Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames Part One of Three

Written by Dennis Munday
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Of all the groups and artists that I have listened to, and worked with over the past five decades, the one that influenced me the most was Georgie Fame.
Born on June 26, 1943, in Leigh, Lancashire, Clive Powell grew up in the heartland of the Lancashire cotton and mining industries. In those days, radio was the popular medium for entertainment as well as visiting pubs, Working Men's clubs and church halls to watch live music. I can recall my father carting my brother and I to Sidcup Working Men's Club, where a pianist would knock out the hit tunes of the day, sometimes accompanied by a dodgy 'guest' vocalist.

Powell's father played in an amateur dance band, and he took formal lessons at the age of seven. However, when rock 'n' roll radically transformed the music scene, at the age of 14, Powell joined a local group called The Dominoes. After leaving school at fifteen, Powell worked for a brief period in a local mill. Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Fats Domino were his early influences, and in 1959, he took part in a talent contest at a Butlin's Holiday Camp in Pwllheli, North Wales. Rory Blackwell, who had tutored a young Ringo Starr, spotted Powell and hired him to play with his backing group The Blackjacks. Blackwell is reputed to have formed the first British rock and roll band, and in September 1956, staged rock and roll shows at Studio 51 and the now famous 2i's coffee bar in Soho. As Powell was only 16, his family were worried about their son gambling his future on a career in the music business, and it was only after checking out the legality of leaving home that Powell's father reluctantly acquiesced.
Rory Blackwell

Mike O'Neill, a childhood friend of Powell's, had played with Vincente 'Clay Nicholls' Tartaglia & the Blue Flames in 1958, and when Powell arrived in London, he had already established himself on the scene. O'Neill was told that he looked like a Roman Emperor, and promptly called himself Nero, and in 1960, along with Rodney 'Boots' Slade formed Nero & the Gladiators. They had a couple of minor hit records, 'Entry of the Gladiators' and 'In the Hall of the Mountain King', which were banned by the BBC, under an edict banning all pop adaptations of classical music that was still in force until the mid-60s. O'Neill wore a toga and the group dressed in gladiator costumes made of plastic and taken from the 1951 film Quo Vadis, filmed at the Cinecittà studios in Rome.

Powell was desperate to break into the music business, and would often stay at O'Neill's Soho flat, devouring his jazz collection. The chance came in the shape of the 'Beat Svengali', Larry Parnes, who was also known as 'Parnes Shillings and Pence'. Lionel Bart had seen Powell playing with Rory Blackwell and urged Parnes to give him an audition. Bart and Parnes were frequent visitors to the Gay clubs and the coffee bars in London. After singing 'High School Confidential', Parnes was so impressed that he hired Powell as a backing pianist for his 'stable' of artists.
2i's Coffee Bar

Many of the top British Rock 'n' Roll singers were under contract to Parnes, and as was his habit, he gave them lurid names. Billy Fury (Ron Wycherley), Vince Eager (Roy Taylor), Dickie Pride (Richard Kneller), Lance Fortune (Chris Morris), Duffy Power (Ray Howard), and Johnny Gentle (John Askew). Parnes demanded a name change and stated, "Clive Powell sounded like George Formby. I've got a Fury and a Wilde, it's about time I had some Fame," and christened him Georgie Fame. Powell was against changing his name but realised that if he wanted to get on in the music business, he had no choice. He went on to play with Marty Wilde, Joe Brown, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and others, and it was Cochran that introduced Fame to the music of Ray Charles.

