The 'Almost' Blues

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The Story of The ‘Almost’ Blues 1964—1969

'The First time I Met The Blues'

The first time I became aware of Blues music was through ‘Wee Wee Hours’ on the London Records EP ‘Rhythm and Blues with Chuck Berry and his Combo’. 

The year was 1957 the same year that I heard Elvis Presley’sAll Shook Up’ and Little Richard’s ‘Rip It Up’ on my Uncle John’s record player.

I was 14 years old at that time and my Uncle John whom I idolised was a Tony Curtis look alike who had adopted the Teddy Boy

fashion of the time.

Inspired by these records and the music I heard by Chuck Berry on Radio Luxembourg, the radio station that I used to tune into every time the kitchen was clear. (The kitchen was the hub of the house especially as the tin bath was used in front of the open fire for my grandfather and uncles to bath in after working shift at the local colliery).

I bought the EP with my pocket money from the local record shop in Pontypridd, Gelliwasted Road, Glamorgan, South Wales. 

Each summer I used to accompany my mother and younger brother when they visited relatives in Wales.

In 1958 my family moved from Crandon Close, West Derby, Liverpool to Sycamore Road in Huyton.

This EP aroused my interest enough to go and search for similar records when back home in Liverpool especially in NEMS in

Great Charlotte Street, Liverpool, Brian Epstein’s Shop.

Brian, Mr Brown and later Pauline used to put aside the latest Blues and R&B (Rhythm and Blues) records that I had requested the week before on my weekly visits.

They would hand me a stack of 78’s and 45’s and let me use one of the listening booths in the corner of the shop.  This was usually every Wednesday afternoon when I ‘sagged off’ from sport at Calderstones Park. Brian Epstein had a remarkable filing system using beige folders and different coloured string tags.

It was my Gene Vincent collection that brought me into my only contact with any member of The Beatles when one day my mother said there is a strange young chap at the door enquiring to my whereabouts and the extent of this collection.  The young man in question dressed in an ‘Italian’ style raincoat and dark sunglasses was Stuart Sutcliffe.

The Beatles had just come back from Hamburg and were looking for new material so they borrowed ‘Gene Vincent Rocks and the Blue Caps Roll’ and ‘Bluejean Bop’ from that they took ‘Ain’t She Sweet’ recorded on Polydor with John Lennon on lead vocals. 

This is detailed in Pauline Sutcliffe’s book.

Upon hearing Ray Charles's What Did I Say I became a disciple of 'The High Priest of Soul' sagging of Liverpool Junior Art School to see Ray Charles and his nine piece band at the Odeon, Hammersmith, London (sleeping rough on a Sudbury Park bench) as well as catching my 'main man' at the Odeon, Liverpool and Free Trade Hall, Manchester.  Unfortunately David 'Fathead' Newman (tenor sax) was unable to appear on one occasion as he had been detained in Paris on drug charges, but I did meet Pat of The Raeletes, and trumpeter Philip Gilbeau who was far more interested in the consumption of a bottle of Scotch Whiskey to sign my programme.

Below is the programme signed by Pat (backing vocals), Wilbert Hogan (drums), Edgar Willis (bass).

 

What Did I Say became part of the standard repertoire of the Merseybeat Bands in the 1960's and the groovin boogie electric piano introduction inspired the pianist with The 'Almost' Blues with obvious encouragement from Mike and myself to purchase  the very instrument that is featured on the first photo of the band, a Wurlitzer piano imported from the Mississippi through Frank Hessy of Liverpool.  We were the first Merseyside band to feature such an instrument and get that Ray Charles sound.

.

 

Style Education

I was a pupil at the Junior Art School in Gambia Terrace at that time and used to subsidise my quest for these rare R&B gems by various means that I am not prepared to divulge at present.  This practice went on throughout my time at Junior Art School.

I, and a group of other ‘Teds’ on our final day at the school had the offer of our English teacher, Mr Bernsen, stating that he ‘would be prepared to stand bail for us!’

