Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Cyril Davies's boyhood home in Sunny Willowbank

The following paragraphs are essentially a verbatim representation of information presented to me by the ever helpful Paul Graham, Clerk of the Denham Parish Council, regarding Denhamís past and present. Mr. Grahamís tireless research efforts and abilities have given validity to the following information and blown my pre(mis)conceptions out of the water.

The name Denham is Saxon in Origin, meaning settlement in the valley. Denham Parish lies in the valley of the River Colne, on the eastern border of Buckinghamshire, England. It is located just north west of Uxbridge, at junction 1 of the M40. It borders Hillingdon, Hertfordshire, Chalfont St Peter, Gerrards Cross, Fulmer and Iver, covering 4,033 acres.

The whole area of South Bucks contains some of the most expensive real estate in Britain. The Parish of Denham is not exceptional in that regard. Over the years the area has provided residence for a cluster of film stars and media folk. This is because the famous Denham Film Studios were built here (in Denham Green) in the 1930s by Alexander Korda. Those studios are no longer in existence, but Pinewood Studios are two miles away in neighbouring Iver Heath, and Rank Film Laboratories are still here. This is why Sir John Mills and Hayley Mills, Roger Moore, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Patrick Mower, Paul Daniels, and other artists lived here.

The total population of about 7,000 is divided among six communities within this parish; each consisting of residential neighbourhoods with scattered fields, woods and farms. It was at 15 Hawthorn Drive, in sunny Willowbank, that Cyril Davies was born on the 23rd day of January, 1932.

About 1925 an estate of bungalows was developed on Blackhedge, the flat meadowland between two arms of the River Colne which rejoin at High Bridge. Called Willowbank village, it was to be rural in atmosphere with riverside walks, fishing, boating, a recreation ground and a village hall for social functions. Today with 400 inhabitants, the estate has matured into a neighbourhood of character justly proud of its neat gardens and the charm of the riverside walk running around the island.

Cyrilís father, William Albert Davies, was a general labourer. He was married to Margaret Mary (Jones) and had already one son, Glyn, at the time of Cyrilís birth. A 1933 Street Directory for Willowbank indicated a D. T. Jones living at St Mildredís, 15 Hawthorn Drive. It seems likely that D. T. Jones was Cyrilís maternal grandmother and that Cyrilís parents had started off their married life with Mrs. Daviesí parents. Both the Davies and Jones surnames are Welsh in origin, although it has not been confirmed that the families came from there.

A clue to the family lineage may be found in a telling passage from the trailblazing British saxophone legend, Dick Heckstall-Smith. Dick had been a member of the seminal Blues Incorporated for about two weeks when he came to a realization regarding Cyrilís underlying anger: At first I thought it was just me he disliked, but it wasnít. I reasoned that it couldnít be that, because he and I got on well straight away, partly by being drunk together on gigs, and partly because he was a Welshman who had been brought up in England, while I was an Englishman brought up in Wales. Then I thought maybe it was my playing, but it wasnít that either. He liked my playing Ė he just didnít like what it was played on! Another observation made by Paul Graham may provide the most karmic evidence, You may know that the harp is the national musical instrument of Wales ... rather nice considering the mouth organís nickname of harp.

Mr Charles Allen of Willowbank remembers Cyril as a teenage companion. In the early 1940ís Cyril lived with his parents, grandmother and older brother. Mr. Allen remembers himself and the Daviesí boys fishing and playing on the nearby canal and river, particularly the boat on the canal which they mucked about with. I remember both Cyril and his elder brother, Glyn. Both played guitar at home. B-RE's section on Cyril indicated that as a child he learned to play banjo and ukulele). Cyril always seemed quite a happy person to me but I did not go to school with him. I was born in December, 1930, so the nearly two year difference in age meant we soon moved apart. I remember his grandmother who lived at No. 15 with the family was the local fortune teller. In fact my wife remembers going to have her fortune told. I donít think the family were hard up. It (Willowbank) is much different now.

Snow thawing suddenly after a harsh winter and the collapse of a weir at Denham initiated a disaster level flood in 1947. Begining one morning on the north side, the floodwaters reached their peak by midnight when there was 3 Ė 4 feet of water along Hawthorne Drive. Mr. Allen continues, The Davies bungalow was one of the flood victims. We used Cyrilís boat next morning to help some of the residents.

After leaving school, Cyril worked for the now world famous Martin-Baker Ltd. With headquarters at its original site in Denham, Martin-Baker is the world's longest established and most experienced manufacturer of ejection seats and related equipment to safeguard the aviator throughout the escape, survival, location and recovery phases. The company was founded as an aircraft manufacturer in 1934 by James Martin (later Sir James Martin) and Captain Valentine Baker.

Contact with Cyril was lost soon after when Mr. Allen went in the RAF in 1949. Sadly, the original 15 Hawthorn Drive no longer exists. It was demolished about 1996 and new owners have lived in a replacement since then. The old gentleman who lived there previously, widower Mr. Leslie J Orton, a journalist, died in about 1996. He was well known to local people and had lived at 15 Hawthorn Drive in adult life and at number 11 (two doors away) with his parents when a child. He would have lived there in 1932 and would probably have been a little older than Cyril.

Daviesí story pulls back the drapery to the vision of a time that has passed us by. It may please his ghost to know that his story will also set the boundary to this vision and determine where what we see and hear begins and ends.

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
Cyril's Recordings
The background to the developing London blues scene
UK Blues links
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