British Blues – Events – Gigs – Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley at the Jazz Cafe, London, 3rd August 2004

We had a very good turn-out of ‘Tales From The Woods’ readers/contributors for this event, thanks largely to Lee Wilkinson for spreading the word and organizing the tickets. Ten of us met in the Spread Eagle before making our way down Parkway to the venue – the two Keiths, the two Brians, Ken, Alan L, Darren, Martin H, Lee and Tony P.    

James Hunter and his band did a warm-up set. It was good seeing them again just a few days after their brilliant two sets at Ken’s 60th birthday/retirement party at the Royal George.

Bo’s road crew set up his chair and mike on a raised dais, so he could be seen by everyone. Surprisingly, instead of coming down the back stairs like James Hunter and Bo’s backing band, he was brought thru the packed audience and passed right by me to get to the stage. I had a grandstand view at the front to the right – only disadvantage being he was partly obscured by the mike stand and I couldn’t get a photo of his unique square-shaped guitar.

Now as to Bo’s set. The audience was very enthusiastic, and Keith Woods and myself thought Bo was brilliant. However speaking to some others in the TFTW group after the show it was obvious some didn’t share this opinion at all. I can’t speak for them, I can only say what I thought of the show. (Also enjoying Bo’s performance was the excellent, and attractive, lead singer of now defunct Rock’n’Roll group The Backbeats. I exchanged a few words with him, and he’s now with a group called the Hullabaloos. I shall look out for them on the circuits.)    

Bo did an innovative set which was obviously designed to show he is still ‘with it’ at 75 years of age, and that he can show the younger generation a thing or two. For instance we were treated to Bo Diddley’s rap (I don’t know the official title) which I thoroughly enjoyed. Eminem eat your heart out! Then we had the electronic feedback sounds from his guitar in another number, which was also entertaining.    

I found his 90 minute performance most enjoyable. I couldn’t keep still – that infectious and unique Bo Diddley beat I always find irresistible. OK, so he didn’t sing ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’, and some of his biggest numbers were a bit short on lyrics, but for Heaven’s sake his guitar was in tune (Mr B. please note!) and Bo played it brilliantly, backed by a very tight all-white band including two females, on guitar and keyboards/castanets. The overall sound was very similar to Bo’s old 1950s records, and as for the new songs (for instance two very amusing numbers near the end of his set, one for the girls and one for the boys), the rap and the electronic guitar feedback – well to my mind Bo has always been an innovator. He has never fitted neatly into the Rock’n’Roll, blues or R&B brackets – Bo is unique. His square guitar and his funky Bo Diddley beat were always way ahead of their time, and his songs always sound bang up-to-date.   

We were treated to oldies like ‘Crackin’ Up’, ‘Bo Diddley’, ‘Hey Bo Diddley’, ‘Road Runner’ and even ‘Who Do You Love’. A great set mixing blues, rap, Rock’n’Roll and rhythm’n’blues. I could have stood shaking to the beat for another two hours, whereas when a certain Mr B played the Festival Hall a few weeks ago I sat down bored stiff and looked at my watch to see how much more we had to endure.   

Thirty years ago my favourite ‘live’ performers were Jerry Lee, Little Richard and Chuck Berry in that order. Today Jerry Lee remains my favourite but whilst Chuck has dropped right out of my Top Ten, Bo has climbed right up there. I will see Mr Penniman in Chippenham next month, so will reserve my judgment till then. But we still have some great 1950s performers around – Frankie Ford being another I saw recently, and of course The Original Comets.   

A few years ago I saw the late Ronnie Dawson at his last Hemsby performance, which was well received by young rockabillies. Ronnie played very loud and was more psychobilly than Rock’n’Roll, but despite some older fans saying it was terrible I enjoyed his set. I feel Ronnie, like Bo, was trying to appeal to a younger generation. Nothing wrong in that. Can’t wait to see Bo over here again – sadly that won’t be the case with Mr Dawson.


Tony Papard


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