There ain’t no cure for the Ealing blues
As if Ealing’s claim to fame as the hotbed of a peculiarly British type of film comedy wasn’t enough, Alan Fortune relates the story of how an unprepossessing back street in deepest Ealing also reveals the location of the birth of one of the most important movements in British music.
Across the road from Ealing Broadway station a blue plaque commemorates the birth of British Rhythm & Blues at the Ealing Club, a club which to this day still exists, marked by a shabby awning in an unkempt alleyway.
But a greater claim can be justified; the club not only sowed the seeds of the British blues movement, but also inspired a revival of the genre in its American heartland. So much so that the University of Kansas runs a course called ‘The Ealing Club’ as part of the story of British Blues and the importance of what grew from small beginnings.
The club was started in 1962 by Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner, long-standing members of Chris Barber’s famous jazz band. Barber’s invitation to American blues legend Muddy Waters to play with his band was the catalyst for Davies and Korner to form Blues Incorporated, who played regularly at the Ealing Club.
Melody Maker called it “Britain’s first R&B Club”, and if you examine the remarkable list of bands who, one way another, got a start here, you can see why. To name but few:
Paul Jones (Manfred Mann); Eric Burdon (The Animals) first sang in public here with Blues Incorporated; as did Rod Stewart; and Mick Jagger also sat in with them (but only played harmonica); The Who’s Pete Townshend and John Entwistle played here (Townshend was a student at the nearby Ealing School of Art).
And the first steps towards forming The Rolling Stones were taken at the club.
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger first met Brian Jones there, were very impressed with his slide guitar playing and the rest, as they say, is history.
Jagger recalls the condensation dripping off the ceiling all the time and how they’d put a horrible, dirty sheet over the stage to stop the condensation dripping onto the musicians and Keith Richards has talked of the danger of playing electric guitars ankle deep in water.
At this club a large group of young, long-haired, British white kids developed their own style of electric blues derived, but also different from, its American roots. This is the club where guitar legends such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page took their first steps into pushing traditional blues guitar playing into a different zone.
Blues had become unfashionable in the USA, but these young Brits toured the America, filled stadiums and became megastars. Suddenly the land which gave the world the blues was rediscovering the genre, but played by foreigners in the shape of young white boys from the Home Counties! And The Ealing Club had played a huge role in their phenomenal success.
The Ealing Blues Festival is on Saturday 16th July and the Jazz Festival on 23rd July. If you’d like to see the club for yourself (and uncover more of Ealing’s fascinating secrets), why not join Alan Fortune on the 16th or Elaine Wein on 23rd for their ‘Ealing Queen of the Suburbs’ walk. Both walks start at 2.00 pm which will give you plenty of time afterwards to enjoy some of the music in Walpole Park.
There is a cure for the Ealing Blues!