Neha Patil (Editor)

The Four Aces Club

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The Four Aces Club was a pioneering music and recreational space in Dalston, London, that in the 1960s and '70s was one of the first venues to play black music in Britain, being credited with a significant "role in the evolution of reggae into dance music, from ska, to rocksteady, to dub, to lovers, to dancehall and the evolution of jungle." A host of notable Afro-Caribbean musicians appeared at the Four Aces – often referred to as "the jewel in Dalston's crown" – as well as soul and R&B artists, its clientele over the years including stars such as Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder and Jimmy Cliff. With the Thatcher era came more divisionist politics; racial tensions built in the area and the club was a target for police raids. In the early 1990s, its character changed as it became home to the early indoor "rave scene", featuring drum & bass and acid house, and appealing to a new, predominantly white audience, under the name Labrynth, where The Prodigy made their first live public appearance.


It was closed in 1997, and eventually Hackney Council exercised the right to a compulsory re-possession of the premises. Despite an active campaign to save the building it was demolished in 2007 to make way for three residential tower blocks, in the new Dalston Square development, with the new Dalston Junction overground railway station aligning with urban regeneration plans for East London in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics. Subsequent campaigns took place putting pressure on the council "to prevent the eradication of monuments which hold the memory of Black history and the story of multi-racial political solidarity in the borough", in particular the successful petition to retain the name of C. L. R. James on the relocated Dalston library known since 1985 as "The CLR James Library", which resulted in the new library on the redeveloped site being opened as the "Dalston C.L.R. James Library" in 2012.


The Four Aces was begun in 1966 by Newton Dunbar (now known as DJ Newton Ace), a migrant to London from Jamaica a decade earlier, who set up the club – named after a then popular cigarette brand - to provide a live music venue catering for people from the West Indies. It at first operated from a run-down basement in Highbury Grove, but as growing crowds were attracted, a larger space was soon required, and The Four Aces relocated to a disused 19th-century theatre (originally built to house Robert Fossett’s Circus in 1886) at 12 Dalston Lane. According to one description, "This multistoreyed, multi-roomed, Victorian-built hulk was labyrinthine -- a reggae centre as if concocted in the mind of Jorge Luis Borges." It was the first club to open in Hackney, and "quickly became a meeting point for newly arrived Afro-Caribbean immigrants experiencing cultural exile".

By the 1970s, West Indians not only from other parts of London but from all around the UK were flocking to the club. As described by The Dalstonist: "The Four Aces was born when black music had not yet been accepted into the mainstream. It provided a home for black artists at a time when there were no black radio stations and few black stars in the UK. Dunbar showcased up-and-coming reggae artists and later hosted legendary sound clashes and sound systems."

Both local musicians and top international artists played and sang there: Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, Roy Shirley, Alton Ellis, Prince Buster, Jah Shaka, the Upsetters, Ann Peebles, Percy Sledge, Ben E. King, Jimmy Ruffin, the Detroit Emeralds, the Ronettes, Toots and the Maytals, The Ethiopians, Billy Ocean, The Pioneers, Skatalites, Dennis Brown, Big Youth, Madness, Kenny Ken, and many others. Among the influential sound systems were Dennis Bovell, Count Shelly, Fat Man and Sir Coxsone, with DJs vying to play at the Four Aces. In its heyday it was visited by the likes of Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall, Debbie Harry, The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Specials, Joe Strummer, Marc Bolan, and Bob Dylan, when in town.

Despite the building representing "one of the first explicitly cross-cultural social centres in East London", it was demolished in 2007, and a campaign to return the space to community use was unsuccessful.

The cutting down of trees planted in the Club's garden in memory of the young people who perished in the New Cross fire - widely believed to have been a racist arson attack - preceded the building's demolition.


The club is the subject of a 2008 documentary film by Winstan Whitter (whose father was a barman and chef at the venue) entitled Legacy in the Dust: The Four Aces Story, scheduled most recently to be screened on Bank Holiday Sunday, 3 May 2015, as part of a celebration of a "legendary temple of music that ran for 36 years hosting every late and great reggae star from Toots to Jimmy Cliff and back to The Ethiopians before becoming an essential rave centre.... The Four Aces Club was a crucial hub from which the DNA of East London’s modern music scene was wildly sewn on a nightly basis."

The club was "reincarnated" for one night at the Hackney Empire to celebrate the end of their Rudy’s Rare Records show, starring Lenny Henry and based on the successful BBC Radio 4 show of the same name.

A new campaign has been launched for a commemorative plaque to mark the former site of the Four Aces Club in Dalston.


The Four Aces Club Wikipedia