27th August 2018,
Hey Riff Raffers,
I wanted to post a wee tribute to one of my favourite harp men, Chris Blanchflower. Sadly he passed away earlier this year. Chris developed a harp style all his own. In the upper octaves it was both sweet and pure. Today it would probably be known as upper octave extension. Chris played cross harp and he would transfer what he was playing on the lower holes to the upper holes in a melodic line. He did so with great success.
Chris was a late starter, honing his craft or should I say ‘cutting his gums’, in his early twenties. Having gate crashed a party in London in 1966, he hooked up with a guitarist and hitchhiked to Paris. It was in Paris that he teamed up with Boz Scaggs and would busk up to eighteen hours a day. Chris was one of only two harmonica players in Paris amongst thousands of guitarists. He became the only harp player when the other player, a junkie, fell out of a two storey window.
Chris headed back to the United Kingdom and after hearing a folk band rehearsing in a basement, he dropped in and ended up as a member of the folk outfit, ‘The Race’. The band was managed by Hilton Valentine, guitarist for the ‘The Animals’, and they would go on to record a single.
Chris then joined the ‘Slow Water Jug Jooks’ where he met and became friendly with the legendary Duster Bennett. Duster had taught him straight harp, first position, jug harmonica in the back of a van on a two hour trip to a gig. Two weeks later they won a Jug band competition, known as the Kings of the Crown, in Chris’ words, “a full contact sport,” at the Crown Hotel in Twickenham. Their win was attributed to Duster’s lesson. From there they transitioned into ‘Panama Limited Jug Band’, they had success playing at local blues joints in and around London and they also recorded for ‘Saydisc’ in Bristol. Their music can be found on an album entitled, ‘Blues like Showers Of Rain’. Chris went under the stage name then of Chris Anderson.
He headed to Australia as a ten pound Pom in 1968 and formed the ‘Stove Pipe Spasm Band’. Greg Quill, the then President of ‘The Shack’, a folk music joint in Narrabeen on the Northern Beaches in New South Wales, was about to audition with the ‘Stove Pipe Spasm Band’, but had a car accident en-route and ended up in hospital with a broken leg. When Greg later won a song writing contest, which included three hours of studio recording and a single release with EMI, he invited Chris to play on his song, the fantastic, ‘Fleetwood Plain’. The song was produced by Gus McNeil and backed by members of his former band, ‘Gus and the Nomads’. From the success of the single, ‘Country Radio’ was formed.
With Michael Chugg managing the band; a place was obtained at the first Sunbury Festival. They went on just before sunset on the Friday and because of their originality they received immense radio coverage in Melbourne, where a new fan base was soon established.
The introduction of Kerryn Tolhurst (ex-Adderley Smith Blues Band) to ‘Country Radio’ and with the promotional expertise of Molly Meldrum, with no financial recompense, led to the release of the single, ‘Gypsy Queen’, in 1972, to great acclaim. The basis of ‘Gypsy Queen’ came from a chord progression Kerryn had performed earlier at his audition for a place in ‘Country Radio’; the song went to number twelve on the charts and was there for thirteen weeks.
When Festival saw the bill for the production of ‘Gypsy Queen’, they nearly had kittens and because of this the ‘B’ side for the single was written and recorded in ten minutes. It was an instrumental entitled, ‘Radio Rag’. Country Radio would play the next Sunbury Festival, but after being at the top of their game, in December 1973, just over three years after their formation, it was all over.
Greg went solo and moved to Canada, Kerryn went on to form ‘The Dingoes’ with Broderick Smith and Chris, well, that was it. He was married with a young daughter, and he didn‘t pick up the harmonica again until 30 years later, when he joined up with former keyboard player from ‘Country Radio’, John A Bird. Many current harmonica players, with the emergence of the Internet, have all the techniques and tricks you could possibly have, but sound so similar. In Chris’ day they had early recordings of harmonica greats like, Noah Lewis on vinyl to listen to. Although trying to reproduce his style, Chris developed a sound that was all his own. There‘s much to be said in making something your own.
I’ve posted a quick riff lesson of Chris’ opening lick to, Greg Quill’s 1975 tune, ‘Outlaws Reply’. It has that nice little flick on to the draw seven. There’s part of my chat with Chris on the Greg Quill tribute album, ‘Lonesome Picker’. You can hear part thereof here https://soundcloud.com/sheppa59/greg-quill-tribute and lookout for an up and coming ‘Riff Hits & Bits’ where Chris blows a bit of harp on ‘The Mermaid’ by ‘Albatross’ and maybe another one to, ‘Oh Boy’ by Renee Geyer.
Rest In Peace Chris