since its opening day, the 2 I’s was the theatre of many events that mark the history of the British scene such as the debuts of Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard and the Shadows ect. That was the place to be discovered. That was where it all happened. A very small place that gave big memories and opportunities to the ones who walked its door.
Wally Whyton, Guitarist and Vocalist of The Vipers
“We sang out to the people on the street – up and down Frith street and Greek St… When the Soho parade came to a standstill, we found ourselves outside the 2is.
We Vipers ordered coffee, sat down and began playing their guitars and even passed our hat and extracted a few coppers from the tourists who’d happened by. As we were preparing to leave, the proprietor intercepted us and said:”Excuse me, lads, but I really enjoyed that… I’d be happy for you to come in and sing any time you like.”
“We’ll see you one evening next week”, we answered.
“Our original base had been another Coffee Bar, The Breadbasket – off Euston Road – but we moved to the 2i’s after taking part in the Soho Fair parade. At The Breadbasket, we got food but no money – but Paul Lincoln said we could bottle (take the hat around) 3 times a night at to the 2i’s, so we moved in there. Literally within weeks, the joint got so full every night that we had to abandon our casual aproach and do 2 complete set shows every night – for regular wages.”
“By early 1957, the 2i’s was like some powerful magnet, drawing people in until it reached bursting point… I mean, pullig birds was just unbelievable! The place was stacked with them! Anyway, everybody looked at The Vipers and saw us and the 2i’s as a short cut to sccess – and for quite a few people it certainly was.”
“We had records out by this time and we were popular enough to get gigs elsewhere – so Paul began to bring in other groups, like the Worried Men…
“The Coffee Bar simply couldn’t contain the droves of people who wanted to see where it was all happening – it was only about 30 feet by 10 feet – so Paul very shrewdly opened a 2i’s Club around the corner in Gerrard Street … and that’s where the next wave started”.
Brian Gregg, Bassist of Les Hobeaux then Johnny Kidd & the Pirates
“we were like family in the 2is: we could go behind the counter and helped ourselves.we sometimes used to sleep down there too… but that all got messed up when Tom Littlewood arrived. He was strict – plus he used to demand 10 per cent commission from anybody who played down there… so he’d give you a quid but then take back 2 shillings…”
“the following night, we found our way to the 2is… we played for an hour…” then back home in Grantham
Paul Lincoln had offered the Vagabonds a residency at the 2is: he would give us £20 a week, so we talk it over and decided to go back to London in the New Year” “when we got there, we found it was £20 between the 4 of us, a pound a night each…”
Ian Samwell, Bassist of the Drifters, 1958
The 2 i’s was packed. The 2 i’s was hot. The 2 i’s was rockin’! It was also very, very small.
Even from the street you could tell that there was something going on, something special in the air that night. Maybe it was the muffled beat of rock ‘n’ roll booming up from the basement. Maybe it was the energy of the teenagers hanging around outside.
I remember seeing two of them leaning against the wall close to the basement delivery hatch listening intently to the music. They probably couldn’t afford the shilling entrance fee, but they wanted to be close to the action and excitement.
From the outside there was certainly nothing imposing about the 2 i’s. During the day, hundreds of people would walk by without even giving it a second glance. The frontage consisted of a large pane of plate glass, to the right of which was a glass door with a chromium handle. Someone had pasted a Seven-Up sign on the door either as an inducement to purchase or perhaps to prevent the inattentive from walking headlong into it.
Above the window and the door was an oblong sign which read, “Coffee 2 i’s Bar,” and below that, “Home of the Stars.” And there on the right side appeared a large emblem resembling a Pepsi Cola bottle cap. Considering the fact that the sign was probably paid for by Pepsi Cola, I think it was extremely generous of them to advertise the fact that it was a coffee bar.
You could go through the glass door past the American jukebox and walk straight ahead between the serving counter with its coffee machine, orange juice dispenser and sandwich display case on the left, and a long formica shelf on which to place your tiny glass espresso coffee cup and saucer to the right.
And there, there at the end of the room by the entrance to the narrow stairway that led down to the world famous basement of the world famous 2 i’s stood the one and only, world famous Tom Littlewood, manager of the 2 i’s, God rest his avaricious soul.
Although there are varying accounts of the amounts paid to us and to other groups, the truth is he paid us one pound and took back two shillings (10P) as “commission.”
