Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Guestbook - email us your memories and photos.

May 26, 2006 - It would please me to see your honest opinions here as well as any additional information you might supply. Many thanks. Todd

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  • December 11, 2009 - Jim McCarty - France - Hi Todd - It's probably all been said about Cyril Davies, but here goes…it was Paul Samwell-Smith who turned me on to Cyril Davies - it must have been 1963(?), we went to a show near Clapham Common and thought it was great, as he had a rock band, the ex-Savages, backing him. "Country Line Special" was a monster!! They were all fine musicians, and Paul copied the bass player, Ricky Fenson (Brown) by sitting on a stool for some of our shows! I'm sure he got the bass crescendos we used to do from him also.

    We managed to get a gig supporting Cyril at Eel Pie Island, which happened to be the first Yardbirds show. When we finished our short set, Cyril asked Keith Relf the name of the band, and he said "the Yardbirds". It was the first time that I'd heard the name.

    Cyril must have been impressed, as he asked us to do one of his own shows that he couldn't play in Harrow. It happened to be the same pub where the Who started (ed. - Railway Hotel, Wealdstone, Middlesex). Never did see Blues Inc. - but saw Manfred at the Ealing Club, and funnily enough my next e-mail is from Tom McGuiness! Best Wishes. www.jimmccarty.co.uk/ , www.theyardbirds.com .

  • December 6, 2009 - Ian McKenzie - Southwest, UK - Yes, I did see Cyril Davis at the Roundhouse, but it was at a time when he was a twelve string guitar maestro, before the harp took him over (1957/8?). I remember it very well as I had never, until then, heard a 12 string, in the flesh, so to speak. The sound of Leadbelly on record was powerful, and I had heard that, but the live sound from Cyril's guitar was just superb. I remember that he played 'Salty Dog', which I don't thinks he recorded and it (as they say these days) blew me away. It affected me to the extent that although I was playing a six string at the time, a developed a desire for a 12-string that (about 10 years later!) I was able to satisfy; still play one occasionally - San Francisco Bay blues on my myspace site (www.myspace.com/ianmckenzieuk) is a 12 string piece. I do remember that Cyril played a duet with someone too, that may have been Alexis Korner and I think a guy called Diz Dizley was there too. He was a Django buff and was phenomenally good.

    Hope this helps, if you enjoy blues I have a blues radio programme webcast from www.phonic.fm, every other Wednesday as 6pm British time (1pm Eastern) (next 16th December). Check out www.bluesinthesouth.com for another of my projects and www.broonzy.com for my 'tribute' site. Best wishes

  • December 1, 2009 - Albert Lee - California, USA - Thanks for you email. I regret to say that I didn't know Cyril. I did see him once, it may have been at the Marquee club but our paths never crossed. From 64-68 I played with Chris Farlowe. Our home bass was the Flamingo club which was more jazz and r and b. As you probably know, the Marquee was more rock and blues. He certainly attracted a lot of followers in those days and was a catalyst for what was to become the great British blues explosion. Sorry I can't be of more help…all the best. http://www.albertlee.co.uk , http://www.albertleeandhogansheroes.com , http://www.billwyman.com/site/rhythm_kings .

  • December 1, 2009 - Antion Meredith - Hawaii, USA - Well, I did see them several times. As you probably know I played (as Vic Briggs) with Ricky (Brown) and Micky (Waller) with Brian Auger. I didn't know that Micky played with Cyril; I always thought of Carlo Little as being his main drummer.

    They were a very good band, very tight. I had seen all the musicians before when they were with Dave Sutch. I had an insight today as to why all those excellent musicians chose to play with Dave (apart from the fact that he was always working). Dave, as you have probably heard was singularly talent-less as a singer. But the Brit music scene of that time was so insipid (pre Beatles) that, in order to make a living one had to play commercial pap. Since everyone came to see Dave for the show (and definitely not for his singing!!), he could get away with playing any kind of music he liked. And so he always played some pretty strong R&R and R&B leaning stuff.

    When Cyril came along offering the chance to play straight blues - they all up and left Dave. I doubt the money was as good but I think they were looking for musical integrity - anyway, that's my take. Rick Brown, who was actually there, may have a different story. If you speak to him, BTW, please give him my best regards.

