I’m not sure if it was actually the first LP of British blues I heard (the Rolling Stones’ debut may have nipped in ahead of it), but Five Live Yardbirds was definitely the one that proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, that boys from the suburbs of London could play r’n’b that was every bit as raw and exciting as the Chicago blues I was learning to love.
Listening to it again now, it is, if anything, even more astonishing. After an eccentric on-stage introduction by the band’s manager’s assistant, they go from 0-60 in about five seconds in a manic assault on Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’, complete with furious soloing by Eric Clapton. The next song, ‘Got Love If You Want It’, features equally expert blues harp solos by lead singer Keith Relf, over a Bo-Diddlesque beat.
That sets the pattern for the rest of the set: fast songs attacked with gusto, and (slightly) slower ones which generally rise to a succession of crescendos. The primitive-sounding recording – this was one of the first live LPs, and the equipment wasn’t really up to it – only makes it even more exciting, as do the enthusiastic reactions of the audience, crammed into a sweltering Marquee club one night in March 1964.
In the book I place one of my three lead characters, Des, in that audience. It’s this experience that inspires him to form a blues band, in the hope of emulating his new hero, Eric Clapton. It’s the resulting live LP he plays his bandmates when he wants to show them what is possible. And it’s the Yardbirds’ arrangement of ‘Good morning little schoolgirl’ that is one of the first songs they learn – and when their new acquaintance Trevor realises that they haven’t got a blues harp player to imitate Relf’s riffing, he sees his chance to join the band…