For Manchester music fans there was only one to place to be on the milestone evening of Saturday September 11th 1965.
The Twisted Wheel nightclub was holding its very last all-nighter at its Brazennose Street premises – and topping the bill were two music legends.
The first was Manchester singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Mayall and his band the Bluesbreakers.
The second was the Bluesbreakers’ lead guitarist on the night – none other than the future giant of rock music Eric Clapton.
A week later, the Twisted Wheel re-opened at 6 Whitworth Street. Mayall was a regular performer there, but his band members were constantly changing.
In fact, the Bluesbreakers were like an academy for British rock and blues musicians. They never achieved a mainstream hit of their own, but spawned some of the biggest bands in music history.
As well as Clapton, other artists who were one-time Bluesbreakers include Jack Bruce, the founder of Cream, and Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac.
Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones played with Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and so too did Aynsley Dunbar, who was later to join Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
All wanted to work with Manchester College of Art graduate Mayall, who would go on to be one of the most influential English Blues singers of all time with a musical career spanning six decades.
Born in Macclesfield in November 1933, Mayall came from a musical family. His father, Murray, was a guitarist and a keen jazz fan.
Mayall grew up listening to American blues players like Pinetop Smith, Eddie Lang and Albert Ammons while teaching himself to play the guitar, piano and harmonica.
After spending three years in Korea on national service, Mayall enrolled at Manchester College of Art and started to play with local semi-professional bands.
He founded the Powerhouse Four with fellow student Peter Ward and in 1962 joined the Blues Syndicate. The band, at the time, included guitarist Ray Cummings, drummer Hughie Flint, trumpeter John Rowlands and saxophonist Jack Massarick.
Mayall often played at the Twisted Wheel and was spotted by British blues musician and presenter Alexis Korner. He told Mayall to try his luck as a full-time musician in London, where he duly moved in 1963.
Mayall and his band, now called the Bluesbreakers, began performing at London’s Marquee club with John McVie, later of Fleetwood Mac, now on bass. The Bluesbreakers later backed John Lee Hooker on his 1964 tour.
Decca offered Mayall a record contract in December 1964 and a live album was recorded at the Klooks Kleek club in Hampstead. The single Crocodile Walk was released with the album – but neither made an impact on the charts.
Mayall’s career really gathered momentum in 1965 when former Yardbirds’ guitarist Eric Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers.
The single I’m Your Witchdoctor was released in October, but then Clapton left for Greece with a band calling themselves the Glands. He promised to return.
Various guitarists deputised for Clapton before Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green took the role. Bassist John McVie then left to be replaced by Jack Bruce from the Graham Bond Organisation.
The revolving doors continued in November when Clapton made good his promise to come back to the Bluesbreakers and Green departed. McVie also returned and Bruce left to join Manfred Mann.
The band were back in the studios in April 1966 to record an album entitled Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. It proved to be Mayall’s commercial breakthrough, reaching No. 6 in the UK charts.
Clapton’s guitar work earned much acclaim, although Mayall wrote or arranged five of the 12 tracks.
The new partnership, however, was not to last. Clapton had been forming the band Cream with bassist Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker at the same time as playing for the Bluesbreakers.
Clapton’s last gig with the Bluesbreakers was on July 17th 1966 at Bexley in Kent. On July 29th, Cream made a warm-up club appearance in Manchester before appearing at the Sixth National Jazz and Blues Festival in Windsor.
Stuck without a guitarist, Mayall brought Green back to the Bluesbreakers and the album A Hard Road resulted in February 1967. It is widely regarded as a classic.
Green then decamped to form Fleetwood Mac with McVie and Mick Fleetwood who had been the Bluesbreakers’ drummer for just a few weeks.
A promising young guitarist called Mick Taylor joined Mayall’s line-up. He was 18 years old, and stayed with the Bluesbreakers for two years before joining another well-established outfit – the Rolling Stones.
Mayall’s revolving doors were set to continue…
*More music legends from the North West are recalled in Clive Hardy’s three Around Manchester books covering the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Each book is packed with around 300 past images of Manchester along with fascinating insights and commentary from the author.
Just go to our online shop to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.