The history of British Blues with milestone events over the decades:
April – Henry Yates writes of ‘The new Blues boom’ in Classic Rock magazine, talking with numerous artists about the rise in popularity of the Blues. Musician Stephen Dale Petit is quoted as saying, “I think the 60s Blues boom was ****ing magnificent, powerful and magical – and I think we can have that again. I want to see the Blues become mainstream. I want to see it become common currency in the discourse of modern popular culture. I want to see it become Blues city. We are all born, we all die, we all have misfortune. Some of us have good fortune. Some of us have both, in heavy measure. We get diseases. We live healthily. The Blues is all of that, and sex. It’s like an infinite well, because it’s based on human truths.”
14th June – a new Blues print title is published. The Blues magazine is big, glossy, and always has a covermount CD of new music. Henry Yates (see April) is one of the writers.
13th February – The Independent British Blues Broadcasters Association is launched. The body brings together most of the growing band of independent Blues shows across the UK.
That night, touring American artist Michael Katon (of Hell, Michigan) brings his fierce brand of Blues-Boogie to the Beaverwood Club in Chislehurst, London, although he is suffering from “the God-damned lurgy, caught in Holland”. He is supported by The Dave Jackson Band, with their own pulsating hard Blues and tracks such as Seven, and Done Me Wrong. Review here.
6th March – Guitarist Alvin Lee, of Ten Years After, passes away. Obituary here. The British Blues Exhibition brand includes a Gibson guitar in his honour.
4th May – Ron Sayer Jr with Charlotte Joyce, Katie Bradley, Marcus Bonfanti, Stuart Dixon with Dani and Will Wilde, The Brothers Groove and other charitably-minded acts play a charity event for Radio Wey and Martin Clarke’s Blues Session in Chertsey, Surrey.
14th May – American guitarist Ryan McGarvey is on his first UK tour, something South London promoter Pete Feenstra says he has been working towards for over three years. He is supported by Planet Graffitti on his gig at the Beaverwood Club in Chiselhurst, London.
9th September – London’s Troubador Club hosts an Indian-British slide guitar duo, Michael Messer and Manish Pingle, with Gurdain Rayatt, video here). Manish says of his instrument, comparing it to the regular guitar, “I have a lot of strings!” This comes not long after another double night of Eire’s Grainne Duffy and Kirsten Thien from the US, on 13th August.
22nd October – a new Blues broadcaster hits the airwaves, on Croydon Radio. DJ Richard Dunning is a member of the Independent British Blues Broadcasters Association.
24th November – Ronnie Scott’s Blues Explosion, the resident Blues band at the famous London venue, play their regular night. The band consists of some of British Blues leading lights, including Marcus Bonfanti and Paddy Milner. Video of the band here.
26th November – Radio Caroline, the station which broke many R n B groups in the 60’s, rocks again as US Blues-Rock act The Billy Walton Band plays on deck of the Ross Revenge – becoming the first US act to play a Caroline ship in 48 years. The event can be seen in videos here (interview by Billy Walton of DJ Steve Anthony) and here (the band playing and Steve interviewing the band). Also present – but not playing – were members of UK Rock-Blues band, Albany Down.
8th January – The Blues Club broadcast and podcast on Switch Dunmow makes its debut. Host Jim McNeill commented, “I remember it well as nothing worked properly in the studios. Still doesn’t.”
18th March – the Ruf Records Blues Caravan comes to the Beaverwood Club in Chislehurst, Kent, during its 20th anniversary year. Here is an interview from the night with Laurence Jones (UK), Albert Castiglia (US) and Christina Skjolberg (Norway).
28th March – Radio Caroline celebrates 50 years as a broadcaster, and carries on….
26th July – The Great Central Blues Club in Northamptonshire hosts its first gig in its new identity.
October – the Royal Albert Hall hosts Blues Fest 2014 and Mud Morganfield and Paul Lamb and the Kingsnakes make their debuts at the Hall. Paul is also presented with a 24ct gold Dannecker harmonica by fellow harmonica man, and BBC DJ, Paul Jones, video here.
25th October – Former Cream bassist Jack Bruce passes away, RIP.
