Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Return to Discography
Return to LP and EP Sleeves


Side 1

1. Leaving Blues (Leadbelly) (a)
2. Rotten Break (Montana Taylor) (b)
3. Alberta (Leadbelly) (a)
4. Roundhouse Stomp (C. Johnson) (c)

Side 2

1. Skip to My Lou (Traditional) (d)
2. Good Morning (Leadbelly)(e)
3. Boll Weevil (C. Brownwell) (e)
4. Ella Speed (Traditional) (f)

(a) Cyril Davis (12-string guitar and vocal).
(b) Alexis Korner (guitar and vocal).
(c) Cyril Davis (12-string guitar and harmonica); Alexis Korner (mandolin); Mike Collins (washboard); Terry Plant (bass).
(d) Cyril Davis (12-string guitar and vocal); Alexis Korner (mandolin and vocal); Terry Plant (bass).
(e) As (c) except that Alexis Korner plays guitar and Cyril Davis sings but does not play the harmonica
(f) As (e) except that Alexis Korner plays the mandolin.

Recorded at The Roundhouse, London, On February 13, 1957
Recording: John R.T. Davies
Cover: Korner/McMillan
Supervision: Doug Dobell
Production: Brian Harvey

Liner Notes by Charles Fox

However commonplace it has become to hear jazz drifting up from crowded Soho cellars and skiffle-music jangling out of every coffee-bar, there is still only one place in Central London where blues are sung regularly and looked upon as an end in themselves. The London Blues Club meets on the first floor of a purple-brick Victorian public-house--The Roundhouse--at the corner of Brewer and Wardour Streets. Every Thursday evening, in a room decorated with stags' antlers and sentimental oleographs, Negro blues and spirituals soar above the cigarette-smoke. When singers like Jack Elliott and Derroll Adams visit the club, members hear cowboy and white mountain ballads; most of the time, however, they listen to Negro folk-music. The artists on this record form the regular group at The Roundhouse, led jointly by two of the very few British guitarists who have learnt to play Negro blues not merely with competence but also with sympathy and understanding.

During the 16 years that he has been collecting records of Negro race music, Alexis Korner has come to rank Sleepy John Estes, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Brownie McGhee and Scrapper Blackwell above all other blues-singers. Asked for his favourite guitarist, he picks upon Scrapper Blackwell. Now 29 years old, Alexis began studying guitar in 1949. His first attempts at playing Negro music were made in 1950, while he was with Chris Barber's band. Later, when Ken Colyer had taken over the Barber band, he played and recorded with Colyer's Skiffle Group. A man of many interests, with a particular passion for vintage motor-cars, Alexis Korner also finds time to write about jazz and blues as well as singing and playing the guitar.

Cyril Davis must be the only Briton to have had a 12-string guitar built to his own specification. A panel-beater by trade, Cyril began studying the guitar seriously about two years ago, when he was 23. Before that he had played the banjo with Steve Lane's Southern Stompers. It is the singing of Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson that Cyril admires most of all. That Leadbelly's work has influenced him (quite apart from his choice of a 12-string guitar) is obvious, yet despite the fact that he employs many of Leadbelly's phrases, Cyril contrives (as in Leaving Blues, Alberta and Good Morning) to use them in a personal way.

Mike Collins, a civil servant, was once a drummer (like Cyril Davis, he played with Steve Lane's Southern Stompers). An expert at languages, Mike has the distinction of being the first person to become a double gold medalist of the Institute of Linguists. Youngest of the group is Terry Plant, a printer, who can often be heard playing bass in London jazz clubs.

The first three blues --Leaving Blues, Rotten Break and Alberta--are all songs of desertion or unrequited love, yet they vary considerably in mood and style. In Rotten Break Alexis Korner has set out to capture the atmosphere of Montana Taylor's original recording; his guitar repeats many of Taylor's piano phrases--aptly enough, for Taylor's style is close to the pattern of guitar blues, Roundhouse Stomp, a fast instrumental blues, brings the first side to a close.

Skip To My Lou, a children's play-song, is sung in both white and Negro communities all over the southern states. Although the lyric of Leadbelly's Good Morning contains a few phrases later sung by Jimmy Rushing, the tune has no connection with Count Basie's Good Morning Blues. The tale of Boll Weevil, that insect which eats up the cotton crops of southern farmers, appears here in a version that Cyril Davis credits to Charlie Brownwell, an obscure blues-singer. Ella Speed, a narrative blues, tells of a New Orleans murder committed at the end of the last century: "Now the women they heard that Ella Speed was dead", runs the lyric, "And they all goes home and dress themselves in red".

At first sight the world which these songs inhabit seems far removed from the busy streets of Soho, yet its experiences and emotions are tangible and familiar. Admiring the tradition of Negro folk-song and recognizing the universality of its themes, these young British musicians seek with sympathy and humility to re-create many of those songs. In doing so they hope to achieve not only authenticity of feeling but to use the idiom in a personal way. Nothing could have heartened them more than Big Bill Broonzy's response to their work. Visiting The Roundhouse with Brother John Sellers, Broonzy shook his head in surprise: "Man, but I like that!" he cried. - CHARLES FOX

This page and all its contents, ©2012, all rights reserved.

Webmaster: Roger Trobridge