In terms of researching
for the Friars website, if there was one band that there is almost no
information on, it must be Sweetwater Canal. They played Friars in 1970
and a lucky break helped us track down the band's guitarist Fred
d'Albert who fills in the gaps for us. We spoke to Fred at his London
home in February 2012. Fred is a now a busy guitar teacher.
Hello Fred and thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website. As I
say in my introduction above, you were not the easiest band to research
so very grateful to talk to you! So where does your musical history
I started in 1962 as a teenager in a
band called Comanche after the Apache Indians. We were influenced by The
Shadows' Apache. This was 1962/1963 and my career went on from there.
The first professional band I joined was Tony Knight's Chessmen. The
Chessmen used to be in residence at The Flamingo in Wardour Street and
they used to do all those type of venues. Rick Gunnel and his brothers
ran the club. It was a bit seedy in that area (Soho) with American GIs
coming along. Maybe the whole thing was slightly druggy, I don't know.
I wasn't aware of
The Flamingo but was aware of The Marquee further up Wardour Street
which I went to a few times.
I played there a few times! But The
Flamingo spawned many bands like George Fame and the Blue Flames who
virtually lived at The Flamingo as Rick was managing them originally.
Then there was The Nightimers, with Herbie Goynes (who was a GI) and the
guitarist was John McLaughlin. Also there was Long John Baldry, Zoot
Money...all those came from The Flamingo.
was really a scene within itself?
Yes it was. All the bands I mentioned
above and the likes of Alexis Korner. The Rolling Stones used to turn up
to see Korner. It was a really early R&B club. They had back to back
music nights and the likes of Ray Charles and Fats Domino and more jazzy
was so grateful when you helped fill some of the gaps of Sweetwater
Canal. I know a lot of the band came together after being in the Freddy
Mack band, were you part of that too?
How Sweetwater Canal came
about...there was Freddy Mack's band...they were touring for a long time
doing all the venues and were a really popular soul band. I wasn't in
the Freddy Mack Sound though. I was in the T H E Cat Soul Band which did
the same kind of thing. I was touring with the likes of Arthur Conley
(Sweet Soul Music) and other American artists who came over. The Mack
Sound ended when Freddy was arrested for being an illegal alien. The
band was working at a studio on the Old Kent Road part owned by Mike
Hugg of Manfred Mann as the resident musicians. At that point, amongst
others, Alan Cartwright would have been on bass, Roy Draper on Hammond
organ and other guys and that was the nucleus of Sweetwater Canal who
were named by Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club.
You were under
Ronnie Scott's management wing weren't you?
Yes, one of the guys who worked for
Ronnie, Jimmy Parsons, who was on the door, also worked for the
management side of the club promoting gigs and bands who came to play
there. They decided to stretch out with management and that's how
Sweetwater Cana came about. They had this singer, Aliki Ashman and they
put her with the remains of the Freddy Mack Sound and the remains of the
Jazzmen which was me and Tony Brown and that was the beginning of the
band. There was a big brass section, two sax players, trumpet and valve
trombone. The trombonist was from New York and he was Ray Draper. If you
read up on Ray, you'll see he was shot somewhere.
Yes, in researching
the band, I believe he was shot in a robbery.
I don't know about that, but do know
he was in London to get away from New York, mainly the drugs scene. He
came to Europe to play and found it a more amicable situation. Most of
those black guys back in the 1950s and 1960s were treated like third
class citizens especially in the south (of the USA). Even people like
The Drifters came to the UK in the 1970s and just stayed and had all
that success. Johnny Moore was from Alabama and it was unbelievable. The
black guy would have to cross the street if he was on it with a white
person and segregation in restaurants and all that sort of thing.
shocking isn't it?
It is, and it's only about 50 years
I can't comprehend
or get my head round that sort of behaviour.
That's why so many American artists
came over here - Johnny Moore and the guys from The Drifters lived here,
they lived in France, Sweden, Germany wherever.
Because of their
situation at home....that's appalling.
Sweetwater Canal as I was saying
started as a project for Jimmy Parsons and the Ronnie Scotts management
and that was in about 1969 as that was when I know I signed a contract
with Ronnie Scott. It was such a big band with Hammond Organ, drums,
guitar, bass, saxes, trumpets etc and then Aliki and a percussionist at
How would you tag
Sweetwater Canal in terms of the music, was it more to the jazz side?
It was progressive,
but I'd suppose you'd call it jazz-rock.
Somebody I know who
remembers the gig at Friars.....
...and described you as
maybe the progressive jazz, but a bit avant garde, would you go along
Slightly, yes. Difficult from my
perspective. It you look at the individuals, I mean Ray Draper played
with Charlie Parker in New York. But if you heard him playing over a
rock rhythm section, you would think that was avant garde!
This person also
described you as a hybrid of Graham Bond and Jon Hiseman but with ten of
That's very good!
weren't active for very long, about a year wasn't it?
