Graham Bond initially made an impact on the British jazz scene in 1961 while playing alto sax with Don Rendell’s Quintet.
In 1963 he became part of Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated before forming his own band, The Graham Bond Organisation, a sensational outfit that in its heyday featured bassist Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and Saxman Dick Heckstall-Smith, with Bond himself on the Hammond organ that gave the band its punning name.
Enormously funky, he rasped out vocals, and sometimes joyously stomped the bass pedals or picked up his alto sax which he played simultaneously with the Hammond.
Open-minded about new instruments, he was patiently demonstrating the mellotron to Cathy McGowan on Ready, Steady, Go! as early as 1964.
The Organisation took pot shots at the hit parade with A-sides like Tammy, dripping with sentiment and piano triplets but, although Jack was a handsome rustic, the teenagers wouldn’t have stood Graham’s moustachioed pipe smoking, skeletal Ginger, or receding Dick.
A hit would have been pleasant but a small hip audience based in London supported their jazzy approach to R&B until Bond broke up the band after the formidable Sound Of 65 LP and left for the USA (though he returned briefly for a final Organisation 45 in 1967 with Dick and drummer Jon Hiseman).
Containing the ablest musical technicians of the era, The Graham Bond Organisation could, at any given moment of their existence, have wiped the floor with most other bands around.
When the band split in mid-1967, Bond became involved in various ventures before linking with Baker once more, during 1970, in the megalith that was Air Force.
By this time, embracing a lifestyle that had seen him lose his first wife, three children and his home, Graham had acquired a considerable drug habit plus an increasing interest in black magic, something he had been increasingly involved in since the mid-60s.
Bond had been born in 1937 to an unnamed mother, and the circumstances of his birth remained a mystery. Learning that one of Aleister Crowley’s girlfriends had given birth to an illegitimate baby in 1937 led Bond to declare that he was Crowley’s son – a belief that saw him retreating even further into the occult, at one point forming a band called Holy Magick.
Bond’s second wife, singer Diane Stewart (pictured below right with Bond on their wedding day in 1970) recalled that during a recording session, “the musicians were a bit freaked out because Graham did the whole ritual for The Bringing Down Of The Light [an energy-invoking exercise]. We were all freaked out when, at the end of the take, the whole studio wall caught fire!”
Things became even more freaky when Bond started signing his name ‘Aleister Crowley’. Bond saw himself as a power in occult circles and told Pete Brown (with whom he recorded as Bond and Brown) that he had been elected “Magus of Great Britain”.
During 1973 he announced that he had formed a band called Magus with singer/violinist Carolanne Pegg, once of folk heroes Mr Fox, but the band was short-lived as cash problems haunted Bond. He owed money to drug dealers, and only escaped a severe beating – or worse – by seeking sanctuary in Notting Hill police station, producing hash worth 35p and insisting they arrest him for possession.
On 8 May 1974, as an Underground train headed north into London’s Finsbury Park station, a figure ran across the platform and, with arms outstretched, dived into its path. The driver applied the brakes, but it was too late. Graham Bond was dead beneath the Tube train’s wheels.
It wasn’t until two days later that the police were able to identify the body, which was crushed beyond all recognition. The only way they were able to do so was through fingerprints. Later, Diane Stewart and two friends confirmed the identification.
Rumours proliferated. Some insisted that black magic played a part in his demise. Some claimed that drug dealers chased Bond into the Tube station and down to the platform at the end of his life, while others claimed he had simply lost a battle against an occult obsession stronger than him. But at an ensuing inquest, the coroner declared an open verdict. Not even suicide could be proved.
Only a few hours before his death, Bond had phoned a newspaper claiming “I feel great. I’m off everything and I’m looking forward to getting back to work again”. His manager, John Hunt – with whom he had been staying – confirmed that Graham had “dropped” the drugs and the magic and was back to R&B and writing songs.