Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Woke up this morning…part two

I’ve delayed this section for so long now that, before you read any further, I suggest that you go back to Woke up this morning…part 1 to get up to speed! All done? OK. Now read on –

Having renewed my friendship with Paul Marsden since writing part one, I can tell you that the recording of black Southern convicts that had such an impact on us was Angola Prisoner’s Blues. We were completely blown away by Robert Pete Williams and Hogman Maxey, and began to realise that the blues was very much a living thing. Hitherto I think we had looked on it as form of music that had run its course and had been absorbed into jazz – after all, most of the stuff that we had been listening too so far was from the twenties and thirties. Yet here was the absolute and undeniable real thing and the recordings were made between 1952 and 1960! Here's Robert Pete Williams performing 'Old Girl at my Door' from a 1971 documentary film about him.

When Muff and I met Max Emmons a few years later we were much taken with the fact that he could (and in fact still can) perform a version of ‘Stagolee’ that was strongly influenced by Hogman Maxey. It was to become a featured solo in Jugular Vein performances.

Muff was by now working for BEA and as a consequence was able to get cheap flights. He would frequently fly up to Glasgow, where he had discovered a second hand record store that he thought worth the 700 or so miles round trip on his day off. We thought so too when he came back with treasures like a Blind Lemon Jefferson collection or Preachers and Congregations. We were (and remain) avowed atheists, but found the religious material deeply fascinating. It seemed to shed some light on the passion that we found in much black music, and the narrow divide between the sacred and the secular.

By the beginning of 1962 Muff, Paul and I were all working for a living and were beginning to attend jazz gigs and folk clubs. The blues strayed into both of these areas, with the folkies tending to favour the original country blues whilst the jazzers were showing interest in a more recent phenomenon – electric blues. The brief Trad boom was drawing to a close and the hipper youths were beginning to gravitate towards modern jazz. This divide was reflected in clothing. The traddies still tended to favour ‘rave’ gear – tight jeans, baggy sweaters and eccentric headgear, any or all of which could be decorated with the CND symbol, whilst those who favoured modern jazz (or ‘mods’, as they were called) went for a much sharper look -Italianate suits and chisel toed shoes with big heels. Those of us that strayed into both camps tended to wear denim shirts with button down collars over thin black roll necks, cord or denim jeans, and donkey jackets, reefer jackets or duffle coats. The CND symbol was present in the more discreet form of a lapel badge (as opposed to the 'whitewash on a bowler hat' with optional arrow piercing' approach of some of the traddies).

These prototype mods already tended to favour black music, particularly soul jazz (not to be confused with the soul and Tamla music scene that was to emerge a year or so later). They also favoured what was beginning to be referred to as Rhythm and Blues or ‘R and B’. The Pye record company was shrewd enough to pick up on this trend and started its own R and B label which issued many great albums and singles by artists such as Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. We were immediately grabbed by Muddy Waters, and totally blown away by Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960 when it was released here. Here's a clip from that performance.

I abandoned my nylon strung guitar in favour of a cello-bodied model with steel strings that to my mind looked a lot like the one that Muddy was playing in the sleeve photo. It was at this time that I first got into blues harmonica seriously, and heard James Cotton, Sonny Boy Williamson and the great Little Walter. Here are some clips - first James Cotton performing 'Rocket 88' -

and here's Sonny Boy Williamson. I'm pretty sure that this clip was recorded at The Fairfield Hall, Croydon in 1964, during one of the American Folk Blues tours organised in this country by Giorgio Gomelsky, first manager of The Rolling Stones.If this is the case then I was in the audience!

Finally here's Little Walter playing a classic harmonica blues that will be familiar to anyone who listened regularly to John Peel's radio show -

I bought a Hohner diatonic harp (or ‘gob iron’ as it was charmingly named) and had soon added to the number of things that I did which irritated my father. As I was flatly forbidden to play the thing at home I took to carrying it with me wherever I went, and pulling it out for a quick tootle whenever I had a moment. I could pick out simple tunes without too much problem but, try as I might, I just couldn’t make that wonderful blues noise…

Then we got wind of a new place in Ealing and the world tilted on its axis.