Clay Nicholls and the Blue Flames were formed in 1958, and in December 1959, Billy Fury & the Blue Flames toured Scotland with Fame and a different line up. As for how the name came about, their drummer Clem Cattini often related the following story. As the band travelled around the country, they would amuse themselves by lighting up their farts, which would burn a blue flame. Another story goes that Billy Fury attended a rehearsal of Nicholls with The Blue Flames, and liked the name and the initials BF so much that he claimed the name. During the fifties, there was 'Little' Junior Parker & the Blue Flames, Philadelphia R&B drummer Chris Powell and the 5 Blue Flames, and in the very early sixties, Jimi Hendrix led a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. In 1962, Heinrich 'Heiner' Landwehr (bass) and his classmate Hartmut 'Kuli' Kulka (guitar) founded The German Blue Flames.
Clay Nicholls and the Blue Flames

In June 1961, Clay Nicholls led the Blue Flames for a short period, which featured Fame, Colin Green (gtr), 'Red' Reece (dm) and Anthony Paul 'Tex' Makins (bass). At some time in June, the group minus Nicholls joined Billy Fury as The Blue Flames. However, Fury's manager fired them as he thought the group to be too jazzy and, the group missed a gig as the ferry bringing them home from a Fury show in the Netherlands was late. This caused them to miss a train that would have got them to the gig on time, and they were replaced with The Tornados. Alan 'Earl' Watson led the band from December '61 to May '62, before they became Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames.

Fame continued his musical education playing the clubs in Soho and Ladbroke Grove, mixing with Afro-American GI's, Africans, and West Indians, who were now influencing him musically. He was also listening to the likes of Willie Mabon, Jimmy Smith, Richard 'Groove' Holmes, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, and it was around this time that Fame changed keyboards and bought himself a Hammond organ for the princely sum of £825.

Jamaican Blue Beat/Ska music also had an impact on Fame, and he cemented his reputation when he opened at Count Suckle's club The Roaring Twenties, which catered for a predominantly West Indian audience. It was here he met Jamaican legend Prince Buster, which led to Fame playing on 'Wash All Your Troubles Away', and on Derrick Morgan's 1963 single 'Telephone', both on the Blue Beat label, as well as playing on several other tracks on Buster's 'I Feel The Spirit' LP.
Prince Buster

Fame's fortune changed in 1962 when Mike O'Neill introduced him to Richard Carl Percival 'Rik' Gunnell. Gunnell, a raffish character who had been a boxer, a bookkeeper at Smithfield's Market, and a bouncer at Studio 51 jazz club. He started out promoting all night jazz sessions in 1952, at the 2-Way Jazz Club. Later that year he opened the Blue Room, which failed and, to escape his creditors Gunnell hotfooted it to Paris. In 1955, Gunnell started up Club Americana at The Mapleton Hotel in Leicester Square with the hotel's manager, Tony Harris. However, the hotel was also home to the Flamingo Club, operated by Sam Kruger and his son Jeff. The name came from the song 'Flamingo', which was the theme tune of the resident band, Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists. Gunnell pushed the Kruger's out to make way for his Club M and in 1957, the Kruger's moved The Flamingo to 33/37 Wardour Street. In the mid to late sixties, they rebranded the club as The Pink Flamingo (aka The Flamingo at The Temple).

In 1958, adverse publicity forced Harris and Gunnell to quit the Mapleton, and if they wanted to continue promoting, it was necessary for him to make peace with the Kruger's. They did this in 1959, and with his brother Johnny, Rik launched the Flamingo's Friday and Saturday All-Nighter. Around this time Ronan O'Rahilly, the creator of the 'pirate' station Radio Caroline, had seen Fame's potential and wanted to manage him, which prompted Gunnell to get Fame under contract. As he was under 21, he had to get his father to sign the contract. The Gunnell brothers eventually formed a management company with Blue Flames sax player Mick Eve at 47 Gerrard Street, and as well as Fame, they handled Chris Farlowe, John Mayall, Geno Washington, Zoot Money, PJ Proby and others.
Chris Farlowe

The relationship between Gunnell and the Kruger's was always simmering, and on November 22, 2012, Jeff Kruger felt it necessary to make the following statement regarding a website article on The Flamingo. 'Rik Gunnell never did start the Flamingo, nor did he ever have any ownership. The founder and sole owner at all times during the 17-year history of the club was myself. Gunnell was at all times an employee of the club, but I repeat never-ever an owner in whole or in part'.

