London Hippie Club
Middle Earth club was a hippie club based at 43, King Street in the Covent Garden area of central London. It opened in 1967, and was active for about a year. Before it had been Middle Earth, the venue was launched as The Electric Garden. Unfortunately, in the light of a terrible opening weekend for The Electric Garden in May 1967, a rethink was needed, along with a rebrand and a reshuffle of management. It was following this that the plan to rename it as Middle Earth was formed; and it reopened under this name in September that same year.
Middle Earth copied the style of a similar club called UFO that was situated at number 31, Tottenham Court Road. UFO had opened on the 23rd of December, 1966; and at the helm were photographer, journalist and political activist John Hopkins and record producer Joe Boyd. It was a short-lived affair, with the final club night there being held on the 28th July, 1967. UFO’s club night then moved to The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town; but sadly it shut down shortly after, in October. This paved the way for Middle Earth to fill the void for the partygoers who had enjoyed the type of atmosphere that UFO had generated while it lasted.
The Covent Garden location was iconic, and still is today, with Russell House, the formal name of the venue housing Middle Earth, being the oldest surviving building in Covent Garden’s central square, which is known as the Piazza. The first owner of the building, Lord Russell, First Lord of the Admiralty, gave his name to the Grade II*-listed town mansion. Built in 1716 and designed by Baroque architect Thomas Archer (1668 – 1743), it is now home to beauty retail store Glossier and a number of luxury apartments.
While Russell House played host location to Middle Earth in the 60s, attendees could expect to see bands including Pink Floyd, The Who, The Yardbirds, David Bowie’s folk trio Feathers, Tyrannosaurus Rex (featuring Marc Bolan) and Soft Machine on the roster. The Byrds also played there twice with Gram Parsons. These iconic nights were usually organised by the club’s resident DJ and promoter Jeff Dexter, who shared DJ duties there with future BBC Radio 1 presenter John Peel (1939 – 2004).
As well as playing host to so many big names in rock’n’roll, Middle Earth was also known to put on light shows, cinema showings, slide shows and dance acts in a bid to create the desired atmosphere that would keep people coming back. Poetry and play performances were also featured.
The club generally opened for the evening at 10 pm; and often would remain open the whole night, or at least long into the early hours of the next morning, when attendees on leaving would have to make their way through the Covent Garden traders who set up their stalls at the crack of dawn, ready to sell fruit, vegetables and fresh flowers for the day at the famous Covent Garden Market.
The club was known as a psychedelic hotspot at the time, and as a result of the popularity of certain recreational drugs associated with psychedelic music, it attracted not only the attention of partygoers looking for a good time, but also that of the police. A number of police raids took place whilst the venue was open, and generally resulted in many underage guests being arrested. One such raid took place on an evening when a play performance was taking place. This play was based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The police arrested a member of the rhythm and blues group, the Graham Bond Organisation, for possession, and two girls for being there under the legal age for entering a nightclub.
During another notable raid at a later date, a device called the ‘Trip Machine’ was discovered and taken away by the police. It was on this night that the psychedelic rock band Sam Gopal’s Dream was due to perform.
Sadly, the club followed a similarly short-lived fate at its initial venue to that of UFO, lasting less than a year before being closed down in mid-1968. However, the club nights that had been organised at Middle Earth would soon find a new venue in The Roundhouse on Chalk Farm Road, the very same venue to which UFO’s nights had previously unsuccessfully relocated. In this instance, however, the move was more successful. Performances by The Doors and Jefferson Airplane were memorably hosted at The Roundhouse over two nights in September 1968, and it was where Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page’s new band following his departure from the Yardbirds, played their first ever public performance.
The Roundhouse today continues to be known as an iconic music venue that also hosts other enduringly popular creative pursuits, enjoying a reputation for which clubs like UFO and Middle Earth paved the way in the late 1960s.