I don’t remember how we found out about The Ealing Club. It might have been an ad in Melody Maker or a review in Jazz News, or it might have been word of mouth from one of our hipper acquaintances, but however it happened we were all eager to go and check it out at the first opportunity. ‘We’ was the usual suspects – Muff, Paul and myself plus one Ian Fenwick (known as ‘Fen’), who was an ex-school friend of mine who wasn’t quite such a music nut as the rest of us but did share our sense of humour. He was also something of a mechanical whizz, as well as having been my fellow enthusiast in the manufacture of a variety of amateur explosives and model aeroplanes a few years previously. Fen was the proud owner of an ancient car and what’s more was happy to drive us all down the Uxbridge Road to Ealing Broadway most Saturday nights for many months to come (There was only one other thing that competed for our Saturday night affections at this time and that was a television programme called That Was the Week That Was - or TW3 as it soon became known. I can’t remember another TV programme that ever held such sway over teenagers as to actually keep them in on a Saturday night, but it was required viewing and as well as being satirical and irreverent, also had a damn fine house band.)

The Ealing Club was located beneath an ABC (Aerated Bread Company) tea rooms, opposite Ealing Broadway Station. It was a most unpromising location for what was to become the birthplace of British Rock and I can remember being vaguely dismayed to think that some English people were going to attempt to recreate something as quintessentially American as THE BLUES in a place as quintessentially English as a tearoom! However, my fears were soon put to rest as we descended into the vaulted cellar and shoved our way to the bar through the heaving, sweaty, Twisting hordes as Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated belted out “I’ll Put a Tiger in Your Tank” at what seemed then to be an earth-shattering volume. It was…fantastic!

I can’t remember what the exact line-up was that night, other than Alexis (known as ‘The Benevolent Gaucho’ because of his Zapata moustache and Mediterranean complexion combined with a more or less permanent amiable grin) on guitar and vocals and Cyril (Squirrel) Davies on harmonica and vocals, but over the coming months we were to see a whole hoard of soon-to-be legendary musicians grace that dank stage. We saw drummers Charlie Watts and Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith (christened ‘The Benevolent Egg’ by us because of his bald head and to match Alexis’ moniker) and organist/saxophonist Graham Bond. Once or twice we saw Chris Barber's (see It's Trad, dad) long-time trumpeter Pat Halcox making an unlikely but excellent appearance with the group. A certain Brian Jones was also to be seen occasionally, sitting in with the band on slide guitar. Here's a taste of Alexis and Co in full flight, taken from a Studio recording from 1962 (although it purported to be from the Marquee Club, where the band had also acquired a residency)

and heres another from the same album -

In fact, a whole roster of the great and the good (or should that be ‘bad’) of the British rock scene passed through that club, including Paul Jones, Eric Clapton, Eric Burdon and Rod Stewart but I can’t honestly say that I remember seeing them. There were, however, two guys that we saw on a regular basis who would often take to the stage during the interval break. They were Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It has to be said that at first, the audiences could hardly contain their indifference for these putative Rolling Stones, but as the weeks went by they began to command more attention. Soon they were being invited up to sit in with the band. I was ostentatiously fiddling with my ever-present harmonica during one interval break when I felt a tap on the shoulder. I looked round to see Mr Jagger, who asked me if he could borrow the gob iron as he was going to sit in with the band in the second set. (I think that Cyril must have left the band by this time as I’m sure that Mick wouldn’t have had the brass neck to play blues harp with Cyril on the same stage.) I duly handed over the harmonica – and that was the last I saw of it. I didn’t manage to connect with him after the set had finished and I never saw him at the Ealing Club again. So – if you’re reading this Mick – please can I have my harmonica back? I think it was an ‘A’.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A slight change of plan...

