Dancing back in time to the days of La Strada

A Keep Fit demonstration at La Strada in 1968.
A Keep Fit demonstration at La Strada in 1968.
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It is more than 50 years since businessman Sandford Goudie helped bring a taste of the Swinging Sixties to Sunderland – courtesy of cabaret club La Strada.

But former nursery nurse Lilian Harnett still has vivid memories of the nightspot, as she performed there with Sunderland Keep Fit Association in 1968.

The YMCA in Fawcett Street is pictured here in October 1947. It was later transformed into the La Strada nightclub in the 1960s.

The YMCA in Fawcett Street is pictured here in October 1947. It was later transformed into the La Strada nightclub in the 1960s.

“I found a couple of old photos of our performance while searching for something else, and thought they might be of interest to readers,” she said.

“My usual dance spots were Wetherells or The Rink, but La Strada was a lovely place. Going there was a bit of a treat, because of the brilliant turns they had.”

Club 11, in Villiers Street, is believed to have been Sunderland’s first nightclub. Others, such as El Cubana, Annabels and La Strada soon followed.

La Strada, at 52 Fawcett Street, was the idea of Sandford Gaudie, who had opened a La Strada in South Shields in 1962 and expanded into Sunderland two years later.

The dome of La Strada can just be seen over the metal girder being lowered into place during a revamp of Sunderland Station in the 1960s.

The dome of La Strada can just be seen over the metal girder being lowered into place during a revamp of Sunderland Station in the 1960s.

In addition to “cabarets, resident bands and dance nights”, La Strada offered a host of top class entertainment, from Bob Monkhouse to Englebert Humperdinck.

Indeed, “Mr Showbiz” Frankie Vaughan served a residency there, performing alongside The Saints and Isobel Duncan – with admission just 20p before 10pm.

The Searchers and Mike Yarwood starred at the club too, as did Jimmy Tarbuck and a young Little and Large - then known as Syd and Eddie.

“They were happy, happy days. We had all the big artists, all the big names. We also gave quite a few stars their first big break,” said Sandford.

The ladies of Sunderland Keep Fit Association are put through their paces during an exhibition at La Strada in 1968.

The ladies of Sunderland Keep Fit Association are put through their paces during an exhibition at La Strada in 1968.

Sunderland’s La Strada was double the size of the Shields venue, and even featured a glass domed roof - which still survives today. Sandford, however, decided to move on in 1969.

“It is always best to go out on a high. It was a magical time. I met many wonderful people made many wonderful friends through the clubs,” added Sanford.