BRITISH BLUES ARCHIVE

Eyewitness

 

Paul Soper - Part 1

Paul Soper in action

Biography:

Born in Pimlico in 1948 Paul was ideally placed to experience the 'Blues Boom' of the early 1960's, he played guitar in a number of school bands including 'TCP' withn Tony Cohu and Carlos Ordonez - a very early acoustic blues trio. Studying business at college he eventually qualified as an accountant in 1973, went on to specialise in Taxation and is today a lecturer/consultant, produces regular podcasts (for others as well as himself) at www.taxationpodcasts.com and writes an irregular 'humerous' blog at www.taxationpodcastmusings.wordpress.com .  During the 70's and 80's was a regular provider of financial advice for various phone-ins, starting with Robbie Vincent at Radio London, but also with a large number of later hosts, including Tony Blackburn, and regular spots with Johnnie Walker, Diane Luke, the late great Tommy Vance and a friend I miss dearly Mike Sparrow.  TV appearances included the first three series of Moneyspinner on Channel 4 and the BBC accountants' TV network.  Never forgetting the blues entirely Paul started to experience it live again at the Weavers Arms blues jam in Newington Green, hosted by Earl Green and Todd Sharpville, decided that really guitars ought to have 4 strings and sound an octave lower and hasn't looked back - bands since then include 'Blue Juice' with regular Coach and Horses Jammers Clive Nash and of course 'is lordship... Lord Carvell of Acne, followed by an 11 year stint as a Bluesdragon with Jimmy C and more recently as a Fork Handle with Jessie Pie.  Always looking for opportunities to play he has a band which appears at a Picnic in the Park, set up to encourage young bands, where Tim Hill, Clive Nash and Eddie Angel form the backbone of the Enate Blues Band - it's a Crouch End thing.

Paul Soper FCCA Tax Lecturer, consultant, broadcaster (and Bass player)

 

R&B memories?

Part 1 - the Rolling Stones

When Pete asked me to write something about my memories of the Blues scene in London in the early 1960's I blanched a bit. I memorise copious volumes of tax law and legal cases in my daytime job but anything else? Gets squeezed out I suppose.

Then I thought, well... Keith Richards has 'remembered' enough for a fantastic 'auto'biography - it is ghost written but it is a fantastic read - and perhaps if I cast my mind back I'll remember more. So here goes...

Memories of the blues, "never felt more like singing the blues", the word was always there but the music form? I remember sitting on a bus reading 'Melody Maker' in December 1962, an interview with Jet Harris, who had recently left the Shadows, who said that "rhythm and blues" was going to be the next big thing. Hmmm, as a 14-year old schoolboy who had acquired a guitar some months previously (a Martin Colletti cheapo from Bells in Surbiton, strings like cheese cutters with bleeding finger tips to prove it, I have a photograph but no more) what could this 'rhythm and blues' be? I was to discover a couple of months later.

Living in Pimlico in central London I was already handily placed for musical adventures and had already gone to see Dave Brubeck and Ray Charles in concert in Victoria with school friends, very different concerts but concerts nevertheless. Returning from a school visit to Stonehenge in May 63, shortly after my 15th birthday my friend Malcolm suggested we go to see a new band called 'The Rolling Stones'. This was not to be a concert venue but a jazz club with a slightly unusual but very handy feature, a Sunday afternoon session..

Ken Colyer, trad jazz luminary and purveyor of skiffle had a club in Great Newport Street, near Leicester Square underground called Studio 51. We were beginning to think that Trad jazz was very 'square' and the purist streak in Ken Colyer meant that we thought he was hopeless old, mouldy and dusty. Many years later I realise that without Ken, who had Alexis Korner play guitar in his band, and people like Chris Barber who brought Muddy to the UK, again hopelessly square to our juvenile eyes, the British R&B boom would never have happened. Studio 51 was the title Ken used, it seemed, for less authentic sessions than the purist New Orleans jazz that he was known for and two of these sessions featured the Stones. They had a Monday night residency, ending a bit late for school, but they also featured, every week, in an afternoon session, every Sunday from 4pm to 6.30pm before going to the Richmond Athletic Club for a later session.

This was perfect - Sunday afternoon, 2/6d admission (12.5p) and 6d (2.5p) for a coke at the interval - what could be better! Even now it seems that we went to these sessions every Sunday for many months but I know that it was only from late May/early June to the end of August 1963 but what a change, what a roller-coaster ride took place in those few months.

Impressions of the first couple of Sunday afternoon sessions I'll record, but not with any sequence because they don't occur in any sequence.

