David Williams (Owner, 1973-78): French’s became French’s in mid-late 60s when Ray French, who worked at the ABC, bought it as a run down “four penny dark” wine bar. He loved wine and music but had a strict policy of only using bands who didn’t use amplification.
It worked well for a few years with mainly traditional jazz bands: Harbour City Jazz Band, Colonel Crint’s Regimental Band Of Foot And Mouth Deserters (who won New Faces or something similar), Dick Hughes Trio, Graeme Bell, but that didn’t last as a successful formula too long and he had to make exceptions to his rule for The Original Battersea Heroes and Foreday Riders, who were also working as Bluespirit (’69-73), as they drew crowds of a weekend.
I was talking to Ray at the door one night when he was approached by Greg Quill and other members of Country Radio (Gypsy Queen) who asked for a job there. When they told him they used amplifiers and were miked, he ended the conversation. I told him he was mad. He denied that.
Even when Ray French had it, weekends only, there could be up to 100 people lineup up outside waiting to get in, it would be one in as one leaves, as it was overcrowded, later some times weds to saturday there could be a lineup, but no bouncers needed, people were there for the music. Big Ray was a customer there back in Ray Frenchs days.
At the time I had a day job and worked a few nights for him, there was never enough money taken to pay me or the band, so I asked if he would sell, he said yes. We agreed on a price, but I had no funds, so I approached my former brother Paul to see if he was interested. He was so we got a loan and went ahead.
Up to that time his only interest in music was going on New Faces, thinking he was a singer and the judges kindly gave him 1 point out of ten for turning up. He denied it was him, but he has lived his life in denial. This was around 1973, the start of changes there, also the end of the traditional jazz period there.
PR: In the very early 70s, when I started going there, the bands playing were a mixture of blues bands such as the Foreday Riders and small groups playing traditional jazz. The latter were led by pianist Dick Hughes and included clarinettist Johnny McCarthy and drummer Alan Geddes. Dick also played solo boogie/stride piano and sang on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. from 5 to 7 (or thereabouts).
JK: Started drinking at French’s in 69 which was a nice change from the dear old Oxford and slightly safer, my only complaint at the time was that they only sold wine and cider and because I didn’t drink wine had to drink draught cider but finally adjusted.. Friday nights , Oxford , French’s then Adams Apple .. Them really were the days , many fond memories…xx
DW: To those who don’t remember Colonel Crint And His RegiMENTAL Band Of Foot And Mouth Deserters, they had a record release called “The Only Way To Eat A Horse Is With Sauce”. Back when Ray French had the place and I worked there part time, Colonel Crint, alias Sid Smith, had a run in with Ray French and Ray was stopping him entering. Ray had a big black labrador, Ray was telling me to throw him out, I said no that he’s a friend of mine, Sid was pissed as, so Ray said to Sid that unless he left he’d set the dog on him. Sid got down on his hands and knees and started barking at the dog, who proceeded to go to Sid and lick him to death, funniest sight. I lived with some of the band, all true alcoholics, bouncer Ray lived there for a while also, Ice St, Darlinghurst. good times, about ’72 me thinks.
BC: I remember Mr. French in his grey cardigan – pre bouncer days when The Foreday Riders performed there regularly. Hound Dog Taylor performed there one night. There was even a group who played Baroque music on Tuesday nights for a short time.