The UFO Club: London’s short-lived psychedelic haven

When forming The UFO Club, Joe Boyd and John Hopkins found themselves wrestling with two names. The counter-cultural haven could have ended up being named “Nite Tripper”, but ultimately, calling it The UFO Club seemed to capture the otherworldly, psychedelic shows that took place there perfectly. Its 18-month run gave avant-garde artists a hub, opening its doors to light-show technicians, poets, and, most famously, Pink Floyd.

The club’s original site was 31 Tottenham Court Road, and the opening night in December 1966 featured the then relatively unknown Floyd. Barrett’s performances made them a cult favourite of London’s underground scene, and they became something of a house band at the UFO, playing alongside Soft Machine. But as Pink Floyd quickly found mainstream success, which Boyd always insisted was due to the club’s platform, they needed more acts to fill in.

Soft Machine were regulars, as well as Arthur Brown and Procol Harum. Jimi Hendrix was even rumoured to have played there before its eventual close. Almost as a precursor to New Romantic Blitz Kidz that frequented clubs in the ’80s, UFO-goers were easy to spot. Outfits were bizarre, but the drugs were so free-flowing it’s almost certain nobody inside the club even noticed.

But that was the charm of the club, it was almost designed as a place to escape the norm. When graphic designers Nigel Waymouth and Michael English made posters for its various events, they said they were trying to capture a “visual concept” of the UFO experience, which they likened to a hallucination.

Famous for dizzying light shows, art house films were projected onto the walls as music blared and smoke filled the room. The music, which obviously championed – and arguably shot the likes of Pink Floyd to fame, was almost secondary to the visual adventure the club provided. John Peel was in regular attendance and said the usual hallmarks of the clubbing experience weren’t why people kept coming.

“It wasn’t like clubbing these days,” he recalled. “Rather than dancing around – obviously, some people danced about in a fairly idiotic manner – but mostly you just lay on the floor and passed out. I think anybody, at any stage of their life, it’s important for them, particularly if they come from a solitary background, it’s quite nice to go somewhere where you feel that the other people there have essentially the same interests as you do. That’s what I felt about UFO.”

But its colourful atmosphere wasn’t warmly received by everyone. News of The World wrote a scathing article about its various “horrors”. Meanwhile, the club struggled. Not only with its worsening reputation as a drug den for musical freaks but also financially. In 1967, the club folded. In the end, the calibre of the act playing would be the thing that determined if they broke even that night, and it just wasn’t viable. But its spirited embrace of the counter-culture set the tone for future grassroots venues and was instrumental in setting the stage for Pink Floyd in the early days.

Most popular

Deja un comentario

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *