Sitting on the Hogsmill River, The Swan was first established as a beerhouse in 1870. With its close proximity to Kingston’s School of Art, established 1899, it soon became popular among the student crowd, and by the 1950s traditional jazz aficionados as well. Regulars recall enjoying Saturday night jazz performances, including musicians such as Pete King – a Kingston-born self-taught saxophonist and clarinettist who would go on to work with the big bands of Maynard Ferguson, Tubby Hayes and Ray Charles.
By the 1960s, The Swan came to be associated more closely with rock ‘n’ roll, and in particular one band named The Impalas. Initially founded by lead singer and guitarist Tony Claidon, The Impalas established themselves as its house band, playing every Sunday to a diverse ‘sweat-box’ crowd of locals, a melting pot of the decade’s subcultures, whether Greasers, Rockers, Teddy Boys or Bikers.
The Impalas would go on to support rock and roll pioneer Gene Vincent at the London Palladium in 1969, and guitarist Keith Read still plays with the band Wild Angels – who themselves immortalised The Swan in a 2016 song, We’re Goin’ Down The Swan (On A Sunday Night). The Swan closed its doors as a pub in 2008 – however the spirit of creativity continues as the building is used by Kingston University’s School of Art as a studio space.
Keith Read spoke to AMP Kingston about his time in the band, his memories of The Swan, and later successes, including supporting Gene Vincent at the London Palladium in 1969, and having a Number 1 hit in Sweden with his current band, The Wild Angels.