The history of Tropic At Ruislip
Tropic at Ruislip was set up in 2009 by George McFall and Philip Duerden, George McFall died on October 7th 2010. In writing this page I (Philip) do so so that people might know where all the threads of Tropic' come together, as often there are misconceptions.....
In around 1997 George McFall and Pete Feenstra set up gigs at The Rayners in Rayners Lane, together they also promoted at Sutton and Barnes.
I attended regularly on a Friday night at the Rayners and saw some memorable gigs there including Walter Trout packing the place out on a Monday (!) night. During this time I got to know George well, as it was usually him on the door, and helped him out in a small way with some local advertising.
Late in 2005 the writing was on the wall for the Rayners and in January 2006 the pub closed, the last gig being Classic Clapton supported by Messiah. The pub was to be demolished to make way for a hotel. Ironically on the night of the last gig the council turned up and slapped a preservation order on the building and, though still closed, today it is still there, boarded up.
Knowing I lived locally George asked me if I knew of any rooms they could move to, and within the few that I suggested was The Greenwood in Northolt. George and Pete had, however, found The Tithe Farm Social Club just around the corner from The Rayners so the gigs re-started there very soon after The Rayners closed. However, problems with their licence and live music meant that soon afterwards the gigs had to stop, and they did then relocate to The Greenwood in Northolt.
The Greenwood is (was) a stunning, large Art Deco pub situated in a large housing estate on a main road. The room was very large and ideal for putting on gigs. The BBC often used it for filming (part of the film The Kings Speech was filmed there in 2010). In theory it was the ideal location.
However, things did not go according to plan. The biggest problem was the fact that the "Rayners" audience seemed reluctant to travel there. It was on a reasonable bus route, but no trains stopped that close and any connections to the Ruislip/Eastcote/Rayners Lane area by public transport would involve at least one change.
Audiences started to dwindle and in 2007 gigs stopped there and north west London once again had no decent live music venue.
(More recently The Greenwood closed down, but, much like The Rayners, it is a listed building so remains boarded up)
George McFall tried his hand on his own at putting on gigs at Hayes Football Club and Acton Cricket Club but both rooms were some distance from any decent transport links and unless you were driving involved a long (dark) walk. I helped out for both these venues by writing the web sites from them. Acton seemed doomed from the start, Hayes struggled on for a few months but finally the numbers attending, or lack of them, put it to the sword.
For six months or so nothing. But one week I happened to go to a party at Ruislip Manor (now Wealdstone FC) football club and it occurred to me that the room could be suitable for gigs. I suggested that George might like to look at it, which he did, and he then went to Pete to talk to him about doing gigs there.
By this time Pete had set up several other ventures (not
with George but on his own)
around South London closer to where he lived, and he felt the pressures on his
time would be too great to add yet another venue.
Furthermore, the arrangement with Sutton that George and Pete had, meant that one of them had to be there on a Friday night, and Pete could not always do it due to his other venues, meaning George did, and George would therefore be unable to do Ruislip on his own.
George then approached me about us doing it together. George would book the bands, PA's etc. and man the phones, I would look after the web site, bookings, day to day venue issues etc. It seemed perfect. I was in my comfort zone and not having to worry about the actual booking of the bands and all the things that go with that, after all George had his black book of contacts so was well versed in doing that. Perfect.
A meeting was held at the club with the staff there and myself and George in September 2008 and an agreed start date was set at February 2009.
So as well as my 9-5 job selling paper I had a part time job in the music business and a wife who wondered when she might ever see me again.....
George booked in The Rollin' Stoned to set the ball rolling, the place was packed and we were up and running.....HOWEVER, it seems that the numbers attending the opening gigs were something of a false dawn and after the opening night were were somewhat on our knees, but whilst there were peaks and troughs we carried on, and eventually things began to pick up and even out.
George booked in some fantastic people and bands, sadly some of the most memorable for me musically will also be remembered for having the poorest attendances. Getting (the now late) Jet Harris was just brilliant, Ben Waters, one of the finest piano players I have ever seen was witnessed by just a handful of people, and ex Wings member Robbie Macintosh by even fewer. But the tribute bands we were putting on were pulling customers in most weeks, so it was not all doom and gloom.
