‘From Rock ‘n Roll to Rhythm & Blues’

In Britain, some time around 1962, the exciting years of ‘true’ Rock & Roll music was limping along a slim path. Once motoring on its own grooves with vitality and energy, it now just seemed to be sucked dry and out of the music system. On a new door seemed to be knocking a saccharined, diluted breed of pop Rock & Roll with a ‘Bob this’ or ‘Bob that’ idol, giving the world that produced it rich pickings.

Almost at the same time, the best of the British ‘trad’ jazz revival from the late fifties seemed to be waning also. In the mid-fifties it had lost popularity to its own blossoming skiffle craze.

This overview of music history is more complex, particularly with society and lifestyles changing in those years. Youth culture, art, fashion and especially music dwelt seriously in all class groups. Some jazzmen with their skiffle took a backwards step to search for their folk roots – the Blues - this same music that had given birth to the new Rock & Roll in the first place. Dedicated Rock & Rollers in their music soon disregarded these ‘Bobs this and that’ tin pan alley brigade, and began to dig behind to discover their roots. Real Rhythm & Blues, an urbanised form of blues, developed out of its rural roots, mingling with city life.

The UK beat scene, where still in good hands, kept its credibility before Beatlemania pre-occupied the popular music world. Acts like ‘Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’, Joe Brown & The Bruvvers’, still played akin to their Rock & Roll pedigrees.

‘Bruvvers’, Pete and Tony Oakman’s first band, grew from the fifties skiffle movement amongst the London skiffle heyday. They called themselves ‘The Spacemen Skiffle Group’, and were by the end of 1957 regularly performing at the London Skiffle Centre. Guitarist, Joe Brown, joined them around this time. In his autobiography, Joe recalls "The Spacemen Skiffle Group’ started off good and got better all the time!". Skiffle turned into Rock & Roll, a new image, with a name change to ‘The Bruvvers’. Along with their own success, they became The Rock & Roll band to back American artists visiting the UK. Reforming later without Joe into ‘The Echoes’ then back with Joe to ‘Brown’s Home Brew’ they then reformed without Joe as ‘Harley Quinne’ with a top twenty hit in the early seventies with the R & B classic, ‘New Orleans’.

Third year art students, Chris Dreja and Anthony ‘Top’ Topham were well versed in the knowledge of UK’s beat roots. Inspired to play music together, it formulated a central focus in their lives. Top had his own personal Aladdin’s Cave - his father collected Rhythm & Blues and Country Blues records. Their playing together developed to jamming with others, eventually to join forces with two players from the Metropolis Blues Quartet, Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith. Drummer, Jim McCarty, who had played in an earlier band with Paul, joined the group. The five, in their first attempt to write up a gig list, found themselves with a list of a dozen Jimmy Reed numbers, a clutch of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry tunes, with some rarer pieces by more obscure bluesmen like Howlin’ Wolf. With their name change to Yardbirds, their dye was setting.

Promoter, Giorgio Gomelski, looking for a band to fill the vacant residency at his club at The Station Hotel, in Richmond, found a pretty good act going on down at a well-known music pub, The Red Lion, in Sutton’s lower end of town. He had found the Rolling Stones. Booking them, they first appeared at the ‘Crawdaddy Club’ in February 1963. Their time with Gomelski is one of the corner pillars of the re-birth of Rhythm & Blues in music history. The demand for a wider audience resulted in their last residency performance on Sunday, September 23rd. Separately, both Gomelski and The Yardbirds were aware this would happen. The Yardbirds, still a band only weeks born, introduced themselves to Giorgio to invite him to one of their rehearsals. He met them at their regular practice in an upstairs room in the South Western Hotel across from Richmond Station. Giorgio loved the expressive way the Yardbirds played: their original approach to free form 'rave up' impressed Giorgio to hire them.

The Yardbirds had been honing their act, especially at The Studio 51 Club in Soho’s Newport Street, a club that The Stones too held a residency spot. The club worked a coup for the Downliners Sect also. The Sect started their life as ‘The Downliners’ around early 1962. Don reached Rhythm & Blues through his love of Skiffle and early Rock & Roll. He’d played at the Two I’s in Soho. His first outfit, ‘The Vigilantes’, was one of those early rocking outfits who paid its homage to authentic American Rock & Roll. His ‘Downliners’ with Keith Grant and John Sutton soon had on board ‘The Hoods’’ guitarist, Terry Gibson.

At the same time the Stones left the Crawdaddy in the good hands of the blues-wailing Yardbirds, Studio 51 experienced the same world beckoning the Stones from their residency and needed a new act. The Downliners Sect were offered the job. In months later, they too found their popularity made their regular appearance difficult to honour. Their earliest record release, the EP, ‘Nite in Great Newport Street’, is regarded as one of the seminal British Rhythm & Blues recordings.

The Downliners Sect and the Yardbirds’ music, like the Stones, owed homage to Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and their obscure contemporaries who later all fared well from their ‘discovery’ thanks to these British disciples. Following these bands from their beginnings by the Thames they grew to worldwide recognition.

