Thursday, May 26, 2011

Albert Lee and Blackheath Bohemia

I've mentioned SE London guitar hero Albert Lee here before. Lee became famous in the 70s for his high speed country guitar sound, playing in bands alongside the likes of Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris and the Everley Brothers.

Country boy: a biography of Albert Lee by Derek Watts includes more information about his early life, and indeed what teenagers were getting up to in late 1950s/early 60s South East London. From a Romany family background, Lee grew up in Kidbrooke Park Road and went to Dreadnought primary school, Calvert Road (later to become Annandale) then Roan School for Boys on Maze Hill. After leaving school in 1958 he got a job at the Plan Reproduction Company in Brockley.

He and his mates hung out at the Rendezvous Coffee Bar in Blackheath village, the local version of the American-style bars of Soho. Another key meeting point was a basement falt on Shooters Hill Road, owned by two ballet dancers, Noel Bronley and Gordon Williams. The former, known as Bron, taught at a a Blackheath dancing school and allowed pupils and friends to use their flat for parties and on Sunday afternoons 'it became a sort of informal club for teenagers, where they could meet and play records'. One former party goer recalled it as a 'drop-in for the arty' while another recalled: 'They were a very odd couple – very Bohemian for the late 50s and and avant-gardish. I remember the evening of the Ouija board or Bron doing a bit of ballet'. There was drinking, dancing to a wind up gramophone and bands rehearsing, playing and recording. Lee and friends had a skiffle band, and there were also trad jazz afficianados there (it must be said that some locals at the time have a less charitable view of what went on in a flat where adults presided over teenagers drinking and much else).

Lee's skiffle band mutated into a rock and roll band which used to play at the Rivoli ballroon in Crofton Park every Sunday, tuning up in the men’s toilets before going on stage for three half crowns each. There is a picture of the band playing there in 1960

Lee's best known song is Country Boy, co-written with Ray Smith in their early 1970s band Heads Hands and Feet.

The song was later an American country hit for Ricky Skaggs, a long way from Kidbrooke Park Road.

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