British blues: part 3 London

[This recollection was first published on my Geocities website in 2006 - but as the future of Geocities is uncertain, I thought I'd re-publish it here with a few tiny amendments.]

In September/October 1965 I went to the Battersea College of Advanced Technology/University of Surrey (designate) and met Steve Whitehead (he lived on the floor below at Ralph West Hall) who also liked blues. (Steve just reminded me by email of a series on Granada TV which featured an amazing roster of US blues musicians playing around derelict railway stations in the Manchester area.)

One of the reasons I wanted to go to London was because I'd read about the Flamingo and Marquee clubs in NME and wanted to be part of that scene. I saw Jesse 'Lone Cat' Fuller at the 100 Club (17 October 1965) and got his autograph.

On my course was Chris Brunt, who played alto sax, clarinet, flute and guitar! After a term in hall I moved into his flat in Hammersmith. We played blues at the folk club – he on guitar, me on harmonica (under the name of Whistlin' Walshaw Fred – the Fred had came from Freddy and the Dreamers who I was thought to resemble!) – and this formed the beginnings of Helix.
Valid until 31st March 1966
I was also a member of the stage lighting crew, which got me into gigs free and backstage. Battersea alternated Saturday 'dances' with Chelsea College over the river - us one week, them the next. We also decorated the hall with huge sheets of paper painted up with various scenes. This was just before light shows took over. After our painting we'd adjourn to the Green Cafe on Battersea Park Road for a slap-up lunch. I saw The Animals, Steam Packet with Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart, and many other bands, including (I'm sure) one of the first gigs by Led Zeppelin possibly under the name of The New Yardbirds, and on Saturday 1 October 1966 (just looked through my diaries) the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, supported by Dave (David?) Anthony's Moods.

I'd been playing blues harp since school, and Suki (Shelagh Reece) had even made a coffin-shaped box for my Echo Super Vamper in A. Some memories of my band Helix are published elsewhere.

On Sunday 5 December 1965 I saw my hero Jimmy Smith at the New Victoria ( a double bill with Dizzy Gillespie!). I had a much better view of him when he played the Brighton Concorde a few years ago. I was on the front row, and when I asked for his autograph in the interval, he kissed my head!

I also saw Thelonius Monk at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon, 25 April 1966, with Chris Brunt. By this time I was getting into jazz and buying Charlie Parker records.

There was a second wave of Brit Blues in Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack and Duster Bennett, but they were already being mocked by the likes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (one of my all-time favourite bands) with 'Can blue men sing the whites' from The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse (1968) and 'I've got those Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, John Mayall, can't fail Blues' by The Liverpool Scene from Bread on the night (1969). The mods were growing their hair and becoming hippies and the blues was turning into prog rock and heavy metal.

Other reminiscences:
British Blues: part 1 Bury
British Blues: part 2 Manchester

Glad Day and Guildford Arts Lab

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