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Blues and Gospel Train - Manchester, 7th May 1964

  by Neil Swift

published: 7 / 10 / 2021

Blues and Gospel Train - Manchester, 7th May 1964

Thursday morning had arrived. Nothing special, you might say? This was, however, no ordinary Thursday. I had been eagerly anticipating sitting in on a telephone interview to be hosted by my good friend and fellow PB writer Andrew Twambley. He was to catch up with the legendary ‘guitar guru’ Steve Howe of Yes, Asia, GTR et al fame as he promotes his latest ‘Homebrew’ recording. For those with a similar appetite for ‘prog rock’ with a heavy helping of guitar playing masterclass you can check out this interview in the latest PB publication. I digress. This morning I had set off with an old school friend on one of my regular cycle routes around the Manchester area. My friend Greg Barnes boasts an encyclopaedic knowledge of local history and trivia. As if to prove this, he applied the brakes and sought my attention as we were passing through Whalley Range on what is commonly known as the ‘Fallowfield Loop’, a disused railway line running up through Manchester. He pointed to the remnants of what was a platform on Wilbraham Road station, something I had never seen before despite cycling past on numerous occasions. It was on this platform back on 7th May 1964 that a rather unique blues music event was staged by Granada TV under the stewardship of Producer John Hamp under the working title ‘Blues and Gospel Train’. Famous US blues artists including Muddy Waters had caught the attention of UK audiences and blues enthusiasts and had travelled across the Atlantic to perform on a series of roadshows. Muddy was ably accompanied by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, The Reverend Gary Davis and others on a miserably wet Manchester evening. Originally scheduled to be recorded at Granada Studios in Manchester, John Hamp’s vision saw the show being switched to the railway platform transformed to a scene from the Wild West. Shutters were affixed to waiting room windows, a huge platform sign displaying the word ‘Chorltonville’ was erected, sacks, crates and ‘Wanted’ posters and even some farmyard animals were sourced to add to the effect. Blues enthusiasts lucky enough to have acquired one of the two hundred or so tickets initially arrived at Central Station in Manchester, and were then transported on a short train journey to Wilbraham Road station where they seated themselves on the platform. A series of videos have been posted on You Tube showing excerpts from the gig. and the complete concert is available on DVD as part of the ‘American Folk Blues Festival -The British Tours 1963-1966’. Numerous reports of the event have been published over the years and there is even a suggestion that amongst the audience that night were none other than Eric Clapton and Brian Jones. Blues/R&B music had captured the attention of audiences that had become a little tired of the Beatles and their contemporaries hogging the airwaves and TV screens. Whilst researching the event that is now firmly entrenched in Manchester folklore, I called upon a good friend John Culshaw. Possessed with an extraordinary knowledge of US blues music and an envious collection amassed over decades. I enquired of him what he may have known about this event. “Know about it?” he remarked “I was one of the crowd that night! As was my wife to be Penny." Penny had been a regular dancer at the legendary Twisted Wheel nightclub in Manchester which boasted the headline acts at the time. At the end of one such night she and her friends were handed free tickets to the gig. John recalls Muddy Waters bursting into one of his popular songs ‘Rollin’ Stone’, and, yes, before you ask, that’s where the ‘Rolling Stones’ derived their name from. (Brian Jones came up with it, not Keith Richards like he claims – Pendantic History Ed.) Check out some of the footage on YouTube when you get chance. A magical Manchester musical memory created by the innovative and visionary skills of Granada TV and their production team. My Thursday had been nothing in anyway typical. It had been a fulfilling day spent reminiscing over a now historical musical extravaganza and then enriched further by gaining some insight into the extraordinary guitar skills of Steve Howe.

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Blues and Gospel Train - Manchester, 7th May 1964

Blues and Gospel Train - Manchester, 7th May 1964

Blues and Gospel Train - Manchester, 7th May 1964

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Neil Swift investigates the groundbreaking, one-off Granada TV showcase 'Blues and Gospel Train'.

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