The year is 1959 and a young Russ Sainty and his band are opening a new club in London’s East End.
In the audience at The 59 Club are Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon and Cliff Richard and The Shadows.
Russ Sainty and the Nu-Notes are a part of a new generation of hip-shaking, British rock ‘n’ rollers who are changing the face of popular music.
At just 23, he’s only been singing for two years but the world is at his feet. Russ seems destined for a life of stardom and hit records.
Yet, astonishingly, it would take Russ another 52 years until he released his first album.
Fast forward five decades and Russ, now 75 and a grandfather-of-three, cannot stop smiling as he clutches his triple album Radio: Play That Song Again.
Russ, who lives with his wife Ann and their greyhound in Hayling Island, believes what he has done is a world first – a record in fact, but of a rather different kind.
‘We don’t know of anyone who’s waited 54 years to put out their first album,’ he says.
‘I think it’s clearly a world record.’
Russ looks slightly melancholy as he describes how he believed he might go to his grave without ever having made an album.
But an inner desire to provide a legacy of his life’s work, together with a flurry of creative songwriting last year, got the ball rolling on the album, which features no less than 76 tracks.
‘We just didn’t get round to it’, says Russ.
‘It’s one of those things that nearly happened, but didn’t. It’s just circumstances really that this is the first album I’ve ever done.’
He adds: ‘It happens to be that I’m 75 years old now and have been 54 years in the business. Of course it’s not just one album – it’s a triple album with a 16-page booklet as well!’
Russ recorded the album in a friend’s studio in Waterlooville. As well as recording 10 new tracks, he dug out some tapes that had been gathering dust in his loft.
They featured rehearsals by his band from 1961 and 1962 and several of those recordings have made it on to the album.
He says: ‘I never thought I would do it – particularly now. It’s extremely difficult these days. You can be on Simon Cowell’s show for six to eight weeks, he can make an album with you and then he drops you like a stone.
‘The business now is money-motivated. The chances of me getting with anyone like that were out of the window. I knew I would have to do it myself.’
The album is clearly the climax of Russ’ colourful life, but it could have been a very different story.
A proud Cockney, Russ was initially planning a career as a jockey – until he grew too big. He later trained to be a horticulturist and worked for a local council in London as a gardener at a nursery.
But those naps he had every afternoon in the greenhouses were perhaps the biggest clue to what his true love was. By night he gravitated towards a coffee bar in Soho, the famous 2i’s Coffee Bar, the melting pot of the British rock ‘n’ roll movement.
‘I am one of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers,’ says Russ, whose name was Alfie until 1957 when it was changed as Russ sounded cooler.
‘Cliff Richard was Harry Webb when I first met him. He was just one of us. We were all doing it for the love of it. I had never sung in my life, never played anything.
‘My dad and mum thought I was crazy. “What are you doing singing?” they said. But there was an urge to do it.’
He adds: ‘After the war there was a great feeling of optimism, for young people particularly. I had been evacuated in the war. Everything was so dull during those times and then suddenly the late ’50s came along and we started to get a little bit of colour.
‘We heard this wonderful music from America – Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Ricky Nelson. I just happened to be one of the people that wanted to be part of it in this country. We didn’t think about fame or celebrity like they do now. There was this little coffee bar in Soho and all of us wanted to go there and be discovered.’
And discovered he was. Russ and the Nu-Notes went on a have a string of hit singles, including Too Shy, I’ve Got A Girl and Unforgettable Love.
That massive chart-topping hit was elusive, however, and remains so to this day.
Russ performed at the legendary California Ballroom on Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire no less than 338 times, including the magical opening night on March 12, 1960.
It was a magnet for every top rock and pop act of the time, including Tom Jones and Lulu, but only Russ was nicknamed King of the ‘Cali.
He’s also performed around the world.
‘I’ve done America, South Africa, Germany, I’ve done cruise liners,’ says Russ.
‘I’ve done the Albert Hall too. I thought two years ago when I brought out a book, that was a pinnacle.
‘But having done this album, I don’t think I could top this. I think it’s great because it’s like a life story right from 1959 to 2011.
‘The reception I have had so far has been very good. Everyone who has received it has said I’ve done a cracking job of it. A lot of people like it. BBC stations are playing it already.’
He chuckles: ‘I will only stop when I can’t do it any more. I’m still a youthful 75 and can get away with it when I’m dolled up with my gear on!’
Even now, Russ is hoping that a track on the album could prove to be the chart-topping record he has always dreamed of.
But if it doesn’t happen, he says he will always be proud of his achievement.
He is still in the process of applying to the Guinness World Records people and has yet to hear back.
He laughs: ‘It’s my first and probably last album. I can’t see myself at 75 years old doing another one. But never say never!’