My uniform had been adapted to copy the ‘Edwardian’ style much to the disgust of my mother and father especially to the ‘destruction’ of a new pair of trousers. I reduced the width of the trouser legs myself and finalised the job by using ‘pinking shears’ so that there was no reversal process!  This upset my mother no-end as she had saved hard to buy me this new pair of trousers for the start of school term.

I also distinctively remember my father holding me in a headlock and shaving my sideburns off because it went against the grain of his very conservative and military ideals!

It’s hard to realise now but at that time we had only just stopped using ‘ration books’ so money was still in short supply for many families.

 

Relaxing at Home in Huyton

Wearing my 'Paisley' Shirt

On Top of the Craig, Pontypridd, South Wales

at the time of my grandmother's death.

Thinking of Forming The 'Almost' Blues

Notice the 'Winkle Picker' Shoes.

 

Live Music Education

IN 1964 The 'Almost' Blues was the brain-child of two Huyton lads AL Peters & Mike Haralambos who had a great passion for Black American Blues and Rhythm & Blues.

 

Backline: John Beesley (bs) Bernie Kelly (Wurlitzer) John (dms)

Frontline: AL Peters (vcls) Mike Haralambos (gtr)

(1964) Stanley House, Liverpool

John, Mike, Eddie Williams (Jerkin George Paul)

John, AL, Ray (1965) Stanley House, Liverpool

Ray, John, Mike, Angela, AL, Ronnie, John (1966)

 

The 'Almost' Blues Single 1965

Recorded at CAM Studios Liverpool

The EMI Acetate of Lovitis 1968

Recorded at Studio 2 Abbey Road London

Recording Details

‘Just Won’t Do Right’ (Brown) b/w

‘Jerk’ (Eddie Williams)

Unicord Label, Matrix No UP655A, 45 rpm single.

Personnel:

Eddie Williams aka ‘Jerkin’ George Paul’, AL Peters (trumpet), Mike Haralambos (guitar), Ray Fowlis (alto sax),

John Beesley (bass), Ronnie Wilson (drums).

Recorded at Charlie’s Cam Studios, Moorfields, Liverpool, 1965 (not sure of the exact date).

Engineered by Charlie (Large man in a white over-all).

Released as a ‘demo’  record for distribution to major labels that finally brought The 'Almost' Blues to EMI Abbey Road Studios London.

Tommy Browne

(vocals 1967 - 1969)

Pete Harvey (saxes) John Beesley (bass) AL Peters (Bandleader -tpt - vocals)

Johnny Hodge (gtr) Graham

Hetherington (tpt) Basher (dms)

‘Love-itis’ (Harvey Scales) rearranged as ‘Lovitis’ (Scales/Peters)

One sided acetate recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, 8th Jan 1969

for EMI Records.

Personnel:

Tommy Browne(vocals), AL Peters (trumpet-vocals), John Hodgson (guitar), John Beesley (bass), Peter Harvey (tenor sax),

Brian ‘Nav’ (baritone sax), Barry ‘Basher’ Robinson (drums).

Engineered by Bob Barratt.

This session was recorded in Studio 2 at Abbey Road, sandwiched between The Beatles and Englebert Humperdink. The reason I remember this session in particular is due to having to move Ringo’s drums and John’s amp to one side so that we could set up!

This was our second time at Abbey Road Studios, the first being with Colin Areetey.  

We recorded 4 tracks that Colin absconded with immediately after the session and I haven’t heard them or of them since! 

General Facts: All the ‘demo’ recording sessions undertaken by The 'Almost' Blues were performed ’live’ with no over-dubs and normally completed within one or two takes.  This was general practice at the time due to the recording costs and limited studio time allowed. 

Most of the session was spent adjusting the microphones etc in order to achieve the most representative sound of the band to present to the heads of the A & R departments.

