Dipping into the Past: Eddi Reader and Burns, bawdiness and romance
Cover Story: (28) The Croppy Boy. Anne Byrne or the Dubliners

Dipping into the Past: John Mayall's part in my journey from blues to folk

John Mayall - 1

November 2017 update: a former colleague, Bill Stock, wrote this at Facebook the day, prompting me to trawl through the Salut! Live archives and reproduce - from 10 years ago - the little piece that follows ...

"Met my all-time UK blues hero, the legendary John Mayall, at his gig in Southend tonight. Bought a couple of signed CDs before the show (see next photo) and told John I first saw him at Bishop’s Stortford, Herts in the late 60s.

What an amazing gig. After playing non-stop for nearly two hours he and his fab band were given a well-deserved standing ovation by fans. Bear in mind that Mr Mayall was called up for National Service, served in Korea and has been playing the Blues since the Fifties, he sounded as fresh and sprightly as ever. His multi-skilling abilities amazed me. On some numbers he played Roland or Hammond keyboards with his right hand, played a harmonica held again a microphone in his left hand while singing a few verses in between. He also played superb rhythm and lead guitars. No wonder he was made OBE for services to music. And at the end of the show John and the whole band met fans in the foyer to sign more CDs and programmes and pose for more photos. Brilliant."

Billy Bragg once told me he was of folk, though not from folk.

The difference is subtle but not too hard to comprehend. Unless you are a Waterson, a Carthy, a Copper, a Doonan or a Lakeman, you are likely to have arrived at being "of folk" by this or that route.

How many generations a family needs to have had a strong interest in, and/or experience of performing, folk music before a member can accurately say he or she is "from folk" is open to debate.

But for most of us, the test is academic. Our parents hadn't the slightest interest; if there was music in the house it was the popular music of the age, or maybe light opera or piano lessons for the kids. So we found our own route to folk, or it found us. We ourselves recoiled in horror from the likes of the White Heather Club or the Spinners whatever we later thought of either.

Mine included, odd as it may seem, John Mayall, the veteran British bluesman who brings his band to the Théâtre de Verdure in my present home town of Le Lavandou, on the Med between St Tropez and Toulon, this Wednesday. I'll be there, as - I suspect - will the mayor, since I am told he's a huge fan and has all the albums to prove it.Everyone of my generation was aware of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, of course, and in particular the protest songs they made popular. Some popularity - though perhaps not too much - was important to our knowledge and appreciation.

But we were also becoming aware of the blues, as played by British bands like John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. It may have been an imitation of the real, black thing but it sounded authentic enough to most of us and Mayall already seemed old enough to have acquired a certain credibility on that score alone.

I remember lying on the floor of our sitting room listening over and again to Eric Clapton's guitar solo on Rambling On My Mind, played loudly enough to menace neighbourly relations.

John Mayall 2 - 1 The great man with Bill Stock at his recent Southend gig

But where to find such music without attending big concerts in big towns? The folk club! Someone had said so, and I had no reason to doubt it.

So off I went to Darlington Folk Workshop, in the Golden Cock pub on Tubwell Row. And indeed, you could occasionaly hear, barely tolerated by the hierarchy, local youths singing their pale versions of the blues and Dylan, or their own flowery songs of varying quality.

But you also heard Byker Hill belted out unaccompanied by burly men, some of whom even knew about working with their hands, or the lusty harmonies of visiting pros and semi-pros such as Dave and Toni Arthur. Then, as you started exploring the other folk clubs in the area, you heard Irish ballads and rebel songs, Northumbrian dance music.

I gradually grew more attached to the traditional music of the British Isles and less so to the blues and contemporary folk, without ever losing my fondness for those other genres.

And on Wednesday, I will see how well that affection, slightly diminished as it may have become, in the British way with the blues has held up, and how vibrant and accomplished Mr Mayall - now 74 - has remained. [I wrote about how it went at this link]


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