BRITISH BLUES ARCHIVE

Eyewitness

 

Paul Soper - Part 2

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)

 

Part 2 - Mayall and Klooks Kleek

In part 1 I described my memories of encountering R&B for the first time in 1963 through the agency of the Rolling Stones and Ken Colyer's Jazz Club, also known as Studio 51.

What happened next? By mid 1964 I was 16 and about to be uprooted from Pimlico and its close proximity to the West End to leafy Hampstead, where another popular club was located. But the West End was still only a bus-ride or a tube journey away...

Following the end of the Rolling Stones' residency at Studio 51 my friends were looking round for new blues exeriences and I was now involved in my first blues band, of sorts.

A natural successor to the Stones were the Yardbirds, similar material, and in Keith Relf a singer who was clearly fragile but had that relevance we looked for and was a pretty good harp player as well. They looked a lot more Mod than the Stones and had a pretty good guitar player in one Eric Clapton. But, there was also something 'popish' about them, they didn't satisfy as the Stones did. Jimmy Powell and the 5 Dimensions, a rocking band but, when Rod Stewart left them they lost something too. The Downliners Sect - lack of a PA and they tended, like the Pretty Things towards the scruffy end of the blues, we were Mods for heaven's sake- we needed something cooler.

Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames had a residency at the Flamingo in Wardour Street to rival the Stones, and a residency that lasted much longer as well but... The Flamingo was very much a late night venue and even at 16 all-nighters were not really on for regular weekly sessions. Georgie's band were also very different to the 'Chicagoish' sound of the Stones, this was a band with a Hammond organ, a brass section, a band that deliberately didn't have a guitar player or so it seemed, they were slick, rehearsed and... somehow just a bit too rehearsed. Over the course of the next few years Georgie would become a firm favourite and I was lucky enough in 1967/68 (?) to see what was supposed to be the final Blue Flames gig in the theatre in the basement of the Mayfair Hotel. Scheduled to run from 10 to 12pm it was still going loud and strong when the hotel pulled the plugs at 2am. By this time Georgie did employ a guitarist, a certain Mr John McLaughlin, and that was a session that will live with me forever. John had in fact played with Georgie until mid 1963, a lineup I never saw, but then rejoined later.

I suspect that Georgie's supposed aversion to guitarists at this time was financial - and the band already had the very remarkable Speedy on congas. Neemoi 'Speedy' Acquaye, as trusty Google tells me, was a focal point of the Blue Flames and gave the band a completely exotic sound and look. One evening at Klooks Kleek I was lucky enough to see Georgie and Speedy sit in and jam with the Graham Bond Organisation, Graham played organ but alto sax as well, so that fitted well and the jam, a single improvisation, lasted almost 30 blissful minutes.

The Flamingo on a Georgie Fame all-nighter was filled with a mixture of Mods and also a great number of black American service personnel from the bases in East Anglia and I suspect they were one of the reasons why the stingy-brimmed pork pie hat became so popular. They were super cool and, of course, brought the latest dances with them as well.

One evening my friend Malcolm had heard a rumour that a new blues band were going to play at the Scene Club in Ham Yard, just behind Piccadilly, and on the other side of the road from the famous Windmill theatre. The Scene was THE Mod club in central London as far as we were concerned, with a great DJ, Guy Stevens, who seemed to have access to an amazing collection of imported R&B, most of which could not be obtained or heard anywhere else. They also allowed the bands to play in total darkness - something I would find frightening even now.

So we turned up early and realised that this was a band started up by John Mayall who we had seen, some months before, playing guitar and harp in the interval at Stones' sessions at Studio 51. The Blues Breakers, as they were called, had a very young bass player whose mum and dad brought him and his gear to the gig in their station wagon, and of course in those days you could park in Ham Yard - this was John McVie of course- who would end up being a big influence on yours truly, although many years later. John Mayall had by now acquired an organ and so played guitar harmonica and organ, but still needed a guitarist. Subsequent research tells me that John had already recorded his first single, 'Crawlin' Up A Hill 'with guitarist Bernie Watson, but Bernie had left and so he needed a dep for the night. So we were treated to an electric couple of sets from a guitarist we were already familiar with from the folk scene - Davy Graham. This may have been the only night that Davy played with the band, although Google suggests not, he was using a pickup which slotted into the soundhole of his acoustic guitar, but the sound was spot-on. This was a band we could enjoy.

