The Yardbirds

NOW we have already established that Berrylands is as rock ‘n roll a place as you can find. Apart from maybe New York, LA, Memphis, Madchester, Liverpool, Philadelphia, Chicago….

Ok, so it’s not quite in that sort of league. But here in KT5 we have our moments, as earlier Shuffling On posts have shown.

True, Berrylands is a sleepy, tucked away enclave of semi-detached, tree lined streets, cul-de-sacs and verges.

But it did shake its hips, once. From within those quiet suburban avenues and byeways, the sound of raucous rhythm and blues did once pound. We had our own Rolling Stones.

From one of our streets – not a hundred yards from where the Scribbler is sitting right now, there came the sound of a band practising in a front room that would become one of the most influential groups ever in British music history, that would feature three of the greatest guitarists ever to strut the stage.

In Berrylands. I kid you not.

The Scribbler is, of course talking about the Yardbirds – who can truly be called a Surbiton, if not a Berrylands (I’m still claiming them) band.

The Yardbirds began when two Hollyfield School pupils, Chris Dreja, whose parents lived in Berrylands, and Anthony ‘Top’ Topham, both blues fanatics, met up with Jim McCarty and Paul Samwell-Smith, two Hampton Grammar School pupils who had formed a blues band called the Metropolitan Blues Quartet, along with singer and harp player Keith Relf, who they knew from Kingston Art School.

One of their first meetings was at the old Railway Hotel in Hampton Wick, opposite the station. It was Relf who came up with the name when a promoter who had booked them for a show on Eel Pie Island (see Blog no1) asked what they were called.

Topham, just 15, dropped out when his parents insisted that he finish his technical drawing studies instead of going fulltime with the by now regularly gigging Yardbirds. They played in several local pubs, including the now long gone Cellar Club in Kingston.

Enter another former Hollyfield pupil. One Eric Clapton. You may have have heard of him. Clapton lived in Ripley, near Woking, and went to Hollyfield, and Dreja brought him on board.

Clapton bought his first guitar at Bell’s Music Shop on the Ewell Road, and often slept on the Dreja household sofa in Berrylands.

YradbirdsClapton The Yardbirds  (l to r) – Clapton, McCarty, Samwell-Smith, Dreja, Relf.

In September 1963, the Yardbirds took over the Sunday residency at the legendary Crawdaddy Club, in the back room of the Station Hotel pub in Richmond, opposite the station. They succeeded the Rolling Stones , who had established the club as the premier place to watch r&b in London, with some nine months of incendiary performances.

The Stones by then had had a ‘hit’ (“Come On”) – and off they went on nationwide tours and international fame.

But the residency also established the Yardbirds. They played the same kind of Chicago Blues as the Stones – if anything a little more purist – covering material from the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. It was massively popular and as with the Stones, there were queues roiund the block with kids from the Richmond area, as well as Kingston and Surbiton.

The Yardbirds, as were the Stones, were regulars at Eel Pie Island (see Shuffling On Blog 1).

featured_eric_clapton_yardbirds_1964  Relf and Clapton.

Crawdaddy manager Giorgio Gomelsky became the band’s manager and they signed to Columbia Records, their first recording a live ep – “Five Live Yardbirds.”  They then toured with Williamson, and their name was firmly established.

It was even more established in March 1965 when they had their first hit – “For Your Love” a song written by Graham Gouldman (later of 10cc), which sold over one million copies and went gold.

Clapton, who didn’t like the “pop” direction the band were going in and wanted to remain a blues purist, then stunned the Yardbirds by quitting to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

It was at this point that the Yardbirds, almost, acquired their second great guitarist. Clapton recommended a young, brilliant session guitarist that he knew called Jimmy Page.

Page, by then well known as one of the brightest young guitarists in town, was from Epsom. But, unwilling to give up his lucrative session work, he recommended another guitarist he knew – Jeff Beck. Beck played his first gig with the Yardbirds just two days after Clapton left.

With Beck, the Yardbirds had further hits, with “Heart Full of Soul” ,“Shapes of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down.” They also toured the USA.

In June 1966 Samwell-Smith decided to leave, and Page agreed to come back to play bass until Dreja learned the instrument. The Page-Beck lead guitar era produced songs like “Train Kept a Rollin” (which is featured in the cult 60’s film Blow Up with the band playing live).

Beck was sacked in the middle of a US tour in 1966, after a series of no-shows and temper outbursts, so Page continued as the solo guitarist.

Yardbirds page The Yardbirds – with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.

By 1968 the band’s fortunes had declined, as McCarty, Relf and finally Dreja left to pursue individual careers. Page carried on with the New Yardbirds, who became Led Zeppelin. And you know the rest on that front…

Footnote: In 1992 the Yardbirds reformed with McCarty and Dreja the sole original members, though Topham played a couple of gigs with them. They have since toured regularly, but Dreja stopped touring in 2013 for health reasons. Drummer McCarty is still going with the new line up, who played at the Eel Pie Club in Twickenham as recently as 17th October.

So don’t say we ain’t got our mojo’s working in Berrylands………………..

The Scribbler

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