Short History of “The Blue Note Club” by Phil Howell

Short History of “The Blue Note Club” by Phil Howell

I suppose the club really began in the Early 70’s at Henry Cavendish School (now Da Vinci) in Breadsall. A sixth former named Mel Palmer started discos on the school’s top floor every Friday. Being four years younger than Mel but at the same school, I went to the lunchtime discos. Mel went on to open Club Vogue (now Macdonalds) at Markeaton Park, which was extremely successful. The club also went on to inspire him to join up with Dave Milton, a local businessman who owned properties in Sadler Gate. Though not involved at that point, I was a successful DJ and friendly with Mel. I was, at the time, working around the town’s colleges and hotels.

The club opened in late ’78 as a private members club and was named after the Legendary Jazz/Blues record label (see enclosed album after which the club was named) and stood for quality and excellence. All tickets were sold out weeks ahead for the opening night, purchased mainly by VIP celebrities such as footballers from Notts Forest as well as Derby County attended. But by spring ’79 they were struggling, numbers were not good and they were paying too much for a professional DJ from Manchester (Ralph Randell), a great guy who I got to know well.

I was approached whilst working at the then Peninne Hotel by Mel Palmer, who asked me if I would become their temporary DJ until they could find someone else!!! Running three turntables at times, music was mixing 12 inch singles- manually not by computer! My first night in July 79 was very average as I remember but within a couple of months things began to pick up and by October we were full every weekend night playing mainly Dance on Fridays and more Electro Dance Saturdays, the Friday nights in particular were legendary and full before Midnight.

Local celebs were regulars “Terry Christian” (see enclosed D.E.T article) became a good friend and could always be found propping up the bar particularly on band nights. The blonde singer from Human League (yes the one that was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar) danced in front of the decks virtually the whole of one night.Several Fashion Shows were held at the club and BBC television broadcast The Old Grey Whistle Test live. It seems Ironic now how we used to worry about the much bigger competition in town for they’ve all since closed down, I particularly remember other club DJs and mangers sneaking in standing at the top of the stairs just to catch what we were playing- at that time we were unbeatable and featured on the front page of Disco International magazine. Melody Maker regularly telephoned me and printed my Top Ten which went around the world.

Whole lotta Love singleDuring the Eighties Thursdays became Band Night and I remember introducing many of the big 80s bands who all played live at The Blue Note. Culture Club, Soft Cell, Chris Rea, Southern Death Cult, even the legendary Blues player Bo Diddley who I remember was more interested in the Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing match that night than playing, dozens of other bands but the best was the night Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin turned up. It was amazing, fans tailed back to the bottom of Sadler Gate I spent some time eating with Robert in the kitchen upstairs trying to act so cool. Introducing him on stage was fantastic though I’m sure I couldn’t be heard- don’t know how many came that night but forget the fire limit. I’ve included the Whole Lotta Love- Led Zeppelin single which he signed for me in the yard at the back of the club. Having tried to act like I meet mega stars every day I finally lost it, as he was about to leave I ran to the turn tables grabbing the single saying “by the way Robert could you just sign this for me” as you can see he did.
“To Phil- Blues is King- Robert Plant”

Of the original owners Dave Milton emigrated to Australia and I believe opened another Blue Note in Sydney – Mel Palmer moved to Leicester and launched a new club there too. Must mention Artel Black (manager) who went onto open The Dial, beautiful Coral Bennett on reception and Mark Scott (hair) all made early contributions.I left in the summer of 1990 and now MD my own company which was financed by The Blue Note Club for which I will always be grateful.

Phil Howell
DJ Blue Note Club Derby 1979-1990