TRIBUTES: Spencer Williams, who formerly ran Spots Club and Nightmoves, passed away on October 12
THE FUNERAL service for the late Spencer Williams, the popular nightclub entrepreneur as well as beauty and talent show impresario of the 1970s and 80s who passed away earlier this month, will be held on Thursday, November 10 at the New Testatment Church of God, Lambert Road, London SW2 5BB starting at 11.00 am. Interment will follow at the Streatham Cemetery, Rowan Road London SW16.
Spencer Williams came to symbolise the character of a unique era in the history of the Caribbean community in London. That may seem to be a strange view of a life which encompassed almost 50 years of being “at the sharp end” of entertainment, social activity and community involvement.
Even in his later years when he did not enjoy good health he was prominent in campaigning for the rights of the small stall-traders in Brixton, south London. As Trevor Russell, his long-time friend and business partner, told me: “Spencer could sell almost anything – and very often did”. That was an achievement to which his good-natured bonhomie contributed as much as his marketing skills.
Nevertheless the years of the late-1970s and early-1980s when Spencer, Trevor and Joe Williams – TWJ – ran Spots Club at the Podium Banqueting Suite, Vauxhall, south London were something special. They came there with several years experience in the music industry, developing and operating their sound system, organising and playing at social fund-raising events, creating opportunities for their contemporaries, and pressing for a higher profile for Jamaicans in entertainment as well as in life generally.
They, too, benefitted from the openings which they helped to create. This was the era of optimism when the West Indies team bestrode the stage of international cricket and Bob Marley was taking his country’s music and culture world-wide.
Spots Club was the breeding ground for what has been called the second Golden Age of UK West Indian beauty contests. TWJ presented their own Ms Lovely Legs, hosted the early finals of Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth and worked with Sammy J, the beauty-contest czar of his generation. Then they pulled it all together in their annual “Queens” fashion show. Yet it was not just beauty because there was hardly an event or achievement that was not marked by recognition at Spots.
No other venue before or since has blended generations, communities and professions so well. People went to Spots on a Friday night as much as anything to meet the people they knew who would be there – from the High Commissioner, to celebrities in every walk of life from home and overseas, to their hitherto long-lost neighbour. Journalists did not need to go anywhere else for their weekly stories and interviews in which Spencer and Trevor helped so generously to arrange.
Spencer was the front-man, the compere, at the heart of the action on stage. Such was his rapport with the audience that if any artiste failed to turn up – be it comedian, magician and musician – he just got on and filled in. I can remember the time he even donned a pair of tight briefs to introduce the Mr Bachelor male beauty contest.
When they left Spots the team took over and bought the celebrated club Nightmoves in Shoreditch but although they carried over the same good feeling and innovation the capacity of the new venue did not allow for such spectacular stage presentations or audiences of the same size.
Spencer Williams was a businessman and social campaigner as well as entertainer, as others may record in a more formal tribute. Indeed, campaigning for a better community and providing top-class entertainment for that community are edges of the same coin.
For my part, as a reporter of events, and promoter and co-compere with Spencer of Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth, I can testify to his professionalism, easy working relationship, and his contribution with Trevor, Joe and their colleagues to creating an ambience which will linger long in the memory and has provided a bed-rock for much which has followed.