Charlie and Stew (Ian Stewart) were usually the first to arrive, Charlie carrying in and setting up his drum kit centre stage and Stew bringing in and setting up the amplifiers and the Selmer PA. Then Brian and Bill and usually last, Mick and Keith. I remember one afternoon Mick and Keith arriving with girlfriends in tow. Mick brought Chrissie Shrimpton, Jean's younger sister, who had the most amazing blonde hair, how we lusted after her. Keith was accompanied by Chloe Sylvester, an amazingly vibrant black girl. Chrissie we knew of because Malcolm and I liked to take an interest in fashion and fashion magazines in which she had featured, Chloe's name we didn't know but discovered later. But - and remember this was only four years after the Notting Hill raceriots - a black girl-friend - wow!

The Stones were still really a six-piece at this stage, although publicly a five piece, as Stew played piano whenever he could and was, in that setting at least, an essential part of the Stones' sound. We didn't know that a couple of weeks before, Andrew Loog Oldham, then the Stones manager, had 'relegated' him to be a roadie. There was certainly a contrast though between Stew and the rest of the band. As I understand it Stew was still paid as a member of the band but his burly rocker persona did not fit in with Andrew's vision of the band.

Charlie was the perfect 'mod' - button down shirts, knitted tie etc whereas Stew was an archetypal rocker - seemingly greasy leathers, black jeans etc and this reflected one of the curious aspects that we noticed of the Stones' audience. Mods and Rockers mixed which didn't happen in other settings - a year later there would be blood spilt in Brighton and many other seaside resorts but Mods in 1963 looked down upon Rockers as, well a bit scruffy, Mods (short for modernists, people who liked modern jazz originally) were clean, stylish and cool, well they were at this time or rather we thought we were because we all had Mod pretensions. The excesses of Mod-dom were still a way off and anyway by that time we had become 'individualists' looking down on Mods and Rockers both.

The other Stones hovered in the middle - Bill was certainly closer to rocker mode, but then Bill was also visibly older than the other members of the band. Mick, Keith and Brian all wore long hair which wasn't a particular Mod style, too scruffy by far, and in Brian's case almost as long and as blonde as Chrissie's, but they clearly bought their shirts from John Michael, a shirt manufacturer on the Kings Road, Chelsea, hopelessly expensive for us, but very stylish with small tab collars. Trousers were very low-rise (much like today's low cut jeans) but tight fitting, probably purchased from John Stephen or Vince from Carnaby Street, perhaps. Clothes were a very important part of this whole thing at the time, this was music that you identified with but also clothes, literature, fashion, shoes, it all ran together. We were certainly Mods but the Stones stood in a very hip middle.

But when they started to play! The Studio 51, Ken Colyer's Jazz Club, was much like the Cavern in Liverpool must have been, a basement club with access via metal stairs from the street and then a long low pair of cellars stretching back from the street door underneath the building above, cellar space to the right was for performance, to the left services. The building above was extensively rebuilt many years ago and where the 'area', the space between the street and the building was, where the stairs went down, is now built over and flush to the building behind. There is no physical remnant of the place but there is a plaque on the wall. At the far end was the stage area, quite a low stage, maybe 2 to 3 foot high, and not a high ceiling of course which helped project the sound forward.

The PA amplifier was invisible to us but we were conscious of the Selmer PA column speakers which were set up each side of the stage. Brian and Keith seemed to use Vox AC30's but I heard a suggestion from another muso of the day that they had had the Vox innards replaced with Fender because they were sponsored by Vox but preferred the more authentic Fender sound. I have never seen this confirmed anywhere else and as I remember it very few people used Fender amplification at that time, certainly when the tremelo on the amp was engaged it sounded like a Vox tremolo and not a Fender reverb. With the drums centre and Bill's homemade looking rig to the left of the stage looking from the audience, Brian's amplifier on the left of Mick, centre stage, and Keith to the right the sound was propelled into the audience space, it didn't need to radiate out and this must have helped the band seem very tight, which they were. Stew's (the club's) piano was against the back wall behind the drums with the front covers removed, so he played with his back to the band and the audience.

The first time Malcolm and I went there were, perhaps, 50 to 60 other people watching and dancing, but week by week, the audience would grow and grow until by late August people were locked out and getting to the stage was (almost) an impossibility. As I remember it there was a bar area to the left, where cokes were served, and closer to the door, again on the left, the dressing room. The toilets were on the other side of the stairs under the pavement.