April 1965 John Mayall, John McVie Bass, Eric Clapton at back

Davy had recorded an EP in 1962 with Alexis Korner called 3/4 AD and I soon acquired a copy which I still have today (and yes it is worth a few bob now) - he was also a regular feature on early evening BBC TV with other folk singers like Cy Grant, so it was interesting to suddenly realise that this was blues too. To this day I have still not mastered Angi - the Davy Graham composition that most people associate with either Bert Jansch or Paul Simon, who of course stole it from Bert who learned it from Davy. Bert's version also extends out and includes tributes to other stuff that Davy was playing including Bobby Timmon's Moanin' and all of a sudden jazz started to make an appearance in our understanding of R&B. I suppose this probably climaxed with the ultimate Mod record of early 1964, Sack O' Woe by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. It extended on both sides of the EP release and it was only a few years ago that I discovered it entire on an album called Live At The Lighthouse from which the track was culled. Even now I wonder why the piano solo doesn't fade out and fade in again which it did when we had to turn the EP over!

Adderley and the Quintet also featured on an album with Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson which included the best version of Bright Lights Big City ever recorded in my humble opinion. Years later I realised that Cleanhead had recorded back in the 1940's and so was another link to the real origins of R&B which we still, foolishly, thought was a 1950's or 1960's phenomenon!

The Scene Club was a very dark basement club, when the bands played they played in the dark, very atmospheric, one of the young Faces who hung out here was called Marc Feld, who would go on to greater things with a name change as Marc Bolan and his band T Rex, but then he was a Face - I suppose I should explain for younger readers that the Mods who set the fashion trends, which the rest of us followed, were called Faces, just as the girls were known as 'tickets' although the significance of that was always lost on me. This was before the rioting between Mods and Rockers started later on in 1964, when the early Mods just dropped the description like a proverbial 'hot potato'. Most modern commentaries on Mod-dom use the Who's Quadrophenia as their point of reference but Jimmy, the protagonist of that rock opera was a Mod 2.0 if you like. Of course there were plenty of pills dropped, although I was always a bit squeamish and avoided illegal substances (at this time) - I really didn't fancy being 'blocked' the following day and found little difficulty in staying up anyway. When I get back after a gig at 3am these days I'm glad I can still do it without chemicals. Contacts in the school cadet force liberated Benzedrine from the cadet force supplies (never recalled after the war!) and removed the aerials from 'whippet' tanks on manoeuvres so providing a 16 foot aerial on the back of the scooter, normally topped off with a fox tail or similar.

Just like many venues today, no stage, play on the floor

Where those Mods lusted after scooters we lusted after guitars (oh and Chrissie Shrimpton as well, see part 1) intently studying the guitars that our heroes played and window-shopped extensively, plucking up courage to try out a guitar or two. One brave store had an open evening where an impromptu jam session started - we didn't know what a jam session was but it sure was fun! Just a few yards from the Scene Club was great musical instrument store which specialised in Gretsch guitars. A plot was hatched, but never brought to fruition, under which we would obtain purple hearts etc wholesale and then retail them on, we knew a supplier but... and just off Leicester Square we would sometimes be accosted by young girls who would offer us reefer - had we only known then what we know now.

John Mayall and his Blues Breakers played a mixture of Chicago tunes by lesser known artists (to us) and originals, but it was definitely not the R&B standards which most bands of the day played. A couple of weeks after seeing John there we saw a performance by a band from Newcastle called the Animals, Eric Burden's voice was truly amazing and suddenly Ray Charles came back into the equation as an R&B source. Lots of bands played " What'd I Say " but the lesser known works also featured in the Animal's repertoire.

The Scene club DJ, as mentioned, was one Guy Stevens who just had the most amazing collection of R&B singles and he was also very knowledgeable and quite willing to chat about his enthusiasm so he was a useful source of further research. One of our school friends had been on an American exchange programme and had spent a year in San Diego, Southern California. His parents used to own a barber's shop in Notting Dale (soon to be demolished to construct the Westway and the West Cross Route) just round the corner from Oil Drum Lane, the scene of the Steptoes' scrap yard. The parents had moved to Brighton but didn't want to interrupt Mel's education (!) so he was allowed to live by himself in the flat above the shop. Amongst the records he brought back from the states was ' Money ' by Barrett Strong - on the Motown label - little did we realise then that that was the very first release by Berry Gordy's Tamla Motown label as it would become.

