Like many of the locations which make up our popular music heritage, the Ealing Club lies in the most inauspicious of locations. Down some grotty steps, opposite the tube station lies the site of perhaps the only venue in the UK which can claim to match the Cavern Club in terms of its importance to the history of British music. Today the site of this historic venue is threatened by property developers.
It was at the Ealing Club that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger met Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones were born. It was instrumental in the early careers of, and in inspiring acts such as, The Animals, The Who, Manfred Mann, Fleetwood Mac, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream and Deep Purple. There was simply no place equal to it in London and Ealing can rightly claim to be the cradle of the British rhythm and blues explosion in the 1960s.
If the Ealing Club was transposed out of its West London suburb to an equivalent in Memphis, Nashville, New York or San Francisco, there is no doubt that it would be a busy attraction for tourists, and maybe a thriving music venue making the most of its history and heritage. However, this being the UK, it is a part-time night club which welcomes the odd curious visitor with the occasional concert held on its historic stage. High up on the wall a small plaque commemorates the club's place in rock history.
If ever there was a venue which epitomised our approach to music heritage in this country, it is the Ealing Club. Quite simply it's a huge missed opportunity on a number of levels. The council could be attracting visitors from all around the world to explore the music heritage of Ealing, with a revived club as the centrepiece of a local music tour which could include the school where the Who first met, where Marshall Amps were invented, where Queen were formed, where Dusty Springfield lived, and the pet shop which inspired the name of, you guessed it, the Pet Shop Boys. Thinking more widely, it could also work as part of a cultural tourist offering which includes the area's film and cinematographic history in Ealing Studios.
Additionally, Ealing council could work closely with neighbouring councils to market West London as the cradle of British rock and pop music, challenging Liverpool as the tourist destination for music fans. Local businesses such as hotels, restaurants and shops would prosper on the Dollars, Euros and Yens spent by music fans locally looking to bask in the reflected glory of our classic rock acts and their favourite music.
But for any of this to happen, we need the heritage to be preserved in as 'living' a state as possible. As mentioned above, plans are afoot to 'redevelop' the area and demolish the site of the Ealing Club. Maintaining the blue plaque on the walls of a new shopping arcade will do little to help the area make the most of its music heritage potential. However, a museum and functioning music venue, supported by the local authority, could do wonders for both the tourist economy and in inspiring the next generation of musicians.
Research recently released by UK Music showed that, nationally, we're missing out on a potential £4 billion through our lack of interest in developing music heritage tourism. However, for councils, towns and cities to even begin to explore the possibilities that this new kind of tourism offers, we need to ensure that the music heritage is still there for people to appreciate.
Destroying this huge potential in Ealing for yet another branch of Pret a Manger or Tesco Express just feels staggeringly short-sighted. Let's hope that common sense eventually prevails.