The Tony Oreshko Trio

Left to right: Tony Oreshko, James Goodwin, Doug Kyle

The next phase of autobiographical burblings has been temporarily postponed due to unforeseen circumstances. I was due to deal with the second blues phase next (for the first phase see Woke up this morning... ) but my newly rediscovered buddy, Paul, whom I have been checking details and confirming dates with, has just done his knee a severe mischief and is, at the time of writing, in hospital. As a result I shall pick up the story again in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I went to see my old friend Tony Oreshko playing with his new trio the other night and thoroughly enjoyed both sets. I have known Tony for about ten years now and had the pleasure of recording him when he was playing regularly with fellow guitarist Dave Lunnis under the name of Boulevard Django. The new trio features James Goodwin on second guitar(s) and luthier Doug Kyle on double bass. Tony is a fine musician whose starting point is the influence of Django Rheinhardt, but his personal musical tastes are much wider than than the world of gypsy jazz and this is reflected in his playing. His formidable technique is deployed with wit and style and his solos produce a - seemingly - effortless flow of ideas. I say 'seemingly' because his is the art that conceals art and I know just how much dedication is required to achieve that kind of standard.

James Goodwin provides a solid rhythmic back drop for the unit and is also no mean soloist himself. He alternates between steel and nylon string guitars and provides a constantly changing texture to the music. Doug Kyle's double bass supplies the bedrock of the trio and his warm sound and excellent intonation give it great stability. Doug is actually better known in the South West as an instrument builder. He built three out of the four instruments used by the group (the exception being James' nylon stringed instrument). It might just be my imagination but I'm sure this gives an extra degree of cohesion to the sound.

The group perform at festivals all over Europe but can also be heard fairly frequently in the South West (all three musicians are based in Devon), and if you want to keep up with their activities you can visit Tony's web site for further details. The site has a number of MP3 soundclips of his work, playing both jazz and classical guitar. He has also written several interesting essays about some of the lesser known guitarists whom he feels should be more widely appreciated. Go and have a look. It's well worth a visit.

I'm taking a short break now, so the next posting will be in about ten days time, when you will learn why Mick Jagger still owes me a harmonica!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Folk me sideways part 2

Folk at the Angel, 1962. The guitarist on the left is Voltarol (long before he needed to use it). The guitarist on the right is Paul Marsden

It occurred to me when I was jotting down some notes for this posting that war toys do not necessarily lead to jingoistic bellicosity. The general ‘p.c.’ position is that if you give children guns to play with then they will inevitably lean towards violence as they grow up. As a child I was the proud possessor of hundreds of toy soldiers, tanks and artillery, as well as model war planes and a toy fort. With my younger brother, G the D, we staged endless elaborate battles that would last for hours at a time, yet when I hit fifteen I joined the CND and adopted a pacifistic stance and when G the D hit fifteen he put a brick through the window of an army recruiting office. (With hindsight he agrees that this was not the most apposite way to protest against violence but it had seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Meanwhile, back at the Hayes Young Socialists, I had been delighted to learn of the impending Hayes and Harlington Centre 42 Festival of the Arts. Of particular interest to me was the array of folk musicians, who were to perform in some of the local pubs including The Angel at Hayes End, which was just within walking distance for me. I saw Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, A.L. (Bert) Lloyd, The Haverim Trio and Bob Davenport all in the course of one week. Better still, because I was running the door it cost me nothing, a fact which set me thinking…

Here’s McColl and Seeger performing ‘Van Deimen’s Land.

McColl and Seeger were hugely influential and dominated the folk music scene at this time. Their series of ‘Radio Ballads’ which began in 1958 had had a great impact, although McColl’s insistence that people should only perform songs relevant to their own culture was ultimately to have a fairly destructive effect on the clubs. It’s interesting that, at the time, we thought MacColl to be far more ‘authentic’ a performer than Bert Lloyd, not knowing that he was actually an actor called James Miller who had reinvented himself and had taken up song writing. Bert, who we thought to be far more of a middle class figure, had actually been a sheep shearer in Australia and had worked aboard whalers. Here he is revisiting his shearing days…

And here he is singing ‘Two Magicians’, a song which was subsequently to become a much requested part of Martin Carthy’s repertoire.

