British Blues

Blues Britannia

In the early 1960’s there was a boom in blues music both from the US and home grown – British Blues. The Twisted Wheel in Manchester club played an important role in its popularisation. It was Alexis Korner who had been in the Chris Barber Band along with others like John Mayall who were the leading lights in preaching the Blues. Peter Green, Spencer Davis, Chris Farlowe, Graham Bond, Brian Auger, Georgie Fame, The Animals, Them, even Rod Stewart and the Kinks included blues numbers in their sets. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were in genuine awe of this astounding part of black American culture who were mostly ignored in their homeland by the white folks or even worse, had to endure their songs sanitised for consumption by the masses.  However, the white folks in England and France were blues crazy and almost every beat group in the early sixties performed their share of blues standards. Obligatory numbers included:

I’m A Man,
Mannish Boy
Hoochie Coochie man
I just Wanna Make Love to You

Bo Diddley songs in particular proved popular with even the most middle of the road groups of the time. Almost every live band had a Blues or an R&B number in their repertoire and almost all of them appeared live at the Twisted Wheel in Brazennose Street.
It was the club’s DJ Roger Eagle who had a hand in booking these UK blues bands, and often cheekily would play the originals after their set.

Twisted Wheel DJ Roger Eagle pictured with Sugar Pie Desanto and Howlin Wolf

At the time we tended to slightly despise most of them as poor imitators with a few exceptions. Today with hindsight it becomes clear that some of the UK bands  did genuine intuitive versions adding something to the acknowledged originals – take most of the Led Zepplin early tracks as an example. When the UK bands hit the American audiences, the youth culture there re-discovered their own originals and gave some of the most obscure artists a dose of celebrity and fame.

The Twisted Wheel  in the North of England. gave great respect to the blues – demonstrated  by the repeated bookings of acts like Spencer Davis, John Mayall and Georgie Fame.  Alexis Korner even took up residency at the club.

A strange elitist chauvinism emerged, its almost described on camera by Eric Clapton
in the DVD set produced by Martin Scorsese, the Mike Figgis DVD: Red White And Blues. Eric sums up the almost religious, cultist  attitude taken by blues purity aficionados, counting himself among them. The discourse focuses on the contribution of the UK to the emergence of the Blues into the light of general culture, stateside, unearthed out from its early 1960’s hidden and  exploited position.

The DVD has its detractors – some reviewers still don’t seem to appreciate the role of the British, critical of Tom Jones and Lulu as exponents of US urban blues. But even Lulu sang the Blues in those days and in Manchester she appeared at the Cavern Club with her ‘Brothers’.

She can and does do great justice to the genre, even though she was a white person singing the Blues. But don’t forget, she came from a rough part of Glasgow. It’s almost reverse racism where the Blues can only be authentic when coming from black people. Strangely, this attitude seems to originate from the white middle classes.

The Blues is steeped in suffering and yet it is not always downbeat. On the contrary, it is in fact an uplifting mode of music.

This phenomena of appreciation of US minority music happened twice – after the blues boom came Soul. This slowly ignited, northern soul appreciation back in the USA today.

Ironically there is a statue of Abraham Lincoln not far from the spot on which the Twisted Wheel club existed but no plaque, nothing to signify the place where all this appreciation of the Blues and the Soul of American music was given a massive kick start – The British invasion.