Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

The Cyril Davies R&B All Stars - Part Two

With the All-Stars packing in crowds at the clubs, both the Decca and Pye labels expressed interest in signing the band to a record contract. "They auditioned for Decca after A&R man Tony Meehan heard Bernie and Nicky's astonishing interplay on 'Blue Feeling' he was shouting 'sign here! sign here!' - but Cyril went with Pye because they had there own R&B label." - Pete Frame

In mid February, the music press reported that Davies had chosen Pye because the label was introducing a new subsidiary focusing on R&B. (Soon Pye also became the U.K. outlet for Chess Records.)

A session was arranged for the 27th February, 1963, with Peter Knight Jr. as producer. The group recorded two Davies originals for their first single, "Country Line Special" and "Chicago Calling," at Pye's Marble Arch Studio. The A-side was a hot, up-tempo stage favorite that took 13 takes to perfect. Released to rave reviews a couple of months later, Record Mirror noted, "From the Marquee's top man comes a wailing, fast tempo R&B number with a catchy flavor and genuine blues feel about it. It's fast and ferocious with an extremely commercial quality about it. It's the sort of thing to go really wild to - we reckon it'll be a hit of some sort. Very well performed too we might add."

"(Country Line Special) took until the thirteen take to capture the excitement that was felt in the live performances. I felt that the stuffiness of the studio situation was holding us back, so by the last take, after the guitar solo, I did a big roll round the kit and pushed the whole thing forward right to breaking point!" - Carlo

Disc weekly commented, "Cyril Davies leads his All-Stars down the 'Country Line Special' as if he'd been born in the rhythm 'n' blues country instead of Denham, England. There's a lonely, haunting quality about this side which could make it a very big seller indeed."

Ray Davies, the Kinks singer (now turned solo artist) reveals the five records that more than any others have shaped his career… "The record that kick-started The Kinks... 'Country Line Special', Cyril Davies and His Rhythm And Blues All-Stars (1963)…I did buy that one, and it's one of the greatest records of its type ever made. It's a seminal English R'n'B track played brilliantly. I saw the band when I was at Hornsey Art School in 1962, and my girlfriend booked all the bands that played. - 'Soundtrack of My Life' http://observer.guardian.co.uk/omm/story/0,,1689118,00.html

Despite these glowing reviews, the release did not catch on with listeners as well as predicted and in May 1963, the All-Stars suffered an interruption when Nicky Hopkins became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. Keith Scott, who had left Blues Incorporated and was then a member of Blues by Six (another popular club attraction led by vocalist / harpist Brian Knight, who had worked for Davies at his auto body shop) replaced him. On May 22, the All-Stars landed their first TV appearance on the Six-Twenty-five Show. Later that month, they became the set band for a new television show, Hullabaloo, Britain's first folk music series. The All-Stars appeared on five episodes filmed on May 30 and June 8, 15, 22 and 29. They continued their media campaign into June, with appearances on the TV show Thank Your Luck Stars and the BBC radio show Saturday Club.

However all was not well with the group. "We started off as a cooperative, but the Cyril got a bit bossy. We complained - and he said, "I've got you all covered". He lined up guys to replace us if we got uppity. We couldn't cope with that sort of atmosphere - so, one by one, we left." - Carlo

Ricky Brown left to rejoin Lord Sutch and the Savages in June, and Carlo Little rejoined him shortly thereafter. "Carlo was not entirely happy with Cyril's insistence to play purist Blues all the time and suggested some changes to make the sound slightly more up-beat. After a row with Cyril about this he was sacked, and returned to The Savages." - G. Rawlins. Bernie Watson also left to join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.

Cliff Barton, Mickey Waller, and Geoff Bradford replaced Brown, Little and Watson, respectively, giving the group a total of four new members in the space of only a few months. Baldry remembers that Jimmy Page returned to the band very briefly after Watson's departure; however, when Page's mother insisted that he continue his studies they brought in Geoff Bradford instead. Bradford had also been a member of Blues By Six and had briefly attended rehearsals for the Rolling Stones, but didn't join them because they were headed in a Chuck Berry - flavoured direction rather than for the straight Chicago Blues that he preferred.

Geoff Bradford has stated, "Cyril had decided to form his own band, which he did by simply using the Savages who had been backing Screaming Lord Sutch. I first heard them in a basement club somewhere near Carnaby Street…and was knocked out - this was a real blues band! The power came from the drums of Carlo Little, and the brilliant piano playing of Nicky Hopkins held it all together. However, I thought 'why the hell didn't Cyril ask me in on guitar?' - the call came a couple of months later."