 

Basher, Pete, Bob, AL, Derek, John & John (1967)

Photo taken on Widnes Marshes by Sheridon Davies

 

              

La Scala Ballroom Runcorn (1967)

Supported Victor Brox Blues Train at La Scala

  The 'Almost' Blues backed

Rufus Thomas

at the Cavern All Night Session at

the re-opening on 23 July 1966.

Rufus Thomas backing band Georgie Fame was stranded on the motorway and although we are not mentioned on many of the nights we 'depped' as in

The Best of Cellars there are probably a few photograghs around somewhere because Rufus looked resplendent in his yellow Hot Pants!

He asked us if we knew 'Walkin the Dog' that was just fine as it was already in our repertoire and from then on it was 'The Dog' with jokes and

'We're Gonna Get Married' with him groovin around the stage, the audience just loved him!  If anyone has any photos of that night please get in touch?

Bob Wooller: Whenever Bob booked The 'Almost Blues' to play The Cavern All-night Sessions he continually complained about the wearing of ‘shades’ (sunglasses after dark) saying the “how can you communicate with the audience if they cannot see your eyes?”  

To that I would always reply, “It’s the music—the blues that communicates Bob” whilst handing him another requested pink gin!” I’d also reply on his continual reference to this with statements like “ my hero Ray Charles wears them!” 

Bob would reply gesticulating like some Shakespearian actor “but he is blind”

I’d reply “’tis right, but it’s part of the cool”.

Bob— “bloody musicians, you young men are so exasperating at times”.

“What’s that again - you’d like another booking at the Cavern?”

“Well dear boy another pink gin would seal the deal!”

Ticket as featured in Phil Thompson's book

Best of Cellars.

 

Route Map on backside of the ticket

Thanks to Tony Bolland of Plug Inn fame for this gift.

 

1967 Diary confirming our double booking at the Cavern and Edge Hill Training College

THE BOHEMIAN BLUESMAN

The ‘Almost’ Blues at Hope Hall (1964) & The Lawnmower  at The Everyman (1982)

The Bohemian Bluesman

In 1964 as a ‘Bluesman’ living in the ‘Village’  the epicentre of Art, Music and Theatre, Hope Hall especially, The Bistro became the central meeting and eating place for the like minded away from the usual watering holes of Ye Cracke, O’Connor’s and the Philharmonic pub. 

A place to discuss, digest and plan the more avant-garde and anti establishment projects in all subjects from love and death to peace and war

and a groovy place to pick up members of the opposite sex referred to as ‘chicks’ in the vocabulary of the time when everythin’ was

‘great, groovy and cool!’  It was during this time that I met Adrian Henri the Beat Poet and Artist and started working on combining the spoken word with the rhythmic beat of Rhythm & Blues.

The ‘Almost’ Blues

My band The ‘Almost’ Blues played their first of many gigs at Hope Hall starting on Saturday 22nd August 1964 including supporting Blues Legend Alexis Korner under the heading ‘London Comes to Liverpool’.  His band included guests such as Long John Baldry (vocals), Reg Dwight (Elton) on piano and Rod the Mod (Stewart) on vocals and Dick Hextall Smith on saxes.

The reputation of  The ‘Almost’ Blues along with that of the Roadrunners appealed to the art fraternity especially as they were the only bands at that time dedicated to the less well known black American Bluesmen.  Mike Hart (Roadrunners) and myself were Ray Charles fanatics at that time,

so much so that I used to ‘sag-off’ from Art School on Wednesday afternoons to listen to the new R&B releases that

Brian Epstein and Pete Brown of NEMS had put aside for me.

Repertoire

Whilst most Merseybeat groups copied the repertoire of The Beatles and Gerry & the Pacemakers the likes of ourselves craved and acquired the original recordings of Ray Charles, James Brown, Muddy Waters, Arthur Alexander, Elmore James and Robert Johnson etc. The more discerning members of the public realised this as it showed in the songs we performed and people we attracted. At that time Blues music was still referred to as ‘the devil’s music’ and was released on ‘race records’ and young white Americans were forbidden to listen to such.  It was The ’Almost’ Blues guitarist Mike Haralambos who suggested to John Lennon in The Grapes, Mathew Street that Arthur Alexander is well worth a listen so much so that

The Beatles recorded ‘Anna (Go To Him)’ and included ‘Shot of Rhythm & Blues’

in their live performances in their formative years.

