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‘Put Four Aces back on the map’

BRING THE NOISE: Count Shelly sound system at Four Aces in 1974

CAMPAIGNERS ARE fighting for an iconic music venue considered the heart of ‘London’s swinging black scene’ over three decades to be given the historical recognition it deserves.

An online petition started by Lloyd King is calling for support to have English Heritage approve a blue plaque outside the former site of Club Four Aces, in Dalston Lane, Hackney.

The venue not only helped support the careers of music legends, it was also a much-needed place of respite for African Caribbean people living in Britain during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Four Aces also ran competitions and talent parades, one of which led to the ‘discovery’ of the late Lover’s Rock singer Louisa Mark.

The 15-year-old enjoyed chart success with Caught You in a Lie, considered one of the most successful female reggae songs in British history.

A note accompanying the petition reads: “The Four Aces was a legendary club that ran for more than three decades, famed for its celebration of African Caribbean Reggae, Roots, Soul and R&B.

“Among those who played the venue were Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals, The Ethiopians, The Ronettes, Jimmy Ruffin and Ben E King. Bob Dylan visited the venue during his 1978 world tour and as well as attracting a dedicated local audience the likes of Bob Marley hung out there.

“The club later became the essential rave centre, Labrynth, continuing into the 90s. It was a crucial hub from which east London’s modern music scene evolved and deserves to be commemorated.”

Four Aces, situated below what is now the CLR James Library, started life as a vaudeville theatre before being turned into a music venue in 1966 by Jamaican businessman and DJ Newton Dunbar.

In a 2010 interview for an oral history project for Hackney Museum, Dunbar said: “It was only looking back in retrospect that I am able to place [Four Aces as a pioneering club].

“At the time I was just focused on doing this new venture that was quite exciting and would, actually, bring me not just the monetary rewards, but I would have fun [and] enjoy doing it…I now accept that I was indeed a pioneer, especially in the venture of putting on live groups or bands, bands that came from far afield. And not just from Jamaica…but from America and this was quite a buzz.”

Recalling his proudest achievement, he continued: “I felt I was able to put [guests] on that perspective of having experienced an inanimate thing which is a building and being part of making it alive. That, I would say, is my most satisfying aspect of the work that I did.”

PIONEER: Newton Dunbar

In 2009, film director Winstan Whitter debuted his film Legacy in the Dust in homage to the club he essentially grew up in.

He told music blog The Ransom Note: “The differences comparing to today’s venues is that the old venues were inclusive of the whole family. In the Four Aces you could have both parents and young children there on a club evening/night or a wedding reception, funeral reception, community discussions or band rehearsal studio for the local resident groups.

“Now all those venues are gone and have not been replaced so there are many displaced peoples from that time and now the children and their children have no idea that places like this existed.”

Four Aces was forced to close its doors in the late 90s due to a compulsory repossession ordered by the local authority.

The listed building it was housed in was demolished in 2007, which Hackney Council said was done accidentally.

Campaigners hope if enough people back their petition they can ensure the Four Aces is remembered for posterity. Currently, 136 have backed their cause.

Dunbar, speaking about Dalston ahead of London 2012, observed: “In some cases, if there’s an important event, or an important visit, everything’s cleaned up. Even the backyard is tidied up. And sometimes in tidying up, you throw out quite a few valuable antiques and icons.”

You can view the online petition here:

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