Album Review: Cyril Davies & His Rhythm & Blues Allstars – Hullabaloo

The British blues boom that launched the careers of Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor didn’t start with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Though Mayall employed each of those guitarists (and a host of other soon-to-be-big names) in his band, the U.K. blues and r&b scene was well underway. Inspired by hearing blues records brought over by U.S. servicemen stationed in England, a generation discovered the American musical form.

And the real progenitors of the homegrown British blues movement were Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies. Korner led Blues Incorporated (launched in 1961); the next year, singer-harmonica player Cyril Davies left the group to start His Rhythm & Blues Allstars. The Allstars released but one record in their short time together, R&B From the Marquee. Always in ill health, Davies passed away in early 1964, leaving too soon to benefit from the widespread mainstream acceptance of blues that was just ahead.

With such a slim body of work in the official canon of Davies and his group, any new archival releases of the historically significant band are welcome. Into that gap comes Hullabaloo, a collection of recordings originally broadcast on ATV television or BBC radio.

As was the case with so many seminal bands of the blues scene, future stars passed through the ranks of Cyril Davies’ band. Like Korner before him (whose group counted Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, Brian Jones, Jack Bruce and others as members at one time or another), Davies led a band that included notables. Long John Baldry was a vocalist, and Carlo Little played drums. (And when Little left the group, his place on the drum throne was ably filled by Mick Waller, later of Steampacket, Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the Jeff Beck Group.)

The band’s repertoire leaned heavily on blues and r&b classics, including numbers from Willie Dixon (“My Babe”), Ray Charles (“Leave My Woman Alone”), Lead Belly and the traditional “Hallelujah All My Blues Have Gone.” Four Davies orignals are mixed into the set as well. The first 21 tracks on the collection were performances for Hullabaloo. Not to be confused with the American musical variety series of the same name, this series aired in the north and midlands of England on Saturday nights in 1963 and early ‘64. The audio quality for these spirited performances is superb for its time; Davies’ harmonica and the Velvettes vocal ensemble come through especially well.<

A pair of tunes (Davies’ own “Country Line Special” and another run at “My Babe”) were performed on BBC Manchester’s Pop Go the Beatles show, aired January 1963. The audio quality of these (presumably off-air) recordings is only fair, but their historical import outweighs serious concerns in that regard. Five tracks from a high-energy February 1963 session for BBC London are of even lower fidelity, though as the CD’s packaging makes clear right up front, they still qualify as “listenable.” Truth told, they probably don’t sound radically unlike what one might have heard when tuning in to the Beeb that evening in ‘63.