A typical set list consisted of covers of course, a good sprinkling of Chuck Berry songs of course, Stew firmly on piano on these essentially boogie numbers; Jimmy Reed numbers featuring Mick's thin high harmonica styling and of course Bo Diddley with Mick brandishing 4 large maraccas, Mona in particular, Stew sitting these out, I'm not sure he was a great fan. Coasters-type numbers featured as well, Poison Ivy of course, Love Potion No 9 too, and of course Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters numbers - I wish I could sit down now and capture a typical set list - but then all too soon came the break, and then again too soon the end. This was followed by a rapid breakdown of the gear ready to move on to Richmond. What they did not play was 'Come On', the Chuck Berry song which was their first single release. Not once. Later in the year they did play the second single "I Wanna Be Your Man", written by Lennon and McCartney, and we all looked and looked and tried to work out how Brian played what we would later learn was a bottle-neck - more prosaically a length of copper tubing of course. How the raw edges would hurt if you were too eager and forgot to sand down the cut edges!

When the summer holidays arrived we started to go to some of the Monday evening sessions as well and first encountered a rather wild-looking Mancunian, dressed in a plastic mac and playing a very strange looking guitar. John Mayall, for it was he, played some rather more authentic blues in the interval on a couple of occasions but we would become more familiar with him in the future. John's guitar, made and modified by him had an extension from the upper bout which contained a harmonica holder and microphone combined enabling him to play both without the folksy metal frame preferred by Dylan - rough but certainly impressive!

On 'Get Yer Ya-ya's Out', the Stones live album, Phil Cutler, their announcer, refers to the band as the "greatest rock'n'roll band in the world" - and they were. Looking back over 50 years I have heard a lot of bands in club settings and the Stones were and still are one of the best club bands I have ever heard. We didn't just hear the Stones of course, other bands were available, and we were quite taken with a very dandy looking Mod who played harmonica and sang some numbers with a band called Jimmy Powell and the 5 Dimensions - R&B but maybe a bit closer to the Liverpool sound, but this Mod was the real deal, a 'face' with bouffant back-combed hair, stick-thin, and always had a friend with him who was rather more curious looking and smelled of what we would discover some years later was Patchouli - covering of course another smell that we would also become more familiar with some years later. The Mod was known as 'Rod the Mod', who would go on to sing with Long John Baldry and Julie Driscoll in Steampacket, Rod Stewart of course. Steampacket's keyboard player was Brian Auger, a bit older than us but who had gone to our school. A few years later still I booked the Jeff Beck Group for a college dance and Rod was vocalist then, together with Ron Wood who was then playing bass. Jimmy Powell and the 5 Dimensions recorded in 1965 but what they produced then was not a patch on the band with Rod and no recordings of the band with Rod were made as I understand it.

A digression - Ron Wood's older brother, called Arthur, had a band called the Artwoods, and was known as being a guitarist who could control feedback, certainly an influence on Pete Townsend, I'm sure, but they would be popular on the circuit in the following year, 1964. Guitarists used clean settings in the main, touch of tremolo on the Bo Diddley numbers, distortion was not in favour and solo's tried to acheive the sort of sharp short bends employed by Hubert Sumlin behind Wolf rather than the more expressive style that would be employed to devastating effect in the next couple of years by Eric Clapton. Harmony guitars were played by Brian and Keith at this time, then Brian moved on to a Gretch and Keith a Les Paul, although I could be mistaken on that. Brian was very clearly the boss at this time, he was the man with the roll of bank notes in his back-pocket as we saw when queueing one Sunday afternoon. Keith was the easiest to talk to, I remember seeing him one afternoon on the Charing Cross Road, probably November '63, and asking him if there was any chance of the Stones returning back to Studio '51. They did play another gig there but I couldn't go, and by the New Year they were playing clubs and ball-rooms with a 15 shilling admission - more than I earned per week in my Saturday job.

Another band we saw on a couple of occasions at Studio 51 were the Downliners Sect - they seemed to include a few more Coasters numbers in their set, and their big feature was 'Little Egypt', a big Coasters hit. The problem with the Downliners was lack of a PA, or lack of a big-enough PA, you could hear the instruments but not the vocals, we were not impressed, to say the least.

The summer holidays also meant that Chris Jagger, Mick's younger brother, could come to some of the sessions, and being the same age we became friendly, although only at the gigs I must stress. Chris got us into the dressing room on a couple of occasions where we could swap pleasantries with the band, well actually I think we probably just sat and kept quiet, but Mick and Keith were only 19 to our 15, seemed like a yawning gap at the time, but not that much I suppose.

One afternoon, it may have been before a Stone's session, we encountered a rather weird middle-aged black guy sat at the side with pomaded hair and a hair net on who we were told was Chuck Berry, Berry had been recently released from American prison. Most reference books refer to Chuck touring the UK in 1964, but I am sure this was Studio 1 in 1963. Could be memory tricks of course. Rod and his friend (there is nothing in this other than an observation that they were hanging out together) were also there, smelling strongly as they did, and according to the website Brumbeat.com (Jimmy Powell was a brummie it seems) Rod left the 5 Dimensions, taking some of the band to back Chuck on a UK tour. Again a bit of a mystery, when I saw Chuck he was backed by the Nashville Teens, a Mickey Most band.