Tom in his shiny-from-too-much-ironing, brown de-mob suit. Tom with his striped, regimental, egg-stained tie. Tom with his Brylcreemed hair, slicked back like some 30’s movie idol . . . a little dab would have done ya’ Tom.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs I ran smack into a wall of people. This was starting to get interesting. Rock ‘n’ roll sardines all packed in neatly and all facing the same direction. About fifty or sixty of them, the creme de la creme of London teendom.
Across the room from where I stood there was a sort of stepladder leading up to the doors of the delivery hatch. On hot summer nights the hatch doors would be opened to the pavement above to let out the heat, the smoke and the music.
I had to crouch down so that my head didn’t hit the ceiling. Boy it was hot up there! Beads of condensation were running down the painted walls.
Joe Moretti, Guitarist of the Playboys, 1959
Well, I first saw it in 1958. My wife Pina and I arrived in London in November 1958 on a Sunday morning .We had travelled on the overnight bus from Glasgow, Scotland… I had seen Cliff Richard and the Drifters on TV back in Glasgow, and I knew that they had been discovered in the 2 I’s, as had Tommy Steele. So on the Monday evening around 6 pm, I caught the Metro to Piccadilly Circus. You come out of the Metro at Piccadilly, walk up Shaftesbury Avenue, turn LEFT into Wardour St. then 1’st right into Old Compton St . and it’s the 2’nd shop on the right.
In 1958 the 2 I’s was the fuse for the explosion that was to come in the World of U.K Rock and Roll…the 2 I’s mainly featured Rock. HUNDREDS of Young men and Women, from towns all over the U.K . headed for London . They were all looking for the same thing – somewhere they could express themselves. And the only way they could do that was by singing and playing the Music they loved and felt – Rock and Roll. When I walked into the 2 I’s with my Guitar I didn’t know a soul. The Guys were knocking the Shit out of the Music. Loud , ass-kicking music, most of it built around 3 chords only, so anyone could have a go.
THAT was the magic, all You had to do was mean it. And it was all Live. No backing tracks. And if You couldn’t crack it then get the fuck off the stage. The 2 I’s gave You the chance to strut your stuff and earn some money to eat at the same time.
The I’s was owned by a nice guy called Paul Lincoln, A wrestler by profession and a promoter of the same, But He loved running a coffee bar and R& R was booming so it was also an extremely lucrative business. Anyway,I asked the guy on the door, A gent called Tom Littlewood, if I could play and he said ok. Well I was pretty desperate, turned up the volume on the club amplifier and went for it. I had a ball for the next 45 minutes or so. The guys swung hard and natural. No pretence, Just good & honest Rock & Roll. Then it sinks into my Nut . The People enjoy what I’m doing, there’s just a chance I’m going to make it in London. And all the kids are playing their asses off and hoping the same thing. When I come off stage a guy called Freddy Clifford offers me a tour with Colin Hick straight away. And He even gives me some money up front . I’ve cracked a deal on my 1’st night ! And so it was for many of the guys at the 2 I’s Marty Wilde got his guys from there. So did Vince Taylor, as You know.Adam Faith, Joe Brown, Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Tony Meehan, Jet Harris, Big Jim Sullivan,Bobby Woodman,Tony Harvey plus many, many more.
Even Connie Francis wanted to see the I’s when she came to the U.K. The Name and the fame of the place was already filtering back to the U.S of A. Every one has heard of the I’s, From John Lennon to David Bowie. All the Great Rockers acknowledge the contribution the 2 I’s made to Rock & Roll. And it was just a little cafe with an old battered piano in the basement in Old Compton street, Soho. But it had a Soul and a buzz that You couldn’t find anywhere else.
Paul Lincoln and Tom Littlewood both deserve a mention in the R&R archives. Tom Littlewood was the guy who took the money at the door. He was also Vince Taylor’s manager for a while. Tom was best known for being a Judo instructor, that’s why He was on the door. If You get a chance to see the movie – “The Tommy Steele Story ” You can see Tom teaching Judo in a short sequence. Paul Lincoln, as I’ve said, was a wrestler by profession and also promoted wrestling bouts.
So between Paul, his partner Ray, who was also a wrestler, and Tom with his Judo, nobody fucked us around. Sudden death for anybody who tried. Before Jet Harris made it with Cliff, He used to clean up the 2 I’s after the gigs, sweeping the floor and stuff. No shame in that, I’ve done it myself . One was at least honestly employed and could eat every day. The fee for a night’s gig at the 2 I’s was 18 shillings a night, from around 6-30/ 7 pm till say 11/11-30pm. Because I was married I got a bit extra – One pound a night plus a bottle of milk and the occasional packet of margarine and a loaf of bread. And boy was I grateful.!!
