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Jazz Remembered

Beryl Bryden

Beryl Bryden a.jpg

This is an updated article originally sent to us by Alex Balmforth. Eric Thompson added his memories of Beryl and if any readers would like to add theirs, it would be good to hear from you.

Beryl Bryden, larger than life and with a voice to die for. She was a stalwart of the jazz recording scene and in almost five decades recorded in excess of 120 different titles with over forty bands and musicians in more than a dozen countries. She was a 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, you can hear her playing washboard alongside Chris Barber on bass on that iconic skiffle 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 on harmonica, Alexis Korner on guitars, Frank Cash on bass and Dave Stevens on piano.


We can listen to them playing Rock Me - a skiffle version of the tune Beryl would later record with Mary Lou Williams in 1954/1956 (here)

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.

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’.

Here she is is singing Trouble In Mind with Bud Freeman, Lennie Felix and a Dutch jazz band:

and here is Beryl singing and playing the washboard on Running Wild in Rotterdam with Rod Mason's band in 1978:

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.


Here is Beryl singing Bessie Smith's Young Woman's Blues on 21st June 1997. The sound is not good, but the video is historically valuable for a number of reasons, including footage of Cy Laurie who would pass through the Departure Lounge 5 years later: '... this is probably the last time that Beryl appeared in 'public'. The event was a 50th Anniversary reunion of John Haim's Jellyroll Kings, with which Beryl sometimes sang. She was accompanied here by Alan Wickham trumpet, Cy Laurie clarinet, Ray Foxley piano and John Westwood drums.'

Eric Thompson writes: 'My memories of Beryl go back away to 1953 when a visit to the Vieux Colombier to see Sidney Bechet resulted in an evening with Beryl Brydon. Apparently the great man headed to Antibes in the summer months. My last sighting of Beryl was at a lunch time session at the 100 Club when she turned up at a session headed by trumpeter Alan Elsdon and needed help to get on the stage. She was not a well woman at that time and died very soon after. As can be seen from the picture in your article Beryl is an imposing presence and appeared in Wally Fawkes' newspaper strip as 'Barrel Broaden'. These strips included thinly disguised figures from the scene at that time particularly 'Moses Maggot' (Max Jones in beret) and a band bus for 'Utter Bilge and his Paramount J B' (Acker Bilk). It would be nice if someone was able to locate  Wally's newspaper strips!'

[There are images of Trog's (Wally's) newspaper strips online but they are mainly of politicians and other subjects and none I can find of the jazz musicians Eric mentions. There are more details here - Ed]


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