26th November – British Blues legend John Mayall appears at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club to wrap up his latest tour, just a year after his first appearance there. A brief interview with his hugely experienced bass player, Greg Rzab, recorded on the night, can be heard here. John plays the first Exhibition anthem, Blues For The Lost Days, as he says,”Dedicated to the people who can remember the Flamingo Club” and new track A Special Life, the title track from his new album. His band is Greg Rzab (bass), Jay Devenport (drums) and Rocky Athas (guitar), with John on vocals, keys, harmonica and guitar.
28th November – respected London music promoter Pete Feenstra celebrates his 1000th show at the Boom Boom Club in Sutton. On the bill are Otis Grand and the Voodoo Sheikhs and guests including young Blues-Rock artist Laurence Jones. Profits go to the fund helping to meet costs of Walter Trout’s medical care. The book ‘An Evening For Walter Trout’ celebrates an earlier memorable fundraiser.
7th December – British Blues podcaster Kevin Black clocks up his 200th episode of Black On Blues, listen here.
23rd-26th January. The Great British Rock and Blues Festival in Skegness opens the years British Blues festivals.
20th-22nd February. The Broadstairs Blues Bash in Kent takes place.
16th March. Former Free bassist Andy Fraser passes away, RIP.
25th April. Nottingham Blues Society and British Blues Awards co-founder, Barry Middleton, passes away, RIP.
14th May. American Blues Man BB King passes away aged 89. The British music community mourns.
30th May – Jeremy Rees of Radio Cardiff branches out with a new Country and Blues show on Saturday’s on West Yorkshire’s Pennine 235 from 7- 9pm – on Tune In here. http://tunein.com/radio/Pennine235-s116527/
28th June – Katie Bradley and Dave Ferra perform at the Sevenoaks Summer Festival and are joined by the first ever appearance of a live British Blues Exhibition showcase as the ‘suitcase’ edition is on display.
29th June – British legends Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames appear in Sevenoaks, Kent, and Georgie signs the first British Blues Exhibition banner.
17th March – first ever live British Blues Exhibition event in Camden, London, with Laura Holland, Saiichi Sugiyama Band, and Pete Brown
23rd April – Slack Alice member and Colne R & B Festival organiser Cliff Stocker passes away, and will be much missed.
3rd April – Blues DJ Louise Davies passes away, who hosted her Blues show on Radio Seagull
July – 30th Ealing Blues Festival held
15 August – Blues historian and author Paul Oliver passes away
In the 2000’s British independent Blues broadcasting grew. In 2008, Martin Clarke began broadcasting on Radio Wey in Surrey. A favourite show, the second part of the last live show for Radio Wey, is here. Ian McHugh’s The Blues Is The Truth show began on 31st September 2009. A favourite, more recent, episode (on podcast) is here.
Eric Clapton wins a Grammy Award, for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male, with his song Bad Love. His previous win was in 1972 as part of the recording the Concert For Bangladesh, but in the nineties Clapton enjoys a run of Grammy Award wins, in 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, and 1999, as well as 2000 (album Riding With The King, with BB King), 2001 and 2007.
The Manfreds are formed, bringing together members of the former 1960’s group Manfred Mann.
Former Hackensack, Samson and Mammoth vocalist Nicky ‘The Voice’ Moore founds the band Nicky Moore’s Blues Corporation, which goes on to be together for 20 years, a highlight being voted favourite British live Blues act by BBC Radio 2 listeners.
July- the first issue of Blues Matters magazine was published.
The Great British R & B Festival at Colne, Lancashire begins and continues over twenty-five years later.
The band Dr Feelgood is formed. The Essex-based ensemble were pioneers of pub rock, but very much embracing the Blues. They were named after a 1962 record, Dr. Feel-Good, by American Blues pianist and singer Piano Red (Willie Perryman) and recorded under the name of Dr. Feelgood & The Interns. Their initial line up was Lee Brilleaux (vocals), Wilko Johnson (guitar), John B. ‘Sparko’ Sparks (bass), and John ‘The Big Figure’ Martin (drums). Check out this film about the band, Oil City Confidential.
The Blues Band is formed, with a line up of Paul Jones (vocals/harmonica) of Manfred Mann, Dave Kelly (vocals/guitar), Gary Fletcher (bass), Tom McGuiness (guitar), and Hughie Flint (drums). The band goes on to be a favourite in live appearances worldwide.