Also at that time I was a young ‘Teddy Boy’ who had an extensive Gene Vincent collection that Stu Sutcliffe (original bassman with The Beatles) had heard about and so he called at my mothers house in Huyton to see if he could borrow some albums.  I remember my mother saying that there was a strange young man at the door wearing shades and a long coat (typical art student attire of the time) enquiring about my collection. Anyway he borrowed a few albums prior to leaving for Hamburg that eventually led to the release of Ain’t She Sweet’ copied from Gene Vincent’s

‘Bluejean Bop’ and sang by John Lennon on Polydor Records.

Puttin’ On The Style

The Art School students during the 1960’s had a very distinctive dress style that stood out from the ‘normal’ teenage dress code of the time.  You could easily spot an Art School student as they stood out from the crowd and inevitably the people that followed bands like The ‘Almost’ Blues and The Roadrunners usually comprised of the ‘Arty’ set.  Even to this day and probably due to my involvement with the combination of music and the spoken word there has been a slight distance between us and the Merseybeat bands.  The Art School influence is far more prominent in our approach to this less popular form of Afro American music and our inclusion of a horn sections to accentuate a more political vocal stance moved us even further from the popular mainstream of the guitar based bands.

The ‘Almost’ Blues even imported a Wurtlitzer piano from the Mississippi to get that Ray Charles piano sound!  Many of today’s inebriated youngster’s may prefer to bare their  flesh on the streets of Liverpool but we preferred to bare our souls—

a far more dangerous, anti establishment activity!

 

The Village

All my creative life seems to centre around ‘The Village’ (Hope Street) as it remains the area most frequented by artists, musicians, poets, wordsmiths and theatrical producers.  A place with a vibrant atmosphere full of animated discussion even though it does not seem quite as hedonistic as the 1960’s it still remains the place to meet.  Strangely enough my sons are drawn to this area with my eldest, Adrian completing his artistic education at Liverpool Art College before moving onto Central St Martins and now my younger son Eddy is attending Liverpool Community College studying Music and Art!

Hope Hall Theatre

One of my most enjoyable and memorable ‘theatrical’ performances was supplying the trumpet work for the actor miming to my playing in John Osborne’s ‘Look back in Anger’.  I remained hidden behind a screen during the performance.  Once again I remained hidden behind some stage scenery during my performance with Roger McGough, John Gorman and  Mike McCartney on The Grimm’s Tour.  

That most definitely was not the case during my musical accompaniment  with Beat Poet and Contemporary Artist, Adrian Henri.

The late Mr Henri became a close personal friend and confidant and I feel privileged to be amongst those musicians who have made a contribution to his work and especially having been asked to play solo muted trumpet at his funeral service held at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.  

I chose one of his favourite blues pieces ‘St James Infirmary Blues’.

Adrian Henri

The Beat Poet with The ‘Almost’ Blues in action on stage at

The Hope Hall Theatre, Hope Street, Liverpool in 1965.

Hope Hall Audition Contract 1964

 

Liverpool Echo Ad with Alexis Korner as 'Resident Bluesman'

Liverpool Echo Ad

 

 The Everyman Bistro

Whilst managing Square One Studios in Davies Street Liverpool, I decided that the Everyman Bistro

(formerly Hope Hall) would be an ideal venue to give local bands that much needed exposure and a place to play. 

This led to my promoting ‘live’ music every Sunday evening from 1982 to 1987.

The bands that appeared there obviously included The Lawnmower (at first many bands were very reluctant to appear at a Bistro hence

The Lawnmower doing so many gigs that made it very popular at that time) with Adrian Henri, Craig Charles, Mick Hucknall as well as Supercharge,

A Flock of Seagulls, The La’s, Rain etc, etc, including solo performers like John Sessions.