    I wish I could give you a lot of insight into Cyril and his playing but I did not know him and don't remember very well any of the songs that he sang. One thing I will tell you, he left Alexis in the dust. http://www.antionmusic.com/home.html

  • December 1, 2009 - Peter Knight Jr. - London, UK - I'm delighted you chose to contact me but, as you know, anyone who lived through the sixties is allowed the memory lapses.

    In 1963, I was a young A&R man at Pye Records producing pop records, mainly covers of American .hits. Our head of A&R Alan Freeman (not Fluff) asked me to check out Cyril's band and to put them in the studios. I was very much into the R&B of those days so when I saw them at the Marquee I was somewhat smitten.

    We went to the Pye studios and the first thing that impressed me was Cyril's old brief case which was filled with harps all in different keys. He told me he was a devotee of Sonny Boy Williamson (the second). Then I realised how self-assured he was, quietly confident but with a modicum of modesty.

    So, we were ready to record "Country Line Special" My job was really very simple and that was to capture the live sound in the studio into the recording booth. I'm sure the engineer on that session was Bob Auger who was very meticulous. As usual, the most time was getting the drum balance right and to get what Carlo was playing - he was a fantastic, energetic musician. I don't remember how many recording tracks we had to play with but that wasn't a problem as I'd been trained to produce two songs in three hours - mono. So, once we'd got the balance right, it was down to the band. I had very little say as it was Cyril who made the decisions - "no - we can do better". By now I'm watching the clock and we still had "Chicago Calling" to do - but we made it on time.

    "Preachin' The Blues" was more of the same. This time we had backing singers and I was the first to employ Madeline Bell as a backing singer in the U.K. At that time she was performing on the West End stage (I think it was in "Black Nativity"). Cyril's manager was John Martin and he insisted that I pay Madeline double scale! Being the second session with Cyril and co, it was plain sailing. The singles were never hits but every band I spoke to had the recordings and raved about them. Suddenly I had real credibility and it eased my dialogue with those bands. I was starting to have thoughts of making an album with the All-Stars, but as we know, Cyril sadly passed away. None of us knew he was so ill.

    A couple of years later, I became International Manager at Pye and became the label manager of Chess Records (among many others). Marshall Chess became my best Buddy in those days. After all these years, I still recall the toughest breakfast meeting I ever had - it was with Bo Diddley and the Duchess. It was too early in the day for them so conversation was absolutely minimal. I do hope this is useful to you…Cheers.

  • October 18, 2009 - Doug Strobel - California, USA - I love the site and am excited that I have some Cyril Davies/Alexis Korner recordings from the late 50's early 60's (Leadbelly covers and 'Rotten Break', etc.). I once saw a kind of Family Tree of British Blues with Korner as the original tree...have you got anything like that? I write for www.rarwriter.com & want to turn folks on to the roots of the British blues...they helped me to discover my culture!

  • October 8, 2009 - Pete Grant - California, USA - I really like the web site, and look forward to seeing it develop. I read the Blues Incorporated page with interest. Your take on the '62 line up is seems to infer that things were much more fluid than Dick (Heckstall-Smith) had led me to believe. One thing, he adamantly maintained that the amount of times some people sat in with the band had been greatly exaggerated. I believe he was talking primarily of Jagger and Brian Jones. He only remembered them sitting in a few times. I know that Dick's memory was not always the best, but as I say, he was adamant about this.

    One other small point, I don't think 127 was too bad an attendance for a first gig at the Marquee. It was not that big you know. Overall though, it is shaping up nicely, good thoughts as always. www.stepsons.110mb.com, www.myspace.com/stepsonsblues

  • October 6, 2009 - Alex Balmforth - UK - I was once at a party, I suppose it was in the early 1970's, George Melly was holding court and though aware of his tendency to 'play to the gallery' I overheard him say, 'Where would Martin Luther King be without Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, Cyril Davies or Ewan MacColl?' - instinctively my response was, 'What a brainless statement…' Later I was to revisit and modify my opinions.

