GEORGIE Fame has long been at the pinnacle of British rhythm and blues, blending together jazz, blues, pop and Jamaican music to produce something unique.
From playing in clubs local to his Leigh, Lancashire hometown, he backed Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran on their first UK tours; through playing all-night sessions at London’s Flamingo Club, to having hits and touring the world; Fame – born Clive Powell – is a true great of British music.
The young Clive got immersed in music at an early age.
“It started off by singing in chapel,” he says. “Both my father and elder sister played piano and I played it by ear from when I was about seven.
“I heard Humphrey Lyttelton’s ‘Bad Penny Blues’ when I was about 13 and I decided then that I wanted to be a musician.
“Of course rock and roll came and grabbed me and I used to listen to the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and Little Richard and I got into the ‘New Orleans’ sound, with it’s jazz influences.”
Powell turned professional when he was 16 and was named Georgie Fame by Larry Parnes.
It was at this time when he backed Vincent and Cochran.
“It was Eddie Cochran who introduced me to the music of Ray Charles which also influenced me.”
After being part of Billy Fury and The Blue Flames for a year, he took the Blue Flames and secured a residency at Soho’s Flamingo Club, and from March 1962, they were more or less the house band.
“It was fantastic there,” smiles Fame. “It was a jazz club when we started and we did the all-niters on Friday and Saturday, playing generally from midnight to six in the morning.
“It was a great musical education, and we played mainly for dancing.”
The clientele was varied, Fame remembers.
“We had black American GIs, West Indians, showgirls and gangsters there, and the GIs used to bring records from home in to us and asked us to learn the songs so we could play ’em.
“That way, we heard the likes of Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith and Booker T and the MGs.”
The band recorded their set for an album.
“We knew we had an audience although the record company wasn’t aware of it, so we did it independently.”
The resulting album ‘Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames – Rhythm And Blues At The Flamingo’ has just been reissued as part of a five disc retrospective of his complete recordings from 1963 to 1966.
“I’ve been involved in the process of putting the collection together and I did put my foot down about come of the tracks that I thought were not good enough to be released.”
Fame then broke into the pop charts and had success with songs like ‘Yeh Yeh’, ‘Sitting in the Park’, ‘Sunny’, ‘Get Away’ and ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’.
And, although he has no favourites, he singles out ‘Yeh Yeh’ for a special mention.
“I still like a lot of stuff that I heard when I was growing up, but I still think that ‘Yeh Yeh’ stands up well.
“The original song had elements of Afro-Cuban music and bebop and a guy called Jon Hendrix put lyrics to it.”
As part of his show, Fame tells the story behind the songs.
“I think it’s very important to explain to the audience the history of the songs.”
For the forthcoming tour, he is joined on stage by sons Tristan (guitar) and James (drums) as a family trio.
“In fact, Tristan’s daughters are showing musical talent as well and may possibly feature at some point in the future.
“Tristan and James actually form the engine room for my Blue Flames band.”
And what else can we expect to hear?
“Basically. I play my own history; from things that influenced me like Ray Charles and Peggy Lee and of course the hits.”
As well as touring as a trio, with The Blue Flames he also heads a ‘big band’.
“In fact we’ll be playing Ronnie Scott’s in London in November and James will be playing in the band for the first time in England, so he’s looking forward to that.”
Fame also passes his knowledge on to others.
“I’ve been doing some teaching at a jazz school in Slovenia, it’s my way of ‘giving back’ really and it’s good when you mix the cultures.”
He looks back on his career with fondness.
“I’ve been lucky, I’ve travelled the world and made great friends with, and played with many great musicians. It gives my music a great richness and diversity.”
And so it continues. “After the British dates, I’ll be off to Germany and Denmark and I’ve been asked to join The Manfreds on their 2016 tour, which I’m seriously thinking of doing.
“As long as people want to hear me and I can do it, I’ll just keep moving and playing jazz and blues.”
Georgie Fame, with sons Tristan and James will be playing at the Theatre Royal, Wakefield on Monday October 26, 7.30pm. For details visit www.theatreroyalwakefield.co.uk