Ahh, the 2 I’s – I don’t think We’ll ever see a place like it again. I just wish someone would re-open it and invite everybody back again. Someone really should make a Movie about it. But for now lets live the Lovely memory that it is. If I close my eyes and listen hard I can hear the ghosts of those Who are long gone. It also gives me the opportunity to say thanks to all of my brother musicians who worked there, Those who are still with us and those who have moved on to the big 2 I’s in the Sky. Dear 2 I’s Thank you so much and God Bless Your Memory –
One of Vince Taylor ‘s greatest assets was his sense of the theatrical.
Vince decided on the uniforms: black shirt,black pants,black & white shoes with white tie black & white check cap. We wore them all the time !! And when we walked into the 2 I’s everyone went crazy. So, very quickly we became identifiable. Vince Taylor & the Playboys. And soon we were the main attraction at the 2 I’s. Now, the Room where we played at the 2 I’s was below ground level, a basement under the main cafe. I think it was meant to hold about 40 people but it was always packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. The heat & the sweat !! After each set I’d go upstairs to a little room where the cold drinks etc. were stored. Now, when we finished at the 2I’s at night, around 11-30pm, we’d go to a coffee bar further up in Soho called the ” Freight Train,” owned by a guy called Charles McDevitt, who, with Nancy Whiskey, had a hit with a record of the same name.
I went back to the 2 I’s a couple of times after that, just to say hello to the guys, and on the last occasion the manager of the I’s asked if I would form a band. He said he could get me plenty of gigs & the money was good. He was also booking Vince’s band at the time. So, I ask him what kind of money are we talking and he pulls out this big book of accounts. Fifty, sixty, eighty pounds a night. So, straight away I went to Vince and asked what the guy was paying Him.” Thirty pounds a night ” He said. I told him the story and that was END of story for me & the 2 I’s. I couldn’t go back.
Alan Leclaire, pianist of the Playboys, 1960-62
To tell you about the 2 I’s would take half a book.
it was a small coffee bar in Soho.
Bands played downstairs in the cellar. It was very small and comfortabley could hold about 50 people. Probably the legal capacity of the cellar was about twenty, but fifty was reasonable. Many nights there could be far more than that.
The band stand was very small and could take a drum kit plus a couple of guitar players and a vocalist.
There was no regular house band. whoever wasn’t working elsewhere was hired for the night.
Nearly everybody from the UK Rock’n’Roll scene played there at some time during the late fifties and early sixties.
It was there that we first met Lord Sutch. Tommy Steele began there, as did Cliff Richard.
The manager was a guy called Tom Littlewood.
Tom Littlewood used to engage three musicians and a vocalist at eighteen shillings a night each (about 2 Euros).
We were also allowed 2 coffes or soft drinks during the evening. More than that we had to pay for ourselves.
Many other Rock’n’Roll musicians went there and asked to be allowed to play for a while. That was the only way we could get any breaks.
Tom would always ask who had taken over on drums or guitar etc, (he knew most of them) and if he didn’t approve would say, “Get back down there. He can’t play”
Screaming Lord Sutch
“It was just a cellar in a basement of a Coffee Bar where they sold frothy Coffee, but It was a breeding ground for Rock’n’rollers.”
Rick Brown, Bassist of the Savages, 1960
“Well….it was just a coffee bar, with room for about 20 people to stand comfortably. Behind the counter was the espresso machine and a few bottles of soft drinks. A door at the back led to the kitchen….but not much cooking was ever done there – because it was also Tom’s office. Besides the sink and gas cooker, there was a large cupboard containing nothing but a desk diary, and on the wall a four-pennies-in-the-slot telephone.
As for Tom, he was a ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser type, with a slight northern accent. Clearly a man with a past and a very private home life. Judging by the way he cooked himself a slice of meat, he could have learned to survive in the jungle warfare of Korea. Nevertheless his brown eyes sometimes revealed a certain sense of humour. Rock and roll didn’t interest him, except for the amount of extra cash he could squeeze out of it. It’s possible Tom had appeared in the film ‘Tommy Steele Story’ as the judo instructor he really was. He didn’t put up with much nonsense, and would say to Sutch “Now look, fella…..”