The Stones' last session at Studio 51 at the end of August 1963 was frantic, completely packed, screaming girls seemed to pack out the front and sweat was dripping off the walls. Only 12 weeks before we'd listened in comfort with 50 people but this was different. However we had decided that as we "knew" the band, well had a passing acquaintance anyway, we should turn this to our advantage. I had borrowed my sister's camera and wanted to take some pictures (don't get excited they have long, long gone. They were very poor quality as the light was so dim and got lost in the school darkroom]. We pushed our way through to the left of the stage, from the audience's perspective, where Stew stood whilst not playing. "Stew" we called, "help us up" and Stew, being a diamond geezer did exactly that, pulled us from the audience up onto the stage. We watched the Stones' final club set that summer from the stage, standing, in my case, right next to Bill and able to take the photos from the side.

Next came their tour. I saw the first performance at the New Victoria Cinema, where I had previously seen Dave Brubeck and Ray Charles, but this was a 'pop' tour. Each act had a very short set and was then rotated out to be followed by the next. The Stones came on very early, can't remember what they played, and the first half was closed by Bo Diddley, this was awesome because Bo had rehearsed musicians, Jerome, and his sister, the Duchess, definitely an act, this was the stuff of legend, 'Road Runner' sounded better than when the Stones' played it!

Half-time arrives and out for a breath of fresh Victoria air where we encountered Guy Stevens, DJ from the Scene Club, later to become the Clash's producer of course, who was trying to encourage us not to go back in for the second half of the show - everyone we might want to see had already appeared. Remember everything merged together in Mod sensibility and the headline act clearly didn't fit Guy's sensibility.

I'm glad I did go in to see the second set because the Everly Brothers were superb. Don and Phil were real American showmen of course but their voices were breathtaking. So was the band they played with, even their matching Gibson guitars, heaven, even if at the time a 'guilty pleasure'!

But... this left us with a dilemma - who do we go see now the Stones had got too big? This would take us on through the Yardbirds (well it looked like Keith gave/sold his Harmony to a young E Clapton) and then on to the rather remarkable John Mayall and a whole new chapter of Blues. to be recounted in part 2 of this reminiscence - if I get round to it!

In the meantime our musical education was developing as well. It wasn't enough to know that a song was by Jimmy Reed, you had to track down the original. This was much more difficult than it seems, how do you lay your hands on these mythical pieces of gold? Slowly, EP by EP usually - albums were quite expensive - Pye Records had realised the interest in R&B and had the rights, it seems, to Chess records, and started to produce EPs of Chuck and Bo, Howling Wolf - I still have my EP with Smokestack Lightning, Howlin' for my Baby, Going Down Slow and You'll be Mine on my study wall with a cover picture of a Rocking Chair and a guitar - apparently a Dart, looking something like my Martin Colletti! Other labels followed suit as it became apparent that this was the next big thing and a better supply of R&B appeared.

And of course you followed on the trail from artist to artist, clue to clue, we didn't have the initiative to write to Chess records as Mick and Keith did, and certainly couldn't afford to import albums, as they did. We didn't have the money for proper instruments either, maybe if I'd been a couple of years older I might have got swept up in this as a friend of mine did. I only met him years later but Alex Dmochowski was two years older than me but did get carried along, found himself in a band, with a bass, recording for Joe Meek and then starting to play in Aynsley Dunbar's Retaliation, going on to play with John Mayall, Peter Green and Frank Zappa!

I went on to college, got a business qualification, a girlfriend who was more interested in folk music, and who I'm still married to 46 years later; my school band, TCP (which stood for Tony, Carlos and Paul, was a folk blues trio based on the great Sonny Boy Williamson record on Storyville with Matt 'Guitar' Murphy, we eventually stopped playing together as went left school and went to college, and then my playing was confined to the home until I discovered jamming and the bass, but that is also another story!

Before their later tours when I saw the Stones in stadium settings, Steel Wheels in 1991 and then Voodoo Lounge in 1994, I did see them at the Richmond Jazz and Blues Festival in August 1964. By then they were an established 'pop' act and played on the Friday night - they were good, but this was a festival in the days before outside PAs began to be developed, the sound was quite thin, the bass got lost and by this time we had bigger stars to see - Mose Allison, Jimmy Witherspoon and more besides. By August 1964 British R&B had firmly arrived and on the last night of the Richmond Jazz and Blues festival the headline trad-jazz act on the main stage must have noticed that most of the crowd drifted away and went into the tent where the Yardbirds were jamming with Ginger Johnson's African Drummers, Graham Bond, Ginger Baker and Georgie Fame!

 

 

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