The story goes that, after months of sitting on a melody with the working title Scrambled Eggs, Sir Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics to the Beatles’ classic hit Yesterday while on holiday in the Algarve.     Whether it was in Albufeira, as sources suggest, or on the cliffs of Algar Seco, as business-owner and musician Roger Bernou believes, the fact of the matter is that, during the late ’60s, the legendary Beatle often came to Carvoeiro.

It was a golden age of musical legends, with the likes of Cat Stevens, Tom Jones, Cliff Richard and of course Paul McCartney himself gracing this relatively unknown seaside village in the south of Portugal. And their venue of choice? A former grain mill called Sobe e Desce, which now goes under the name Jailhouse.

Today it’s a name that everyone will recognise, but perhaps few know that this bar – one of Portugal’s first nightclubs – holds a rich musical legacy that led it to become a famous Algarvean landmark and a hub of creativity and musical genius.

Under new ownership since last year, the new managers Roger and wife Lynne have taken it upon themselves to take the Jailhouse back to its roots as a live music venue of excellence.

From Sobe e Desce to the Jailhouse In 1967, a few years after foreign tourists first began discovering Carvoeiro, Irish music producer and photographer Tim Motion opened a nightclub on the road just past the post office, and called it Sobe e Desce (meaning ‘to go up and down’). He soundproofed the entire venue with cork and, before long, it became the in-place for performers and music-lovers everywhere.   In those days, the club could lay claim to having welcomed some of the biggest names in the music industry, such as Cat Stevens, Lulu, Barry Gibb, Donovan and Ronnie Scott. “They wanted to go somewhere exclusive where nobody knew who they were, where they could just sit down and play their music without any pressure,” says current owner Roger Bernou.

In the 1970s, Carvoeiro native Carlos Lopes took over Sobe e Desce to become one of the few proper nightclubs in the Algarve, welcoming Portuguese and foreign party-goers alike.  Still, Carlos, a DJ who also managed the door at the time and who now owns Casa Tilinha just down the road with his wife Domitília (known to all as Tilinha), recalls Brian Ferry coming in with his backing dancers as well as many other big names of the music and film industries – “far too many to remember”, in fact. “We never made a big deal about the celebrities who used to walk through the door at the time,” he said. “We just left them to enjoy themselves.” It was also the first time that a 17-year-old Roger, on holiday with his parents, was introduced to the bar that he would one day run.

In the early ’80s it became Whispers, an English-run pub-style music venue, but it was when the resident musician, Dave Hedges, bought the bar that it became the Jailhouse. Dubbed “Portugal’s beacon of swing” by the Guardian newspaper in 1995, this is the era that most visitors will remember, not least because of the main man himself, ‘Jailhouse Dave’, whose music, jokes and friendly banter earned him a huge following over the 15 years that he run the bar and who, despite handing over the reins last year, still plays at the Jailhouse twice a week.

New era for Jailhouse With extensive background in music, from performing and writing to record-producing and engineering, Roger Benou was no doubt the perfect candidate to take the reins of this iconic venue. Working with big names in genres as vast as hip hop, dance, soul, R&B, pop, and African and Brazilian music at his four recording studios in London, the Brazilian-born musician moved to the Algarve to bring up his young family around seven years ago. He founded the band Mad Cats and played gigs across the region, but soon an opportunity arose that he couldn’t refuse: to take over the Jailhouse and transform it into the live music venue it once was. Pooling his enviable network of artists and performers when he took over last summer, the Jailhouse now has an incredibly varied programme of live music every night, including blues, rock, fusion, afro-funky and disco nights, as well as ladies’ nights and the twice-weekly gigs of ex landlord Jailhouse Dave.

Its jazz nights, in association with Cultugarve, are a particular highlight. “We have some top jazz people; the quality is absolutely astounding,” says Roger, who also takes to the stage on occasion. Praising his great staff, including manager Mark Richardson, he emphasises: “It’s a complete turnaround. We want to get it back to its roots as a great live music venue, with different styles of music and a good energy.”

Re-equipped with a new music system, the décor has also received a make-over, with a Moroccan lounge theme featuring authentic cushions, lamps, shishas and other details complementing the music-themed wall art.  Besides the main room that’s home to the stage, there is a further mezzanine lounge area, a covered outdoor terrace with a pool table and an outside terrace with added seating. And like the venue and the music programme, the clientele itself is equally varied. Open from 9.30pm (with happy hour until 10.30pm) and closing at 5am, the Jailhouse caters for young and old alike, including families, teenagers, tourists and locals, from live music-lovers to party-goers, until the early hours of the morning.

Also planning to serve Portuguese petiscos and welcoming various events, the new management’s goal is clear: to return!

Author: Inside Carvoeiro

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