Yeah, maybe 18 months. We were a big
band and rehearsed upstairs at Ronnie Scotts. To keep it going, when
American artists came over, the band was used to back them on tour. So
we did a tour with Arthur Conley, an Atlantic Stax tour with Sam and
Dave headlining (who had his own band), Joe Tex (also with his own band)
and us backing Arthur Conley and Clarence Carter. That went to Paris,
Amsterdam, Madrid, it was quite a big tour.
I get the impression that the size of the band was really it's undoing.
Yes it was.
I've seen Alan
Cartwright on record as saying it was arguments over expenses that broke
the band up.
I can't remember that! But there were
some very forceful characters in the band. The lead tenor sax player,
Phil Kenzie would often grab things by the reins when other people were
just watching things happen. The thing is we went into the studio to
record an album which had ben organised by Jimmy Parsons and there was a
big launch for Jon Hiseman's Coliseum, Sweetwater Canal and all the new
signings with Vertigo. We played that and with backing other people, and
rehearsing the album upstairs, eventually with a band that size, if the
opportunity to do other gigs comes up....Alan before he joined Procol
Harum was with Brian Davison and Every Which Way. That was his first gig
after Sweetwater Canal. I was with The Drifters for 22 years and the
bass player was Matt Pegg whose father is Dave Pegg from Fairport
Convention. Matt is now the bass player for Procol Harum when they are
working, so I have worked with Procol's two bass players!
Was/is Dave Coxhill the sax player in Sweetwater Canal related to
Aylesbury legend Lol?
No, they're not related (laughs) -
although Lol is a jazz legend, very avant garde.
As we said, the
band couldn't last, not least for logistical reasons. I know Alan
Cartwright ended up ultimately in Procol Harum, and I know Ray Draper
was killed as we discussed.....
And Roy Davies went on to be in
Gonzalez and also Kokomo.
And Tony Brown went
on to be in Skin Alley. Aliki went on to be in Ginger Baker's Airforce....and
is now living in Australia I believe.
(laughs) that stunned me as I had no
You were in The
Drifters for over twenty years. How did you make the leap there?
I was with Marty Wilde doing the
cabaret circuit in the north of England. He'd been around since the Boy
Meets Girl days and had a little four piece group. I worked with him for
about a year or 18 months. He was a really well known writer and we
demoed the songs like Tiger for Lulu and Down The Dustpipe for Status
Quo and more, several hits. We did the demos as we were his backing band
and got paid about £8 for a session (laughs) and record all those songs
for him and then they were sent on to various people and they became
So when did you
join The Drifters?
After Marty, I was with Joe Brown for
a while. When Marty took a break, Joe basically took over his rythym
section. He'd just come out of a West End musical, Charlie Girl and was
doing a cabaret show as Joe Brown and The Bruvvers. Quite big with
horns. That was full on for 18 months. I was away in Canada and the US
and in the mid 1980s I was doing a show in the Cafe Royal and the
keyboard player at that gig was the player for The Drifters live band
and asked me if I would like the gig. I said yes of course as I had a
lot of background working with Americans. Not just the Atlantic tour but
many other tours with the likes Edwin Starr, The Fantastics, The
Vibrations. There was quite a lot of acts and that kept me busy and I
said yes to The Drifters and I did that right up to 2008. I had also
been doing a lot of function work in the West End hotels and there was a
lot of work. And theatres also.
Did you do any
studio work, or just live work?
All live. They did a live DVD in 2007
and I am on that. Gary Brooker of Procol Harum also guests.
And what do you do
(laughs) I'm 66! I teach guitar in
Hampstead and Twickenham one and half days a week and the odd gig. Just
odds and ends really. I spent a lot of years touring but the the last
three or four years, I have concentrated on the teaching.
Do you still see
any of the guys?
I've not seen Dave Coxhill for some
years, but I haven't seen Tony or heard from him for a very long time, I
did do some demos with him in the late 1970s and was also in a band
called The Magicians with him and one of the demos was a hit for Andy
Williams. I worked with Tony quite a bit and I can't trace anything for
him. It was amazing you found out that Aliki was in Melbourne.
I'm nothing if not
tenacious when it comes to trying to find out about bands who played
Geoff Driscoll is now in Surrey and
teaching and does various gigs. Phil Kenzie went to the States and was
working with Rod Stewart at one time and is probably still in LA
somewhere. All these guys will be quite old now!
I'm glad to have
had the opportunity to fill in the gaps on the whereabouts of the band
and to have discussed Sweetwater Canal as there is so little out there
and it has proved so hard to research and I am so glad you got in touch.
I was searching for Sweetwater Canal
on the web and found the Friars website and nothing else!
Best wishes Fred
and thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website.
It brings it all back! Cheers Mike.
This interview and its content
are © 2012 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used
in whole or in part without permission.