Interview with Alan Whitehead

Interview with Alan Whitehead

Alan Whitehead’s original claim to fame was as the drummer with chart toping 1970s group Marmalade but in more recent times he has been responsible for setting up many of London’s top table dancing clubs. He is currently involved in a new venture involving the fantastic Sugar Hut Village club in Brentwood Essex and we discussed this new venture, his history in clubs, and his view of the current scene in the UK.

Tyke. . I assume you got involved with table dancing after Marmalade stopped being viable as an act.

AW. . Actually Marmalade still tour and we have just signed a deal with Sanctuary Records which has given us a bigger advance than we used to get 30 years ago! I finished actually performing with the band in 1978 {there is only 1 original member on the current line up} and moved into management, initially in music but then later in travelling road shows involving strip acts. After seeing the success of Chippendales I started up the UK Dream Boys then the UK Glamour Girls which eventually became the Sunday Sport Roadshow. After seeing what was going in the USA I introduced table dancing shows a couple of years before the first actual clubs opened here.

Tyke. . How did you get involved with the clubs themselves?

alan1_sept06.JPGAW. . Gerald Richardson approached me to help him set up the first UK club which was FYEO Park Royal. I had plenty of contacts amongst good looking girls from the various travelling shows and I was familiar with the concept of the clubs themselves from time spent in the USA. FYEO is, or at least was, a professionally run outfit and I think it would have dominated the UK but for the sale to SFI where it seemed to be in limbo for several years.

Tyke. . What came next ?

AW. . Park Royal was a big success initially and so lots of other people started to want to open clubs and were looking for expertise. I had a brief spell at the Windmill where I did not like Owide’s methods of business or treatment of staff and then the next I got involved with was Secrets in Hammersmith and the Finchley Rd. Once it was up and running the management there {who I don’t rate as very good} felt they could do without me. Generally the girls I talk to still at Secret’s don’t like it at all now and I’m not surprised. They have 5 clubs in decent locations but they have fallen into the old trap of relying totally on house fees to make a profit.

alan2_sept06.JPGTyke. Then you helped set up Majingos.

AW. . Yes, but before that I was involved in turning round Traders near the City, then it was Majingo’s and more recently I spent some time working at David West’s club the former FYEO now called Puss in Boots. He paid me well but took no notice at all of my advice and that club is declining fast.

Tyke. . You have been to most clubs in the UK and managed several of them, what do you think of the current situation in the UK.

AW. . It’s not very good, you have a lot of very unprofessional people who really have no idea about how to run a club. I think entertainment trends have a 7 year cycle and the boom in standard clubs has run it’s course, if you are going to be successful you need to do better in future. You need to keep discipline amongst the girls but not to treat them like a piece of meat, they are the key attraction and need to feel part of the team. In the US they have “ house mothers” to act as a buffer between girls and management but in the UK where they have them they are often just another instrument of torture for the dancers. Taking your clothes off in front of customers who can be nasty is difficult enough without them getting abused by the management and staff at the club as well. You have a lot of disillusioned girls around at the moment, many have packed in, and standards still seem to be falling as clubs try to keep up their house fee income by taking anybody on.

Tyke. . Which UK clubs do you think are properly run?

AW. . I think Stringfellow’s and Spearmint Tottenham Court Rd are both professionally run with high class catering and good staff. On another level Browns in Hackney has probably been the UK’s longest standing success story in this industry. If I know a girl has worked at Browns I know that she will be good and reliable and they all say that it’s a place that treats them fairly and gives consistently good money. It’s run by a woman who isn’t trying to get them into bed and is strict but very fair. Metropolis is a nice club but I get much more mixed reports about the treatment of the girls there. Outside London I think the best places are the Blue Box Leisure clubs in Leeds and Liverpool, I think that Stewart Dixon is a very clever operator.

Tyke. . How is this new venture going to be different?

alan4_sept06.JPGAW. . The Sugar Hut Village in Brentwood is already a well established nightclub/restaurant venue which has fantastic décor {look in the web site www.sugarhutvillage.co.uk }and food and a capacity of 1,000. The new part will be upstairs and will continue the Oriental theme, it’s going to be called the Geisha Gallery, the girls will wear appropriate costumes, and we are calling them companions. We don’t want them to hustle customers for dances, they will strip but also can just talk or even accompany the customer for a meal. The intention is to major of high class hospitality rather than sex and to remove all the unpleasant hassle you get at so many clubs. The owners there have given me a free hand to set up the venture and I am using all the experience and expertise I have built up over the last 15 or so years to avoid the classic pitfalls. It’s our intention to make the whole club into a “must visit” major destination attraction for corporate clients and the well off of the area. It will be in a totally different class to any other Essex clubs and I expect it to attract custom from a wide catchment area. 

alan5_sept06.JPGTyke. When does it open?

AW. The opening night is set for September 19th. We are still recruiting high class girls so anybody interested in working there contact me on alan@sugarhutgroup.com or my mobile +44 (0)7957 358997