Sounds, films, books and scenes (usually that order) that arrest the attention of Mike Butler, erstwhile music scribe
Thursday 11 July 2013
Bo's 70th Birthday Party
Chorlton Irish Centre, Wed. July 10
I can’t believe that Bo is 70. Did he lie about his age just so that Bob Jones would organise this party for him, which, naturally, turned into a glorious celebration of Manchester grassroots music? If you can imagine The Last Waltz transported to Chorlton, you’re getting close to the spirit of Bo’s 70th Birthday Party.
Me, I first encountered Bo as the lynchpin of the Helen Watson Band in the eighties. He goes back further than that. The senior black musicians who, earlier in the evening, jam to ‘St Thomas’ recall Andy Hamilton’s story (the Windrush generation, making music away from the public gaze, purely for their own pleasure).
That’s the great thing about tonight. In a music scene that has become more, not less segregated with time, Bo skips the genres and refuses to acknowledge divisions. Integration is the watchword, and it’s grand to see this meeting of generations and cultures: of rastas (they were one or two there) digging the primal rock of Spider Mike King or the goodtime blues of Victor Brox. Or, conversely, a teddy boy (great mutton chops he had too) grooving to some great live reggae.
Bo is the catalyst, the bassist who brings it all together and unites the crowd, musicians and music-lovers alike, in a warm glow of affection. To my knowledge his name has never been linked to a surname. He is always and forever simply Bo.
Who was there? Oh, there were jazzmen, beat-group veterans, reggae musicians from ska to dancehall, first and second generation hippies and the afore-mentioned Ted. I spotted Clive Hunte, Ed Kainyek, Kirsty Almeida and Franny Eubank. And they didn’t even get to play, such was the wealth of talent on hand.
Reader’s voice. Right, so who was there that did play?
Well, saxophonist Dave Roberts was joined by a tenor-man I didn’t recognise, but he looked older than Iain Dixon and younger than Harold Salisbury.
Reader’s voice. That narrows the field then. [Bob Jones writes: "The other sax player is Neil Shawhulme, who amongst other things plays with Dougie James' Soul Train.]
And there was Victor Brox, who, of course, is a Manchester legend, and someone who has paid starvation wages to more than a few gathered at Chorlton Irish Centre tonight. Indeed, he was joined on drums by his old compadre from Blues Train, Ian Starr. He offered spirited blues anarchy in the patented Brox style, with a spot of staccato, declamatory trumpet (perhaps his most eccentric feature). John Ellis sidled to the keyboard to finesse the sound, and Dave Lunt offered acerbic guitar licks in the best Albert King style.
Spider Mike King now. Certainly too wild to ever consider music as a ‘career’ or ‘business’ or any of those other soul-shrivelling words. I haven’t seen Spider Mike since the fondly remembered days of The Carpenters Arms bandbox in the eighties. There I identified his spindly, freak-friendly electric guitar style as the source of his power. Tonight, he restricts himself to acoustic, and leaves the electric licks to others, but he is every bit as untrammelled and dangerous. So I can only conclude that edginess and charisma are inbuilt in his personality.
Spider Mike was joined by Dave Garson on drums. Now I remember Dave as a dude with snake eyes, wise to the ways of the world and cool to the point of cynicism. I had to do a double-take to recognise him as the Old Man of the Mountains (shaggy grey beard and all). And back then he was only helping me print some flyers (he's the chief of Logoprint, a printers in Slade Lane): this was the first I'd seen him in action on sticks, and playing behind Spider Mike King too! It was rock ’n’ roll in extremis.
Then a complete change of gears when the flute player Mat Walklate offered a rambunctious set of traditional Irish tunes. This was when dancing broke out in earnest. Then, all too soon, a grand finale of ‘Use Me’ for a full group powered by supreme funky drummer Myke Wilson.
Praise is due to Anthony Haller, whose expert and versatile time-keeping kept commendable order. But whenever Bo strapped on his bass, we could literally feel the love. We were all there for his sake, and basked in his warmth and unassuming authority. But how is it that Bo, unlike the rest of us, refuses to manifest any sign of the ageing process? Three score years and ten? It can’t be right.
A nice pic of Bo, by Dom Dudill, fiddler of the parish.