“At The Cavern”

1964 Oriole LP Liner Notes

By unknown

 

No band could swing like this if it felt at all inhibited by its surroundings; that wild sound which has made Blues Inc. what it is could never come out so loud and clear if the whole place were not completely happy.

 

From the slow blues like "Hoocie Coochie Man" and "Whoa, Babe", through to the jumping, up-tempo vocals by Herbie Goins on "All Right, O.K., You Win" and "Everyday I Have The Blues", everybody sounds relaxed and confident. Even the long instrumental, "Herbie's Tune” – dedicated to the band's brilliant American Blues Man, Herbie Goins – never seems to flag. And that really is saying something when you consider what the temperature at the Cavern can be on a really crowded night like this! If you want to know whether this was a really successful evening, just ask regular Cavern member what it is like when Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated plays there.

 

 The thing is that both Blues Incorporated and The Cavern have come a long way since they started in their widely separated areas. If, a couple of years ago, anyone had asked the people at The Cavern or Alexis Korner what they thought of one another, the answer, from both sides, would probably have been: "Who?" But, there you are, that is just the way in which times change. The oldest established R&B band in the business and the oldest established Beat Club eventually hat to come together and the result is to be found in this LP.

 

 Here are all the excitement, all the unexpected happenings of a live session, a stage performance which always captures the sort of atmosphere which no studio can recreate. Here is the small group with the biggest sound in the country, wailing and shouting the Blues in the freewheeling, uninhibited fashion which has contributed so much to its success over years. It could never sound like this in a studio! Here is just about the best audience in Britain – much too large to fit into a studio – urging the band on. One hears a lot said about "Audience Participation" and this is the classic example of what it should be. Under circumstanced like these, no group could give a really bad show, but there are few that could have given one as good.

 

   In the end it comes down to the fact that, in order to sell excitement, you must be excited by what you are doing. Blues Incorporated always are, which is the very reason why we wanted to record "Alexis Korner 'Live' At The Cavern".

 

 The Cavern, by now, must be just about the best known Beat Club in the world. Along with the late Star Club, in Hamburg, The Cavern has figured in more press statements, success stories and guides to the Beat Scene than most of us would care to count. But is this fame really justified? Unquestionably it is.

 

 The Cavern has launched more name groups than any other club in Britain. Ask Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Merseybeats, The Big Three and a host of others where they got their first big break and the answer is, almost invariably: "At The Cavern". But, under the guidance of Ray McFall, and the well-liked compere, Bob Wooler, the club has spread its wings to include R&B amongst its list of attractions, using both British and American artists. Sonny Boy Williamson, Charlie and Inez Fox, John Lee Hoocker, these are but three of the best-known American acts to have appeared there. And, among name British acts, none has proved more popular than Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated.

 

 Ever since Blues Incorporated made its sensational appearance at the 1963 Beat Festival in Liverpool's Stanley Stadium, Alexis and the boys have been making regular return visits to Liverpool and, in particular, to The Cavern. Whether it is the audiences which create the atmosphere, or the atmosphere which helps the audiences, the plain fact of the matter is that they love playing in Liverpool. "The people really listen to you, there". Says Alexis, "and they help you to play and sing your best. The minute you set foot in The Cavern, you know that it's going to be a good session. Everyone is so friendly, they just want to help you do your best".

 

 Now, The Cavern is a Beat Club, very strongly associated with pop market and this, you might think, could make life a little difficult for a semi-jazz based R&B band like Blues Incorporated. But, as you can hear on this great live LP, nothing could be further from the truth.

 

 

 

 

“At The Cavern”

2006 re-mastered CD Liner Notes

by Neil Slaven

 

“Here are all the excitement, all the unexpected happenings of a live session, a stage performance which always captures the sort of atmosphere which no studio can create. Here is the small group with the biggest sound in the country, wailing and shouting The Blues in the freewheeling, uninhibited fashion which has contributed so much to its success over years.”

 

 

 Who could argue with these (theatrically ungrammatical) sentences, painfully adept as they are at stating the obvious, taken from the sleevenotes to the original, vinyl, At The Cavern album? To proceed in the same vein, it are true that, even with an audience present, no studio recording can replicate the fear and the consequent adrenaline erupting from a live gig, whatever the venue. And this was no mere venue: in 1964, The Cavern was still capitalising on its recent history as “just about the best known Beat Club in the world”, as the notes put it.

 

 Alexis Korner and Blues Incorporated were already popular in Liverpool, having impressed the populace at the Stanley Stadium during the 1963 Liverpool Beat Festival. Such was Alexis’ gratitude – or perception – he arranged for a Friday-night residency at Hope Hall, even though the band then had to hotfoot it back to The Smoke for a weekend’s work, with at least one all-nighter. It seems the freedom and courage displayed by the musicians, their spirited playing and the relish with which they stepped off into the unknown, struck a resonant chord with Liverpool music fans glutted on fab fripperies.

