Not Fade Away: The Sound Of Cyril Davies

When Cyril Davies died on 7th January 1964, the British Blues scene lost one of its leading lights and, as his long-time musical collaborator, Alexis Korner stated, ‘by far the finest blues harmonica player in Britain.’ Born in Denham in Buckinghamshire, on 23rd January 1932, Davies developed a fascination with American Blues music from an early age, and grew up idolising artists such as Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Lead Belly. Starting out as a banjo and guitar player, Davies soon discovered that he was an exceptionally talented harmonica player, and by the 1950s, he had begun touring with Steve Lane’s Southern Stompers, before creating his own skiffle band with fellow Blues musician Korner in 1955.

To promote their own music, as well as the Blues acts they loved, Davies and Korner founded The London Blues and Barrelhouse Club together. The pair frequently gigged at some of the most respected Blues clubs in the country and Davies continued to play guitar and harmonica, as well as providing vocals for Korner’s new group, Blues Incorporated. So impressed was the trombonist Chris Barber after hearing the instrumentals they had supplied for his wife, the singer Ottilie Patterson, he asked Korner and Davies to provide the guitar and harmonica for his album Chris Barber’s Blues Book and also offered them a regular slot at the Marquee Club, a popular Jazz nightspot on Oxford Street. Continue reading

Never Clothed: The Windmill Girls

Famous for its proud boast that, out of the forty-two London theatres open during the Second World War, it alone ‘Never Closed,’ even as bombs rained down on the city during the Blitz, the Windmill Theatre is one of the most renowned landmarks in Soho and has hosted performances by some of Britain’s best-loved entertainers. It began as the Palais de Luxe cinema in 1909, but as grander picture houses cropped up across London, it struggled to attract sufficient audiences and eventually shut its doors.

Nevertheless, the building caught the eye of Laura Henderson, an affluent and well-connected widow who saw its potential and purchased it in 1930. Following extensive renovations, the Windmill reopened in 1931. Yet like its predecessor, it failed to achieve notable success as a cinema. After employing Vivian Van Damm, a shrewd and experienced theatre manager, he decided that instead, the Windmill should show live acts, which he called ‘Revudeville.’

Inspired by the likes of the Moulin Rouge and the Ziegfeld Follies, and including female nudity as a part of the acts; Van Damm managed to attract unprecedented numbers of spectators. At that time, the Lord Chamberlain had the authority to decide what could be shown in theatres, thus, with the generally accepted understanding that ‘if it moves, it’s rude,’ but knowing that nude statues were permitted, Van Damm ensured that the girls on stage, who were commonly referred to as ‘Windmill girls,’ and with an average age of 19, remained absolutely motionless, and could not even smile, posing as tableaux vivants based upon various exotic and fantastical themes. Continue reading