The usual clientele of the I’s were general Soho flotsam and jetsam. Rock and roll hopefuls, and other doubtfully employed characters. Jerry the Bat, a diminutive bass player. A nameless drummer straight out of Belsen. Tom Football Head, who could sing about three rock numbers, and had a job opening the curtains in a strip club. Casey Jones, freeloader and rock singer. Lily of the Dilly, and her friend Awful Brenda, Paul Raven, Jackie Lynton, etc etc. Big Jim, cabbie and occasional chauffeur to the stars. All these people looked decidedly pale and undernourished. Palest of all was Bobby Woodman, the Playboys’ drummer.
On the walls of the I’s were a few photos of musicians who’d once played there, but had since moved on and now avoided the place. Drummer Red Reece, Tex Makins…. But in 1961/2, all the musicians who went to the I’s (Savages included) were strongly influenced by the sound of the Playboys, which really came from Bobby Woodman. It was a hard. punchy. aggressive style which has made any other British rock or pop music sound weak and flimsy by comparison. And Woodman had his hair bleached for visual impact. On stage Vince Taylor had true charisma
From the main coffee bar area you went down some narrow stairs to a dismal, dark and gloomy basement about the size of a large bedroom, lit by a couple of weak bulbs. At one end were a few milk crates with planks on top of them, which everybody assumed was the stage. And there may have been some sort of microphone system, left over from the Boer War. The nearest toilets were probably Piccadilly Circus Station.
Why was it all so special? Well, Tom had once let Thomas Hicks sing there, and they made a big deal of it in the ‘Tommy Steele Story’ film. Perhaps Cliff Richard and the Drifters played there before they were anybody. And the BBC once did a programme about the hand-jive craze, with some well-behaved youngsters neatly sitting in rows downstairs. As if!!! Only Tom Littlewood could have thought of putting on “entertainment” in that basement, and charging people to go in. Free enterprise works!”
Vic Clark,the original Guitarist of the Savages, 1960
I played at the 2I’s 50 years ago. All I can remember is the coffee bar was at street level. As you walked through the entrance the counter was on the left hand side with bar stools all along the counter. Towards the far end on the right hand side was a staircase that went below to the cellar where the live music was. It was small, dark, cramped, hot and smoky. The stage was also small. All instruments were live on stage. The only PA was for the vocalist.
At the time I was there, Vince Taylor was the main attraction. Keith Kelly was another name and of course Screaming Lord Sutch.
People also got up from the audience to sing including a certain Harry Webb who changed his name to Cliff Richard.
Tommy Steel was probable the most famous person to ‘come out of the 21’s’. The Vipers skiffle group also played there and they evolved into The Drifters (Later The Shadows) Cliff Richards backing group.
Tom Littlewood was the manager at that time.
Colin Willsher, Guitarist of the Strollers, 1958-60
I did play at the 2i’s 1958-59 thats as close as I can get it I was 15 years old at that time, I remember there was no room for a full drum kit and we were paid in expresso coffee’s and apple pie and cream which the 2i’s was famous for,but it was all about getting your face known in the London scene we even practiced speaking “cockney” to be more like Londoners rather than southerners.All the muso’s hung around the 2i’s looking for work, even some of the greats today.There was a club nearby I think it was called the top ten club.I remember Bruce Welsh playing me Living Doll before it was published or recorded,I hought it was rubbish when he played it on an accoustic guitar but they later changed it before “Cliff” recorded it. Great Days!!!
The 2i’s was only a coffee bar and not very big at that,however many “FACES” would appear there Tommy Steele, Billy Fury, Vince Eager etc. etc. Prior to rock n roll they used to have Skiffle bands there but after that many muso’s would “jam” there, and everybody new everybody trying to get into the rock scene, that is how I became to get to know all the other faces and get good work,Tom Littlewood had the i’s at that time.
I can even remember the smell of the place,sort of a musty smell and of course there was not a smoking ban at that time and after a gig there your clothes reaked of tobacco smoke and sweat (perspiration).To be truthful I cant ever remeber the fans working properly,as for the “shell” thing, it was an old stage light, sort of a reflector with a light bulb inside (no lazers in those days) very poor,it shone straight in your face center stage. In fact,modelled on todays standards the place was a dump and would have never have passed any of todays health and safety regulations but,WHAT A GREAT PLACE.
Hank wasn’t rated that good at that time nor was Cliff compared with some of the other guys around, it was the same old story—-” being in the right place at the right time.” although, both turned out to be great artists and have influenced the British rock scene greatly.