5. The Grey Horse

“It's so much more than just a business, because people go there to share art, they go there to be creative and they go there for community.” Joy Bowers, Event Manager

The Grey Horse was built in 1849 and originally owned by George Nightingale, former Mayor of Kingston from 1846 – 1847. The oldest Young’s pub in Kingston, it was bestowed an unusual distinction by the local licensing magistrates in 1906: deploring the general state of public house toilets in the area, the Grey Horse’s facilities were praised as an honourable exception for being ‘properly lit’!

Building on these exceptional standards throughout its lifetime, The Grey Horse is a celebrated local treasure, delivering over seventy years of live entertainment in a unique, intimate environment and drawing in some of the best names from the jazz and blues circuits. The legendary Ram Jam Records [formerly known as The Ram Jam Club] continues to host gigs, open-mic nights, dances and fringe theatre, providing an ongoing platform for emerging artists and performers. 

Alongside other Young’s Brewery pubs – The Bull’s Head in Barnes and The Half Moon in Putney – the Grey Horse had been well known for live music since the 1950’s, benefitting from the big touring bands that were flocking to play at neighbouring Eel Pie Island Jazz Club, as well as the influx of American records coming in from the US Army base stationed at Bushy Park between 1942 and 1963.

Various local venues attempted to cultivate a jazz culture, yet The Grey Horse – alongside the nearby Fighting Cocks – would become the centre of the burgeoning scene, not only hosting touring acts but also fostering the creation of homegrown bands, such as The Georgia Jazz Band and Magna Jazz Band, who played regularly in the dimly lit – and in those days smoky – backroom, to a toe-tapping, hipster crowd.

The Kingston School of Art student population provided a keen and captive audience for the evolving live music in the area, as new genres and sounds drifted over from the Atlantic and emerged from other parts of the UK. In the latter part of the Sixties, traditional jazz and early R&B took influence from the electrified Chicago blues of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Reed; The Rolling Stones,regulars at Eel Pie Island and the Crawdaddy Club in neighbouring Richmond, injected rock ‘n’ roll rhythm into the heartfelt soul of blues, developing the Sixties R&B sound that would later open the door to heavier, psychedelic and more experimental styles of rock.

“It was a Grey Horse family. And it still is.” Randy Baldwin, regular patron of The Grey Horse

The Grey Horse would remain a conduit for these new sounds, providing a welcoming, intimate stage for artists keen to perform outside of the commercial circuit as we moved through the decades. Richard Fletcher and his wife June – who had previously run a pub and small music music festival in Bradford-Upon-Avon – were the proud owners of The Grey Horse from 2000-2015, and through their work, built upon its legacy as one of the most esteemed live music venues in the borough. 

Starting originally with music two nights a week, Richard was inspired to up the Grey Horse’s live music offering after witnessing a packed out and rowdy blues gig at the Royal Festival Hall on a Sunday afternoon. Soon the venue was advertising live music close to every day of the week, regularly hosting local legends The Green Rock River Band, Three State Blues, Bad Influence, Papa George and Peter Bruntnell, as well as unexpected performances by Vic Martin of (a session musician who delivered the iconic keyboard riff on The Eurythmics’s Sweet Dreams) and even Rick Astley! In 2004, the venue won ‘Entertainment Provider of the Year’, beating Chessington World of Adventures to the winning spot!

When Leigh White took over the lease in 2015, he brought fresh direction with his renowned restaurant Smok’d, whilst continuing to nurture the local live music scene through the legendary Ram Jam Records, working with Event Managers, Pawel Ciecierega and Tim Kasner, to expand the programme beyond music into poetry, swing dancing, open-mic nights, drag and cabaret. Its famous Crack Comedy night remains one of the best regarded events on the circuit, drawing in names such as Michael McIntyre and Dara Ó Briain. Leigh has even taken the stage as a stand-up comedian himself! 

Current Event Manager, Joy Bowers, who has been working for The Grey Horse since 2017, heard of Ram Jam through a poetry event at Creative Youth’s International Youth Arts Festival. Drawing on her background in theatre, and building upon the programming of her predecessors, she has brought in fringe productions and established a regular Speakeasy Night as well as running ‘Rapper’s Delight’, attracting an expanding hip hop crowd to the area. She says the unique character and position of Kingston that drew in world-class acts in the 1930s is still a big draw today; bands and performers booked for high-profile venues such as Ronnie Scotts, The Blues Kitchen, or The Comedy Store are often keen to do a warm- up gig for a welcoming, intimate crowd, just a short train ride from the capital.

Together, Leigh and Joy continue to develop the programme Ram Jam Records, offering a range of blues, funk, country, metal, gypsy jazz, RnB and hip hop for the eclectic tastes of Kingston’s diverse communities and supporting emerging artists through their literature and theatre events. 

Interviews

Listen to stories about the Grey Horse from the people who where there.

Joy Bowers is the Events Manager at Ram Jam Records at the Grey Horse today (formerly the Ram Jam Club). She spoke to AMP about first discovering the space whilst still a student, stumbling upon a poetry show as part of Creative Youth’s International Youth Arts Festival. Later finding herself working at the Grey Horse, she spoke passionately about the wide range of artists she feels lucky to be approached by and translating these approaches into the Ram Jam’s multiarts programme of nightly events.

Richard Fletcher moved into the Grey Horse as its landlord in 2000 and spent the next 15 years fostering a live music culture that brought a community of regulars together as a family. One such regular was Randy Baldwin and the two of them sat together for an interview with AMP, in which they recalled the many great acts they witnessed, the comedy and other arts that could be found in the Ram Jam Club (a former stables at the back of the pub), and most importantly the friends they made along the way.

AMP Kingston:
Art, Music, Pop Fashion

The AMP Kingston Heritage Trail explores and celebrates Kingston’s rich music heritage from the 1960’s to the present day at key sites across the town.

Find out more and explore the map of venues.

Continue the heritage trail