FILM-MAKER, IMPRESARIO, PROMOTER and producer, Giorgio Gomelsky was all these things. Above all, however, he was a forward-looking man always in search of new sound. Born in Georgia in 1934, by the age of 10 he was widely travelled thanks to his father’s work as a doctor. It was at that age that he also began to develop an interest in jazz, something that he would retain for his entire life.
An Anglophile from an early age, his love of jazz saw him move from Switzerland to London in the mid-’50s where he embarked on a career as a filmmaker, documenting a scene that included Chris Barber and Johnny Dankworth. Spending much of his time in Soho, Gomelsky noticed that a new generation of musicians were taking up American blues and R&B and he persuaded Harold Pendleton to host a weekly Thursday blues night at his club, The Marquee. As the divisions between rock and jazz began to appear, Pendleton refused to increase his blues bookings, leading to Gomelsky’s decision to launch the The Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey.
It was there that The Rolling Stones became the house band, Gomelsky managing them before they signed up with Andrew Loog Oldham. When The Stones left their residency at the Crawdaddy, Gomelsky replaced them with another emerging act: The Yardbirds, who featured Eric Clapton, an ex-Crawdaddy Club DJ, in their ranks.
In December 1963 Gomelsky booked Chicago blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson to play The Crawdaddy with The Yardbirds as his backing band. The following year, he would also try to capture his charges’ onstage energy, cutting Five Live Yardbirds at The Marquee Club in March ’64.
According to Gomelsky himself, he encouraged The Yardbirds to expand their sound and move beyond the basic blues roots from which they had sprung. It was this approach that led to the recording of their ambitious third single, For Your Love – a track that would ultimately alienate the then-blues-purist Clapton.
When Gomelsky stopped managing The Yardbirds in 1966, he launched Marmalade Records, the label becoming home to Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity, Blossom Toes and John McLaughlin. It was also during this period that he would produce demos for rising Canterbury act, The Soft Machine.
“He encouraged The Yardbirds to expand their sound and move beyond their blues roots.”
After 15 years in England, Gomelsky moved to France, and there he helped birth another alternative scene which centered around Magma and Gong, the latter featuring Soft Machine rescapé Daevid Allen. Indeed, his work as a promoter spawned a network of venues throughout the country showcasing progressive acts. His work with Gong would extend to producing their classic 1973 set, Flying Teapot, while he also helmed Magma’s Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh in that same year.
When he moved to New York in 1978, he opened the Zu Club and once again employed what amounted to a ‘house’ band – namely Material, featuring bassist Bill Laswell, drummer Fred Maher and synth player Michael Beinhorn. It was this band that served as New York Gong when Gomelsky’s former charge Daevid Allen came to record in the Big Apple in ’78.
In later life, Gomelsky would continue to be revered by the American alternative rock scene and would use his experience wisely to help artists develop their own careers. Having been treated for cancer, Gomelsky passed away in New York yesterday (January 13, 2016) aged 82.
He will be remembered as a man whose maverick attitude contributed much to modern music, but who never sought to have his name in lights.
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