 

Mick Hucknall with The Lawnmower Man in 1982.

 Craig Charles

‘The Wordsmith’ at Square One Studios, Davies Street, Liverpool in 1982

Recording ‘In England & In Africa’ & ‘Sing Like Billy Bragg’.

Two very anti-establishment political rants!

 

 

 

The Beatles

Besides my brief encounter with Stuart Sutcliffe I never met The Beatles although I used to jive to their music at The Casbah, Hambleton Hall and The Cavern.  Hambleton Hall in Page Moss was quite a memorable occasion due to the fact that on that particular night the Huyton Quarry gang of ‘Teddy Boys’ took on the Page Moss gang! At that time I was one of the youngest ‘Teddy Boys’ who went along to see The Beatles because I knew they played a lot of Rhythm & Blues. Unfortunately the ensuing violence cut short their second set as the two gangs laid into each other after demolishing the bouncers with ‘starting handles’ and fire extinguishers.  They had robbed the ‘starting handles’ after smashing the car windows of the cars parked on route to the hall.  I can still vividly remember the four Beatles popping their heads around the stage curtain and asking if it was safe to come out yet?  Large scale fights at many of the venues were common place at that time with the place left in a mess of broken glass, blood,

upturned tables and chairs etc, etc,  Venues I remember being particularly prone to this type of activity are the Queens Hall Widnes and

Newton Lee Willows Rugby Club, but that’s another story.

St John’s Youth Club

My introduction to the music of Hank Williams came through the Freddy Fowler (Freddy Starr) gang. During one my Friday nights at the Youth Club on the St John’s Estate, Huyton, the Freddy Starr gang burst into the club checkin’ out the local talent and obviously seeing my stylish efforts to becoming a Teddy Boy decided to test my credentials as a possible member when I honestly tried to answer the question ‘to name a Hank Williams number?’ My stumbling response ended up with me being slapped about the head.  I’d answered all the others on Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran but was not aware of Hank Williams. As my ‘initiation’ grew more intense I decided to make a quick exit, running through the kitchens into the backyard. Unfortunately the back gate was closed and as I scrambled onto the bins to climb over the wall they collapsed as one of the older ‘Teds’ caught me and roughed me up even more!  I made every effort after that to make sure I broadened my musical parameters to take in some more blues influenced Country Music in the shape of the Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Jimmy Rodgers.  But I would like to add that justice was served when at a later date I spied, from a safe distance, Freddy Starr and his gang being cornered by the police when they where found inside Huyton Quarry Post Office late one evening long after it had closed! Say no more but I called it ‘Hank’s Revenge’. I must admit that I had far more enjoyable encounters during my time at the Youth Club especially with members of the opposite sex.  It was also at the club that I learnt how to jive that in turn led to me being thrown out of the local Dance School.

Brookland’s School of Dance

This is where myself, and my friends Johnny & Ged managed to get ourselves banned from the premises for disrupting the ballroom dancing by energetically jiving around the floor and dressing in a totally ‘unsuitable’ way with our draped jackets, big quiffs, side-burns, tight trousers and crepe shoes not forgetting our day-glow socks.  We felt part of the social revolution by introducing Rock & Roll into the stuffy atmosphere of Foxtrots and Waltzes.  The was our personal onslaught against the middle class, middle of the road, predominantly white crooners of the day.  It’s hard to believe that ex-members of The Lawnmower rhythm section now proudly perform ‘moon, June and croon’ numbers in a Frank Sinatra tribute band? Remember that this is the guy who said that The Beatles were crap and later went on to call ‘Something’ one of the best ballads ever written!  But there again some people will do anything for money!

The Catholic Institute

Having been barred from the Youth Club and the Dance School we moved onto the Catholic Institute in West Derby as we heard it was a good place to chat up the chicks, practice our jive technique, drink brown over bitter and listen to a band that played Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Good,

Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire, Gene Vincent’s Be Bop A Lula and Ray Charles’s What Did I Say.