The 1960’s was the decade when British Blues came alive and shook the world. An excellent video on You Tube conveys some of that history and can be viewed here. This podcast, courtesy of Digital Blues, plays a shedload of the 60’s greats. Appropriately, it starts with The Animals version of The House of the Rising Sun, the first Blues song which inspired the founder of the British Blues Exhibition towards a love of this music.
Alexis Korner forms the band Blues Incorporated. considered the first amplified Rhythm and Blues band in Britain, and the new band gained a residency at the Marquee Club.
January 11th – The Klooks Kleek Club opens at the Railway Hotel, West Hampstead, North West London. Until it closed on 28th January 1970, the club hosted numerous Blues and Jazz acts including Zoot Money, Ten Years After, John Mayall, and Graham Bond, all of whom recorded live albums at the venue. The first Blues act to appear at the venue was Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
March 17th – Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies open the UK’s first dedicated electric Blues club, The Ealing Club, formerly the Ealing Jazz Club. Alexis, whose band Blues Incorporated played that night, is quoted as saying, “…there was only about 100 people in all of London that were into the blues and all of them showed up at the club that first night”.
April 7th – Brian Jones meets Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at The Ealing Club, and the core of what became The Rolling Stones is formed. Probably the most famous of all British Blues-inspired and playing acts, their first settled line-up was Brian Jones (guitar, harmonica), Ian Stewart (piano), Mick Jagger (vocals, harmonica), Keith Richards (guitar), Bill Wyman (bass) and Charlie Watts (drums). Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been at Wentworth Primary School in Dartford together, but after going to separate schools they met again and went on to form the Rolling Stones. The band were named after a Muddy Waters track, Rollin’ Stone.
November – Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated release the album R & B from the Marquee. It has been called the first British Blues album, which is an arguable claim, but it makes it worth listing the line up on the album: Alexis Korner (acoustic guitar), Cyril Davies (vocals/harmonica), Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor saxophone), Keith Scott (piano). Spike Healey (string bass), Graham Burbridge (drums), Long John Baldry (vocals), Teddy Wadmore (bass), and Big Jim Sullivan (vocal chorus and probably guitar).
The band The Pretty Things is formed. The initial line up was Dick Taylor (guitar), Phil May (vocals/harmonica), Brian Pendleton (rhythm guitar), John Stax (bass), and Pete Kitley (drums).
The Who became famous. Lead singer Roger Daltrey inspired by Howlin Wolf’s “primal scream”, and, like the rest of the band, by other Blues artists.
March 28th – Pirate Radio Station Radio Caroline made its first broadcast from the MV Caroline anchored off Felixstowe, having been founded by the manager of British Blues artist Georgie Fame. The station still broadcasts here and its latest ship, the Ross Revenge, is moored in an Essex estuary. This video makes interesting viewing, based on British Pathe footage – here.
December 5th – The Rolling Stones cover of Little Red Rooster (written by Willie Dixon) achieves number 1 in the British pop charts. A video is here.
8-track cartridge players began to available for use in cars and later as stand alone units for home use. Many Blues recordings found their way to 8 track, though the format became obsolete within a few years.
The band Savoy Brown is formed. The founder – and very soon reshuffled – line up was Kim Simmonds (guitar), John O’Leary (harmonica), Bryce Portius (vocals), Trevor Jeavons (keyboards), Ray Chappell (bass), and Leo Manning. The band went on to enjoy much success in the United States.
22nd July – The album Bluesbreakers John Mayall With Eric Clapton, also known as the ‘Beano’ album after the comic Eric is reading on the cover, is released. The album also marks Eric’s first studio recorded and published vocal, on Ramblin’ On My Mind.
August. London’s Flamingo Club opens and is to become a hotspot for British Rhythm and Blues until closing in 1967. Read more in this article – courtesy of Blues Matters magazine. There is an excellent, regular ‘Back to the Flamingo Club’ tribute night at the Bull’s Head in Barnes on the last Monday of every month, details here. Here is an audio interview with Don Craine of The Downliners Sect, who was a regular at the Flamingo Club.
Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies establish their own club, the London Blues and Barrelhouse Club, where American Blues artists appeared. The club hosted talents such as Charlie Watts, Long John Baldry and Jack Bruce.
Muddy Waters appears in the UK for the first time, and adds to the growing appreciation and understanding of Blues music. An interesting Guardian article on the subject is here.
