Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Colin Bowden's Memories

Musicians' recollections of Cyril Davies
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Colin Bowden was born in Hampstead Heath, London in 1932 and lives in Suffolk. He remembers at the age of ten seeing through a village hall window a drummer performing live and feeling that he had discovered Eldorado! Some years later, after conscription service with the RAF he renovated an old drum kit which he had bought from a workmate who was cleaning out an attic.

It was late 1952. Colin was collecting Spike Jones records until he heard "Oh, Didn't He Ramble?" and that 78rpm disc by Jelly Roll Morton put him firmly on the jazz trail. Over the years main influences have been Baby Dodds, Big Sid Catlett and Art Blakey along with all the others. He is generally regarded as the finest New Orleans drummer in Europe.

Colin was invited to be part of the 40th Anniversary tour of Chris Barber's Jazz Band. Colin played in this band's concert as it was some 40 years before. Although I believe that Colin then wasn't a member of the band he certainly must have played with them as a substitute. In the sixties and seventies Colin was the permanent drummer of Ken Colyer's Jazzmen.

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Email discussion, July 15, 2011

Colin Bowden (CB) - My very first vague memories of Cyril were as a banjo player with either Steve Lane or Colin Kingwell, playing gigs at the 'Fox and Goose' pub, Hanger Lane in West London.

Todd Allen (TA) - Yes, we've had a few people write to us regarding Cyril's time with Steve Lane's Southern Stompers at the Fox & Goose; we also have a few pictures of Cyril playing the banjo! He did the occasional vocal on stuff like 'Doctor Jazz' (King Oliver) and 'Frankie and Johnny' (traditional American popular song).

CB - He may have been on an Alexis Korner recorded rehearsal at a studio (Colin Pomeroy's, I think) in the Charing Cross Road but I think that was before I joined Ken Colyer in 1955.

TA - The Alexis Korner 'recorded rehearsal' you mention in the Charing Cross Road may have been for the demo of 'Sportin' Life' by Alexis, Dicky Hawdon (trumpet), Dave Stevens (piano), Colin Thompson (clarinet & soprano), and Denny Coffey (bass), as this was prior to 1955.

CB - Cyril was just a likeable guy, hell of a player. I didn't really meet up with him after that as our musical paths diverged.

There is track on a record of the rehearsal that I have never heard (or been paid for) which may have been dated. Also we did an Alexis concert at the Civic Hall Croydon South London, 19th January, 1962, Gig paid 4.00.

TA - The track you've 'never heard (or been paid for!)' was written by Billy Boy Arnold and is called 'She Fooled Me' featuring you, Alexis, Cyril, Keith Scott (piano), and Graham Beazley (?) (string bass). It was recorded at Olympic Studios, London, January 17, 1962.

As to Alexis' money managing abilities, P. 96-98 of 'Alexis Korner, The Biography' by Harry Shapiro mentions you in the following passage:

"Keith Scott was on that session and remembers: 'Colin broke a snare-drum skin and obviously couldn't continue until he had a replacement. So we stopped to enable him to go out to a local music shop, but he was virtually broke and so Alexis loaned him a cheque. When Colin went to collect the skin from the shop he found that the cheque had bounced.' It was the first of many stories involving Alexis and money: creative accounting and trying to make ends meet as a band leader."

The concert at the Civic Hall Croydon was covered by the Jazz News and they published the first review of a Blues Inc. gig a month later. "The review itself by Alexis' champion Peter Clayton and headlined 'From Chicago to Croydon' may have been literally a world exclusive - the first coverage of a white R&B show."

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