The band in question was The Delacardoes, a band that very little is known about.

Our only problem was getting back home to Huyton on the last bus.

Hope Hall (The Connection)

A few years later in the early 1960’s during my time at The Art College studying Fine Art under George Jardine and occasionally Arthur Ballard

I used to notice a gang of lads across the Art College Canteen who became the centre of attention because they stood out as they were dressed in black leather.  Lennon and McCartney were part of that group so with typical Art College junior rhetoric myself and a few friends decided to counter act against this by dressing all in white. This consisted of a white shirt, white cravat, white trousers, white socks, white slip-on shoes and shades of course!  We took the idea from a black and white film called The Connection that was currently showing at the Hope Hall Theatre.

The film featured The Jackie McLean Trio and the inspiration behind our ‘alternative’ style was taken from the drug pusher who was a ‘real cool dude’ dressed in all white.  Because this film touched on the totally taboo subjects of heroin and homosexuality it was immediately withdrawn from circulation and nothing has been seen of it since!  That’s how controversial the content was at that time.

 

Mike Hart (The Roadrunners)

I first saw the Roadrunners at an Art College end of year dance and got to know Mike Hart through our love of the music of Ray Charles. 

Ray’s version of Georgia On My Mind  was inspirational especially when listening to The Roadrunners interpretation.

The ‘Almost’ Blues and The Roadrunners shared many gigs around the North West besides our residencies at Hope Hall.

Later on I worked with Mike in the re-vamped version of The Liverpool Scene and on many

poetry/music gigs including the Edinburgh festival.

I’ll never forget the time when he went through his more drunken experimental stage and invited me to see his handiwork re interior decoration. He had painted everything in his flat in Canning Street pink, and I mean everything including his bed linen, clothes, table, chairs, walls fire place,

including the coal etc, etc,  Unfortunately he had made the place uninhabitable so 

he had to stay at my place in 15 Percy Street (above Stu Sutcliffe’s Studio) for the next few months until he found somewhere else to live. 

One of the conditions of him sleeping at my pad was that he slept with his feet out or near the open window because at that time with the drink,

drugs and self destruct mode he was physically falling apart. 

Another thing we both had in common was that we were and still are Asthmatics. 

We shared many things besides our Asthma inhalers.

I wonder how and what his Dutch girlfriend Nina is doing now?

Mike has lived Edinburgh for many years now and I heard at a recent gig at the

Everyman Bistro from one of the Roadrunners that he is in hospital and in a critical way.

I wish him well?

 

‘Keep the Faith’—AL Willard Peterson aka AL Peters

 

References

1.  Pauline Sutcliffe’s book on Stuart (Pauline lived off St John’s Road, Huyton not far from the Youth Club and was a member of the

Stan Thompson Gang).

2.       The Best of Cellar’s, The Story of the World Famous Cavern Club by Phil Thompson.

3.       The Scouse Phenomenon by Klaus Schwartze

 

ALL CONTENT GROOVIN©2004

 

The Sheridon Davies Photographs

The Sink Club Hardman St Liverpool

AL at The Sink Club (now The Magnet)

Just Another Brick in the Wall

 

The Cavern Brick Wall

Two drummers and the 'Bluesettes' at Stanley House

The 'Almost' Blues with drummer 'Jay ' John Rathbone

Adrian Henri Love Night Poster

The Everyman Theatre 1st May 1965

feat: Adrian Henri and The 'Almost' Blues,

Andy Roberts, Graham Laden,

Roger McGough and 'Night' and Brian Patten.

AL giggin at Stanley House, Upper Parliament Street

 Liverpool 8 sometime in 1964

John Beesley can be seen on bass

 

Copy of 1960's ticket sent by Brian Farrell (Bagshot)

 

One of the many calling cards


MORE PHOTOS & INFO TO FOLLOW

 

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