    Chris Barber and Ken Colyer brought Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Big Bill and later Muddy Waters to the attention of idiots like myself …and the irascible Ewan MacColl focussed my attention into 'folk music' and the music of struggle… At a time when the citizens of the US were generally unaware of their heritage

    As an undergrad I read modern European History and simultaneously I ran the Uni's Jazz Club. I was privileged to meet (though blissfully unappreciative) of Jo Anne Kelly, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Cliff Aungier, Alex Campbell and many more refugees from the 'fifties' underground.

    It was not until later I realised how prescient Melly's observation was… I had seen Cyril as an underage member of the audience at the Marquee on circa three occasions. Then in a Damascene moment I realised good ol' George was right… although certainly the Civil Rights movement would have ascended into the public's gaze, however I am convinced these much misunderstood pioneers accelerated its progression.

    I suggest we re-evaluate the period after the War and pay these forgotten heroes the attention and reverence they deserve - I bet Cyril et al is laughing at the thought.

    I was not born until 1953 and missed most of the 'revolution' however it is my endeavour to support all attempts to remind people of the rich heritage of these pioneers… after all, is it so ludicrous to suggest, 'Where would Martin Luther King have been without Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, Cyril Davies or Ewan MacColl?…'

  • September 20, 2009 - So Many Records, So Little Time - Visiting your Cyril Davies site was fascinating. Excellent stuff! (Ed. first class blog with great images and audio clips of hundreds of artists including the second single by Cyril Davies & His R&B All Stars). Cyril Davies and the All Stars' Records

  • September 9, 2009 - Robert Nicholls - U.S. Virgin Islands - I took a look at your website and I am very impressed. Well done! It's a valuable addition to the history of the British Rhythm and Blues scene.

    To learn that early on Cyril Davies the "skiffler" was enamoured with Leadbelly is something I can identify with and even give voice to. The first records I bought with my pocket money as a pre-teen were Skiffle and noticing that Lonnie Donegan's Top 20 hit, "Rock Island Line" was credited to "Huddie Ledbetter," I special ordered my first Leadbelly EP and I never bought a Lonnie Donegan record again. At twelve years old nobody had to sell me on Leadbelly's good points. When I put his "Ol' Riley" onto the turntable of my little red Dansette I was converted instantly. The story of Ol' Riley is interesting enough, recalling an escaped slave who's made for the creeks to "walk the water" and throw "Rattler" the hunting dog off his scent ("Ol' Riley gone like a turkey through the corn, here Rattler here"). But it was Leadbelly's sound that drew me in, the resonant, and in this case understated, twelve-string guitar providing a backdrop while the vocal intonation and the diction took center stage: "Heah, Rattler-er, Hyah!", the pronunciation of "Ryleh" emphasizing the last syllable, and the timbre of a voice projected from the pre-microphone era, all conspired to sear the core of my pre-teen being. Our generation of Londoners, and Cyril was one, took to folk blues early, like ducks to water, and this is still a wonder to me.

    When I was about thirteen, they played the Memphis Jug Band on BBC's Third Programme (the highbrow station)--yet another epiphany, "K. C. Moan" saw to that. I didn't actually acquire a Memphis Jug Band album until much later but I bought a Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers EP when I was about fifteen. Prior to this I had bought a 78 rpm record of "Drop Down Mama" by Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon on harmonica. In 1964, some thirty years after the original recording, I felt privileged to see Estes and Nixon perform "Drop Down Mama" and other numbers at the American Folk Blues Festival held in Reading. Sleepy John Estes was 75 years old at the time and his gaunt spare frame contrasted with the more portly figure of a relatively sprightly 56 year old Nixon. Like carved Igbo ancestors, the wizened pair sat spotlighted in the center of the darkened stage, Estes cradling his guitar while Nixon doubled on harmonica and jug. Estes' voice was not a young man's voice, it never was, but it was not an old man's voice either. His ethereal wailing style seemed ageless and Hammie Nixon punctuated the songs with his chirruping harmonica or the booming resonance of the jug. He didn't only blow his jug but in an exhibition of showmanship, while seated he juggled and wrestled with it as well, providing a comedic counterpoint to Estes' intensity. Great performance!

