The Story of The Four Aces Club with DJ Spoony

Virgin Radio

28 Oct 2022, 08:35

Credit: Reuben Bastienne-Lewis / Getty

The pioneering Four Aces Club in North East London played a significant role in the evolution of music genres such as reggae, ska, rocksteady, dancehall, and jungle, and helped bring sound systems to the UK. This Sunday, in the final programme of Virgin Radio’s series for Black History Month, DJ Spoony delves into the rich history of the club and its musical and community legacy.

In the new documentary on Virgin Radio, Spoony will also reflect on his own memories of The Four Aces, and how important it was for the black community. The show will feature interviews with those that were there from its beginnings in 1966, to its closure in 1999. 

The Four Aces Club was set up in 1966 by Jamaican music producer Charlie Collins and Newton Dunbar. As you can hear on the Virgin Radio special this Sunday, Dunbar, who arrived in the UK in the 1950s as part of the Windrush generation, said: “We didn’t know of any places that did cater for us. The pubs weren’t our scene then, so we went to this space that had a jukebox. The owner said, ‘Would any of you guys like to run it?’"

Some hugely important artists became visitors, including Bob Marley and Ben E King (both pictured above), and it was also the first venue in the UK where Desmond Decker played. Decker had a UK number one hit with Israelites. “It really put us on the map,” Dunbar said, of Decker’s performance at Four Aces. 

Of the vibe in the club, legendary producer Dennis Bovell explains: “It did get very, very hot and sweaty, to a point where the ceiling dripped!” 

DJ David Rodigan says: “Each sound system had its own following… in the way you would support a football team.”

In the early 1990s, the club became home to the early indoor rave scene, featuring acid house and hardcore, under the name Club Labrynth. DJ Spoony describes his own experience of Labyrinth as, “being in there at six o’clock in the morning, with flashing lights and lasers, looking up admiringly at some of my friends that were now DJing in our hometown.”

He adds: “People that I grew up DJing around, and now I was feeling the bass of their music.”

The documentary also looks into the closure of the club in 1997, and the demolition of the building - despite protests - ten years later. Mykaell Riley, formerly of the band Steel Pulse and now a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, says: “We wonder how we get to this position. Why a club is not valued, why the building which, in itself was an historic building, [is not valued]. It’s a way of removing it from the community, and then erasing that history, which is not considered important, in order for profits, if you like. And culturally, that loss is not considered important, or relevant. 

“The fact is that, in spaces like this, British culture has been moved from one position to another." 

He continues: “Whether we call it ska, or two-tone, or lovers’ rock, or jungle, or drum and bass, or 2-step, or rave, or grime, or drill, it’s British music. It is British popular music, and a key influence, or catalyst, in that is the black community. You erase that, you’re actually erasing British music history. 

“Another way of putting it, again, is to say that the soundtrack to multiculturalism is black British music, but somehow we’re not having that conversation.”

You can hear loads more fascinating interviews and excellent music related to The Four Aces Club in the hour-long special on Virgin Radio.

Listen to The Story of The Four Aces Club with DJ Spoony, 7-8pm on Sunday 30th October on  Virgin Radio.