I went with a friend to London Charing Cross station yesterday and we walked down Villiers Street to visit the site of the Gyre and Gimble Cafe in John Adam Street, where Kabbalah group meetings took place in the late 1950s. Here it is today, part of a Mexican restaurant, and below is a photo from around 1956.
On the left is the awning for the bookshop which was run by Alan Bain, the kabbalist and accordionist, that he describes in his vignette on the topic. To the right is the doorway with stairs down to the Gyre and Gimble Coffee House in the basement, where sometimes Ernest Page the astrologer could be found giving readings, and Alan and his group of friends discussed esoteric interests, all against a background of music and coffee. As Alan says in his vignette: “Just about everybody who was anybody in the music or artistic world was likely to appear in “The Gees” as it was affectionately known.”
There is an article on the Gyre and Gimble in the History is Made at Night blog, including an amusing quotation from the book The Map is not the Territory, by artist and Situationist Ralph Rumney, recalling an encounter there with the famous musician Tommy Steele:
“There was a place called the Gyre and Gimble in a basement in Adams Street that one used to go in at night. and you’d buy a coffee and they’d let you nod off on the table. And Tommy Steele used to come in there and twang on his guitar and sing and make an awful racket, and all of us were just trying to have a quiet kip and we kept telling him to shut up and he wouldn’t. And I had a very large friend at that time – Gerald, he was called – who was a bit of a thug…
Anyway, he came down one night – well, he used to come down every night – but he came down one night and Tommy Steele was twanging away as usual – Rock Island Line and skiffle – Rockin’ with the Caveman – it was really tiresome. because he didn’t have much of a repertoire in those days. And from the top of the stairs Gerald yelled out STOP THAT RACKET. and Tommy Steele didn’t. So Gerald just put his hand on the banister, leapt over it. and landed on Tommy Steele, feet first. and cracked about four of his ribs, so he had to be taken to hospital. Which got us barred for about three days [laughs]. And we never saw Tommy Steele there again”.
The Mexican restaurant has a basement dining area, and as we walked down the steps I imagined that this used to be the Gyre and Gimble, where the music, the astrology and the kabbalah was all happening sixty years ago.