    Incidentally, none of the aforementioned songs, Ol' Riley," K.C. Moan," or "Drop Down Mama," follow the twelve-bar blues format. There was another level of music going on simultaneously with, and probably prior to, the blues.

    I am afraid I don't have very much to offer. As you know I've been remembering my time as a London Mod 1962-66 (Ed. - check out The Mod Generation website, http://www.themodgeneration.co.uk ). I never saw Cyril's R&B All Stars. I may have seen him with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated more than once; I saw Alexis Korner as a solo artist a couple of times, but my memory is very selective and the occasion I wrote about (below) was special because of the harmonica tips Cyril was kind enough to share with me:

    "Some local dances and clubs were small and cozy like the dances at Broxbourne, others like a jazz club in Edmonton, booked known bands such as Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. Cyril "The Squirrel" Davies switched from guitar to harmonica while with Alexis Korner and in 1962 both Mick Jagger and Art Wood sang with the band. We talked with Cyril Davies after a set. He had few social graces and no sartorial style at all. He wore scruffy trousers and was balding with untidy hair. Art Wood states, "I remember Mick asking Cyril how to bend notes and Cyril just said, 'Get a f .. ing pair of pliers.' He was nice like that" (Rawlings 2000, p. 40). I was more fortunate and Cyril explained that when playing my Hohner Echo harmonica, rather than simply blowing, I could obtain a whining blue note by sucking in the lower range and squeezing the air flow with my lips. By this means a key of "A" harmonica, for e.g., can be played with the "E" chord of the guitar, commonly used for blues. This conversation must have occurred before October 1962, because at that time Cyril Davis left Blues Incorporated to form his own band". © Robert Nicholls
    Robert Nicholls - North London Mods

  • August 31, 2009 - Mike Sullivan - UK - Hi, I saw Cyril Davies band twice at Brighton. I was the drummer in a band from Eastbourne, The Sinners. Our guitarist, Eddy Sergeant, was an amazing, skilful player - but when he saw Cyril's guitarist, was who was only 14 at the time (I do not remember the name of his guitarist), he cried. We asked him why he was crying he said he was 4 years older than Cyril's guitar player but the player was years ahead in technique of him! But Cyril and the band just knocked us out - they were the best blues band this country has ever produced to this day!

  • August 31, 2009 - Bob Hetsko - Colorado, USA - Thanks for your insights to the Ealing Jazz Club and other clubs important to the early blues scene in London. I was born in Ealing, not far from there in 1953. As I grew up I had a great affinity to the Stones. I live in the States, and found out in 2005 that they had their beginning so close to where I was born. When I went to London, I did get on the tube to Ealing and visited that historic spot. A friend of mine in Colorado here tours with Mayall, and I am still playing the blues. It's too bad it's all closed down now. I really wanted to see the inside of the bar. Great page; thanks for your work in putting it up.
    Bob Hetsko

  • August 23, 2009 - Mark Newman - France - I'd met John Baldry many times in folk clubs and so looked forward to seeing him with his band. The music was great and his then guitar player, Jeff Bradford, was just about the coolest bloke that I'd ever seen. I remember that he wore a flat black leather cap and played a blonde Telecaster. The other thing that happened that evening was that John introduced a new singer who was going to be really big. From behind the stage came Rod Stewart on one of his first live outings. Brilliant and the rest as they say is history.

    Another little thing for you is that in the piece about Chris Barber looking for a guitar player for his Blues Band, he mentions that he knew someone else but that it didn't work out and he then hired John Slaughter. I think that this may have been me and the reason is this - I knew John Baldry very well from the folk club circuit and I got a call from him one day saying would I be interested in having an audition with Chris Barber! WOW! I went to London and met Mr B and I wasn't right at all. I was a country blues player then and what I did wasn't what he wanted. I can't remember where we met but I remember being impressed by his motor which I think was an Alfasud.
    Mark Newman - Old Bridge Music

  • July 17, 2009 - Nick Hood - Berkshire, UK - My uncle gave me a scratched copy of Chicago Calling / Country Line Special back in the early 70's and it's now the only 45 rpm single I still own. Both tracks are commercially available on compilation CD's from Amazon, as follows: Chicago Calling is track 9 on: White Boy Blues, and Country Line Special is track 1 on: A Shot of Rhythm & Blues: R&B Era, Vol. 1 - enjoy. These CDs could be available in other places too.

