Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

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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 15, 2010 - Colin Richardson - UK - Hi, just visited your excellent website. Brought back many memories (especially of Eel Pie Island, as I was closely involved with Art Chisnell from '65 to '67). I worked for London City Agency as a (newbie) booker back then and got to know Art Chisnell gradually through 1965, mainly because he liked one of our bands in particular...The Artwoods (featuring a very young Jon Lord on Hammond) who played there regularly. I thought your readers might be interested in the new book, Playing the Band - the musical life of Jon Hiseman by Martyn Hanson. Colin's site and Jon Hiseman's book website.

  • November 5, 2010 - Ken Jordan - Suffolk, UK - You know Cyril Davies is one of those names that has always been lurking in the background, but some one I've never really explored. I checked out the Cyril website the other night. What a mine of information, links, etc. Really did help me to get a better picture of where we've come from. The You Tube clip was fascinating. The whole website is good on the eye and lots of little detours into interesting areas. He was obviously a great harp player and dedicated to the cause…a great loss at such a young age.

    I recall a radio programme (it may even be amongst some of my Alexis Korner tapes) in which Alexis (or was it Chris Barber?) talked of those early days with Cyril, the club above the pub in Wardour Street (?) and the time they switched the format from Trad jazz (which was still packing out the house) to electric blues (and had about 20 people turn up for the opening night), and the subsequent parting due to the different directions that the two of them wanted to pursue.

    I was just a bit too young to pick up on all this back in the late 50s/early 60's. I still remember my introduction to the blues via the 1963 US Newport Jazz Festival which I picked up on my transistor radio with about 60ft of wire as an aerial extension, via AFN (presumably from Germany?). Then, along came John Mayall and the 60's blues boom which led me on to the older generation of black bluesmen initially via those Pye label compilations, and then I started digging deeper.

    Alexis really only came to my attention when he started doing the radio shows in the mid/late 70's. Coincidently, I was transferring another tape to CD last night; it was a recording of Alexis 50th birthday bash and features a whole load of guest artists - many of whom pop up on "your" Cyril website (not surprisingly). In fact I saw Rocket 88 playing live in 19..? And looking back, that group must have consisted mostly of ex Blues Incorporated members. www.dairy-direct.co.uk

  • November 2, 2010 - Kevin Herridge - New Orleans, USA - Hi, you need to contact Pete Hogman on the Isle of Wight. He played harmonica with Jimmy Powell and The Dimensions and has lots of stories. He knew Cyril. And if you are ever in New Orleans, look me up. www.risingsunbnb.com

  • September 9, 2010 - Stephen Ivory - Watford, UK - In the mid 50s, aged in the early to mid teens we use to have a skiffle group…rubbish really, but we got to play in quite a few pubs in Uxbridge, playing and singing Leadbelly and Broonzy numbers that Cyril had introduced us to.

    The group was called the 'Riversiders'. That was a very popular name at the time and I'm sure we weren't the only ones so named. Very little was formalized; it was more a case of going into pubs with our guitars, knowing that someone would ask if we could play and off we'd go. Anyway we would practice a bit in one of the group members (it's far too long ago to remember names in the group) parents house in Willowbank and, luckily, he knew Cyril. He got him to come round and give us a few tips on playing the blues. He was a very pleasant character and helpful; he had a weird and wonderful 12 string guitar with a D shaped sound hole…we'd never seen such an instrument. At the time Cyril told us that his 12 string guitar was one of only two in the country at the time, little wonder we had never seen one! He also got us started on harmonica brackets.

    At the time I'm talking about, skiffle was only just starting, mainly through Rock Island Line, taken from a Chris Barber record. A few of us started going to see Cyril, Alex Korner, Alex and Rory McEwen, and Bill Colyer - who all played on a regular basis at the Blues and Barrelhouse, a club over a pub in Wardour Street. The Blues and Barrelhouse only attracted around 50 regulars and that would be a good night.

  • August 22, 2010 - David Miller - California, USA - "All roads lead to Cyril Davies in British Blues music. He died young, but left a legacy that lives today. It is very heart-warming to see that Cyril Davies is remembered today." I was very happy to find your website and make a link for those interested. I hope it has helped to draw attention.
    British Rock Memorabilia Blogspot, and Brit Rock by the Bay.

  • August 16, 2010 - Fareed Linyadoh - Norwich, UK - My pal and I used to attend the Blues and the Barrelhouse regularly. I'm not sure, but I think it was every Friday night. This must have been in the 50's or very early 60's.

    I vividly remember that Cyril, who'd be playing the 12 string or the harmonica, was almost always accompanied by a guitarist playing on a steel National guitar, the same type as you see in photographs of Blind Boy Fuller. I seem to remember that Cyril would refer to him as Jeff. If you have any info on the guy, please let me know. [Ed - probably Geoff Bradford]

    As you say, the atmosphere was indeed intimate and on almost every occasion, you'd see a face (later to be famous in their own right) either in the audience supping beer or joining Cyril in the 'stage' (there was no stage actually, just a few seats in front of the audience). Long John Baldry was quite a regular guest artist and I'm almost certain that on quite a few occasions, I saw Alexis Korner in the audience. Truth to tell, I cannot remember any membership card, though undoubtedly there must have been one. I do remember (as you've mentioned elsewhere on the site) that Leadbelly's Goodnight Irene was one of Cyril's favourites and he'd generally wind up the session with the song. My pal was in the Leadbelly camp whereas I was more into Country Blues.