 

 This was the attraction that had brought Dick Heckstall-Smith to the band two years earlier. In his autobiography, The Safest Place In The World, he said the music he liked: “is strong, pushy, forward, free of self-imposed restrictions. It takes risks. It is not in the least afraid; it battles its way through to expression. It is full of mistakes, but couldn’t care a jot about them because it knows that mistakes are its life-blood. It is unashamed, it can flow like a river over the rapids or a delta over the mud. When it senses unhealthy restraint it plants a bomb under it and trips detonator. It shows no mercy for half measures. It doesn’t care about good taste.”

 

 These qualities were enshrined in Blues Incorporated even before Heckstall-Smith joined. He noted, “Unlike a lot of groups, it was a band – it had a unity and dynamic music character of its own which transcended the individuals in it. That was rare and it had to be nurtured.” But Dick forsook his role as district nurse when he left Blues Inc. in August 1963. It seems Alexis had sensed he would rather be with the Graham Bond Organisation, along with fellow former Blues Inc’ers Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Dick reckoned he resigned three minutes before Alexis got round to sacking him. He was replaced by altoist Dave Castle, with Malcom Saul from the Eric Delaney Band coming in on organ.

 

 That left the important role of lead vocalist. Alexis knew he was little more than adequate as a singer at that stage (he’d identified himself as “appalling” in a 1959 radio interview). He had a limited range and often wasn’t comfortable singing in the keys most amenable to band performance. In the early Autumn of 1963 he had his eye on another black American ex-serviceman, Herbie Goins, to replace the outgoing Ronnie Jones, but his next recruit was George Bruno Money, known professionally as Zoot. The flamboyant singer and keyboard player had already created the prototype for his Big Roll Band back in 1961 but with his band’s approval, he jumped at the chance of hitting the big-time in London, with Blues Inc. “I was ready for London,“ Money told Mel Wright. “I’d done all the gigs that there were to do in Bournemouth. I was known in Southampton and around the south coast. Played the best gigs with local players hating the shit out of you.”

 

 He arrived at the Korner home in Moscow Road in his mate Pete’s Buick, to discover his first gig was that night. “The talk that we had between his house and the pub (The Six Bells, in Chelsea) was as much of a rehearsal that I ever had with Alexis.” Presumably their reception was similar to the one Money remembers at a gig on the outskirts of Manchester. “It was a pub at a crossroads, he told Harry Shapiro, “you’d look at the outside and think, no, no way. And then a half-hour or so before show time you’d get this incredibly well-informed raving crowd turning up who all knew what they were listening to.” This held true during the two months Money spent with Blues Inc., like his predecessor Graham Bond, playing solo sets in the intervals.

 

 With big ambitions of his own, Zoot wasn’t unhappy when Herbie Goins was finally able to join the band in late October 1963. Goins had been born in Florida and gained some stage savvy singing with his high school group, The Teen Kings. By the time the US Army sent him to Germany, he’d already sung with B.B.King and Bobby Bland. With Edwin Starr in his unit, it didn’t take them long to get a band going. Gigging around the bases, he met  bandleader Eric Delaney, who invited him to England to sing with his group. Goins had modelled himself on Basie band singer Joe Williams, but there weren’t many Jump Blues songs in the bandbook. So when Alexis asked him to join Blues Inc., Goins jumped (after working his notice) at the chance.

 

 Without telling the band in advance, Alexis had done a deal with Oriole Records, a small, independent record label with the asset of a mobile recording unit, to record their February 23rd gig at The Cavern (NB: for train-spotters, the support band that night were The Remo Four). After the requisite number of flat tyres and breakdowns on the way North, the band arrived and set off to find the requisite refreshment. “Before the gig, we’d gone down to the pub,” Goins told Shapiro, “and only then did we find out that Oriole were recording it. We’d been drinking Fine Selection, which was pretty strong ale. By the time we got to the stage ... the first thing I did when I got up on stage was to break the microphone.”

 

 Given Alexis’ opinion of his own singing that might not have been a disaster, but plainly another microphone was found and Alexis kicked things off by strangling his tonsils with a supercharged version of his own song, ‘Overdrive’, a compendium of car metaphors with V-8 motors, Dynaflows and “built for speeds”. Twenty-four bar solos are allotted to Dave Castle’s alto sax, Malcom Saul’s Farfisa-like organ and the leader’s guitar, and the band manage to bring things to a close in under four minutes. We’re still a year or three from twenty-minute extravaganzas. Alexis introduces ‘Whoa Baby’ as “a John Lee Hooker-type Blues”, which most of the audience didn’t realise was a rather vague definition. This time the only solo is taken by Alexis’ slide guitar, which would have benefited from a bigger amp – but they weren’t due to arrive for a while yet, either.

