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The Village Hall Of Fame

To their credit, the frenzied crowd at Chiddingfold Ex-Servicemen's Club responds with a resounding: 'YEAH.'

All except for the old boys in the room next door playing cribbage. But then, they've heard it all before.

This is surely Britain's most unlikely music venue, a single-storey plain brick building - part-community centre, part-working men's club - which plays host to village fetes and jumble sales - and to a galaxy of rock and blues superstars.

Most recently it was the turn of Wishbone Ash. Frontman Powell lives as a tax exile in Connecticut but brought his band to the UK for two dates -the Shepherds Bush Empire and 'Chidd' Club, as locals call it. Soon it will host Whitesnake and Bad Company, gigging as Company of Snakes.

In this improbable place in the west Surrey countryside, once the trestle tables have been cleared away, the great and the good from the past 30 years of British contemporary music like to gather.

Eric Clapton, Gary Brooker, Andy Fairweather-Low, Roger Taylor, Dave Gilmour and Bill Wyman rub shoulders with pensioners playing cards and village lads playing pool.

But why Chiddingfold? A clue can be found on the wall of the bar, where next to darts league notices and the names of past presidents, is a framed Genesis album cover. The inscription reads: 'To the Chiddingfold Ex-Servicemen's Club. With much appreciation for all the help given to us over the years. Phil and Genesis.'

Band members Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks were educated at nearby Charterhouse School and later Phil Collins moved in just down the road. At the peak of their fame the band found Chidd Club a great place to rehearse undisturbed. The locals paid them little attention and the acoustics in the hall were surprisingly good.

Club steward Peter Thomas said: 'Genesis put on a performance for the club and word went round that Chidd Club was a good place to play. Quite a few top rock musicians live in the area and it has built up over the years. At Christmas Gary Brooker, founder member of Procul Harum, who lives in the area, puts on a charity event with dozens of top names dropping in to gig and have fun.'

Music fans Howard Williams and Tony Smith act as promoters for what has become known as the Chiddingfold Live Music Club, booking big rock and blues acts most Fridays. Mr Thomas said regular club members take it in their stride. 'The music exists happily alongside our more normal club activities.'

Mr Smith recently booked Otis Grand, voted Britain's best blues guitarist for the past seven years. Mr Williams was also responsible for booking Wishbone Ash and he hopes to bring King Crimson, Ten Years After and Peter Green to Chiddingfold soon.

'The great thing about Chidd Club is that we are getting a cross-section of people who really enjoy the music,' he said. 'This creates an atmosphere that bands enjoy. Wishbone Ash agreed to come because they were intrigued.'

evertheless, Powell looked a little doubtful when he took to the tiny stage. But midway through the gig he told the dancing crowd of mothers and daughters: 'We thought it was going to be a bit sedate, this being Surrey but you are a really nice and relaxed audience.'

At the end of the gig Powell said: 'We'd like to come back.' The roar of approval could be heard on the other side of the village green.

© Evening Standard, by Stewart Payne

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