Friday, 31 July 2009

Every gig I've Ever Seen #22. Bo Diddley.

Bo Diddley. Lyceum.1983

The Lyceum had been one of London’s bigger concert venues and hosted everyone from the Stones to Captain Beefheart. Lennon played his first post Beatle gig there. Saw an advert for Bo Diddley and told loads of mates that we should go. It was a Sunday, which was unusual, but years later I realised that Sundays are cheaper to hire for promoters. Bo Diddley was legend but the appeal was, ahem, more selective by the early 80s. First rule of Fame: keep doing what you’re famous for and you’ll eventually become fashionable again.

Quite a large group of us went and we spent the afternoon getting ripped at home. Got to the venue and sat in the balcony. Gorgeous old theatre and heaving. Loads of rockabillies with the quiffs, check shirts, jeans-with-turn-ups bought from Flip.

First band on were King Kurt who’d had a small hit and TOTP appearance with the slap-stick rockabilly, “Destination Zululand”. They had enormous quiffs and played it for laughs. The mosh-pit was a blur of flailing limbs due to the fashion for punching your arms out in time to the music. The guitarist had a huge piece of rectangular cardboard stuck over his guitar in a homage to Bo’s guitar of the same shape. They improvised some lyrics which included,  “Bo Diddley, Show Us Your Willy!” Last song saw bags of flour thrown all over the band and front row. And feathers. A real mess. The only time I’ve ever seen a stage swept before the next act.

Next act was The Pirates. Mick Green was the original heavy rock guitar hero. They’d had one massive hit in “Shakin’ All Over” in about 1573 which guaranteed them Rock immortality. Johnny Kidd, who’d originally led the group, was long dead. A power trio, now, dressed in bouncers’ tuxedos. They looked like big burly blokes coz they were. They were great. Really heavy R&B.

Then, Bo Diddley. Now he really did help write the Book! Wow. Chuck, Bo and, er, Little were the holy trinity of black rocknrollers. And here he was! His guitar sound was incredible. Really loud, dirty, then soft. He fiddled with the knobs and made it “talk”. He did some robotics which got the crowd going. The pounding beat was great and it wasn’t prettied up. This was the beat copied by the Stones and all those other bands learning their craft in the distant dawn of the Sixties. The Stones toured the UK with Bo in 1963 and he told them to keep at it, don’t give up. Maybe it was the young, rowdy crowd but all the other times I saw him he was more bluesy and didn’t really play the old hits. If he did they were done softer. This night he rocked.

Cracking stuff and our gang enjoyed it, which pleased me as it had been on my say-so that we went. Vanity? I’d spread the Word. Unlike previous generations we can go back and hear the old recordings and see the archive of Rock. 100 years from now people will be able to get an idea of how Bo Diddley looked and sounded. You can’t do that with Victorian Music Hall or  Shakespearean actors circa 1600. If I’m ever a grand-parent I can speak of how I saw some of the Greats and they’ll be able to click, download and see what I’m talking about. And, yea, the Greats will live on. And Bo Diddley IS one of the Greats. Even if, sadly, he is dead.

The Lyceum closed down for years and re-opened with The Lion King, based on the Disney cartoon film of the same name, with music by Elton John…

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