The Yardbirds started as blueswailers with the ‘mod’ appeal and became without doubt one of the world’s most influential bands from the sixties. Their success in the popular charts with their own brand of commercial R & B combined with their desire to experiment in the studio and live earned them acclaim as the earliest practitioners of psychedelia, even before the music world knew what the word meant! With a clutch of the world’s leading blues rock players in their ranks, they passed through heavy rock to being one of the first rock ‘Super Groups’.

The Downliners’ influence on rock music followed a different route. Their originality laid in their aggressive approach, giving birth to what today’s history books call ‘Canvey Island R & B’, verging pub rock and pre-punk. The Downliners mouthed the pure vitality that created this rock route.

The Yardbirds and the Downliners, both with these new pastures sown, still maintain enormous credibility in the Rhythm & Blues world today.

They’re Really Rockin’ In Richmond

To find the natural venue for a concert to celebrate the birth of Rhythm & Blues in Britain, go over Richmond Bridge, head towards Eel Pie Island and you’ll find Clarendon Hall, Twickenham, in York House grounds. Giorgio Gomelski’s Crawdaddy at Richmond, Arthur Chisnall’s Eel Pie at Twickenham, the Pendletons’ National Jazz and Blues Festivals all circle within this well chosen venue.

Celebrating Rhythm and Blues in Richmond grew from an idea of Mark Paytress, then journalist with Record Collector magazine. Simon Lace, Curator, of the Museum of Richmond, was enthusiastic and agreed to stage the exhibition at the Museum if Mark would write up the history. Strange as it may seem, a Rock & Roll history does sit seriously well in the modern chapters of this leafy London suburb. More so, this chapter grew to large print in the world’s music press. Mark’s idea pitched right into the centre of the hearts of many today who grew up in those days helping create this scene and atmosphere. Today they still breathe their 1960’s vitality.

Gina Way and Warren Walters approached Simon and Mark in the planning stages of the exhibition with the idea of staging a concert at York House to coincide with the exhibition and to benefit the Museum. They were experienced in organising charity galas, mainly associated with dance, and Gina had grown up in Richmond and was a veteran of the Crawdaddy Club and Eel Pie Island. Groundwork soon laid the foundation for the event. The concert gathered hundreds, selling out to a capacity audience with more waiting in anticipation for tickets on the night. A remarkable diverse audience along with press and music world guests danced and enjoyed the music through the night.

The event was recorded by J.P. of Rogue Studios, setting up on location, and succeeding in capturing the music and the atmosphere with over two hours of material. It was expected a celebration album to commemorate the night should be issued. This CD presents thirteen tracks from the four bands’ repertoires performed on the evening.

The Bruvvers kicked open the night with their brand of music from ‘the golden age of Rock and Roll’, with Pete on vocals and bass; guitarist, John Clare, who worked with Pete in the days when they were ‘Harley Quinne’; drummer, Chris Hunt, who has worked a first class ticket through Rock & Roll with many artistes, including Joe Brown, Lonnie Donegan, Thunderclap Newman and, recently, with Dana Gillespie’s band - another Crawdaddy connection; and Pete’s son, Steve, on keyboards completes the four piece line-up who superbly rocked the audience, including Little Richard and Chuck Berry classics in their solid Rock & Roll show.

Between the two top acts, Tom Nolan’s Blues Trio played a straight down the line sixties Richmond Rhythm & Blues set, with lashings of slide guitar and rough, raucous vocals. Bass player, Peter Moody, originally from Gomelski’s 1964 Crawdaddy R & B band, ‘The Grebbels’, and later with Grebbel, Roger Pearce, formed the John Dummer Blues Band. ‘Camel’ Andy Ward plied his drumming skills with ‘Misty Romance’ and ‘Juno’. The Trio’s version of ‘Little Red Rooster’ lays open the blues feel to their second track, Tom’s own ‘The Hangover Blues’ story.

‘Sect Appeal’, one of the Downliners original trademark numbers, sounds in extremely good hands with the band’s ‘new’ line-up. Del Dwyer and Alan Brooks joined Don and Keith from the cult band, ‘The Barrier’. Paul Martin had joined the Sect some time back. He blew to fame originally through ‘The Black Cat Bones’. He began working with Don in ‘Loose Ends’ whilst the Sect were on a well-earned sojourn. Compere, Mark Lamarr, blows a wild harmonica with them on ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ whilst Art Wood guests on vocals.

Whilst times have changed in the line-up and added new Yardbird players, Dreja and McCarty lead today one of the most vibrant and entertaining line-ups of their history. Gypie Mayo enjoyed celebrated years with Dr. Feelgood, and Alan Glen joined with experience out of ‘Nine Below Zero’. John Idan worked with Jim McCarty during the eighties in their lengthy titled, but aptly named band, ‘The Top Topham, Jim McCarty, Detroit John Blues Band’. Original Yardbird, Topham, guests here on ‘Smokestack Lightning’, complete with their high crescendo runs, double riffs, and climatic endings.

If you were there you will re-live the ‘ball’. If you missed the show, here it is in fine form, bringing together the full flavour of nostalgia with atmosphere of an authentic 60’s rave-up.

Giorgio Gomelski once quoted, "We know these sounds". We really did, we still really do!

Peter Moody