Born to a Jamaican father and an English mother in Peterborough, Lloyd’s early influences covered the whole spectrum of both black and white music. From an early age he showed a musical talent, initially for the piano, but then for the guitar and astounded fellow schoolmates at Deacon’s School with his performance in the Annual House Competitions.
Self-taught on guitar, he quickly emerged as a talented and enthusiastic performer on the circuit in and around the city with his band, Lloyd Watson and the Soul Mates. Watson was an early adopter of the wah-wah pedal and one Saturday afternoon, in the late 1960s, the Soul Mates brought Peterborough traffic to a halt playing Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and various Hendrix numbers on the steps of Peterborough’s ancient Guild Hall in Cathedral Square.
In 1972, Lloyd won the solo category of the coveted Melody Maker Folk/Rock competition and two days later appeared on BBC Television’s The Old Grey Whistle Test. Following his success, he went on to open shows for David Bowie and did two British tours, one supporting King Crimson and the other one for Roxy Music. A European tour for Roxy Music then followed. Asked by Brian Eno to play on Here Come The Warm Jets, Lloyd then played the majority of the guitar parts for Roxy Music’s sax player Andy Mackay’s solo album In Search of Eddie Riff. The Roxy Music connection continued when Lloyd joined the Phil Manzanera spin off group 801, who released the live album 801 Live.
Sadly, Lloyd passed away late in 2019 and at his well attended funeral, his sister Norma Watson-Palmer delivered the following eulogy ……
A letter to my brother.
To use your favourite greeting to me – “Now then”!
So, big brother, you were very disappointed when Mum came home from hospital in August 1955 with a baby girl and not the Alsation dog you wanted, but I hope you loved me as much as I loved you.
I remember you taking me to see The Beatles film “Help” at the Embassy? You held my hand and walked slowly as I had my leg in a cast yet again. You were so attentive and kind, but it took ages to get out of the cinema as you kept stopping to talk to everyone you knew and we nearly missed the 301 bus home.
You loved tormenting and teasing me. Your tormenting could get so bad at times that Mum and Dad separated us at meal times – you in the kitchen and me in the dining room!
Mum always called our family “Us Four”. We were often four against the world as we faced up to prejudice but, Mum’s motto of “Look up as its harder to cry” saw us through and, I hope will see me through today, especially when I look up at this beautiful ceiling.
You were the first mixed-race boy to go to Deacons Grammar School where our cousins Trevor and Stuart were already studying. Whenever the cry went up “Someone’s picking on Lloyd again” they both dived in to rescue you.
Not only were you blessed with the musical gene, but you had a phenomenal memory for facts, figures and trivia. From you I learnt that the word “Caribbean” came from the original tribe called The Caribs who were almost wiped out in the 15th century. They never taught that in schools! I’d watch in awe as you whizzed through a crossword puzzle or speed read your school text books and retain everything…..and I mean everything!
Maths was never my strong subject like it was yours, so you set the times tables to soul music songs for me. How you laughed when I said the teacher had asked me a question about the 12 times table and I asked her to wait while I sang “You Don’t Know Like I Know” by Sam & Dave so I could recall what 8 x 12 was. I can’t remember what that total would be now! Your mind was such that I often joked that if you’d been at Bletchley Park in WW2, you’d have broken Enigma before the Germans had even invented it!
Music has always been part of both sides of the family. NanNan Gilbert used to play the organ at Ely Cathedral and later Coates Church, Mum could play the piano, and Grandma Suzette and Grandad Edwin in Jamaica lived their lives in the gentle laid back but firm style of the Caribbean…..apart from the fact that each of their six children would sing in Church EVERY Sunday and know how to dance before they could walk. So it was no surprise that Mum spotted your musical talent and scrimped to find 2/6 for weekly piano lessons which went swimmingly until the teacher told Mum to save her money and find another instrument for you to learn as you could play better than she could. Mum took you to the pantomime and you needed no encouragement to get on stage with the harmonica player Ronald Chesney, leaving with a gift of a real miniature harmonica. Mum was petrified and knotted string through it so you could play it without swallowing it. The other year in one of our numerous text exchanges you told me about Mum taking you to see the pantomime Cinderella at The Embassy theatre, and you described the scene where an old white haired cobbler was sitting making the glass slipper, with pink and blue spotlights shining down on him and “Morning” from Pier Gynt by Grieg as the background music. That was your first encounter with music, theatre and atmosphere that you later recalled while watching David Bowie from the side of the stage in London.