The clubhouse was closed on a Sunday night and George spoke to them about putting gigs on there, setting up a "Sunday Blues Club". When he told me of his proposal I was firmly against it. Knowing only too well that the good folk of Ruislip rarely go out on a Sunday night I felt we would be putting bands on who would play to nobody and it could tarnish our reputation amongst "original" bands. George decided to press ahead however, but sadly my fears were realised.
Our first Sunday gig was on 8th November 2009, and I attended most of them and saw some truly outstanding entertainment, but sadly apart from me there was only one man and his dog most Sundays. George however was keen to carry them on throughout the following year and try to build it (with a "Summer Recess") and so booked us up more or less to the end of 2010 on Sundays (and Fridays).
Then, in May 2010 the bombshell. My great mate and foil George told me he was ill, and the prognosis did not look good. George continued to work for about two months but from July he really took no further active roll, other than some guidance to me over the telephone.
George asked me to book up the remaining Sundays and Fridays, there were not many and for the Friday I booked Thunderclap Newman (I was thrilled but it was ill-attended, not an auspicious start!) and for the final Sunday I booked Ian Parker. George was a massive fan of Ian, a really talented singer-songwriter, and was thrilled I had got him to play for us and close off Sundays in 2010.
George had raved to me about a northern lass by the name of Chantel McGregor who was due to play at Sutton on 7th October 2010. We agreed that I would pick him up on the night and we would drive down to see her. In the weeks leading up to this when I called to speak to him I was always told he was "resting", or "asleep" and so the trip to Sutton seemed to be looking less likely. On the day in question I returned home from the day job to find a message waiting for me from Pete (Feenstra) to say that George had died. I sat at my desk and cried.
So, although I had been "on my own" for about three months, I was now REALLY on my own, and with the one job I really did not know landed on my lap, booking the bands!
A meeting was arranged with the club for December 2010 to discuss the way forward, after all when they put their faith in us they were putting their faith in a man who had a life's experience in the music business, not some rookie! At the meeting I asked them in straightforward plain English, "Do you want to carry on with just me?" "Yes" they replied. I told them that there was no way I could do all that was involved in doing it properly AND do my 9-5 job and that something had to give, and my job so selling paper had to end......
I write this in October 2011, it is one year since George died and I still miss him, and his little black book. Looking back over the year that I have run Tropic there have been some notable successes, and along the way some even more notable failures. It is VERY frustrating putting on a band you KNOW will be excellent and very few people turning up, and equally one or two have failed to impress and the venue has been relatively full...and I have perhaps wished it had not been....
Sadly my knowledge of the music business does not extend to rooting out some of the gems that George pulled from the bag, but as I alluded to earlier, whilst they they may be gems, their audiences are like diamonds....hard to find. Most importantly a poor attendance means a poor bar take, and the bar is first priority as with no bar there is no club!
I will continue to book bands that I think will entertain and garner an audience, and notably will continue (subject to any outside forces) with my policy of only booking bands back once a year, which seems to help keep the audiences up. I will also not shy away from the odd experiment, so if you see a band there you have never heard of, give them a try. Occasionally I have to step outside of my personal comfort zone and book bands that frankly do not really "float my boat" and sometimes that is the hardest thing of all!!!
I see Tropic as a "cottage industry". I am not some Simon Cowell*, I am just me, running a small business in the entertainment industry, trying to eke a living by entertaining you and your friends. The venue has been terrific towards me, without their help we would not be where we are today, so I doff my cap to them.
Above all the audiences have been fantastic, I do not take myself too seriously, and so warm to it when I am heckled on the stage. Equally the level of support has been generally outstanding, and its always nice when people come up and thank me for putting the gigs on in the first place, where frankly it should be me doing the thanking....
If you see me mooching around looking miserable at the back it is because something has gone wrong, you may not even realise it but I do. Either the sound is wrong, the lights are wrong or the toilets are blocked! Something will have happened to XXXX me off. What I AM is a perfectionist....and a very poor one.
Philip (Oct 2011)
* I do get stopped in the street now and again by people wanting to ask me this and that...but not for my autograph....yet!
(Footnote 2013) I was on a cruise ship in the middle of the North Sea when I was approach by a couple "Are you the chap that puts gig on in Ruislip" "Yes" I said ("I have arrived at last" I THOUGHT)