Geno's back in town

In 1965 an American US Air Force physical training instructor landed on UK soil. Club nights in the likes of Dereham's Tavern Club were never to be the same again.

In 1965 an American US Air Force physical training instructor landed on UK soil.

Club nights in the likes of Dereham's Tavern Club were never to be the same again. Geno Washington was here and in his own words - with a great belly laugh - “you took what was on offer and stole the rest”.

It was the great swinging Sixties and Geno was doing his bit to make Norfolk swing, bop, conga, stomp and generally party the night away.

Legend has it that when Geno was in town everyone in the Tavern Club, now The Plough and Furrow pub under the cinema, would conga out of the building, around the market place and back into the club.

His act was the only one which united mods and rockers and saw Dereham become a venue for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.

“There was some fierce partying going on,” laughed Geno from his home in London. “In those days I was single and you took what was on offer and stole the rest.

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“That club would be stomping man, the mods and the rockers, they would all be in there.

“There would be so many kids queuing outside when we were on, they were stomping times.”

US soul acts rarely visited the UK at that time.

So when Geno, based at Woodbridge in Suffolk as a PT instructor, started “messing around” in Ipswich with La Blues band, “a Beatnik type of thing”, there was a great appetite for his music.

Once his name got around, through playing at clubs in London like the Flamingo club, he was soon snapped up to join a new band - the Ram Jam Band.

It just so happened that around the same time a Dereham entrepreneur, Brian Cross, had set up the soon to be legendary Tavern Club. The rest would be history, as the saying goes.

Nick Sands, now a music historian, helped Mr Cross build the club's reputation for live acts and went on to promote one of Geno's albums.

“On one Christmas gig the Tavern crowd congaed out of the door and around the Market Place Christmas tree several times before returning. Goodness knows what Geno thought of his disappearing crowd,” he said. “It only happened when Geno was on.

“He was always a big draw. He was one of the top live club acts in Britain and a guy who knew how to put on a non-stop dancing show. “

The popularity of Geno and the Ram Jam Band saw them have two of the biggest selling UK albums of the Sixties.

Both were recorded live and Hand Clappin, Foot Stompin, Funky Butt Live was in the album charts for 48 weeks of the year 1966 and was only outsold by the Sound of Music and Bridge over Troubled Water.

Geno, a Blues singer originally in his home town of Evansville, Indiana, went off the radar for a decade or so, doing a degree in hypnotherapy.

But now he is back, touring again and has made the UK his home.

“I'm loving life here,” he said. “It is a great country and great people. All they ask you to do is simply muck in. I feel like Robinson Crusoe living on an island.

“I'm married now and all the old party days are gone. But we are in the process of putting another tour together and seeing if we can get a single out.

“People bring their families out and it keeps you young and it is still fun, you know, playing with the audience.”

Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band are playing at Dereham Memorial Hall with a 1970s disco on Saturday, 7.30pm until late. Tickets are £18 from Chambers, at the corner of Market Place.