Thursday, August 02, 2007

From Croydon to the Delta

I had to go to the first of the evening’s two shows at Croydon's Fairfield Halls, otherwise my mother wouldn’t have taken me and my friend Mick Brown (“I really don’t see what you like about that music” she said). We were just thirteen years old and we had school the next day! We were in the front, centre stalls, I am sure for some reason it was row H.

I loved Motown and soul music having been introduced to it by Mick. I took no persuading when he suggested we go see the American Negro Blues Festival. To be honest I had limited understanding of what to expect, but from the opening I was mesmerised. By the time Howlin’ Wolf came on I was smitten. One of the other headliners was Sonny Boy Williamson who was wearing a pin stripe suit looking every inch the city gent – except I’d never seen a city gent play the harmonica like that.

The Fairfield Halls had a stage that was surrounded by wood panelling, more at home to classical concerts and recitals than the music of Chicago and the Delta. My over ridding memory of the show was sitting there thinking I bet these musicians are finding this as strange as I am. Intuitively I knew that they were more used to playing in far less salubrious surroundings. Years later when I went to the Delta and visited juke joints and shot gun shacks I recalled my first introduction to the Blues at the Fairfield Halls in 1964.

This is the old church in which his funeral took place, when I went back in 2002 it had fallen completely over

Seven months after I saw Sonny Boy he was dead, having returned home to the Delta. In 1999 I went to the Delta to film Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey and was taken to Sonny Boy’s grave, it was miles from anywhere next to a small church that he'd had been buried from. Most poignant of all was a harmonica sitting atop the head stone. The man was a inspiration for many and his status as one of the Blues greats is assured.


ian russell said...

is it true he also added a briefcase to his city style while in england, in which he carried his harps and a bottle of scotch?

I'm amazed at those wonderful ticket prices. a legendary line-up, wish I could have seen that.

Richard Havers said...

Ian I've heard that story and I think I've even seen a picture. It may have been in Val Wilmer's book that is in store in what I loosely call my archive - an old Victorian dog kennel. I'm going to go in search of it later.

ian russell said...

I found the source, Richard, an old album cover. I've stuck it on the blog.

r morris said...

Wonderful post, Richard.
I discovered the blues backwards, through the Stones, and am pretty ignorant, so I guess it's time to get educated.

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