There was a new girlfriend around. She lived in suburban London & I was in the centre of the city. We met in town after work on Friday evening, start with a drink by the river. I made an effort, went into “Gap”, for the first & only time, bought a new T-shirt.”We call this Air Force Blue sir”…who cares ? She had plans of her own too. She had a bag with her & was intending to stay the weekend. Good to have that sorted out early in the proceedings. I had better make sure we both enjoy ourselves.
There was always a lot of free music in the summer in the city. I had seen Dr John on a lazy Sunday afternoon, John Martyn & Gil Scott Heron for gratis was too good but was true. It did not always have to be top-liners like these. A couple of local bands playing at an estate get-together could be real fun. The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, covering the Smiths & the Velvets, on a postage stamp Pimlico park had been as fine a prologue to a Saturday night as possible. There was an afternoon of Cajun & Zydeco music the next day. It was on the South Bank, a concrete cultural carbuncle but right by the river. We could start our day with a stroll along the Embankment to check out the sounds.
It was OK. The first two bands were European. They were a little precise, too respectful of the tradition. The people dancing seemed to be initiates in the Cajun cult. They too had the moves but we were not sure if they had the heart. It did not matter so much, the bar was adjacent, the sun was shining and the people were watchable. We were chilled and in no hurry to move on. Staying around was a good decision.
There were a couple of signs that the final band would be different. The drummer walked on stage to check his rig. He sat behind it, made a few small adjustments, then he rapped out a couple of sharp runs around the kit.These few seconds held more promise than the previous hour. A big, I mean big, serious man appeared at the side of the stage. He put on a leather apron, an individual choice of stage wear. He picked up his instrument, an accordion, & I knew the reason he needed an apron. This man intended to sweat and he was protecting his squeezebox. He was ready for business and this was a very good thing.
This was Beau Jocque and his Zydeco Hi Rollers…straight outta Louisiana. From the opening seconds the band was on it. A ripple of appreciative response ran through the audience. People, including ourselves, who had sat through the afternoon, got to their feet & started to shuffle. By the end of the first tune everyone was dancing & there was a cheer that must have been heard across the river. This was a traditional folk music but there was no hint of preservation or reverence. This was modern music. Beau, 6ft 6ins & 270lbs, was as hypnotic as the music, the accordion looking small against his big frame. He was not a virtuoso but went with the groove laid down by the band, a great groove. There were traces of rock & roll, of funk, blues & boogie. It was, if you will forgive me, a musical gumbo. Beau’s growl brought Hooker to mind, his smile told us he was enjoying himself.
So were we. We had hoped for a good afternoon & now it was getting wild around the river bank. My girlfriend & I had slept together a couple of times but we had never danced together. A different kind of intimacy, a different kind of fun & more acceptable in a public place on a Saturday tea-time. Beau Jocque & men brought a touch of the Louisiana juke joint to London for an hour. That aluminium, chest-washboard thing (apparently a rub-board) drove the rhythm on and we loved it. We didn’t need to know the history, the tradition, this had all the elements of great dance music & that was enough.
I have struggled & failed to get a clip of the band perform “One Kiss”. My techno-knowledge is not there yet…one day. I will say that it must be the most exciting 5 minutes that Australian TV has ever come up with. Beau recorded soul hits, Dylan & blues. He, unfortunately, died when he was only 46. His music is still around. G-G-G-Git It Beau Jocque !
After the gig we walked along the river. There’s a proper pub with good beer. You could watch the river flow with an outstanding view of St Paul’s Cathedral on the opposite bank. A homeless guy stopped me and asked for 50p for a cup of tea. Not wanting to appear a tightwad in front of my friend I quickly put my hand in my pocket and gave him double. “Thank you sir”, he replied, “and may I compliment you on your choice in women”. Cheeky bugger ! I sent him on his way & let him know that I would be in touch if I needed any more of his opinions.