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Sandy Brown Jazz



Singer and Washboard Beater

Photo of Beryl Bryden with Gerry Salisbury's Band

Beryl Bryden with Gerry Salisbury's Band
© Gerry Salisbury 2008

Beryl Bryden, larger than life and with a voice to die for. A stalwart of the jazz recording scene who in almost five decades recorded in excess of 120 different titles with over forty bands and musicians in more than a dozen countries. Friend and confidant to many jazz musicians, and perhaps the finest true jazz singer and blues shouter this country has ever produced. The British Bessie Smith… and mould breaker - playing washboard alongside Chris Barber on bass on that iconic recording of the fifties, Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’.

Beryl was born on the 11th May 1929 and moved to London from her native Norwich in the late forties. She firstly took a job with ‘Esquire Records’ were she was to meet the Aussie bandleader Graeme Bell, who introduced her to Cy Laurie and the rest as they say, is history. It is generally agreed that Beryl began her singing career in 1948 and from her first performance her career in Jazz was assured. Her first band was ‘Beryl’s Backroom Boys’ featuring Cyril Davis, Alexis Korner on guitars, Frank Cash on bass and Dave Stevens on piano.

Everybody wanted a piece of Beryl; her personality was as large as her physical presence … It is a cliché, however it is true to say it would be easier to list the bands she did not play and record with rather than list the bands she did.

Beryl’s largesse was legendary, in latter times assisting musicians down on their luck. Amongst the many US musicians she was to record with and befriend was the pianist, Mary Lou Williams, whose immeasurable contribution to the US Civil Rights cause was championed and encouraged by Beryl.

Every fifties band had their own Beryl story, and George Melly had more than his fair share. Maggy Hambling, the artist has her own fund of ear smarting tales. My own favourite Beryl story was when she was in Australia for a wager and she became the first person to be filmed and recorded under water – playing a washboard. Truly a one off…

Throughout her long career Beryl never slowed down, indeed it would have been impossible for her to decelerate - such was the demand for her services. She toured extensively, the Continent, Far East, Australia and the US where - unusually for a woman - she was to be feted. In Holland in 1978 Ted Eason’s Riff Records christened her ‘Queen of the Blues’.

Her last recording session was to take place in Holland in March 1997 alongside her old mate, Nat Gonella, after which her health began to fail and sadly on the 14th July 1998, Beryl died of lymphoma.

© /Alex Balmforth 2006-2015

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