MOJO Time Machine: Bo Diddley’s UK Tour Goes Off The Rails

On 25 September, 1965 Bo Diddley begins disastrous tour of Britain


by Fred Dellar |
Published on

25 September, 1965

“BO DIDDLEY IS A SONG, A SOUND AND A MAN,” wrote singer Dave Berry in September 1965. “The man who arrives for a three-week tour wrote the song which is a big beat standard and originated a sound. It’s even rumoured that Elvis Presley’s wiggle was inspired by Bo Diddley…”

Certainly Bo’s UK tour headlined by The Everly Brothers in September 1963 had been a success of sorts, though ticket sales had been slow until it was announced that Little Richard was to be added as an additional headliner. But the man raised as Otha Ellas Bates McDaniel had proved popular enough. Backed by maracas-player Jerome Green and the gold-suited Duchess on guitar, he garnered enthusiastic responses, despite being restricted to just three songs a night. ”The unusual style of Bo Diddley had Sunday’s first house perplexed as the curtains opened,” noted one pundit, “but the familiar strains of the song to which he gave his name earned Bo a warm reception that turned to something approaching red heat.”

All augured well for Bo’s second British jaunt. He hadn’t had a US hit since You Can’t Judge a Book By The Cover in 1962, but in Britain he’d retained a faithful following and in 1964 his Beach Party album sold like a single, reaching Number 13 in the charts, while his cover of Hank Williams’ Hey Good Looking, his first single on UK Chess, had reached the Top 40 in March 1965.

TV appearances were lined up and dates fixed for the Eamonn Andrews Show, Gadzooks! It’s All Happening, Thank Your Lucky Stars and Ready Steady Go! Fans were disappointed to learn that Jerome Green wouldn’t be around to shake his thing, having recently married and given up touring. But The Duchess was on hand to provide a little warmth and glamour, along with drummer Clifton James.

The opening show for the tour was set for September 25 at the Imperial Ballroom in Nelson, Lancashire, a venue that only the night before had hosted the Gisburn & District Young Farmers’ Club Annual Ball. Local band The Mutineers provided support for the evening and all seemed to be going well. Then everything fell apart.

The announced itinerary proved to be a thing of fantasy. Many of the dates arranged by promoters Joe Collins and Mervyn Conn were changed and there was general confusion as to where Bo might be located. By October 8 the Melody Maker was reporting, “Two thousand fans had their money returned at Portsmouth Birdcage when Bo Diddley failed to arrive.” Car trouble was blamed.

“You can tell them, if they ain’t gonna shit, get off the pot.”

bo diddley

More were disappointed as the haphazard tour progressed. But one fan who caught Bo’s act was Ronnie Wood, whose youthful blues band, The Birds, played with Diddley at London’s 100 Club on September 28. “We had a meeting in a tiny dressing room,” recalled Wood in his autobiography, “I remember telling him: ‘We’re trying to get off the ground but our record company are not doing anything for us.’ He said, ‘Well you can tell them, if they ain’t gonna shit, get off the pot.’ That was my first bit of advice from an American legend.”

Meanwhile Diddley’s latest single, Let The Kids Dance, released to coincide with the tour, failed to make much of an impact. Neither did Let Me Pass, a new album that contained such songs as Somebody Beat Me, based on a true story regarding the theft of Clifton James’ clothes while at a Norfolk, Virginia hotel, and Greasy Spoon, which glimpsed life in a soul-food diner with such delights as an Etta James Peach Melba, Jimmy Reed Chicken à la King and Muddy Waters’ Corn Bread & Muffins on the menu.

First plane back to Chicago....

The tour stuttered on. With every reported breakdown or disaster, attendances at gigs dropped, the whole shambles coming to an end on October 18 when, due to appear on-stage at the 100 Club once more, Bo literally took flight, boarding a plane at Heathrow and flying back to Chicago, declaring before he left that he was owed a considerable amount of money. Later it would be revealed that the main villain amid the whole sorry mess was organiser Frank Koncian, who’d conned Diddley into undertaking an expenses-only promotional tour while helping himself to any residual profits.

It was bitter, but the man they called The Originator returned to British shores in August 1972 and was 
a regular visitor thereafter. His last trip saw two shows at Camden’s Jazz Café in July 2006 – just two years before he said his final goodbye on June 2, 2008.

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