Continuing to gig, the new All-Stars line-up took a slot on the first pop all-nighter on July 5 at Alexandra Palace, London. They shared the bill with Gene Vincent, Craig Douglas, Shane Fenton and the Fentones, The John Barry Seven, Screaming Lord Sutch, the Barron Knights and others. When questioned about taking part in a pop package tour, Davies told Melody Maker, "On pop tours I shall still play the same way - I can't play any other. You have to try to bend the public, not the music."

On August 1, 1963, the Beatles, at the Playhouse Theatre in Manchester, recorded editions nos. 11 and 12 in their radio series 'Pop Go the Beatles'. Their guests were Cyril Davies' R&B All-Stars featuring Long John Baldry. Broadcast on August 27th and September 3rd of the same year, several of this day's recordings are included on the 1994 Beatles double-CD 'Live at the BBC'…could the BBC have some unreleased recordings of Cyril & Co.?

Another interesting gig a few days later was the 1963 National Jazz and Blues Festival http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/richmond63.html at the Richmond Athletic Grounds, Richmond, Surrey, on August 10-11th 1963. "The festival is still known as the National Jazz festival and the emphasis is definitely on British Jazz, as opposed to overseas acts. This was the first appearance at the festival by the Rolling Stones, who were still in not well known outside of London at the time." The billing is listed as follows:


  • CHRIS BARBER
  • ACKER BILK
  • BLUE NOTE JAZZ BAND
  • CYRIL DAVIS
  • JOE HARRIOT QUINTET
  • TUBBY HAYES QUINTET
  • FRANK HOLDER
  • GINGER JOHNSONS AFRICAN DRUMS
  • DIL JONES
  • TERRY LIGHTFOOT
  • LONG JOHN BALDRY
  • HUMPHREY LYTTELTON
  • THE NIGHTSHIFT
  • THE ROLLING STONES
  • RUSTIX JUMPET
  • THE VELVETTS
  • THE VILLAGE
  • ALEX WELSH & HIS BAND
  • JOHN WILLIAMS BIG BAND

On August 11, the group appeared, "The R&B tent played to capacity business through most of the festival," Melody Maker reported, "and the Cyril Davies All-Stars with the Velvettes and Long John Baldry created as much excitement as anyone throughout the two days."

Also during the month of August, the All-Stars recorded 'Preachin' the Blues' and Leadbelly's 'Sweet Mary' as a single. 'Sweet Mary' included backing vocals by Madeline Bell and Alex Bradford. Record Mirror gave Davies a glowing review: "The harmonica sound on the latest from the British R&B king is a fast paced shouter with loads of good vocal work and a more commercial approach than on his last disc." August was a busy month as the band also appeared in two pop package concerts held on boats, along with Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and others.

However, the All-Stars - with Johnny Parker now replacing pianist Keith Scott and Bob Wackett replacing drummer Mickey Waller - found themselves having to progressively accommodate Davies, who had begun to suffer from pleurisy, an inflammation and irritation of the pleura (the thin, two layered membrane that encloses the lung and lines the inside of the chest). Drinking excessively to ease the pain, Davies continued his demanding though now curtailed schedule rather than following the advice of doctors to simply rest.

Geoff Bradford told Pete Frame, "one night we had a gig at Eel Pie Island and this Irish barmaid said to me: 'Your man's got death sitting on his shoulders'…I can see her saying it now. It sent chills through my whole body. He died not long after. I'll never forget him; he was very kind to me…we had great times together."

Nicky Hopkins had once heard a crash from Cyril's dressing room at the Marquee, and on going to investigate he found Cyril standing there with his fist smashed through a mirror and this look, "His eyes were really tight-shut, everything, tense in his face. You couldn't have moved him. He looked like a statue. You could see the pain in his face - not physical, but mental pain...he was built like a tank which was why I could never believe...he'd be the last person on earth you'd think would die." - From an interview with 'NME', 1974.

Cyril was definitely aiming to be a working class hero; it was always his intensity that struck you."Near the end he went yellow and had to walk with a stick. He passed away on January 7, 1964, aged 31 - endocarditis was the recorded cause."

Web site navigation
Introduction: Cyril Who?
Cyril's Denham Home
Cyril and Leadbelly
With Alexis at The Roundhouse
Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated
Cyril Davies' R&B All Stars
Musicians' recollections of Cyril Davies
Cyril's Recordings
The background to the developing London blues scene
UK Blues links
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