Mayall's Blues Breakers settled down into a regular line-up of Mayall playing several guitars and organ powered through a Burns 60 watt transistor amplifier - state of the art. We speculated how many you would need to chain together to blow the national grid. They don't seem to have the nostalgia value that an old Fender, Marshall or Vox amplifier has today, and I must confess they were not the prettiest of amplifiers, being quite large with a very shiny silver cloth covering the speakers. Mayall's guitars were fascinating and as John was incredibly friendly and tolerant of young kids asking questions we learned a lot about them and why he played them. One was a nine-string - double course on the top three strings, why? Because Big Joe Williams had a nine string National guitar - obvious when you know, and of course here was another name to check out. Our researches were now taking us into some very interesting areas of the blues and as our own band's sound was acoustic in the main, we had discovered Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers and other bands from the 20's and 30's through the Swiss Cottage record library which had a lot of obscure jazz classics including early blues.

John with one of the guitars he carved himself

Another of John's guitarswas simply cut-down to a very small body and, like all of his guitars, tattooed is about the best way to describe it, although I think it is actually called pokerwork - using a hot stick to burn/guage images into the surface of the wood. He made them of course and clearly enjoyed woodworking. They were certainly quite unique. A third had a novel wooden extension rising from the upper bout of the guitar which contained a microphone and harmonica holder, the one we'd seen him using at Studio 51.

He also had a rack for nine harps which held them on his chest so that whilst playing organ he could take out the appropriate key and start playing if the mood took him - visible in one of the pictures on the archive.

John McVie had become the regular bass player and it was only many years later than I discovered that after recruiting him Mayall provided him with a very large pile of '45s which he was instructed to learn. Many years later I realised that I remembered John's bass playing more than I remembered Mayall's guitarists and that was when it dawned on me that I should have played bass all those years.

Hughie Flint was John's drummer, always played hunched over the drum-kit but really swung, often with brushes. Later on he became part of the hit-making combo McGuiness Flint with Tom McGuiness from Manfred Mann. Then I heard he became a porter at an Oxford College.

Then Guitarists... as mentioned above I first heard the band with Davy Graham but the guitarist who followed him into the band and would be there until March 1965 was Roger Dean. Roger was very jazzy and would later go on to become a regular guitarist with the Joe Loss Orchestra, a position he held for many years. But he was playing the same sort of dance band 9th chords that T-Bone Walker played so it fitted John Mayall's music perfectly. In part 3 (yes I feel a part 3 coming on) I'll try to remember some of the many and varied blues artists who came over in 1964 and 1965 but one was Mr Aaron Thibeaux (T-Bone) Walker - what a lesson in guitar-playing that was. Quite a small man but holding the guitar horizontal to the floor, when he wasn't playing it behind his head or with his teeth, I shall never forget the look on his face when he nodded for Roger to take a solo which was so good T-Bone looked quite put out to be upstaged by goatee wearing Roger. I paid careful attention to some of Roger's chords and still use some today.

Roger played guitar on John Mayall's first album recorded live in December 1964 at Klook's Kleek , the club which was to become for me in 1964 what Studio 51 had been in 1963. For that night the band was augmented by a sax-player, Nigel Stanger, and the cables were run over the roof of the pub from the adjacent and convenient Decca recording studios. On a couple of numbers I tried to keep clapping longer than anyone else and I swear I can hear me! A number of live recordings of bands were made this way including one by Cream a while later. The album came out in April 1965 and I was quite disappointed, when I brought my album to be autographed, to discover that Roger had been sacked and replaced by an upstart - a certain Eric Clapton! I did get Eric's autograph that night - but I also took some photographs, some of which are in the Blues Archive. Why didn't I take more? Cost of film was one reason, getting into Klook's Kleek in West Hampstead was 6/- (30p), a lot more expensive than Studio 51, but probably cost of flash-bulbs was another restraining factor. And which other bands would have allowed me the access to take pictures with the same freedom as John? Which other venues would have been as perfect too - no stage at Klook's Kleek, the band played on the floor so if you were at the front you were directly face-to-face with the band.