 

 Having stamped his mark on the evening, Alexis approached the microphone to announce, “At which time I’d like to introduce you to someone who can sing. You heard him last time he was there. Herbie Goings!” The band spring into a spirited introduction before Goins chants rather than sings ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’. He’d just a little bit hampered by a horn-and-organ arrangement that feels unnecessarily busy, before Castle and Saul take their requisite solos. Alexis returns to add a bit of drama withHoochie Coochie Man’, replete with a slide guitar solo, to which Dave Castle again, unfortunately, adds rather too much embellishment before taking his own industrious solo.

 

 What was originally the opening track of the vinyl LP’s second side, Herbie’s Tune’, was named in honour of the band’s vocalist – although the tune was, in fact, Dooji Wooji, a band perennial. This time there’s room for a solo from drummer Mike Scott, which, given the state of recording equipment at the time, is quite well captured. Alexis returns to the microphone for “an old Joe Turner number”, ‘Little Bitty Gal Blues’, before handing over to Herbie to lead the set’s final numbers, ‘Well All Right, OK, You Win’ and a rousing extended ‘Kansas City’. Sadly, time restrictions on vinyl releases meant that this performance had to be cross-faded with some applause that emanates from the ether. No matter. The band had made its point by then.

 

 Being the professional he was, Alexis had some appropriate words ready for the album’s liner notes. He liked playing in Liverpool because “The people really listen to you there and they help you to play and sing your best. The minute you set foot in The Cavern, you know that it’s going to be a good session. Everyone is so friendly, they just want to help you do your best.”

 

 Ironically, by the time At The Cavern was finally released – in October 1964 – Blues Inc. had recorded and issued another album, Red Hot From Alex (check out CMRCD293), for Nat Joseph’s Transatlantic Records. Needless to say, the band had changed almost beyond recognition. Herbie Goins and Dave Castle were still there; Dick Heckstall-Smith and Art Themen had returned for four days of sessions, along with newcomers pianist Ron Edgeworth, bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Barry Howten.

 

 In November ’64, a hybrid Blues Incorporated were assembled for the BBC session from which the bulk of this compilation’s bonus tracks are drawn. Alongside Alexis were Herbie Goins, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Ray Warleigh (alto sax), Danny Thompson (bass) and drummer Terry Cox, whilst deejay Brian Matthew was on hand to make the announcements and indulge in a couple of brief interviews with Alexis designed to inform listeners about this Rhythm & Blues stuff. Someone’s playing congas on the studio version of ‘Overdrive’, and the band and Alexis’ vocals are tighter and more cleanly presented. Herbie Goins takes over the microphone for the remaining five tracks, including an ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’ which is ruthlessly faded just short of two minutes.

 

 The other numbers featured were clearly live favourites of that era of Blues Inc. Studio versions of ‘I Need Your Loving’ and ‘Please, Please, Please, Please’, the originals by Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford and James Brown respectively, had been cut in September 1964 (they would be paired up for a Parlophone single two months later), whilst ‘Roberta’ would be revisited in December (and released – also as a Parlophone 45 – in February 1965). ‘Turn On Your Lovelight couldn’t really stand alongside Bobby Bland’s original, but it was very brave of Alexis and the band to make an unreceptive public aware of such vital music. In the end, it was always the music that mattered and getting it heard was at least as important as how well you performed it, especially in the BBC studios of the time, with equipment that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of Alexander Korda’s 1936 sci-fi extravaganza, Things To Come.

 

 The interview segments had obviously been pre-arranged. In the first, Brian Matthew got Alexis to give his opinion of the (unnamed) groups who were dispensing ‘commercial’ R&B. “Well, I think it’s too small a portion of The Blues,” he said. “What’s happened with the British scene, I feel, is that people have taken a small section, say a ten-year period from the Chicago side of Blues, 1945 to 1955, and they’ve told us that, ‘This IS Rhythm & Blues’. In fact, it’s a very small part of the overall R&B scene which runs through from Louis Jordan to Martha & The Vandellas.” Again, one can only applaud Alexis’s bravery and far-sightedness. The second chat asked, Was it true that R&B was the big thing on the British Pop Scene? Alexis was pragmatic: “Not really, yet. I’d say it’s a peculiarly British side of Rhythm & Blues which is making a small thing on the Pop scene at the moment. It hasn’t really broken through.” But he was optimistic.

 

 Which, of course, is what Alexis remained throughout the whole of his career. Sometimes he ploughed a lonely furrow but over the years esteem gathered around him like a pheromone. He always had the respect of the musicians that he’d helped over the years, but he also acquired a mystique with a public that didn’t always know exactly what he did but were convinced he was good at it, whatever it was. Naturally enough, being Alexis, he added it to his arsenal of attributes that singled him out as the unique individual he was.

 

Neil Slaven

 

 

 

“At The Cavern”

 

 

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