The 2i’s Coffee Bar was an integral part of British pop music history. Although London’s first skiffle bar was the Gyre & Gimble in Charing Cross, the 2i’s was where British rock ‘n’ roll began.
Situated at 59 Old Compton Street, Soho (London) it was originally owned by two brothers called Irani (hence the name “two i’s”) but on 22 April 1956, it was re-opened by two ex-wrestlers, Ray Hunter and Paul Lincoln (pictured below left, with Wee Willie Harris), who had wrestled under the name Dr. Death.
It was Hunter and Lincoln who came up with the idea of using the basement of the coffee house for live performances, and skiffle band The Vipers – featuring a young singer called Wally Whyton – became the first group to earn a residency there.
During a break at a Vipers gig in September 1956, a young upstart called Thomas Hicks appeared on stage and launched into Elvis Presley‘s Heartbreak Hotel. Agent John Kennedy had been invited to the venue by one of the coffee bar’s co-owners in order to check out the main attraction but after witnessing Hicks’ impromptu performance, Kennedy signed him up.
A repeat appearance at the same venue was specifically arranged for Decca’s A&R man Hugh Mendl and within a month Rock With The Cavemen by Hicks (now re-born as Tommy Steele) was in the shops.
From that moment on, The 2i’s became the place to be discovered, and hundreds of wannabe rock & roll stars flocked to the venue from all over Britain in the hope of becoming the “next big thing”.
Music promoters such as Jack Good, Larry Parnes and Don Arden also frequented the 2i’s regularly, and artists such as Cliff Richard, Terry Dene, Adam Faith, and Vince Eager were all discovered while appearing there.
Tom Littlewood took over the 2i’s in 1960 and managed some of their artist’s – including Vince Taylor.