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Growing up with the Blues.

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Why the blues?

Everyone responds to some genre of music which makes the hair on the back of the neck stand up and for me the blues is it.

My first experience of anything bluesy was hearing Ray Charles and the Raelets singing "Tell the Truth" and an LP called "Penitentiary Blues" with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Big Joe Williams and Lightnin' Hopkins in about 1959. Soon after, the R&B boom of the 60s was under way and one of the artists who most inspired me was Cyril Davies who had a regular gig playing blues harp at the Railway Hotel in Wealdstone (where the Who were discovered). Cyril Davies had a minor R&B hit with "Countryline Special" in about 1962 and this and the Sonny Terry LP both inspired me to try and learn the blues harp. In those days, obtaining source material was difficult but fortunately I worked in London and was able to spend many happy lunch hours in Dobells Jazz and Blues shop in Leicester Square.

Ready Steady Go

In 1963, the television show, Ready Steady Go, which showcased a lot of US R&B stars, had a competition to draw a portrait of Manfred Mann. At that time, I was frequently mistaken for him and a friend of mine rang the programme and enquired whether he could enter " a living statue". This sufficiently intrigued the Editor, Bob Bickford, for him to invite my friend to bring his entry (me) to the studio at 5.00 pm the following Friday. This he did but, as is often the case, they ran out of time for the planned competition judging. However, in the process of apologising, Bob Bickford introduced me to a girl who turned out to be a dance teacher and invited us to enjoy the show. All I did was to mirror my partners' moves but the Producer, Elkan Allan, was sufficiently impressed by what he saw to give us audience passes for subsequent shows. Since the studio was only 20 minutes from where I worked, dancing on Ready Steady Go became a regular Friday night event for the next year and a half. On the first occasion, we saw Tom Jones performing "Its Not Unusual" and as the weeks went by we saw The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beatles, Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore, Donovan, The Yardbirds (with Eric Clapton), Them (with Van Morrison), Chris Farlow, T-Bone Walker, Adam Faith, Peter Noone, Millie, Petula Clarke, the Dave Clarke Five, John Mayall, the Moody Blues, The Animals, The Soul Sisters and er...Manfred Mann.

I was learning to play the blues harp and not being the shy retiring type, took every opportunity to talk to people who played - with the result that I picked up tips from Van Morrison, who played harp on Them's big hit "Baby Please Don't Go" as well as Keith Relf of the Yardbirds and Jack Bruce who at the time played harp and bass for the Graham Bond Organisation.

Many years later, Channel 4 ran a selection of tapes from Ready Steady Go over a period of 30 weeks. Each week we taped them in the hope of seeing yours truly and each week... nothing. Finally, on the last week, there was a familiar chord and there I was in front of the Who playing "Can't Explain". A second series was much better populated with snippets.

Eighteen months later, we were watching the film"Quadrophenia" on TV and there is a scene where the "hero" slumps down in front of the TV to watch Ready Steady Go. The television is turned on and a familar chord is heard and the same elusive snatch of tape appears! Now that was a spooky feeling!!

Back in the 60s, I used to play blues harp around the folk clubs in London, particularly the Ken Colyer Club and a club called "Les Cousins" in Greek Street in Soho where I used to play in the company of such rising stars as Maddy Prior, Bert Jansch, John Renbourne and Alexis Korner.

Paul Simon even appeared there.

My introduction to the London folk scene came about when, following a jam at a party, I was introduced to a Big Bill Broonzy sound-alike called Gerry Lockran who, together with his friends, Royd Rivers and Cliff Aungier ran the Folksville Folk Club at the Half Moon in Putney which regularly played host to Maddy Prior, Joanne Kelly, Martin Carthy and many other big folk names. Sadly, Gerry is no longer with us but his son, Jason, a little golden-haired two year old when I knew Gerry, has revived his memory with a
web site giving details of Gerry's biography and his extensive discography.

Another character on the scene was a pre-hippy hippy guy called Mox, a harp player with shoulder length hair, elephant cord hipsters and a big cloth bag of harps tied with a drawstring who gigged sometimes with Joanne Kelly and claimed to have played with Alexis Korner. No-one seemed to know much about him - rumour had it he slept on someones' floor.The other day I did a Google search for him and it seems that he went on to play with Vivian Stanshall of Bonzo Dog fame. Everybody knew of him as just Mox and no-one knew his surname. However, on the pages pulled up by Google, there was a single reference to a Mox Gowland who lived in Paris and taught and played harmonica. A search on Mox + Gowland pulls up several pages which suggest that he is living in France on a permanent basis and has become something of a Harp guru.

One of my fondest memories from that era was seeing Joanne Kellys' performances at the Half Moon and other locations such as the Witches Cauldron in Belsize Park. She had a huge voice on a par with Bessy Smith or Janis Joplin but, like many blues greats she is no longer with us although her brother, Dave Kelly is a member of the Blues Band and often appears with Paul Jones, also a member of the Blues Band