Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Gigs: The Cromwellian

Apart from Eel Pie, The Crom was the other important regular job.  The Cromwellian Club, halfway down the Cromwell Road heading west out of London towards, as it happened, Bournemouth.  We got a weekly Wednesday night residency, fifteen quid between us.  I’ve no idea if that was good or bad money, it didn’t count.  What counted was being the house band in a regular hot spot.   This was the time of Swinging London; when getting out and putting it about, if you felt you were on the scene, or should be, or wanted or craved to be, you had to be in the right place.  There were several of these places – the Scotch of St James’s, The Kilt, the Bag o’Nails – all seedy and dirty by daylight (I assume from the Crom, I never went to any of the others, mainly for financial reasons – a Coke could set you back five bob, the price of a good three or four pints in a normal pub), but at night lit by, infused in the reflected glow of the clientele. 

We never, as far as I know, had any actual Beatles or Stones in on our Wednesdays (though Dylan showed once, at least we were told it was him: he lurked, head down, at a back table, surrounded by defenders, for an hour or so then vanished – now you see him, now you don’t, maybe he was or he wasn’t …), but we did get a pretty good cross-section of the B-list.  They listened – I remember catching Clapton’s eye and raised eyebrow when I managed, probably by accident, a particularly snazzy multi-string hammer-on lick (the kind of stuff Hendrix would blow us all out with a year later) during one of the bluesy solos which had become my trademark – but mostly, once we’d done our first set and they’d got mellow enough, they wanted to jam.  Every week you could count on something happening.  I don’t want to make things up, so one clear distinctly recalled line-up will do: Stevie Winwood on organ, Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Moon on drums, Long John Baldry singing, and our Billy gamely holding out on bass.  The rest of us had been nudged off the stage.

I’d like to take this opportunity, by the way, of casting doubts on a myth which I’ve been spreading around for the last forty years – that Clapton played my Telecaster.  I still have this guitar, but it stubbornly refuses to answer this question.  Certainly he got up and plugged into my Fender amp; certainly he made a few adjustments to the amp settings and achieved his then definitive Buddy Guy sound; certainly I don’t recall seeing him ship in his Les Paul or whatever he was using then (this was probably just on the cusp between Bluesbreakers and Cream) … I honestly don’t remember for sure, and I’m certain he doesn’t.  His autobiography sheds no light. 

I did however (I’m sure of this) use Andy Summers’ plectrum.  I dropped mine, couldn’t find it, didn’t have a spare, pleaded with Andy at the break – he went out to his car, found a little spare plec and delivered it to me just before we went back on, with a smile.  Hero!  His autobiography also unaccountably overlooks this crucial event.

Another good thing about the Crom was that, unlike most places, we were allowed to leave the equipment on site and go back to collect it the next morning.  For those of you who weren’t in a working band in the sixties, this was a rare blessing.  Bear in mind, if you will, that bands at our level didn’t have the services of those beasts of burden, logistics engineers, psychiatric counsellors called ‘road managers’.  We did it all ourselves.  A typical first time Saturday away gig at let’s call it The Cave in Bromsgrove, would go roughly as follows.  Wake up, get dressed and if lucky washed and shaved.  Hopefully the van is already loaded with the gear, ready to roll.  I make sure my Telecaster is in the van, not the bedroom.  Elect driver, head north.  Find the Cave (how did we do that the first time? No satnav: not sure we even had a map).  Check out the Cave (make sure we can get the Hammond B3 through the door/down or up stairs; don’t forget the Disque *).  Hump gear into the Cave (I learnt everything I know, which is a lot, about how to carry heavy square boxes), set it up.  Sound test (‘yeah, everything seems to work’), find a pub.  Turn up in time to play.  Play.  Disconnect and hump gear back out of Cave **; load van; drive or be driven back to London, via Blue Boar grease-out; fall into bed.  If lucky, sleep.

* See future post, maybe.

** Make sure it’s all loaded.  At one such gig, Bill left his beautiful white Fender Jazz bass leaning against a wall.  We drove back twenty miles; it was gone.  I felt – can you do this? – vicarious sadness.  He got a nice Precision replacement though.


  1. Blimey. Clapton is Rock Royalty indeed. We must have more pictures please.
    I found this image of you leaving the Bromsgrove gig.

  2. Yes Tim! Bill told me (during his visit in Italy and Switzerland in April 2010) that his bass was stolen...and he bought a "new" Fender in a used musical shop that was owned by Jack Bruce.

  3. How exciting! I am fascinated by musicians, even ex-drummers like my husband.

    If your life ever flashes before your eyes, I think you will have plenty to look at.

  4. Wow. Tim darling, you've done it at last - I'm lost for words.

  5. It'll all have to come out now. It'll be El Cabala & the Lower Pleasure Gardens soon.
    Bated breath awaits.

  6. Ah, Long John Baldry. How very appropriate during this Olympic festival. Mexico!

  7. Rog, Clappers wasn't royalty yet, he'd only just become God. There aren't any more pictures that I know of, apart from those on Luca's sites.
    Luca, glad I remembered correctly! Catch up sometime?
    Liz - there's no such thing as an ex-drummer. They just start dropping their sticks. (Sorry, Sir B!)
    Z, Richard: maybe - maybe - one more to come. Bournemouth or Italy?
    Martin - ??

  8. I've heard it said that it's impossible for a child to grow up to be a drummer.
    I suspect Bournemouth would be less traumatic for those readers of a delicate disposition.