Crawling Up A Hill – A Journey Through The British Blues Boom 1966-1971


Peter Green died a couple of days ago. As well as being a phenomenal guitarist, he had an amazing voice. Fleetwood Mac released some of the best singles in the Sixties: “Black Magic Woman”, “Need Your Love So Bad”, “Albatross”, “Man Of The World”, “Oh Well”, “The Green Manalishi” were all Top 40 hits in 1968 and 1969 and I loved each of them. I bought “Man Of The World” and “Oh Well” and still have them somewhere. There’s some fantastic footage of Fleetwood Mac playing “Oh Well” with Peter Green wearing a white kaftan.

Their original name was Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac which incorporated three surnames into the group name. I never really appreciated how John McVie spelt his name though. It has led to many badly addressed envelopes in this household.

Fleetwood Mac were part of the second Sixties blues boom that lasted from 1966-1971. The first boom had seen the formation of The Rolling Stones, John Mayall’s Bluebreakers and Blues Incorporated. By the mid Sixties, many of the original proponents of British blues music (The Animals, The Yardbirds, The Stones) had moved from blues (or R’n’B) into pop. However, the release of “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” by John Mayall spearheaded the second boom. At that point, the Blues Breakers consisted of John Mayall, Eric Clapton, John McVie and Hughie Flint who later went on to form McGuinness Flint with Tom McGuinness, formerly of Manfred Mann. The follow up album (“A Hard Road”) featured Peter Green who had taken over from Eric Clapton (who had left to form Cream). After “A Hard Road”, Peter Green and John McVie left to form Fleetwood Mac with Mick Fleetwood who had briefly joined The Bluesbreakers. They released two albums in 1968, “Fleetwood Mac” and “Mr Wonderful”. One of the tracks on the latter album is called “Love That Burns” and I had never heard it until a few months ago when I got the “Crawling Up A Hill” compilation. In the sleevenotes to this compilation, it is described as “bleak” and I would add the words moody and magnificent.

Grapefruit Records is a great label that releases many interesting compilations. There is a whole series of box sets covering the years from 1966 to 1970 which are subtitled “The British Psychedelic Sounds” and they contain some familiar bands (Status Quo, The Move, The Spencer Davis Group, etc.) along with the less well known (Paradox, Coconut Mushroom, The 23rd Turn Off, etc). Each box set consists of three CDs and about seventy songs.

Grapefruit: The British Psychedelic Sounds

Earlier this year Grapefruit released “Crawling Up A Hill” which is subtitled “A Journey Through The British Blues Boom 1966-1971”. One of the best features of these box sets is the booklet, written by the compiler David Wells, that gives interesting and humourous detail about each song. The booklet in this compilation is forty pages long and makes for fascinating detail. For example, Medicine Head got their first break by blagging their way onto a gig that John Peel was hosting. I find it interesting, anyway.

There are some pithy comments too. The notes accompanying a live version of “I’m A Man” by The Yardbirds go like this. “‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, “Manish Boy’ and ‘I’m A Man’ became British R’n’B staples. In addition to their obvious sexual braggadocio, all three were intended as an assertion of black manhood that rejected the regular racist address ‘boy’ given to African-Americans. Unfortunately, that subtext was inevitably lost when the songs were sung by a white, spotty school leaver from suburbun Surbiton, for whom the phrase ‘I’m A Man’ could only be completed by ‘so get your knickers off'”

The three CDs provide a constant thrill. I’m currently playing “Little Woman You’re So Sweet” by Shakey Vick and the notes make for a fascinating read. I had never heard of this band before and the only reference point that means anything to me is a vague connection to Savoy Brown.

I hadn’t heard “Can Blue Men Sing The Whites” by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band for about fifty years and it’s as good as I remember. In the same vein is “I’ve Got Those Fleetwood Mac Chicken Shack John Mayal Can’t Fail Blues” by Liverpool Scene (featuring poet Adrian Henri) which, according to the sleevenotes “boasts more killer lines in one song than most bands feature in an entire career”.

Excitingly, there is a track by Stackwaddy. This is interesting because on the “Word In Your Ear” podcast, David Hepworth and Mark Ellen always play “The Stackwaddy Game”. This involves one of them giving four names of groups to the other, three of which are real and one is made up. The first time they did it, one of them guessed that Stackwaddy was a made up name which it isn’t. The members of Stackwaddy were “building-site labourers by day, musical terrorists by night”. John Peel signed them onto his Dandelion label.

Equally excitingly, The Edgar Broughton Band have one song on this compilation and they were the first live band I ever went to see. The Assembly rooms, Tunbridge Wells 1968. Opening act: Jody Grind. You never forget your first gig.

Other bands that feature in this fifty six song compilation include The Spencer Davis Group, Jeff Beck, Love Sculpture, Free, The Taste (before they became Taste (!)), Blodwyn Pig, Christine Perfect (before she came Christine McVie), Heavy Jelly and Mungo Jerry.

Once again, more fantastic memories of the late Sixties music scene. Paddy sent me a quote by Jenny Diski which is pertinent: “Memory is utterly unreliable in some ways, because who can say whether the feeling or emotion that seems to belong to the recollection actually beongs to it rather than being from the general store of likely emotions we have learned.” My memory tells me that I loved this music at the time and I still love it now.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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