Opher’s World – Tributes to Rock Genius – Cyril Davies

British Blues Man

I enjoyed putting this book together.

Cyril Davies should be much better known. He was a pioneer.


Cyril Davies

How many Grandfathers can one genre have? As many as you want!

Cyril Davies was there at the beginning. He was instrumental in getting the whole British Blues Scene off the ground. Without Cyril’s flair, drive and harp playing skills there probably would not have been a Blues Incorporated. I doubt that Alexis Korner would have got it going on his own. Without Blues Incorporated the next generation of British Blues might never have happened. We might not have had The Rolling Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, Cream, Free, Fleetwood Mac, Aynsley Dunbar, Chicken Shack and the rest.

It all happened way back in the misty past in the dour days of the 1950s when Trad Jazz was the drug of choice for rebellious British youth, when CND was big and Aldermaston Marches were all the rage. Trad Jazz was the British equivalent of the American Beat Poets – we did things differently here. Nobody, outside of a small group of musicians, had heard of the Blues. Black music of that nature was considered primitive. New Orleans Jazz, with its bastardised son – Skiffle, were the only acceptable brands, and they were treated with grave suspicion by the BBC. Of the few who showed interest Chris Barber was the leading light. He brought authentic Blues singers, like Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, over to England and gave them a platform. He also set up Skiffle with Lonnie Donnegan and took Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies into his fold. That was the application of the flame to the fuse. It took a long while to burn and quietly smouldered in the background for many years, training up a generation of musicians, until it reached the TNT and detonated. Unfortunately for Cyril that explosion was many years too late to benefit from.

Cyril Davies was an unlikely Blues hero in many ways, being a balding panel beater who was well out of his first bloom of youth. Yet he was a brilliant blues harp player and also played guitar. He came out of the fifties Skiffle boom, having formed a Skiffle band with Alexis Korner, before going into Blues. The other equally important aspect of Cyril’s was that he not only played the music but when faced with a lack of places to play solved the problem by opening his own venues. He did that with Britain’s first Rhythm ‘n’ Blues club – ‘The London Blues and Barrelhouse Club’ and then later the ‘Ealing Club’. These became the focus of not only the small rabid group of Blues enthusiasts but also the wannabe musicians who would soon form the core of the British Beat scene like Jagger and Brian Jones.

Cyril joined up with Alexis, following a Chris Barber Blues project in 1961, to form the seminal Blues Incorporated. That was the springboard for the sixties Beat boom.

Cyril didn’t stay long. He wanted to produce a more authentic electric Chicago Blues sound and left to form his ‘All-Star’ band.

He became ill in 1963 just as it was all about to happen and died in January 1964 just short of his thirty second birthday. The cause of his death was put down as inflammation of the heart although leukaemia was the probable reason.

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