Friday, July 24, 2009

Norbert Rondel and La Discotheque

Interesting obituary in The Guardian this week for Norbert Rondel (1927-2009), another of those dodgy figures straddling crime and nightlife in 1960s/70s London. A Jewish refugee from Berlin, he was, among other things a professional wrestler, South London used car salesman, landlord's heavy for Peter Rachman, prisoner, chess player, (alleged) conspirator in the famous 1975 Spaghetti House robbery and doorman at La Discotheque in Wardour Street.

Of the latter place - a 1960s mod hang out - Jon Waters has given an account at Modculture:

"I made my way up the stairs to 'La Discotheque' and gave the nod to the bouncer whilst dropping some cash into his hand. We had sussed out some time ago that we could gain entrance for half price and made full use of the facility. The obligatory stamp went on the back of my hand and I was in.

The door opened releasing a hot fug of fetid air mixed with cigarette smoke. The place was heaving as sweating bodies jostled for space to dance. Junior Walker's 'Shake & Fingerpop' was pumping out and I could feel my heart jump into overdrive. Locating the rest of the firm was easy. 'Haggis' and 'Big Roy' were giving it some on the floor. It looked like Haggis had pulled for the night. Roy was in a world of his own on the dancefloor, dancing by himself, if that were possible in view of the close proximity of the bodies all around him. Roy was unbelievable. He would dance all night with hardly a break but never take any gear. The energy he possessed was beyond belief.

Terry was busy doing some business somewhere and Mac was sitting in a corner. He was completely stoned, staring at his clenched fists on his lap and chewing like crazy.I couldn't get any sense out of him. By now the combination of the music and the dexys were really kicking in so I fought my way out to the others on the floor and let the music wash over me. James Brown 'Night Train', Betty Everett 'Getting Mighty Crowded', The Impressions 'You Been Cheating', Otis 'Mr.Pitiful' and Pickett's 'Midnight Hour'...pure heaven!

Terry reappeared after a while. He had taken a few too many and his mouth had gone into overdrive. He talked a lot of bollocks when he wasn't high but Christ! He was really giving my earhole some grief! I spotted a girl I knew from Borehamwood and using her as an excuse I escaped. We danced and for a while and she let slip details of a party tomorrow night. A result! Sundays were dead and we were not first choice on most people's party lists (probably due to the amount of suede and leather coats that tended to go missing when we were in attendence).

More 'dexys' were consumed. Every now and again a few more envelopes were distributed which meant occasional trips to the building site. Still the music pumped out. The Supremes 'Back in my Arms Again', Jnr.Walker 'Shotgun', Eddie Floyd 'Things Get Better', Toys 'Lovers Concerto', James Brown 'Papas Got a Brand New Bag', Marvin Gaye 'I'll be Doggone'. Gradually the night wore on'.

La Discotheque is often credited as being the first London disco, in the sense of 'being the first club to only play recorded music in London'Mod: Clean Living Under Very Difficult Circumstances - A Very British Phenomenon by Terry Rawlings and Richard Barnes).


Anonymous said...

I remember the club well. It was the first (of many) clubs that I frequented in the west end in the mid 60's. It's probably the same today, but what I most remember is going "up West" late on a friday night, walking the streets and dropping in and out of various clubs, and every where I went I meet people I knew. Fantastic times

Anonymous said...

When I was about 18 I worked a couple of nights a week at the club marking hands at the door. I was also allowed free entry on other nights and learned to dance to all the great music around that time. I was there the night Kennedy got shot and a few weeks after that one of the bouncers (a really nice guy-ex Grenadier Guards) got his kneecap shot off buy a guy he refused entry to earlier. I never went back again!!

Anonymous said...

I first met mad fred as he was known in 1962. He was persuaded by a well known wrestler to go to Rachman's old club in Earls Court to demand money from a guy called Serge, the law were waiting and Fred got nicked, I went to see him in Brixton and made a mistake by taking him some cigs, he gave me a real bollocking, I noticed that he was badly bruised on his head, he told me that when he went back to his cell after exercise there were about 5 screws waiting for him, it was according to fred the worst mistake these screws had ever made, he used kicks and head locks and head butts and they fled. Fred told me that after that he had it easy while on remand

Gill said...

I met my husband in 'The Disc' on 23rd November 1963, the same night the news broke of President Kennedy's assassination. I was 17 and he was just 18. I remember we had our hands marked at the door on entry and I also remember the bouncer being shot in the knee cap after that time.
We spent 44 years together until his sad death in 2007.
Does anyone remember him, a young 'mod' guy Chris Ross, sometimes called Christie, with black, curly hair? He was a great dancer and they would often clear the floor to watch him dance - he also danced regularly at The Scene in Ham Yard. He went on to become a folk club singer and later the Irish singer/songwriter Christie Hennessy. RIP.

John Atkins said...

I too was a regular at The Disc circa 61-64 and also frequently went back and forth to the Scene along with the Whisky and the Flamingo.I beleive the Disc styled itself as a French student record club. Anything French being considered Mod in those times. I recall they had a DJ there calling himself King Pud and the Night Sounds. Great memories. Fabulous times but was it just because we were young? It's really great to find otherssharing these memories because I live now in Chelmsford and I never meet anyone who ever went "up West".

henry moss said...

I ran the bars and cloakrooms at the Discotheque and the Last Chance from 1961 until 1964. Bert Assirati was the wrestler on the door along with Dennis, Pat and Fred.

MikeHallinan said...

would like Henry Moss to contact me, about his time working ar La Dicotheque, I am the biographer of Bert Assirati who died in 1990 at Brighton. I have a web-site in his memory at
Best Mike Hallinan London

Tony Quested said...

used to go there every sat. night 1967,the absolute bollocks ,loved great tasty birds wonderful ambience,especially after popping some dex.kieth moon was a regular, i would love that year again.dreams!!

Peter Connolly said...

I used to visit the club around 1963/4. I remember the bouncer being shot in the knee, I was about 18 at the time and my parents started to worry about me as this made national news. I remember mostly live music being played - What I'd Say was the house favourite. Always hot, packed, dark and sweaty!Excellent club - along with the "2 I's" Club and the Marquee. The name La Discotheque was borrowed fro a Parisienne club

fb254d96-4eee-11e4-9ab7-1fa620acf7c9 said...

Dennis Raine was the ex guardsman that was shot in the leg, Pat Staplton was an ex Irish heavyweight boxer, and Mad Fred Rondell was barrred from the club by Bert Assirati. The Manager was Lebanese Raymond Nash. Would still like to talk with Henry Moss who ran the bar`s, and cloakrooms.
Mike Hallinan London

Anonymous said...

can anyone tell me what year the "last chance saloon" opened ? i went to la disc a couple of times and to the scene as well but my main club was "the chance" 64/65 my nights "up west were some of the best times i ever had great clubs and coffee bars too " the coffee-ann" "the macabre" just off wardour st the freight train in berwick st , i used to to give out cards outside the "chance" and get in for free great times cheers