Opinions about Edward Fewtrell are rarely non-committal or ‘on the fence': speak to one person and he’s Birmingham’s underworld godfather, speak to another he’s a charitable philanthropist, speak to another and he’s a top businessman, and another and he’s a family man etc etc . . . truth is, he’s probably a combination of all those elements. They’re in no way mutually exclusive character traits and most of the legendary tales about his past from which most people have formed their opinion are somewhat skewed, exaggerated or conversely, in some instances, economical with the truth! However, one fact that’s incontrovertible is that Eddie Fewtrell single-handedly, with a little help from his brothers, did more to nurture and develop Birmingham’s nightlife culture over three decades than anyone else and for that fact should be applauded.
It would be relatively easy here to provide an account of Eddie’s business career but, as with the majority of this website, merely recounting facts that can be found elsewhere on the Web is largely a pointless exercise so I thought a few anecdotes and observations of my dealings with Mr Fewtrell might provide more of an insight. However, a brief potted history for the uninitiated may provide a useful background so here goes . . .
One of a family of 10 born to a somewhat broken home in the relatively deprived Birmingham suburb of Aston, from an early age Eddie undertook the mantle of familial breadwinner and paternal figure to his younger siblings which I think largely laid the bedrock for his later empire building in the nightclub scene in Birmingham City Centre in years to come. Following various business ventures Edward opened the Bermuda Club in Navigation Street which was legendary for having both a front of house bar and ‘backstage’ gambling den which operated somewhat beyond the realms of legality at the time but was sufficiently frequented by Birmingham City Police notables and allied City dignitaries as to run fairly raid-free for the majority of its tenure.
Next-up, Eddie opened the Cedar Club (off Constitution Hill) and began to cultivate his ‘celebrity persona’ with emerging 60’s acts such as the Move playing at the club along with a string of top acts regularly gigging there, socialising at the club and in some instances working there during the embryonic phases of their careers. The Cedar Club stood Eddie in good stead for his next venture which was the much renowned Barbarella’s on Cumberland Street (off Broad Street) which launched a number of bands and hosted many top acts including The Ramones, AC/DC and many, many more huge and soon to be huge acts from the world of entertainment. During this period the nightlife scene was going through something of an evolutionary period with a shift from cabaret clubs to more disco-based nightclubs and Eddie rode this wave with the opening of Rebecca’s in John Bright Street and later Abigail’s and Edward’s – also on John Bright Street – with Paramount and Goldwyn’s on Lower Severn Street opening towards the close of the 1980s.
I think it can be said with a fair degree of certainty that the majority of Brummies who enjoyed the odd night out during the 1970s and 1980s would have visited at least one of Eddie Fewtrell’s establishments and for a time throughout the mid to late 1980s John Bright Street was the THE epicentre of club culture and the heart of the Fewtrell Empire. Following the sale of all his clubs to Ansell’s Leisure in 1989, Eddie was faced with a three-year golden handcuffs arrangement but on its expiry returned to night club ownership with XL’s night club at Five Ways and the XL’s Rock Cafe on Paradise Circus and Millennium Club at Merry hill.
I first became aware of Eddie Fewtrell when auditioning for a band in the mid-1980s who were managed by an associate of Eddie’s. Upon mentioning the band to a musician friend he advised me not to get mixed-up with ‘people like that’! I’d never heard of Eddie and asked a few people who was this person of whom my colleague had spoken in such a cautionary tone to find out that he was the owner of a nightclub empire and had a reputation akin to the Krays and was certainly not someone to mess with. I gleaned a number of ”horror stories’ from various hearsay sources about adversaries being dispatched under the concrete pillars of Spaghetti Junction during its construction, shootings, a legion of punch-happy brothers who were also legends around the Birmingham club scene etc and thought better of joining a band that was managed by one of his cohorts.
As fate would have it, a few short years later I found myself at 17 being instructed to go to Boogies Brasserie to ask Mr Fewtrell for a position on the door of Edward’s Number 8 night club! I didn’t really know what to expect – some Al Pacino-type figure I suppose – as I approached Nobby on the door and said I’d been sent to have a word with Eddie and was pointed in his direction. At the end of the bar was a circle of middle-aged men enjoying a drink – some of whom were what I’d term ‘brick outhouses’ – with a rather diminutive grey-haired chap in the middle holding court: that was Eddie Fewtrell. I took a deep breath, walked up to the group at which point they all stopped laughing and chatting and simultaneously turned to look at the spotty, overweight, long-haired 17 year old before them. I stuttered out that I’d been sent over from Edward’s Number 8 to ask about a job on the door to which Eddie just grunted “start Friday you c*nt”, and then turned back to his pals and they all started chatting where they’d left off! Not your standard job interview but in the circumstances it was as long as I wanted. And that was that really, I was working for Eddie at one of his showpiece clubs at 17!