  • June 22, 2009 - Dave Brock - Devon, UK - I watched Cyril and his band play at Eel Pie Island. I remember they were a good band to dance to. Also watched him at the Railway Hotel and Club 51 with Ken Colyer. Cyril always had good musicians playing with him. Chicago Calling and Country Line Special used to get everyone dancing about. We all used to rate Cyril as one of the top harmonica players in the Blues hierarchy. http://www.hawkwind.com

  • May 17, 2009 - Peter Mitchell - UK - In the early sixties I used to go to London clubs with Mick Jagger ~ Cafe des Artistes etc. We would hang around Cyril / Alexis at the R&B Club, Mick was mega interested. I remember standing next to Cyril when he opened the old leather briefcase he used to carry - part filled with harps and part with half bottles of whisky ... Great days!

  • May 16, 2009 - Mike Collin - UK - Uncle Bob Scruton's memories re the Fox and Goose are much like mine - only mine are even hazier! A hardup teenager living in Hanwell I too used a pushbike to get around and, with my pal Jimmy Shepherd (he was to become a jazz trombonist), we haunted all the West London jazz pubs and clubs. The Fox and Goose sessions with Steve Lane were great, especially as entrance was free and I could nurse a warm half-pint of bitter all evening. Names of the sidemen have long gone from my memory although I recall an odd-looking clarinet player in a tube shaped suit named Cy from Welwyn Garden City. When I met Steve Lane at the Farnham Maltings (then renamed "The Red Hot Peppers and Betty)" he told me that Cy had died recently. I asked Betty how long she had been singing with the band (I didn't recall a female vocalist) and she replied "nearly forty years"! As for Cyril Davies, I blush to admit that I recall him dimly but, as a "jazz purist" blind to other kinds of music, I didn't appreciate his talent (same with Lonnie Donegan). (Ed. - Cyril used to play with a different 'Mike Collins', a washboard player)

  • May 11, 2009 - Madeline Bell - UK - Dear Todd, I'm sorry but I really don't remember to much from 46 years ago, and so, I cannot help you. Regards, Madeline. (Ed. - Ms. Bell sang backing vocals with Alex Bradford on the recording session for Cyril's "Preachin' the Blues" in 1963 - Madeline Bell

  • May 12, 2009 - John Ponting - Milton Keynes, UK - In 1965 I was a 16 year old living in Chester. Radio Caroline north often played Country Line Special by Cyril Davies. I was fairly into blues, so I set my mother a challenge ("what do you want for your birthday Johnny?"). "That's easy" I said "Search every record shop in Chester, mother dear, and find me a recording of 'Country Line Special'. She duly presented me with an E.P. - The Sound Of Cyril Davies. WOW!!!! Nice one mum.

    Last month I bought a record player with a USB connection. The intention is to record all my old vinyl and save it on CD. So far I've only recorded two tracks - the 'Stones', '2120 South Michigan Avenue' and one other; can you guess which? Yes, wasn't very difficult was it. Good old Cyril. After being lugged around for 12 years of army life and various houses during 36 years of married life it's a bit scratchy but still plays reasonably well and it's still in its original sleeve.

    When I joined the army in 1966 I was considered intelligent enough to train at the REME School of Electronic Engineering in Arborfield. They soon learnt the folly of that decision, and invited me to leave and go else where, but while I was there I shared a room with a fantastic guitarist and blues fan called Jim Bishop. 'AWOL Jim' we called him. He just seemed to feel that one weekend should connect with the next, unfortunately the army had a more traditional view. He came from Southend. Every time he took 'extended leave' he left his Blues collection with me for safe keeping; Blind Lemon, Sleepy John - wonderful names! Is there any one out there that knows him? I'm sixty now (yes, I know I don't look it ) and I think that he was a bit older than me so I reckon he'd be somewhere between 60 and 65 now. It might help to know that he was also very keen on folk music. We sometimes went to the folk clubs in Reading. I blew across the top of the jug and he played guitar and sang.

