos and now DVDs.
1995 Mummer Play
1996 Snow White & the Four and a half Dwarfs
1997 Cinderella on Ice
1998 Goldie Sex and the Three Flares
1999 The Wizard of Aussie
2000 A-lad-in Cork
2001 Christmas Carol's been Scrooged
2002 Jacko and his a Beanstalker
2003 Dick's Willing'to
2004 Allo, Allo 'Its Hans on Gretel'
2005 Cinderella 2 'The Prices Balls'
2006 Peter Pants
2007 Allo, Allo 'It's the Panto'
2008 Dick's Willing'to The sequel 'Dick fances abroad'
2009 Robin Hood & Laid Marian
2010 The Wizard of Ozzie
.......too busy moving to the RNA
2012 Christmas Carol's been Scrooged
Far & Wide
Musicians and audience travel from far and wide. Our membership which re-started in 1995 now has members not only from all over the country, but from all over the world.
In the early day I would look out for new acts and invite them to come and play, but now days they come to us. Two Fridays at the club are never alike always different acts (at least 8 acts) and a guest spot. To mention but a few of the new artistes: Dave Woodcock, The Seasiders, Philious Williams, The Beatroots & Jimmy Eastwood and many more. Musicians enjoy playing Preview as the audience is attentive and appreciative and the musicians also enjoy the other acts.
Special Club Nights
'Burn's Night' has always been celebrated at Preview with Haggis, Neeps & Tatties. One of the main highlights of the year is the 'The "Blue Angel" Awards', Introduced in 1996. Why the Blue Angel? Well we have a picture of Marlene Dietrich as our logo and she performed in The Blue Angel Club in Berlin. These awards are a great way for the audience to show their appreciation by voting for their favourite acts. The relevant artistes treat these awards quite seriously and the actual awards themselves are kept with pride. This isn't the Oscars, but it's still a great feeling to be chosen. The results are kept secret until the night. Each year on the last Friday before Christmas we have our 'Funniest Original Christmas Song Competition' and have we had some funny ones? This is open to musicians and audience.
The August Bank Holiday 'Big Bash'
Is the highlight of the year and a great showcase for Preview. Over three evening Friday, Saturday & Sunday featuring great acts from sole artistes to bands.