Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Dave Gelly's Memories

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It's hard to imagine now, but in 1963 it was possible to catch a show at a venue like 'The Manor House' (London) where, if you were lucky, you were witness to the legendary 'Blues By Six' plus 'The Rolling Stones'…and tickets were 4 shillings!

Like Cyril Davies, 'Blues By Six' have been unduly neglected by musical historians; a very important link in the Blues/Rock explosion that would take the West by storm they have been forgotten; there are no pictures, recordings, gig info, etc. This electric blues band is inextricably linked to the Cyril story by virtue of the players involved and their part in Cyril's adventures, musical and otherwise.

We would like to thank Mr. Dave Gelly for sharing some memories with us from his days with Blues By Six…much appreciated! (May 27, 2008)

"A working jazz musician and award-winning writer, Dave Gelly has been part of the British jazz scene for four decades, and remains as involved as ever in its changing fortunes. He plays gigs at clubs and festivals around the UK, teaches at the annual Dordogne Jazz Summer School in France, writes reviews and articles in The Observer, broadcasts from time to time and has written a number of books"

... Blues By Six etc. It's a long time ago, but here goes.

I inherited the gig from Art Themen, who is still my friend - indeed, now my oldest friend. We had been at Cambridge together, and he was then a junior medical intern at St Mary's Hospital. He became a distinguished consultant surgeon, is now retired and busy pursuing his other career as a jazz musician. He originally got into Alexis Korner's orbit through Dick Heckstall-Smith. At the time, there weren't all that many competent tenor saxophone players around with any interest in the kind of thing that Alex was up to - Art, Dick, me, Steve Gregory, Jim Jewell, and maybe a couple of others.

Anyway, I joined the band some time in 1962. It consisted of Brian Knight, Keith Scott, Geoff Bradford, Andy Hoogenboom, Charlie Watts and me. We played almost exclusively around the London area - Studio 51; the Marquee; the Thames Hotel, Richmond; the Ricky-Tick circuit; Eel Pie Island; the Manor House; that nameless place that was just called the 'Ealing Club', and various others that I've forgotten.

We followed the same trail as the early Rolling Stones. When Charlie first joined them he managed to play in both bands for a week or so. The crunch came on the night when the two bands played a double-header at the Manor House and he was stuck up there, without a break, for hours on end. That's when he left us. I was sorry, because he was a jazz lover and we always had a lot to talk about. His replacement was called Derek Manfredi, who played the best eight-in-a-bar shuffle this side of Louis Jordan's Tympany Five. It wasn't exactly what Brian Knight had in mind, but I loved it.

Charlie, at that time, was working in a design studio and living in a place so small that there wasn't room for both him and his drums. They were lodged in the left-luggage office at Leicester Square underground station and Charlie kept the ticket carefully tucked away on his person. Whenever we had a gig outside the West End, the van had to go via Leicester Square to pick them up. The office was closed years ago, but I know where it was, because I often helped Charlie drag the drum cases up the stairs.

Cyril Davies, as you probably know, was a panel beater by trade. (This was in the days when cars were robustly made out of sheet steel. If you took a hammer to the dents in a modern car it would probably fall apart.) In fact, he was the über panel beater of a small firm in West London, and Brian Knight was his unter panel beater. They sometimes got drunk together and Brian would report the after-effects at the next gig: 'Me an Cyril, we couldn't pick up the 'ammers the next morning. That fuckin' noise goes right through yer.'

I never actually played with Cyril, although I heard a lot of him. He didn't like saxophones as a species, but made a grudging exception in the case of Dick Heckstall-Smith.

Towards the end of my time with Blues By Six, I managed to row my friend Paul Zec into the band, playing alto. So there were now two saxophones - making it Blues By Seven, strictly speaking, I suppose. We worked up harmonies and unison riffs and various other alien, Kansas City-type tricks, which went nicely with Manfredi's shuffle but probably grated on Brian more than somewhat. He was a Chicago blues purist the way Ken Colyer was a New Orleans jazz purist.

For me, the end came when I got recruited into the pit band for the London run of Cambridge Circus, the 1963 Footlights show starring the young John Cleese and several future Pythons. It was six nights a week plus Saturday matinee, so that put paid to anything else for a while. I was working as a teacher at the time, and by the end I was completely knackered. But I had made enough money to take myself off to the States for a couple of months in the summer. When I came back I got absorbed into the London jazz scene, although I still got to play some blues from time to time - with Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup, Johnny Shines, Champion Jack Dupree and various others. And I occasionally wrote band arrangements for people like Eric Burden and Manfred Mann.

I'm afraid I don't have any pix or other memorabilia of Blues By Six. There are a few bits & pieces in the book 'London Live' (Balafon Books, 1999), which also contains my story about Charlie's drums in the left-luggage office. I suppose people used to take pictures of us, but I can't recall who or where or when.

It's strange, but I don't recall the titles of many of the things we used to play. They've all sort of melted down into a kind of blues soup in my mind. We certainly played 'I Love The Way You Walk' (if that's the title), and 'Chicago Calling' - and 'Mojo', of course.

Copyright Dave Gelly. All rights reserved.

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