‘Jazz Me Blues’: Telling the story of British Blues’s early years
Welcome to the Before 1950 section of the British Blues Exhibition website. If you’ve come here first, then I’m assuming you want to get right back to the beginning of the story of the Blues in Britain.
We could begin with the day in October 1961 that Mick Jagger met Keith Richards on the platform of Dartford railway station, where the two men struck up a conversation about the Chicago Blues LPs that Jagger was carrying. Or, we could discuss guitarist and singer Alexis Korner’s first Blues record, Blues from the Roundhouse Vol. 1, released in 1957.
Yet although musicians such as Jagger, Richards, and Korner have become renowned as some of the most influential musicians in British Blues – and of course Rock – they were by no means the first British Blues musicians. In fact, the Blues could be heard in Britain at least twenty years earlier. Throughout the 1940s, British audiences and musicians became increasingly interested in the Blues recordings that were becoming available in the UK, learning its rudiments and researching its history. By the mid-1950s, the Blues was being performed in nearly every pub and community hall that hosted amateur music making, and could be heard in many of the nation’s theatres and clubs.
So why do we not know more about the history of the Blues in this early period? Most obviously, the relentless march of time means that the 1930s, 40s, and even 50s are swiftly fading from living memory. At the same time, the omission of this period from most histories of British Blues also comes from our understanding of what ‘the Blues’ is itself. The most famous types of Blues today are Chicago Blues, and Mississippi Delta Blues. This means that, when we think about British Blues, we look for the earliest instances of Chicago and Delta style blues in Britain – i.e. the late 1950s. Unfortunately, our modern day emphasis on Chicago and Delta Blues styles can obscure the different definitions of what ‘the Blues’ was in earlier years.
Before the 1960s, most Blues enthusiasts were first and foremost Jazz fans, who heard the two genres to be intertwined. This can be seen in the yearbook Jazz Junction Jive, published by the West London Rhythm Club in January 1944. In one article, club organisers and a number of Jazz critics selected their ‘Desert Island Discs’, in homage to the successful BBC radio programme of the same name. Their picks are quite revealing:
As you can see, several musicians are particularly well represented: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Blues vocalist Bessie Smith. What is more, many other pieces have the word ‘Blues’ in the title, such as Frankie Trumbauer’s ‘Singin’ the Blues’ or Joe Venuti & Eddie Lang’s ‘Farewell Blues’, or follow a twelve-bar Blues form, such as Billie Holiday’s ‘Fine and Mellow’.
Importantly, the Desert Island Discs format would have encouraged its participants to pick a representative set of recordings to illustrate their tastes. The inclusion of at least one Blues piece in each participants’ choices is an apt illustration of how these listeners heard the Blues: it was but one part of a wider field of Jazz music. Indeed, journalist and critic Iain Lang summed up this attitude in 1943, in the first study of the Blues by a British writer, Background of the Blues. Lang asserted that:
“the blues is not the whole of jazz, but the whole of blues is jazz, having no existence apart from this idiom.”
From the Desert Island Disc selections, it is clear that British listeners of the 1940s were clearly more interested in female vocalists accompanied by small Jazz bands than they were in male vocalists who accompanied themselves on guitar. When 1940’s critics talked about the Blues, they usually referred to the likes of Bessie Smith, Lizzie Miles, and Rosetta Howard, or to Blues piano players such as Albert Ammons or Jimmy Yancey.
Perhaps most significantly, ‘Country Blues’ musicians such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, or ‘Delta Blues’ musicians such as Big Bill Broonzy or Robert Johnson, were almost entirely unknown in Britain until the turn of the 1950s. In fact, on the rare occasions that these musicians appeared in magazine articles, they were depicted as ‘Folk’ musicians. They represented the historical roots of Jazz, but had very little musical value for 1940s Jazz fans.
One final thing to note from the Desert Island Discs article: aside from a few choices, the vast majority of records chosen were issued on British labels. This suggests that African American music was readily available in Britain, even during wartime. My next post will explore the Blues available on British record labels, and how the world of the ‘Rhythm Club’ shaped the early British Blues scene.
King’s College London
Lawrence Davies is a PhD student at King’s College London, researching the history of the Blues in Britain c.1929-1962. He is also interested in the link between African American music and American national culture. He blogs about his research at allthirteenkeys.com.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.