Gunnell, who Fame considered a 'loveable villain,' encouraged the black and white patrons to mix at The Flamingo, something unheard of at the time. 'The clientele boasted American GIs, West Indians, pimps, prostitutes, and gangsters. Fashion played a significant part as Fame and The Blue Flames would copy the GI's and the sharp dressed gay men who frequented the club. In October 1962, Christine Keeler's West Indian lovers, John Arthur Alexander 'Johnny' Edgecombe and Aloysius 'Lucky' Gordon fought for her affections in the club. 'Lucky's' brother Wilfred, known as 'Syko' (Psycho - Syco), would often jump on stage and perform with Fame. Syko & the Caribs recorded several singles for the Blue Beat label, which included a version of 'Do The Dog'.

The Earl Watson Band were the resident band at The Flamingo, and when they had to appear on a Birmingham TV show, Fame & The Blue Flames stepped in and commenced a three-year residency (1962 - 1965). The band played two sets a night, the first at 1.30 am, the second at 4.30 am and played ten sets a week, no doubt helped along by amphetamines and marijuana.
Christine Keeler

As these all-nighters were a success, other clubs sprung up like The Scene, Klooks Kleek, The Whisky A-Go-Go, Crawdaddy Club and Eel Pie Island. They also played gigs in my neck of the woods, like The Bromel Club (Bromley), The Black Prince (Bexley), The Black Cat Club (Woolwich), The Witch Doctor (Catford), and the El Partido in Lewisham. During this period, Fame built up quite a following, which earned him the reputation of being the 'epitome of cool'.

Unfortunately, the kind of punters attending the all-nighters, and Gunnell's laissez-faire attitude to drugs brought the club to the attention of Duncan Webb, a crime reporter working for the tabloid newspaper The People. Marijuana and Speed were the drugs of choice in the sixties, and the Metropolitan Police took a keen interest in the Soho scene, and particularly Gunnell. Later, the LCC set up a 'working party' to monitor the West End 'jazz and dance' clubs, where the issue of 'race' and the corruption of the youth were of concern. One reference stated that 'the Flamingo was a club where young girls attended to buy drugs and meet coloured men'. In 1964, violence involving the GI's led to them being banned from the Flamingo by the military authorities and the Metropolitan Police, which resulted in Fame losing lucrative bookings at the American bases in the UK. In the space of a weekend, the result of this action changed the Flamingo's clientele completely and, within a week of the Police kicking the GIs out, the mods moved in wholesale.
Young Georgie Fame

The Blue Flames had a floating line-up and went through many changes, as musicians came and went. They included Michael 'Mick' Eve (t/sax), Nii Moi 'Speedy' Acquaye (congas), Joseph Edward 'Joe' Moretti & John McLaughlin (gtr), John Stanley 'Johnny' Marshall & Glenn Hughes (b/sax), Rodney 'Boots' Slade & Clifford Howard 'Cliff' Barton (bass), Edward 'Tan-Tan' Thornton (tpt), Peter Coe (t/sax), William James 'Bill' Eyden, Phillip William 'Phil' Seaman, John 'Mitch' Mitchell and James George 'Jimmy' Nicol (dms).

In 1962, Fame and The Blue Flames appeared on a Decca single backing (future Ivy League member) Perry Ford and the Sapphires on 'Baby Baby (Don't You Worry)' b/w Prince Of Fools. In 1963, they accompanied Clive & Gloria on 'Change Of Plan' b/w 'Little Gloria', and Ronnie Gordon on 'Shake Some Time' b/w 'Comin' Home', both on the R & B label. They recorded two singles for R & B as The Blue Flames, 'Stop Right Here' b/w 'Rik's Tune' and 'J. A. Blues' b/w 'Orange Street'.

During the sixties, EMI signed via their Columbia label the likes of Zoot Money and his Big-Roll Band, featuring Andy Summers on guitar. The Graham Bond Organisation (featuring Jack Bruce [bass] and Ginger Baker [dms], who later formed the first so-called 'super group' Cream, and in 1963 they signed Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames.

Part Two Here

Part Three Here 

Read 16378 times Last modified on Tuesday, 16 August 2016 15:08
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Dennis Munday

Dennis Munday

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