Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Gypie Mayo 1951-2013, guitar strangler extraordinaire

Photo: Sandra Henningsson

There is no doubt that the British rhythm and blues combo Dr Feelgood was as much a hot house for great guitarists as were The Yardbirds (Clapton, Beck, Page...), or that Wilko Johnson created the template on which the Feelgoods’ sound was built. And so, when in 1977 Wilko departed the band he lovingly formed with Lee Brilleaux, Sparko and The Big Figure, it left an impossible void.

For a moment, the Feelgoods’ considered seasoned pro Henry McCullough (Wings), and others, to step up to the plate. Not to ‘dis’ such capable musicians, but sometimes it takes more than musical chops to complement an existing combo and help drive it into a future it deserves. It was therefore major good fortune that brought the Feelgoods’ attention to one John Philip Cawthra, born London, 1951.

They ‘found’ him (and nearly didn’t) in Harlow, Essex. He was living in a squat with a guitar, an amp, and a stack of blues LPs. The Big Figure was sent to kidnap him, gangland style. He was told that his name was ‘a bit of a mouthful’, and so a telephone directory was slung in his direction, with the command, ‘pick yourself a name out of there’. The pages fell open at M, and ‘Mayo’ jumped out. When Lee Brilleaux observed that their new guitarist always seemed to have some medical complaint – ‘the gyp’ – ‘Gypie Mayo’ was born.

It was a tough challenge to follow the great Wilko Johnson, bur Gypie managed, and introduced into the Feelgood mix a broader musical palate. The sounds of Stax, Motown, and even Beatles-baked riffs suddenly fell at the group’s disposal. Mayo had listened to it all, absorbed it, and poured it out through every sinew of his dextrous chord-shaping fingers. Needless to say, Brilleaux was impressed.

It fell to Nick Lowe to fashion a whole album’s worth of material from a band that was still reeling from the departure of its major songwriter, Wilko. ‘I felt my job was to help them get a foot in the door,’ says Nick. ‘I used to go down to Canvey to their rehearsals, and helped to bring the songs together in a collaborative way. Gypie was a fantastic guitarist and he was perfect for them.’

Be Seeing You

The resulting album was Be Seeing You, and the following year Lowe was again called in to assist with a song for the next Dr Feelgood LP, Private Practice. ‘I think I might have been in bed when they called. I went over to Eden. I can’t remember if they had the title Milk And Alcohol, but we were talking about an experience we’d had in the States a few years earlier, when I was a Dr Feelgood roadie.’

Milk And Alcohol, based on a guitar riff by Gypie, became the Feelgoods’ biggest hit single. They had also scored with a cover of Mickey Jupp’s Down At The Doctors, and it was the success of these records in 1978/79 that fuelled the Feelgoods’ bankability on the live circuit throughout the turn of the next decade.

But by 1980 Gypie had become tired of being part of a relentless touring machine, not that he disliked the music, the great album A Case Of The Shakes was testament to the musical excitement he helped create. But the constant strain of being pulled away from his young family was too much, He had also fallen victim to drug abuse, as he openly admitted to me earlier this year. ‘We worked ourselves a little bit too hard,’ he said. ‘There were two reasons I quit; one was domestic, and the other was that we simply didn't have time to work on the music. We were burnt out and it was down to me to be the creative one and come up with ideas. I felt I wasn't able to fill that role. I’m not proud of the fact I became addicted, but I’m not deeply, deeply ashamed either.’

Many years passed before Gypie settled into his next name band, the re-formed Yardbirds. To fill the shoes of their legendary players like Clapton and Beck was a doddle for Gypie. He had it all down, a master player, and a true gentleman. In more recent times Gypie travelled to Japan with former surviving Feelgoods colleagues Sparko and Figure as ‘The Lone Sharks’, and also became a guitar teacher in Bath.

A DVD set of Dr Feelgood from ‘Rockpalast’ 1980 is due soon from Repertoire Records.
The totality of Gypie’s recorded work with Dr Feelgood can be found on the luxury box set ‘Taking No Prisoners’.

Taking No Prisoners

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A root and branch operation

ZigZag was probably the UK’s first nationally-distributed rock fanzine, launched in April 1969 with Sandy Denny on the cover, price two shillings. It was the brainchild of Pete Frame, a fan of early rock’n’roll and folk-based rock’n’protest, and featured musicians too left-field for the mainstream music press to cover in depth, for example Phil Ochs, or Captain Beefheart (whose song Zig Zag Wanderer provided Frame with his title). Never enjoying a massive circulation, but retaining a steady readership of a few thousand obsessive fans, ZigZag was kept afloat by Frame for several years as he overcame the financial challenge of getting an issue out more or less monthly. Following the Frame years, ZigZag continued under the editorship of Kris Needs, but folded in 1986. The title was briefly re-launched in 1990 by new owners EMAP, publishers of Q, but survived only one issue.

It was in ZigZag #14 that Frame published his prototype ‘Rock Family Tree’ (to illustrate the ever-changing line-up of The Byrds). It was drawn in bar-graph style, but his formidable research and draftsmanship would soon come together to create the ‘rock family tree’ format we know and love.

ZigZag #14

Above the desk at which I scribble hangs the ‘framed’ artwork of ‘The Southend Scene’, which appeared in ZigZag #56 and details the evolution of Procol Harum, Mickey Jupp’s Legend, Dr Feelgood, and the Kursaal Flyers. Pete very graciously gifted this to me some years back. I am also the proud owner of ‘Pub Rock Afterglow’ and ‘Flying Burrito Brothers’, both awaiting framing.

'The Southend Scene'

A recent exhibition at London’s Barbican Centre collected together a number of Pete’s Rock Family Trees and memorabilia, including the first draft of an unfinished Lonnie Donegan tree. I had to check with Pete that his Lonnie tree has never seen the light of print, because so many of his trees have, in various books and magazines, that it might have been easy to miss. But the tree has never been completed, which is surprising considering Lonnie’s crucial influence on the early UK rock scene, and Pete’s interest in that era.

'Lonnie Donegan - the man who changed our world'

I do recall that Pete and I visited Lonnie in December 2000 at his London apartment. I was researching a feature for Mojo and Pete, I guess, was gathering material for his definitive history of early British rock’n’roll, The Restless Generation. Lonnie was the perfect host, warm, informative and funny in equal measure, and rather charmingly provided a luxury sandwich selection from M&S and a nice bottle of rose. We got the stories we were after and left happy.


For a great deal of information about Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees visit