- Category: Black Retro
ORIGINALLY a cinema back in 1910, Dougies went on to become a hugely important nightclub in the black music scene from 1983 until its closure in 2007...
The club was first opened in 1983 by Mr. Irvine Douglas who had previously owned a popular north London club/restaurant called Dougies Hideaway that he’d established back in 1976.
Douglas decided to choose Hackney, east London as a location for his new club, as a result of a
growing demand for a new music venue in the area from an emerging second and third generation of black Britons in London. He was also encouraged by local politicians and community leaders such as Sam Springer the former Mayor of Hackney. Having selected the site of the derelict cinema, Douglas spent a considerable amount of money renovating the building to cater for a capacity of up to 1200 people with a restaurant, a separate rest area for women and VIPs. The building was on two main levels with a large stage for live performances.
Douglas had a clear vision to develop the club with high standards and protocol in dress and decorum. He aimed to reflect the growing aspiration of black people in Britain at the time of Tharacherism, as well as catering to the emerging black middle class, spawned by the success and entrepreneurialism of ‘buppies’ (black yuppies).
As a club owner and music promoter, Douglas did not see Dougies as a black club, but a club that played the best in black music such as lovers rock, rare grove, R’n’B, soul, reggage, soca, calypso and the latest sounds from Africa. Dougies, like other clubs at the time, created a space for home grown music talent and a club scene reminiscent of the house parties of the Windrush generation during the 1940s-1960s. The club had a strict dress policy and a team of well-regarded security staff, which allowed a safe space for raving with very few reported incidents of violence compared to clubs in the West End.
The club was very popular at weekends, bank holidays, Christmas and the New Year period. But it also attracted large numbers on Sunday nights thanks to the soca music that was played that night – a rarity in London venues.
Dougies provided a space for many new and established artists to cut their teeth with live performances.
UK acts that performed at the venue included Maxi Priest, Jean Adebambo, Janet Kay, Carroll Thompson, Loose Ends, Aswad and many more. Jamaican-based reggae artists including Freddie McGregor, Gregory Isaacs and John Holt also made regular appearances at the club, along with US soul and R’n’B stars such as Edwin Starr, the Stylistics and Mary Wells, to name a few.
The club provided a launch pad for the Miss Ghana and Miss Jamaica UK pageants, and was also used for various video shoots. But essentially, Dougies was seen as a ‘big people’s’ club; a venue for mature and sophisticated ravers for whom it provided solace and escapism from the day- to-day issues of racism, discrimination and economic recession. People could be themselves and express their opinions and identity through fashion and dress, all to the rhythms and vibes of the great music of the time.
But in 2000, Douglas decided to retire to the Caribbean and so sold the club to a new owner, Admiral Ken.
Admiral Ken was a successful club owner in his own right who started out back in the 1960s with his first West End club, which provided quality music and ambiance. He subsequently ran clubs in subsequently ran clubs in Liverpool Street and in Peckham, and was able to attract numerous artists including Stevie Wonder, Ben E. King and Jimmy Cliff.
Admiral Ken changed the name of Dougies to Palace Pavilion and although he continued to run the club in a similar vein to that of Douglas, with the introduction of ‘revival dances’ and the continuation of showcasing soca music, the growing urban music scene – with its a new generation of clubbers – was now having an impact on the nature of this venue and the surrounding area of Clapton.
Next door to the venue was another club called Chimes, which had a strong youth focus and was the stomping ground for gangs looking to settle scores. It was only a matter of time before Pavilion became caught up in this new environment. The tipping point was the murder of teenager Barrington Williams-Samuels in January 2006. The club’s licence was revoked by the council and was subsequently closed down in 2007 due the reactions of local residents who were concerned about the escalating gun violence in the area.
The venue was once the pride and joy of the black community but eventually became a symbol of the failure of the ability of clubs to protect mature, sophisticated ravers and the local neighborhood from the onslaught of turf wars and indiscriminate shootings.
Today, all of the clubs in Hackney that were once part of the lovers rock/reggae/rare groove scene have closed down for a variety of reasons and are now are either new music venues or private housing developments.
Dougies, however, is firmly etched in the history of the black British music scene and, therefore, should be remembered.
Although there is a campaign to preserve the building for its original use as a cinema which is important and welcomed, we also have to recognise the cultural significance of the club to the history of black people in Hackney and in Britain as a whole. It is this intangible heritage that is part of the DNA of the building that needs to recorded, presevered and celebrated in any future plans to redevelop it. We must not focus solely on why the club closed down, but instead, acknowledge the impact of this cultural institution in Hackney.
Patrick Vernon would like to acknowledge Mr. Irvine Douglas, Admiral Ken and Mavis Gaza for their contribution to this article.