  • May 6, 2009 - Peter Connolly - I was lucky enough to see Cyril most Thursday nights at the original The Marquee Club in Oxford Street - around 1962/63. Country Line Special would go on for half an hour, usually at the end - best harp playing I've ever heard…wonderful memories that never leave you - happy days!!

  • May 4, 2009 - John Pidgeon - Kent, UK - The first time I hear Cyril Davies blow his harmonica is January 1963 at Leo's Jazz Club in Windsor. As I approach, shoulders hunched against the cold, I watch billows of cigarette smoke, lit pink and yellow by the lights inside, spill from an open door, before the thin, chill evening air is split by an inhuman scream, a siren wail that rises a tone, then subsides. The sound nails me momentarily to the pavement, then propels me to the entrance of an unprepossessing British Legion Hall, which by day is a hang-out for pensioners who have served time, as most have, in the armed forces. At a folding table by the door I fumble distractedly in my pocket for the four shilling (20p) entry fee, entirely absorbed by the source of this extraordinary sound: a balding, badly-dressed man, who looks middle-aged to my teenage eyes.

    I struggle to relate the sound I hear to what I can see. Davies's hands are cupped in front of his mouth, a cable trailing from his fingers, but his instrument is invisible, apart from a glinting sliver revealed whenever he parts his hands, a movement matched by a modulation in the sound.

    Unseen it might be, but what I'm listening to is as powerful and evocative an instrumental voice as Little Richard's piano, Buddy Holly's guitar or Ray Charles flat-top Wurlitzer soloing the opening bars of 'What'd I Say?'. Davies can make this thing he had hidden in his hands cry, shout, and howl so my hair stands on end. And there is no room for doubt, these sounds can only be coming from him, because the other instruments on stage are drums, bass, guitar and piano, and I know the sounds they make. So does my companion - a jazz fan, hence our visit to Leo's Jazz Club - who is soon hissing from the side of his mouth that what the R&B All-Stars are playing is little different from rock'n'roll, an opinion to which I am able to nod urgent agreement, without letting on that this is not the least of the reasons that I love it. I don't want to piss him off. He's the one with the driving licence and his mother's car.

    As the set progresses, a beanpole singer with a blond fringe and a teasing smile takes his turn at the microphone, but his singing is too smooth, too jazzy for my taste. Meanwhile, a black female vocal trio attempt an approximation of the Raelettes, Ray Charles' backing singers, whose visceral harmonies I know from my live Ray Charles At Newport album. Indeed Davies and the Velvettes recreate Charles' '(Night Time Is) The Right Time', though without the sex-fuelled fire of Marjorie Hendricks, and, anyway, all I have ears - and open-mouthed wonder - for are Cyril Davies and his harmonica.

    The wail of Cyril Davies's harmonica tears straight to the centre of my heart, and the next day, a Saturday, I catch a bus into town and find a Hohner Marine Band harmonica in the music shop. On the way home I slip it from its snug blue box to study its simple features: twelve holes to be sucked or blown, each of them numbered - pointlessly, it seems to me, since the numbers are lost from sight even before the instrument is pressed to one's lips. On the face of it, there is even less here to master than on a recorder, and yet the repertoire of sounds conjured from it by Davies is infinitely more expansive. This comparison triggers a suspicion that learning to play like him isn't going to be easy.

    In my bedroom I cup the harmonica the way I saw Davies do last night. I try some experimental sucks and blows, enough to teach me that the blow is only a tuneful means of emptying my lungs before switching to the suck that creates the more evocative notes. Remarkably, the modulated suck that 'bends' the notes a semi-tone comes to me quickly, and by lunchtime I am able to ape Davies' wail at different points on the scale, but I have no records from which I can learn melodic sequences and none that I heard him play have stayed in my head. I know I have to see Davies and his R&B All-Stars again.

    Fortunately, in spite of his aversion to amplified 'beat music', my Leo's companion has taken a pointless shine to one of the Velvettes who, he has convinced himself, was giving him the come-on. I don't openly question why he imagines a statuesque African professional singer should have been eyeing up a grammar school sixth-former, barely out of short-back-and-sides, but gratefully accept his invitation to revisit the club the following Friday.

