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Georgie Fame

Clive Powell was born in 1943 in the small Lancashire town of Leigh (which was ultimately to be lost in the encroaching industrial conurbation of Greater Manchester) where his father worked for a cotton manufacturing firm and was a dab hand on the piano accordion.

Eager to formalise his seven-year-old son’s interest in music, Mr Powell arranged for young Clive to take piano lessons, but it soon became evident that the lad found the regime tiresome.

When the lesson’s (and daily practice) were discontinued, little Clive confirmed early promise by progressing on the instrument at his own pace.

In 1954, a school friend showed him the basics of boogie-woogie piano and Clive quickly became known in his secondary school for his ‘jazzy’ musical skills.

Clive named his first group The Dominoes (after Fats Domino) and led them to success by winning a talent contest at Butlin’s in Pwllheli in South Wales.

One of the judges was drummer Rory Blackwell, and before the holiday week was out, Clive had joined Blackwell’s London-based rock & roll combo as their pianist and featured singer.

In London, Clive was recommended to Britain’s foremost pop impresario Larry Parnes by composer Lionel Bart. Parnes was impressed by Powell and renamed him Georgie Fame, setting him up with a new band – The Blue Flames. For two years, Georgie and the Flames backed up Billy Fury until they were superseded by The Tornados in 1961.

By 1962 Georgie had ditched the piano for the warmer sounds of a Hammond organ, which had set him back £825 – a fortune in those days – and was playing US air bases across Britain.

He was approached by promoter John Gunnell and his songwriting brother Richard and offered a residency at their London Soho club, The Flamingo.

Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames attracted a cool, sharp, bohemian audience at the club – a crowd who would later be labelled as Mod.

Not only was his music made for this audience but his clean, short-haired image and perpetual Madras drape was sympathetic, and a 1965 drug bust only deepened his coolness.

After two independent singles, Rik Gunnell delivered Georgie to Columbia records in summer 1963, but instead of an expected debut single, recording manager Ian Samwell made the surprising suggestion that an atmospheric live album from The Flamingo would make more sense.

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The recording on 25 September 1963 produced Live At The Flamingo – an innovative record which anticipated ‘jazz-rock’ by at least five years.

Unfortunately, commercial success evaded Georgie – with the usual excuse that he was “too good for the charts”.

It is widely accepted that the pirate radio station Radio Caroline owed its existence to the fact that Ronan O’ Rahilly (Caroline’s owner) had so much difficulty – in his former job as a record-plugger – in securing radio play for a Georgie Fame single, that he decided to begin his own radio station.

Fame finally achieved his first #1 single in Britain in December 1964 with Yeh Yeh.

His second #1 did not come until July 1966 when Getaway – a song which started life as an advertising jingle for a petrol company – knocked The Kinks from the top of the charts.

Shortly after, he parted company with his Blue Flames.

His third major chart success came with CBS when The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde provided him with a Christmas #1 at the close of 1967. Other hits included two American covers, Bobby Hebb‘s Sunny and Sitting in the Park from Billy Stewart.

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After some lean chart years and a middle-of-the-road alliance with Alan Price, Georgie recruited top session men for a Blue Flames rebirth in 1974.

After recording an album and promoting it with a few exhilarating but shambling gigs (including a Reading Festival with Traffic), the project fizzled out.

Apart from his Maxwell House coffee adverts, Fame wasted valuable time in a 1983 BBC2 television series plugging a Hoagy Carmichael tribute album in collaboration with Annie Ross.

Yet no matter how much he smothered you with pap there was always the knowledge that – without warning – he could still hit a groove with Let the Sun Shine In or a steaming Green Onions. All would then be forgiven and Georgie Fame would once again be the coolest cat of them all.

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