Bob Davenport is an ex-pat Geordie who has lived for many years in north London but has always mostly sung material from the North East. There seems to be very little information about him on the web and hardly any performances. I did find this however, which I have posted before as an example of the singer Lal Waterson (see Little Jazz Birds and other related species). Bob’s is (fairly obviously) the second voice. Contrary to the notes that accompany the clip I’m pretty sure that Bob is not playing guitar as I saw him many times and he always performed a Capella when not performing with his band, The Rakes.

As for the The Haverim Trio, they were three Jewish musicians who performed traditional Jewish songs and had a distinctly Klezmerish feel to their playing. Alas, I can find no reference to them on line.

When the Festival finished it left a bit of a gap in our lives and we soon started an informal gathering at The Angel once a week, where we would take it in turns to get up and perform songs.(see photograph at top of page. See also 5th paragraph of It's trad dad) ‘We’ was my friend Paul and I, along with various other CNDers, Young Socialists and the like. Unfortunately we (a) soon wore out our welcome and (b) rapidly became bored with our somewhat limited repertoire (which, let’s face it, probably had a lot to do with the fact that we (a)).

A plan was formulated and we decided to try and run a proper folk club. We eventually found premises at The Hillingdon Arms, named the enterprise ‘The Peasants Folk Club’ and booked our first act. I can’t now remember who actually performed there on the first night, but Paul and I were the resident ‘artists’ and the usual suspects from The Angel reprised their performances, this time under the grand heading of ‘floor singers’. I do know that during its relatively brief life, the club was host to Bob Davenport, The Friends of Old Timey Music, The Haverim Trio, as well as Dave Cousins and Tony Hooper -later the basis of The Strawberry Hill Boys who in turn became The Strawbs. A ‘name’ act appeared once a month and the rest of the time it was ‘singer’s night’.

We had heard, liked and got the contact details of Bob Davenport and The Haverim Trio during the Centre 42 week. I don’t remember how we located the other acts but it could well have been through the Melody Maker Folk Forum. As it happened, The Friends of Old Timey Music were locally based. At the time the group consisted of husband and wife Tam and Di Murrel plus one Bill Boot on mandolin. Di sang lead and Tam played guitar - and also banjo, if my memory serves me. They played – as the name implies – American ‘old timey’ music. The Murrels lived on a narrow boat on the Grand Union canal at nearby Cowley. (Whilst I was working on this posting I used the web to track down the Murrels. They have not made music for many years but retained their interest in canal life. They built up and ran a fleet of canal craft, subsequently selling up and moving their business to France, where they now spend much of their time, running instructional courses in canal boat handling, as well as marketing a range of ‘how to’ books and DVDs. You can find them at http://web.mac.com/tamanddi/iWeb/bargehandling.com/T%20%26%20D.Murrell%27s%20bargehandling.com.html).

‘The Peasants’ didn’t run for very long but it became the model for many other music club ventures. Once I’d got to grips with the ‘mountain and Mohamed’ principle there was no looking back, and until very recently my default position has been – ‘is there anywhere near me where I can regularly hear the music that I want to hear? No? Then I’d better start a club or organise a concert’. These ventures have always been for pleasure and never for profit and in fact over the years they’ve cost me quite a bit of money, but I’ve never once regretted any of them. However, I have to admit that Mrs Voltarol did breathe a sigh of relief when I finally hung up my promoter’s hat.

Incidentally, the ‘Paul’ that I frequently refer to is Paul Marsden. I hadn’t been in contact with him since the early seventies but thanks to the wonder of the web we have been back in contact in recent weeks. These days he is a professional website designer on the brink of retirement, whose personal web site covers (inevitably) some of the same material as this one. You can find him here. Look under 'Paul who?' for music stuff.

In the next posting I'm going to double back on the story and pick up the thread of the Blues.