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.


  1. Bob Jones adds:

    Hya Mike, I think it's wrong to associate Bo with the Windrush generation. He was not part of that. His folks stayed in Barbados. He wanted to get out, joined the British Army, went to Germany and became a tank gunner, for which he got awards. He grew up on bajan music, rock and roll, soul, jazz etc. While he fighting for Britain he started playing with guys in the outfit (playing guitar at first) and they spent more time doing gigs than keeping us from Communism. They were given the choice, leave or forget the music.They decided to make a go of the band, were geared up for touring but one of the band had a car crash so that was that knocked on the head. He landed here in New Mills (I forget why) and started playing and making contacts. I met a black guy there a couple of years ago who remembered him (I think his brother played with him in one of his many manifestations). His link-up with Dougie James is from early on. He toured in the US and other foreign lands with the likes of Billy J Kramer.

    He's got an amazing memory for tunes, once he's got it, it stays in his head for years. I was always in awe of him and though I've known him and played with him quite a bit, I still am.

    Mike King was in the Art College Band in Rochdale the year after ours, '67 I think. I saw him many times in Manchester later on, always rocked. He established his forthrightness early on, he can be somewhat contradictory but he has his sensitive side as vouchsafed on his last album. He got stuck with the Dylan soundalike tag, and though he was inspired by and is a wonderful interpreter of Mr Zimmerman he has his own schtick.

  2. Bob further adds:

    Bo's name is Orville Kirton.

  3. Sorry to be picky, but the people playing 'St Thomas' (A Haller, D Roberts, P Wherry, N Shawhulme) are caucasian. All the best, Bob

  4. And this from Bob: -

    Thinking about it, it wasn't just me who organised the party either, although I can see the humourous opening and I agree Bo doesn't look like what we imagine people should look like at 70. Bo's missus Pauline and daughter Lisa did loads, as well as Phil Boast, Harold, and Peter Giles. I would have had the do at the Big Western so it could have gone on longer and the reggae crew who didn't get to play could have been accommodated, though the beer and service are shit. Any chance of another tweak?


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