    Long John Baldry also used to appear fairly regularly at the Black Horse in Rathbone Place where there was a folk/blues club in a room upstairs above the pub. I used to go to the Troubadour quite regularly with my girl-friend. Martin Winsor used to run the club; I do remember he used to sport a great walrus moustache and had a powerful bass baritone voice! Redd Sullivan too. Wasn't it him that had a shock of red hair? They used to do a great meatball dish I remember, served on wooden plates (unheard of then)! The club downstairs (at least I think it was downstairs) was more of a folk venue though. I remember coming across Martin Carthy there for the first time. There and at the at Ewan McCall's Singers Club in Charing Cross.

    One last thing that sticks in my mind is that occasionally at both venues, there was this guy who'd come on with an absolutely huge guitar, at least 2-3 times the size of a standard acoustic that he'd made himself and play the blues on this monster of a guitar (I'm not 100% certain whether it was at The Singers Club or Blues and the Barrelhouse or The Black Horse that I saw the guy with the monster guitar, so your search could turn out to be fruitless!).

    On a separate note, I still have all the LP's and EP's that I bought from that era, including limited editions on the Heritage Label of Charlie Patton and Bessie Smith, also of Pinewood Tom, later to make a name for himself as Josh White and greatly mainstreaming his style and make occasional appearance on the beeb.

    I also have one or two EP's released by Alexis Korner. One in particular was of Gus Cannon's Jug Band which included the number Come Right In. I do remember all us Blues aficionados feeling highly smug when a British group released the song as a hit single, claiming it as their own composition. Later on, they had to retract the claim when Blues fans created a fuss about it. Hope my recollections are of some use.

  • May 3 2010, - Ian Miller-Hall - Aylesbury, Bucks, UK - When I was at school I started playing the harmonica - we were all into blues in the early sixties. I bought Cyril Davies' Country Line Special EP when it first came out. 'Country Line Special' became my harmonica party piece. I still have the EP, I still play harmonica and 'Country Line Special', along with 'Chicago Calling' are still two of my favourite tunes.

  • April 11, 2010 - Mari Nicholson - Isle of Wight - I remember well all that you write about. For a short time I was Secretary of the British Jazz Federation (after James Asman). I took over Beryl Bryden's flat when she went to France to work at The Crazy Horse (she followed Eartha Kitt into that Club and had her contract renewed quite a few times while Sidney Bechet was there) and then we shared when she returned. I remember Alexis Korner visiting a few times. I also have fond memories of Cooks Ferry Inn (it's where I first heard Freddy Randall) and a jazz club in New Compton Street whose name escapes me.

    I came across (your website) today and spent far too long reading the stuff on there. Fascinating, and a trip down memory lane for me. I finally got to New Orleans 5 years ago where I went to attend the wedding of the sister of one of Nola's top musicians, Jonathan Cleary of the Monster Gentlemen Band (recently did a master class for BBC2 on how to play jazz, ragtime, blues etc. piano). With jazz bands and gospel singers, we had a ball.

    I also knew the Christie Bros., Lonnie, Chris, Mick, George, Archie Semple et al. I was one of, sadly few, people who visited Beryl in her last days, but she had a lot at her funeral service and at the party in the 100 Club that followed. Best wishes - www.marinicholson.com

  • January 14, 2010 - David Wilcock - Heysham, UK - Just a quick question, love the web site by the way. Cyril was, along with John Mayall, Sonny Terry and Sonny Boy Williamson, one of my earliest heroes. I can't recall what key harp was used on CLS. Any suggestions gratefully accepted. Keep up the good, and essential, work! See you on the barricades.

  • January 6, 2010 - Bob Davenport - UK - (ed. - during discussions with Pete Dyer, Pete informed us that Bob Davenport and the Clancy Brothers used to appear at the Blues and Barrelhouse Club [upstairs at the Round House pub on Wardour Street] on Thursday nights during the period when Cyril & Alexis held court)

    Yes, Cyril asked me to run a club night once a month. At a party I had in Chelsea, Rory McEwen and Cyril provided the live music on two 12 string guitars - South Africans there said it was the best party they had ever been to. I have a newspaper photo cutting of Cyril, Geoff Bradford and me when we played the Concorde in Southampton.

    I remember Cyril and me did Staines and Richmond folk clubs; we'd do three or four songs each then finish with three of four together, including 'Who Were You With Last Night'? (ed. - Lead Belly recorded over half-a-dozen versions between 1944 and 1948, most often under the title, "Black Girl" or "Black Gal". His first rendition, for Musicraft Records in New York City in February 1944, is arguably his most familiar). Cyril starting it off as a long up-tempo blues then we both sang the chorus. That song went back to the Rory/Cyril party night that I mentioned previously when they played together on 12-string guitars.
    Bob Davenport - The Common Stone - TSCD552
    Legend Bob records songs for his father

  • January 6, 2010 - Gordon Thompson - Saratoga Springs, New York, USA - Just came across your Cyril Davies website. Great work! And I see you have interviews with my late friend, Carlo Little. Even better. When researching my book on sixties British rock and pop, I would have loved to have found this site.

    I think Cyril Davies was a seminal and largely unrecognized figure in the British blues movement. It's sad that he died when he did. He would not have been a teen idol, but he would have gotten the adulation he deserved. I think it was Carlo related the story of how a young guitarist took a liking to Davies' acoustic 12-string guitar. Davies let him play it and, when the young guitarist went to give it back, Davies told him to keep it. Or something like that…well, he was a "panel beater," a job description that my maternal grandfather had when he worked at Ford. Made me like Davies even more.
    Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out - Amazon
    Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out - Oxford University Press


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