The El Zamba was at the far end of Fore St Arcade, (right on the end, at the left hand side as you looked down from the Fore Street end). A few doors before was the archetypal pale-yellow-painted-pegboard-walled record and music shop owned by Ken Spray, who was a local band musician of the 40s & 50's (pre-the rock scene). My father used to play in dance bands with him and would often come home with a paper bag with a few 7" singles in for me, sometimes by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis or the Everly Brothers after a visit. Result, I think?
The El Zamba had everything that a 60's coffee bar needed, as far as I was concerned. A cool name, a great jukebox, in terms of volume & selections, and a slightly dangerous clientele. (To me anyway, as a 14/15 year old).
It was definitely a rocker's haunt. By the mid 60's when I was old and brave enough to start getting out of an evening, the Clock Tower Cafe was the place to go for all erstwhile mods. Run by Eric and his assistant, the cheerful & ruddy-cheeked Mike, I could get a two & a half pence (old money) bus ride each way to the High Street, walk down Queen Street to the 'Clock' & buy two hot blackcurrants & a Bar Six to last the evening. If I was lucky, a pack of ten Players No6 might be added to the menu - and last me a few nights to boot. All told, it was about a 2/6d evening out.
Scooters were legally parked all around the base of the tower in those days and it was usual for someone to perform a casual wheelie as he peeled off up Queen Street in full view of those in the cafe. If you fell off, the shame would have been unrecoverable.
The El Zamba on the other hand, was the home of the enemy. The 'Grease'. You were careful to avoid them and always kept a weather eye out as you walked back to the bus stop on your way home. Otherwise, they'd tie you up in bike chains and slice you to ribbons with their switchblades. Not that I'm aware this ever happened.
Your main item of clothing at this point was a parka. Had to be ex-US forces, the right colour green, with a tail and a lining (often discarded), a fur hood and plenty of space to sew on badges and draw op-art circles and 'The Who' on with one of those three-way red, blue & black biros. You would get this for 69/11d from the surplus store on the corner of Fore Street & West Street. I can still smell the place and remember picking out my parka. Later on, these all ran out and you could only get 'commercial' parkas, which were the wrong shade of green, too thick, too new - and frankly marked you out as a bit of a loser.
A year or so after, you had to have a 'leather'- a full or 3/4 length leather coat. I had a black one, bought second hand off someone. Girls also majored in these, maroon being a top colour. Exeter was a bit hard to get decent clothes in those days. You had Peter Gardner's and the fashion shop (can't remember the name) at the top of Fore Street that is beside the walk-through to Cathedral Yard and anything you could pick up the normal outfitters. I once found a surprisingly great jumper in Walton's menswear dept (corner of High/ Sidwell St). Other than that, your top mods of the day who were older and at work would go off to London and come back with Madras cotton striped jackets. Trousers were (for a period) preferably hipsters in check fabric. If you look at the cover of the Who’s 'My Generation' album & note what Roger Daltrey's wearing, that was pretty much how you wanted to be. Except you couldn't get a great jean jacket like that, or similar trousers in Thomas Moore's...
A few of the older, cooler (and harder) guys would be safe at the El Zamba, but for me, the only way was to get in there on a weekday morning during the summer school holidays, when all good greasers were at work. A quick check of the parking area for any motorcycles and in for a coke, served by the attractive black-haired girl who worked there, (who I assumed was the claimed property of some axe-wielding motorcycle psycho, but probably wasn't...) and a safe hour or so playing the juke box in an empty coffee bar. The place was quite large and reasonably well appointed. I still remember playing the Beatles 'Long Tall Sally' EP a few times for the title track, thinking that I was temporarily in cool heaven. (You played EP's whenever possible because you got two tracks for the price of one single).
I don't know anything else about the place, other than that it had been around for some time. Don't know when it closed either- but it must have had some stories to tell.
In those days, there seemed to be plenty of gigs by bands like the Codiaks at obscure church halls that we'd troop off to en-masse. There was also a highly cool joint called 'The French Club' that I only ever got into the once. This was a basement room around the back of Sidwell St roundabout, in a house, I think. (Mount Radford area?). It was very small; very, very, hot and very loud. I still remember the hot record of the night I went was 'Flashback' - the upbeat 12-bar B-side of "He's In Town" by the otherwise to-be-avoided Rocking Berries...That didn't last long. Nor did the Rocking Berries' cool.
There was also some sort of attempt at a (Sunday?) club (see side note) in Paul Street, opposite the old Bus Depot, in a single storey building. Wasn't much good and don't remember any more about it. I'd forgotten all about that depot until I found your site. A popular sport when we were on a walkabout of Exeter on a dark evening was to see if any of the open-to the heavens Gent's cubicles were occupied. If so, it was quite acceptable to lob a fag end, or some other bit of detritus over the top and leg it to a safe spot to see what happened next. We were the original Dangerous Boys, of course. At a safe distance, always.
In 1964 or '65 the Quay Club opened, in what must have been a disused warehouse on the Quayside. Owned by John Portley, this was the first Discotheque Exeter had ever seen. (yes, Dis-co-tek , not 'disco'. This was all a bit confusing, because a popular dance track of the times was 'At The Discotheque' by Chubby Checker. Only problem was, he sang it different ..."at the discotay, hey,hey,hey" - What could you do? Who could you ask?).
By spending a few bob in photo booths, until I found a shot that maked me look older than my 14¾ years (hint; try facing downwards with your eyes looking up. It works), I managed to get my written application accepted.
I presume this place is still going in some format or other? Not much else to tell. Bar, dancing, open most nights, occasional chance of getting punched by a drunk farmboy leaving the pub opposite on your exit, then off to the High St for the greatest, greasiest cheeseburger ever known to humanity from the van on the corner of Waterbeer/High Street. (Known as Royston's Restaurant to the then cholesterol-ignorant cognoscenti). A quick debrief with everyone else who'd turn up there from their night out - and that was your lot. (If you were there, you certainly hadn't pulled).
More will probably occur to me, if any of it is any use to you. I'm sure I have my Quayclub membership card somewhere.
However, whether I'd want my 15 year-old mug reproduced online is another matter.
© 2006 Paul/David Cornforth
Streets Cafe was once El Zamba. The Quay Club and Tiffanys in the 1960's. Photo Alan H Mazonowicz Endicotts in Fore Street, supplier of parkas for all well dressed mods. Advert for the Clock Tower Cafe from the 1950's
The name of the club opposite the old bus station in Paul Street was The Look In. The Empty Vessels used to play there, now Wishbone Ash. The site was originally St Pauls Church, which was demolished in the middle 1930s, to become the British Restaurant during the war. Info supplied by Chris Dare.
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