Thursday, January 12, 2006

V Is For Victory

During my daily journeys, I met a musician named Chris Larkin. Our connection was keyboards ... the difference was that he could actually play them! Chris was part of a new wave band here in Philly called The Vels - perhaps one of the first to feature white girl rap and hit the pop charts.

The Vels had an incredible sound - no matter the weather, whenever you heard The Vels, it was summertime. The lead was this girl named Alice - I can't remember her last name, but I do remember that her mother was pretty popular in the big band circles in Philly back in the 1940s.

There were several bands that were staples of the local music scene - playing at least twice a week somewhere in one of the dozens of live music venues in Center City. The Vels were one of those bands - at one time they played a weekly gig at... The Hard Rock Cafe.

Years before musicans decided to take their garbage from storage and have it thrown on the walls so that bored wait staff could serve people overpriced burgers for the "experience"... Philadelphia had a music venue called The Hard Rock Cafe.

Ironically it was just steps away from the current location of 12/Market. The original Hard Rock Cafe was at 12/Sansom, above the London Restaurant - which was owned by Warren Browne, who also owned the London Victory Club at the corner of 10/Chestnut.

The Cafe wasn't much - but seeing The Vels there for free every week was always a pick-me-up. The fans they had were like family and the music was always pure synthpop.

As for the London Victory Club, this was a large disco club located at the corner of 10/Chestnut. This place was HUGE inside. The first floor had all the right elements for a club - deep dark make-out rooms with 20-foot ceilings and enormous 16-foot-high open doorways "telescoping" room to room. The dancefloor had 30-foot ceilings, and there was this cable overhead and on it was a spaceship that traveled back and forth - and then it would explode and dancers would dangle and spin from it while the club shook with heavy bass. The place was stellar.

In 1982 it hosted some great dance/new music acts like Pretty Poison, The Stickmen, No Milk and others.

Below - in the underground level - was the BEST vinyl store in Center City. You could go and get 12" singles for .99 each ... it was THE place to get the latest in disco, dance and new wave tracks ... which were all spun upstairs at the club.

Sometime in '82 a suspcious electrical fire occured and that was the end of that. The fact is, suspicious fires were a staple of the scene back in the early 1980s as property values began to slowly rise it was easier to just tourch the place, get the insurance and start anew - or sell the property for top dollar.

In the case of the Victory Building, nothing happened, since the building was owned by the king of slumloards, the evil Sam Rappaport. This man single-handedly stalled Philadelphia and its growth for decades.

So, the Victory building burned and closed and sat - empty and homeless for years. Every day you could walk by and look up and see trees growing taller from its roof as the building was left to rot. The one saving grace was that the Victory building was built to withstand war. It's built out of granite, masonry and marble. So - from the outside, it just looked closed. [click the image to the left to enlarge]

Rappaport was known to neglect his properties - and this beauty was not an exception. Thankfully, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Management Corporation worked to save the structure from the city's wrecking ball. They preserved and restored the building, and now it is a combination of retail and living space. Although everytime I walk by the space, I still expect to see the record shop 4 steps below the sidewalk on Chestnut. Memories.


Anonymous said...

I remeber London--Victory Club and the record store there. I used to shop there and Sounds of Market Street lots! That had the best prices in town. Wasn't there a pizza shop near there too? Just think--it is a Starbucks now!

Anonymous said...

Always wished I could have gone to the London Victory Club.I didn't venture into the Philly scene until 1984 when I was 17. I do remember the vacant building that sat there forever.

Anonymous said...

The Vels One of my all favorite bands in Phila. First time i saw them was at Ripply's on South ST. Where towewr records is now. I was in a store on south st where they had wmmr on and they were broadcasting a show each week and a heard the vels first song and i had to go there and i was hooked on the Vels. I also been to the London Victory club.

Terry James said...

Reflections of a Rock Lobster: Thursday, January 12, 2006
The singer with the Vels was Alice Cohen, later Alice Mann.

The only band ever to play by contract with the Hard Rock Cafe was BeeWah; I still have the signed contract. One of the members, Dan McKay, was responsible for the Stickmen. Ted Reed may have also been in on the founding or something of that band. BeeWah had played the Temple orientation day or something like that either in '83 or '82, I forget which, but I still have the newspaper clippings from that one.

The Victory Club, and Warren and his son, dated back to the '70's.

Larkin, Cohen, and Alan Mann were regular players in Philly. The Vels had posters everywhere and played everywhere. We all knew each other, or knew "of" each other through one of the guys I grew up with, Jamison Smoothdog, whose real name was Jimi Hendricks. He couldn't use his name because although he pre-dated the other Jimi Hendrix, even during the San Francisco Summer of Love, played before Hendrix, someone else had trademarked his name and he was basically forbade from using it. Smoothdog was a great songwriter, but prone to getting ripped off by the powers that be. He, unfortunately, married Jamie, the daughter of a major record company president, someone like Clive Davies, at which point he was told he would never get off the ground. With 7 albums shelved in New York City by this record company, Jamsison stuck to nightclubing after his wife was killed in an auto accident and he was the last one to be told ["Hard To Believe"]. Jamison also cites his authorship of "Can't You See," which he sold to the Marshall Tucker Band for something like $5,000.00 or so and they put their name on the copyright form as authors, and an offer by Meatloaf for "The Ballad of Ginny West."

There were a lot of other bands and players around at the time, Ken Kweder, Mikey Wild, Johnnie O, Iroq, Glen Ferracone, to name a few, and all of the bands knew each other, as well as Pierre Robert, Robert Hazard, The A's, the Pedestrians, Cybdu Lauper, Essra Mohawk, and Jon Bon Jovi. The Alternative set were as much a part of it as the regular Rock and Roll set. But Philadelphia had a curse on it from the powers that be, mostly in Hollywood, New York, and Nashville; enforced by the mobs here and there. The order had been given that no white band was to be signed and successfully promoted if they were actually from Philadelphia. That was the mutual deal between to two biggest promoter/record companies operating studios in the city.

It traced it's origins back to the early radio and bandstand days before FM and the Beatles and involved four or five guys from Philly who are very well known in the music business and who moved to Hollywood in the 50's.

I'll post this in my own blog as well. I believe I remember you and Rock Lobster.

Terry James

Lisa said...

Loved the London Victory Club, hung out there often, always saw a great show, speaking of shows the VELS excellant band, still have my cassettes, a friend turned me onto them and immdediatley loved them.
Such good memories of the Cities clubs, East Side Club, Dobb's, Bijou, Ripley's, Kennell Club....etc good time in my life and lots and lots of fun!!!!!!!