Preconceptions are strange things and largely stand to be shattered and this was certainly true with Eddie Fewtrell. Everything I’ve said thus far turned out to be applicable to Eddie to some degree. I’d somehow sneaked into his organisation’s inner circle at a very young age and was working alongside his longstanding associates such as Ricky Rickabee, Gigi, Norman ‘Nobby’ Nobbs and whole host of characters of both savoury and unsavoury ends of the spectrum and loving every minute of it. The clubs themselves were great, and at that time all booming and vibrant, but equally as enjoyable was getting to chat to Eddie and his crew who were remarkably open about their histories and previous exploits and would quite happily sit, as would Eddie, over a few drinks and regale me and others with endless anecdotes and tales of past escapades.
I didn’t know it then as I was fairly inexperienced in the world of employment but Eddie was one of a kind. Whereas managers and owners of other clubs at which I would come to work were very distanced from their staff, Eddie would do the rounds of all his clubs at least a couple of times a night and stand and have a chat with the doormen and other staff and crack a few jokes and make sure everything was ok. On a Sunday night I’d work the door at Edward’s on my own for £15 (looking back I must have been mad) and Eddie would phone me at least a couple of times during the evening from his favourite haunt of Goldwyn’s around the corner to check that all was well. I can honestly say that I always found him a very avuncular chap who really cared about his staff and wasn’t afraid to muck-in when required (more about that later) and that he knew that staff would have a few free drinks etc but so long as they weren’t really taking the p*ss he was cool with that too.
On the flipside, several incidents spring to mind that give an insight into the power Eddie wielded in Birmingham that have stuck with me over the years. Some of which I won’t recount here but a couple of incidents below give some idea.
One night I was having a few drinks on a night-off on the top floor of Edward’s Number 8 when the girl I was with shouted ‘oh my God’ and pointed at the dance floor at which point the music cut off. I looked over as a line of about 20 blokes trouped across the dance floor and began seriously laying-in to another couple of chaps who were having a drink. The DJ had killed the music and called for the doormen but there were only two working that night and it later transpired that the ‘hit squad’ had just barged their way in on a mission to sort out the two chaps inside. I ran over as the two doorman arrived but it was way beyond our intervention. Then, out of the corner of my eye I noticed Eddie was at the other end of the bar having a drink with Ricky Rickabee. On spotting the melee Edie put down his drink and came straight over, pushing his way into the middle of the brawl at which point everything just stopped – Eddie just looked up at one of the chief protagonists and raised a finger: “you don’t fight in one of my f*cking clubs, now get out” was all he said in a rather hushed tone at which point the whole troupe turned and all walked out in single file in complete silence, heads bowed. Eddie then just looked at us and said something to the effect of “as you were” and returned to his drink and conversation with Ricky!
On another occasion we got the call at Edward’s Number 8 that all doormen were needed to deal with ‘a riot’ at Goldwyn’s. We all ran round the corner meeting up with the lads from Boogies club and Brasserie and piled into Goldwyn’s not really knowing what to expect. Now for those uninitiated with the club, it was split-level and you arrived into the main room on a raised level which housed the bar and half-way along the room the floor level dropped a couple of feet to the dance floor. As I got inside, the raised level gave a commanding view of proceedings on the dance floor which was, in short, carnage, with about 50 men knocking seven shades out of each other. For our purposes here, the image that’s stuck with me to this day however, was that in the middle of all the fighting was a clear circle at the centre of which was the diminutive figure of Eddie randomly throwing punches at whoever strayed within reach . . . none of whom even attempting to throw a punch back but rather trying to dodge out of the way somewhat apologetically. That was a really surreal sight and gave me a flavour of the extent of Eddie’s reputation beyond that of amiable raconteur!
As an aside, Eddie’s biography/autobiography came-out a few years ago (King of Clubs: The Eddie Fewtrell Story) and whilst charting Eddie’s career and charitable associations – of which he had many – I felt it wholly missed the good stuff and was put into such a scatological chronology that it was quite hard to follow: shame, as I’m sure there’s a much better book in Eddie than that!
However, from my perspective – and I hasten to add I only was around Eddie for a couple of years – I really liked Eddie and his ‘no-nonsense’ approach and his rags-to-riches determination has much to be admired. Furthermore, I always got the impression that he saw his clubs as extensions of his family – he really cared about them and the staff (in fact many of his brothers and family members worked in his various club over the years including his daughter Rebecca who worked on the reception at Edwards when I was there and his brother, the late Don Fewtrell, as manager of Goldwyn’s) and considered those causing trouble in one of his clubs in the same manner as you and I would if someone burst into your home and started fighting with each other!
Whatever is written and said about Eddie Fewtrell, and I appreciate that there are those with vastly differing opinions of the man, he’s definitely a larger than life character with a fascinating history. He breeds horses now too!