Cousins Stuart Smith (RIP) and Alan Laud both played guitars and, realising you were interested when Stuart and Alan showed you some basic chords, Dad bought you an acoustic guitar for the princely sum of £6 and that, along with a Robert Johnson album that Mum bought you at Leicester Market started your love of soul and blues that continued right up to the end. Mum watched fascinated as you cobbled together a harmonica neck stand from a wire coat hanger..…then promptly went to Treutlin’s music shop to buy the real thing.
I remember sitting in the car with Mum while Dad went in to watch you and Ian Hatch at your first ever paid gig on 28th September 1963 at The Cock Inn, Werrington, Peterborough. I so wanted to go in and watch but was far too young so had to be satisfied with a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps while listening through the open window! That became the story of my life until I was old enough.
Then came The Pathfinders with Eddie Cavanagh, Ian Hatch and Dave Horton. The band were so named because Eddie’s Dad, Vic, was with The Pathfinders in WW2. The band were booked most weekends but you still handed in your homework on time.
In 1966 came The Soulmates with Ian Bowen, Les Hill and assorted other musicians, and people began to take notice of your talent. Tickets for dances sold out instantly. I vividly remember Friday 10th March 1967 when you came back from a gig at USAF Alconbury, jumped out of the van, shouted goodnight to the others, slammed the front door and flew up the stairs in two bounds, burst into Mum & Dad’s bedroom shouting “Dad! Dad! Three black guys asked if they could sing with the band tonight. They sang “For Your Precious Love” by Jerry Butler. It was real soul Dad; you’ll love it. Oh, Mum, I forgot, they’re coming for Sunday dinner tomorrow before we go to The Harrow at Deeping for a gig. I think they’re going to join us”…..and they did. Those airmen were Al Chisholm and Pee Wee Frye and, when his rota as a military policeman allowed, by Ray Gates.
Those were the days when girls brought YOU home under the umbrella so you wouldn’t get your hair wet, then Mum and Dad had to take the girls home!
What about the Saturday afternoon when you threw me out of the front room when Al arrived clutching a single under his right arm? You needed the room to play the record so my history homework and I decamped to the back room while Al learnt the words and phrasing and you learnt the chords and that night the good people of Thorney Toll at the dance in the village hall were the first audience to hear “Sweet Soul Music” by Arthur Conley that Al had received from America that very morning. Now THAT’S history right there.
On 26th June 1966 The Soulmates opened for blues legend John Lee Hooker at The Gaeity Club, Ramsey. The band watched his show in awe, and you drank in every second.
The Soulmates won the Beat Competition at the Elwes Hall which, considering the musical talent of the band and the enthusiasm of the audience wasn’t surprising. Mum & Dad beamed with pride and their faces are etched into my memory. When Al, PeeWee and Ray had to leave the UK, Mum was convinced that they would be sent to Vietnam and she fretted about them. Such a shame that she died before I found Al on Facebook and learnt he is singing with The Contours, and Pee Wee, who really is Stevie Wonder’s cousin, sings with the Motown Legends Gospel Choir. Sadly, no trace of Ray has been found.
Pee Wee took you to meet Stevie when he was over on tour. You said you were still in two minds as to whether he was making it up….until you both walked into his hotel room and watched the two men hug and play fight. You and Pee Wee watched from the side of the stage and sneaked on to do a little back-up vocals. You hated computers and smart phones but was overjoyed when I showed you Al singing “Just A Little Misunderstanding” with The Contours. I spoke with Al the day after you left us and he sends his love to you, his friend.
On Saturday 6th January 1968 Paul Read who was The Soul Mates’ Manager took you and Pee Wee to The Tin Hat Club in Kettering to see Fleetwood Mac, got chatting to the band and asked if you and Pee Wee could jam on stage with them. Pee Wee sang “Stormy Monday” while you played the great Peter Green’s guitar. Do you remember how astonished you were when I told you that years later while I was working at the BBC, I “legalled” a documentary about Peter. He declined to take part but rang from a public phone box the following day to say he was pleased with the broadcast. We chatted for a while and I mentioned you jamming with the band. Peter immediately recalled the night and asked me to pass on his best wishes. I did, and your expression was pure delight.
In 1969 in Cambridge, John Mayall invited you to join the band for a few numbers. You were so excited when you told us the following day.
There then came Lloyd Watson’s Pocket Edition playing a mixture of soul and blues. Most weekends saw the band playing somewhere.