My elder brother had left the air-force in early 1964 and moved into a flat in Hampstead and I would go and stay with him. I discovered that Klook's Kleek was a short walk away in West Hampstead and in the holidays I stayed with Dave and went to the Kleek. Later in 1964 my mother died and I went to live with him in Hampstead permanently. Studio 51 was now out of reach for regular visits but Klooks was a short walk away. The club had been started by (as we called him) 'Dirty' Dick Jordan, as we called him, and originally specialised in jazz but as R&B became more popular Dick started to book the jazzier bands, Graham Bond and Georgie Fame but in September 1963, he dedicated the Tuesday night session to R&B and started to book other bands. It was the upstairs function room of this very large pub in West End Lane, the Railway Hotel, with bars both on the ground floor and in the basement. There was also a bar upstairs and at the interval the band would go with the punters to get a drink, all very democratic. There was also a dressing room at the back of the main room and we would convene to examine the latest beauty in its case, with the band's permission, of course. Admission was controlled by the bouncers who were mainly friendly ex-boxers and you were well advised to become friends with them so that they would squeeze you in if, technically, capacity had been reached.

Eric playing his red tele but it looks to me like he stripped the paint off, Hughie Flint on drums

Eric joining the Blues Breakers meant a fundamental change - Roger had supported John's singing and playing and took tasteful solos. Eric was louder, much louder and, from very early on, clearly a highlight, if not still the highlight of the show. Yes he was good, of course he was, and we'd watch his playing as avidly as Roger's but... I can't think of too much I ever learned watching Eric, maybe boosting the bass as you drop to the V on the turnaround, using a trill on the third string on My Baby - but it was Roger whose chord work I still remember.

Initially Eric played a Telecaster, probably the same one he played in the Yardbirds but as I remember it was stripped to the wood and in the photos I took it is definitely wood-coloured not red. Later on a Les Paul made an appearance and with his Marshall combo made a truly glorious sound but... for me the focus of the band had shifted and maybe that would explain, partly, why I drifted on in late 1965 to other musical forms.

One abiding memory is that Klook's often had a support band who would play a half-hour set in the interval before the headline act came back again. Usually they were not very good, and we usually ignored them in favour of a pint of Watney's Red Barrel - this was of course blatant underage drinking on my part but I'd guess that most of the audience was probably under-age too - and in our defence Red Barrel was a very weak beer - 2 degrees or so. Anyway this one evening, research in the archives of the Melody Maker tells me it was September 26th, the support band came from Birmingham. We all went to the bar, as usual, they started playing a number clearly called 'Go Now' and the whole audience and as well as John and Eric rushed back in to see this band called The Moody Blues and their lead singer Denny Laine. They were very good. Such a pity they became so insipid (and popular) a few years later.

Came the summer of '65 and Eric announced that he was going to go round the world with a group of mates, they had bought a hearse, off they went...

John had to get in a replacement and would try people out. I didn't hear Peter Green play with the band, I did hear John Weider who later went on to play with Family.

And the special guest that night - Champion Jack Dupree

Eric only got as far as Greece, totalled the vehicle and then was back. I heard this variant of the band once only, and this was at a club called Zeta's in Putney. An upstairs room just beside Putney Railway station. By this time both Eric and John McVie were playing through Marshall stacks and Mayall had just recorded 'I'm Your Witchdoctor' and 'Telephone Blues' for Immediate, both of which featured in the set. What do I remember? Well both Eric and John were wearing Converse Allstar baseball boots and corduroy jeans. We knew that the only shop in London selling Converse was Lonsdale, then a boxing-cum-sports shop in Beak Street. Oh, and I was searched by the police on my way home catching the last bus up the Finchley Road, "...lot of burglary about Sir, what have you got in that bag?" I told him, my library book and the silver foil I had wrapped my sandwich in (I had gone to Putney straight from work in Sainsbury's, the 'Saturday job', actually Friday evening and all-day Saturday). "Don't be cheeky" he said as I watched the last bus sail up the road. Nothing new in 'sus'.

Oh - the Band? Well the acoustics were dreadful, there were very few people in the club, the volume had escalated more than somewhat, Eric featured a bit too much for my liking, it... it... just wasn't as enjoyable as I'd hoped it would be. Still I was about to go to Cornwall on my first lad's holiday, hitch-hiking there and back and staying in St Ives together with my band and a friend or two and then - college beckoned in September and all of a sudden I would go in a very different sort of direction - but that will be in part 3 - or later?

 

 

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