    Although Cyril Davies thrills me as before, Baldry's unctuous vocalising is even less to my taste, while the Velvettes' strident harmonies grate on my ears. During the week I have listened to Ray Charles At Newport, cementing my opinion that these three are no match for the Raelettes. As the All-Stars step off stage for the interval break, Davies waiting for no one as he hustles to the bar, my companion, blaming the smoky atmosphere, but perhaps also seizing the chance to play hard-to-get, insists that we should stretch our legs and clear our lungs.

    Minutes from the British Legion Hall, in a narrow street that sides the Star & Garter Hotel, I stop, astonished, at the sound of more upbeat blues and another harmonica. I search for the sound with my eyes and see dancers silhouetted in the open windows of an upstairs room attached to the back of what is plainly more pub than hotel. On either side of the doorway that leads upstairs, black posters with white lettering announce The Ricky Tick Club and The Rolling Stones Every Friday 5/-. Judging by those cooling off outside, the Ricky Tick crowd is younger and hipper, and the girls prettier, than at Leo's. There are studenty types and some snappy dressers. While I move involuntarily, and, I hope, inconspicuously, to a spirited version of Benny Spellman's 'Fortune Teller', the rhythm driven by maracas, my eyes lock with the wide-eyed gaze of a girl wearing black ski pants, whose dark hair is cropped as short as Jean Seberg's in A Bout De Souffle, but, as if struck by a thought, she looks away, grinds her cigarette under her heel, and disappears inside.

    Hands, as always, in my pockets, I weigh the two half crowns my mother has given me as petrol money for my driver, who has halted a few yards further on and is giving me the hurry-up sign with a finger on his watch face. I shout, 'I'll see you at the car at ten thirty,' and duck into the doorway.

    Once I've seen the Rolling Stones at the Ricky Tick, there is no going back to Leo's. The Stones are what I've been looking for without expecting to find: a young white English group playing black American music. And they really have mastered the idiom. They won't become famous because they wear their hair like girls or urinate on a garage forecourt or get busted for drugs, but because they are white boys who play black music better than anybody has before.

    The group's residency at the Ricky Tick lasts six months, from January to July 1963, but more than forty years later I can revisit those Friday nights at will: I can see the upstairs room with the bar against one wall, a small, barely raised stage in the opposite corner, and, incongruously, fishing nets hung from the ceiling; I can hear the crowd singing along with the Stones' closing 'Bye Bye Johnny', answering Mick's circling wave of a hand; I can feel the floor move under my feet as I dance with my Jean Seberg lookalike, the bouncing boards and rafters loosing plaster from the ceiling below onto the roof of the Stones' parked van, inside which Ian Stewart is trying to grab some sleep before driving the band back to their West London flat. © John Pidgeon 2009
    John Pidgeon, John Pidgeon's Blog

  • March 3, 2009 - Mike Trodden - Wigan, Lancs, UK - I remember being in a big queue to see Cyril at the Twisted Wheel (THE ORIGINAL ONE!) in Manchester when I was 17. My girlfriend and I got to the front of the line and were told, "He won't be appearing tonight". We asked why and were told, "cos he's died". Ah well - I nearly saw him ...

  • February 8, 2009 - Elijah Wald - USA - On your KC Moan page, "Daryl Adams" should be Derroll Adams. I'm afraid I'm a mere lad of 50, and a Yank to boot, so (I) missed that period (Roundhouse Pub era) entirely. I knew Derroll many years later, when we were both living in Antwerp. Thanks for a great site. I am a blues and popular music historian, and only wish it had been around when I was writing my book on Robert Johnson and the blues revival, "Escaping the Delta", since I was unable to find any comparable source on 1950s-era Davies and Korner. http://www.elijahwald.com

  • January 18, 2009 - Ken Scannell - Sydney, Australia - G'day, I thought you might be interested in this photo if you haven't already got a copy. This was published in the Melody Maker October 6 1968, but it is probably from 1960 or 1961 (Cyril on harp (of course), Alexis Korner - guitar, Andy Hoogenboom on bass and Keith Scott on piano).

    Keep up the good work! You can see us, the Alter Ego Blues Band, at the Australian Blues Festival, 2009.


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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
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The background to the developing London blues scene
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