You joined Ma Grinder’s Blues Mission backing visiting blues musicians every Monday night at The Halcyon pub. There were so many touring bands who played there, – Champion Jack Dupree, Duster Bennett and Chicken Shack are just three of the names that spring to mind. I’d often hear Mum counting as she went downstairs on a Tuesday morning – she was counting the number of touring musicians you’d brought home who had nowhere to sleep so she knew how many cooked breakfasts to make! Nobody was turned away. Her rationale was “Well I hope some other mother would do that for my boy if the need arose”. You signed with Blue Horizon, cut tracks with Top Topham and worked with the talented Duster Bennet.
Moving on, there was “In The Beginning” with Rex Gates and Adrian Titman and it was with them that you initially entered the Melody Maker Folk/Rock Competition. Rex and Adrian took up the chance to play on the QE2 so you changed your entry from the band to the solo section, and did just three solo gigs – the regionals, the semi-final and the final. The first Mum, Dad and I knew about it was when you returned from The Roundhouse in London in the early hours brandishing your trophy. When Dad asked why you hadn’t told them before, you replied “I didn’t want to let you down if I came nowhere”. You never did let us down. Part of your prize was an appearance on the BBC2 music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. Dad was on nights that Tuesday so he got a pass out, drove home, had a cup of tea, sat with Mum and I while we watched you, calmly put his coat on and drove back to Perkins to finish his shift. That appearance was spotted by David Bowie and led to you being offered the chance to open for him and Roxy Music at the famous Rainbow in Finsbury Park. During my time at the BBC I learnt that your performance of “Death Letter Blues” by Son House was played on the exact spot that the great man did his own performance; a fact that you found astounding. During the intervening time you opened for Vinegar Joe, Procul Harum, King Crimson, Status Quo and so many more. Status Quo’s hit “Down Down” features the open tuning you showed Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt how to do pre-gig at Croydon I believe.
Mum, Dad and I travelled down to the Sunday show at The Rainbow and met up with our cousin Shelia from Jamaica who was a nurse at Kings College Hospital and, most importantly, knew the way to Finsbury Park by car. We watched nervously as you strode on stage, strapped on your guitar and off you went. That night David Bowie had lent you his acoustic guitar as someone had broken into your dressing room the previous night and stolen yours. You put us on the guest list for the after-show party where David Bowie came over and introduced himself to us. When he’d moved on, Mum, bless her, uttered the words that only a mother can “A strange looking young man but impeccable manners”!
You were the opening act for Roxy Music on their UK and European tours. The reports in the music press of you climbing out of the window of a posh restaurant after a show, staggering along the ledge then re-entering from another window all the while juggling a wine glass and shouting “It’s all part of the act chaps” are not exaggerated. Neither are the reports of you losing your glasses while staring out of the bus window with Brian Eno to stare at a passing pretty girl, only for the car travelling behind you to run over them! Hasty calls were made and Dad and I shot down to EG Management offices with one of your old pairs. That plan worked perfectly…..at least until one of the lenses fell out and smashed! Undeterred, you cut a picture of an eye out of a magazine, sellotaped it over the frame and played on! What jolly japes eh?! You were so chuffed in October 2018 when you receive a text from Phil Manzanera calling you “The Bestest” but you were still modest about your talent, saying “What an honour from a fellow musician of his standing”. It’s also an honour for us to have Phil and Bill MacCormick here with us today.
In May 1976 your determination and talent was tested when you were electrocuted at a gig in the long gone but fondly remembered Golden Fleece in Peterborough. Only the quick reaction of fellow musician Mick Davison saved your fingers and your life, helped by the fact that you had one foot on the darts mat and were wearing an old pair of desert boots you rescued from the dustbin every time Mum threw them out. Paramedics took you to A&E where my friend Elizabeth was Sister on duty, recognised you and pleaded with the doctors to do all they could to save your hands. You were bandaged up, returned to the pub and strode in waving your hands and doing a passable Al Jolson impersonation. You were back at The Falcon the next night playing with Colin Hodgkinson and Rex Gates, with lollipop sticks bandaged onto your right hand and a much larger slide stuck to one of the fingers of your left and played the entire night, much to the astonishment of the two A&E doctors who came to watch. Long, painful skin grafts were undertaken at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge. To lighten the mood on the ward, you somehow managed to climb on a chair (no mean feat with the fingers of your left hand sewn into your right upper arm), peer over the panel dividing the men from the women and shout “Hey up ladies! My rounds will start shortly so clean nighties on please”!
Do you remember the night we had to come over to find you after they’d called to say you’d disappeared? Nobody had seen you since tea time. Visiting Hours were over by the time we got to Cambridge but no porter was on duty so we rushed to the ward as fast as Dad’s speeds of slow and stop would allow. I told Matron there was nobody on duty and before she finished her sentence of “No it’s Peter’s night off and he plays with his band” than I asked “Which pub?” There you were in your slippers and pyjamas playing tambourine with the band and resting it on your head between songs so you could partake of a sneaky alcoholic beverage! Your explanation to Matron of “Well, I only came here because some bright spark has decided to put a lock on the door of the room where the piano is kept” resulted in the offending lock being swiftly removed so you could continue your rehabilitation in the hospital!
Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music rang while you were in hospital and said he was putting a project together to do some gigs over the summer and wanted you to join the band. Back we went to Cambridge to pass the message on and I was immediately despatched to find the surgeon so you could bellow at him “Fire up the scalpel young man, I’ve got a tour and album to make”! You joined 801 and had the time of your life with Phil, Brian Eno, Simon Phillips. Bill MacCormick and Frances Monkman. The project was a short tour, an appearance at the Reading Festival and culminating in the final show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London being recorded. That amazing album has gone down in music history as one of the best live albums of all time.
When Bob and I got married we booked The One Eyed Cats to play at the reception. You, of course, knew all the guys and asked if you could sit in with them to play a song you’d written for me. The band learnt the song on the hoof, I stood spellbound and you stayed on stage all night! No surprise there eh?!
After Mum died in 2009, Dad wore her wedding and engagement rings on a chain around his neck. You inherited those rings from Dad after his death in 2014 and would kiss them each time you launched into another blistering solo so……as this is my solo…….KISS RINGS.
On my 60th birthday after a few too many G&T’s, I got up to sing with you, Rob and Mark when you played Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down”. Your look of disdain was priceless and when I asked later if I was in key you replied “Not really. I couldn’t work out if you were singing in the key of Yale or Chubb”.
You continued to play locally whenever you could and was overjoyed when your children displayed musical talents. Elliot took to the guitar like the proverbial duck to water, Aynsley became an accomplished drummer, Lauren is a wonderful singer, and Lauren’s baby, Rudy, has already been to music festivals…..so your heritage continues.
Aynsley died on 22nd August 2017 and, coming so soon after the deaths of Mum and Dad, knocked you sideways and you never really recovered your zest for life. Your solitude was always important to you, but it then became your prison but also your safe place. You shut yourself away and I watched the light go out of your eyes. Occasionally, there was a quick glimpse of the old Lloyd – the brother who was so popular about Peterborough that I had to check the coast was clear before I ventured onto “your territory” usually with my best friend Claire Trowell in tow.
The late Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy was a good friend when I lived in London. He always wanted a photograph of you and him standing back-to-back with me peeping between you and he wanted to call it “Book Ends”. Sadly, the only night you came in the Black Lion in West Hampstead was the very night when Phil wasn’t there……so the photograph never happened although it probably has now. A chat with Phil Lynott’s mother, Philomena two years ago led to her sending you a message. She said “Tell Lloyd he will never get over the grief of losing a child it but, God willing, he’ll learn to hold the hand of that grief and walk beside it”. Sadly, that did not happen for you but you still sent me a text at 10.40 every Friday night which was the time that Dad died as we nursed him and you’d say “Time to strap the geetar on and play a bit of blues for Dad. Have to keep the old fingers supple”. I miss those texts.
On a particularly low day after Aynsley died you said “I miss my boy. All I ever wanted to do was play my geetar and make people happy. Hard to do when I don’t feel happy”. Well, let me tell you, that going by the outpouring of love and tributes from all over the world, you DID make people happy so, as far as I am concerned, it’s JOB DONE!
I can imagine how humbled you’d be to learn that US blues legend Travis Haddix dedicated his 80th birthday gig in Tennessee last month to you, and that your old mate Top Topham sent me a message yesterday saying “I give blessings to Lloyd”.
You controlled your arrival into this world and you controlled your exit to the big gig in the sky.
Elliot, Nikki, Bob and I were with you as you quietly slipped away to the sound of “Many Rivers To Cross” and 801 playing Diamond Head. I truly believe that Mum and Dad were waiting for you with their gentle rebuke of “And what time do you call this”, Aynsley was on drums alongside cousin Stuart, David Bowie, Rick Parfitt, and your heroes Robert Johnson and Son House, for the first of many jam sessions and with your old mate Gunner, whose death just a few weeks ago upset you so much, looking on saying “You don’t need a key here Lloyd, and you can go anywhere in your slippers”!
Before I sign off, I can say that you were right; that little book you lent me about Delta Country Blues is magnificent. I’d promised to give it back to you. Obviously I can’t now, but rest assured, it’s safe with me and I’ll treasure it.
This is your Last Gig. You’ve earnt your rest but I know you will watch over us all.
See you on the other side matey.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lloyd Watson………………..