I was sad to hear that Spencer Davis had died at the age of 81. I enjoyed what I heard of his music, mostly back in the 1960s, but I didn’t follow his career and therefore do not intend to write a tribute. Indeed, I do not know enough to write a tribute.
However, one small detail of his career has always interested me. In 1960 he came to the University of Birmingham to study German and played the key role in establishing what was called The Rhythm Club. In 1962 Evan Parker arrived in Birmingham to study Botany – he survived two years on the course before the lure of jazz and improvised music took over, and the university required him ‘to terminate his studies’. Spencer Davis got to know that Evan was a saxophonist and invited him to join the Rhythm Club. Evan became an active member and regards his conversion of the basement of the Student Union Chapel into a jazz club as one of his finest achievements of that time.
Evan and Spencer never actually played together, but had a friendship which fully acknowledged the differences in their musical directions. Of course, the most famous member of the Spencer Davis Group was Steve Winwood who along with brother Muff Winwood and Pete York were founder members of the group.
In an interview with Philippe Renaud and Patrick Genaud in the French magazine ImproJazz (November 1994) Evan talks of how he would play at a jazz session at the Grotto pub off Hurst Street in Birmingham on a Saturday afternoon. This was in the days of licensing hours and when a pub could stay open in the afternoon if there was a band playing. Apparently, a few of the audience would be there for the music, but most were there for the alcohol. Evan and Steve Winwood heard each other play in that period, and Evan retains a great liking and respect for Winwood’s music, from Traffic and Blind Faith onwards. He also feels that the offer to record the pioneering improv album Karyobin with John Stevens, Kenny Wheeler, Derek Bailey and Dave Holland came about partly as a result of Steve and Muff Winwood putting in a word to Chris Blackwell, boss of Island Records.
I used to think that Evan and Steve Winwood might have jammed together at The Grotto at some point, but I’m told it never happened. If it had, I would have liked to have heard it. So would Evan!